When I think I deserve particularly well of myself, and have earned the right to enjoy a little treat, I stroll from Covent Garden into the City of London, after business-hours there, on a Saturday, or—better yet—on a Sunday, and roam about its deserted nooks and corners.
(From The Uncommercial Traveller by Charles Dickens)
That was how I started a walking tour of the City of London this Sunday: hearing that beautiful quote read by our City of London guide, which summed up why I was on the tour in the first place. Charles Dickens (the younger) was right: you can’t get quieter or more cultured than the Square Mile on a Sunday afternoon.
Especially, it seems, when it’s been chucking it down with rain all morning and every other Londoner has stayed safely inside with a roast dinner and/or Netflix. I often say that one of the reasons I blog is that, at times, having to publish a steady stream of posts gives me the push I need to get out and see stuff when I’d otherwise be sat indoors making excuses. This was definitely one of those times.
The streets were still wet and the clouds threatening to break at any moment when I stepped out of Bank station in front of the imposing Royal Exchange to meet my fellow walkers: seven members of Thinking Bob (our lovely walk organisers) and Robert French, our guide for the afternoon.
And so we set off around the streets of the City, with our umbrellas up and sunny dispositions in full force, from the Royal Exchange past the Bank of England and off to the Monument, via the sites of the first coffee shops of London and the Guildhall, finding the Victorian equivalent of Twitter along the way.
The City of London isn’t exactly the first place you think of when you picture quiet, historic London, but the area is one of the oldest in the city and parts of it, like the beautiful St Dunstan in the East, date back to the 12th century.
And you’ll always learn something on a walk of its streets. Despite having been there before (and being a bit of a Tudors obsessive) I was totally clueless to the fact that the Guildhall was the site of Lady Jane Grey’s trial before she was beheaded for treason in 1554, becoming the Nine Days Queen.
The fact that this building – having survived the Great Fire, two World Wars and hundreds of years of political change – is not only still standing but is also still in use, is why I love London. To make it even more exciting, right underneath sits the remains of London’s Roman Ampitheatre, which you can visit for free via Guildhall Art Gallery right next door to the Guildhall. Incredible.
So there’s much to learn on a tour of our beautiful City: without the traders and when the chain coffee shops are closed for business, it’s almost like this small part of one of the most modern cities in the world reverts back to its medieval roots and becomes a massive open air museum: but if you want to see the best exhibits, you’ll need a guide. And possibly an umbrella.
More information: Robert French is a qualified guide for the City of London and Clerkenwell and Islington: find out more and contact him at ShortWalksLondon.com. Thinking Bob run walking tours, treasure hunts and over 50 more socials every month, helping Londoners connect with each other and explore their city: see all their socials or read my review for Metro.co.uk.