Diary of a Guide…Bridget Jones, Book Fairies and Wonky Tearooms
The season’s hotting up, even if the weather is not, with two walks, the Education Show and a tour of the Cotswolds this week.
After a few weeks of research and route planning, I finally delivered my walk in Shoreditch this evening for a corporate group made up of British and Americans. We started in Finsbury Square with the Victorian water fountain erected to the memory of Martha Smith by her two sons, Thomas and Walter. Now I’m sure that Mrs Smith was a wonderful mum and worthy of such a tribute, but who’s ever heard of her? I had however heard of her son Tom – who invented the Christmas cracker in 1846 and whose work premises were based in Finsbury Square until the 1950s.
On what was a chilly night, we zipped through the Honourable Artillery Company, Bunhill Cemetery and Wesley’s Chapel on City Road, before diving into the side streets of Shoreditch to discover street art, old warehouses, and not one but two Shakespearian theatres – the Curtain Theatre and the unimaginatively named The Theatre. Then again, maybe ‘The Theatre’ was imaginative in the 1570s!
I even managed to include the latest piece of street art – a take on the Oscar race row. Located on the corner of Great Eastern Street and Curtain Road, it’s a great example of the culture and purpose of street art; topical, eye-catching, often controversial and timely.
I was feeling rather proud of my skills as a guide in managing to find and include such a piece, until the group’s attention was caught by something and all the Americans whipped out their mobiles and started filming. Turning to see what caused such excitement, I was a little disappointed to find that the highlight of their evening was not my inspiring commentary nor my choice of interesting landmarks, but a traffic warden loading a clamped car onto a tow truck to take it to the pound!
This morning I took my Bromley Ladies (a regular group that I take on walks a few times a year) on my ‘That’s A WRAP’ tour of film locations in the City of London.
Starting at St Paul’s Cathedral, we covered David Lean’s 1946 Great Expectations, Mary Poppins (spoiler alert – ‘Feed The Birds’ was actually filmed on a set at Walt Disney studios) and the cybermen from Dr Who. Then caught up with Rumpole at the Old Bailey and The Jokers (1967, starring Oliver Reed and Michael Crawford as two brothers who steal the crown jewels), before reminiscing over Four Weddings and a Funeral at St Bartholomew the Great church. The Queen, Evita and The Da Vinci Code saw us at Goldsmiths’ Hall, and then we took in The Lavender Hill Mob and Dick van Dyke’s atrocious cockney accent (Mary Poppins again) at St Mary le Bow church on Cheapside.
After reliving our movie memories, we finished off by re-enacting the final scene of Bridget Jones’ Diary at the Royal Exchange. We got some very strange looks as we all pretended to be Bridget racing through the snow in woolly jumper and stripy underpants (not literally, you understand) searching for Mr Darcy and finally meeting him by the water fountain for the inevitable happy ending!
Early start today, as I was off to the Education Show at the NEC in Birmingham to help man The View From The Shard’s stand as I have been instrumental in the development of their learning resources for school visits.
As the train pulled out of Euston, I felt like I was on a school trip with my drink and snacks laid out on the table in front of me, but when I arrived at the NEC I started to wonder if I was in the right place as everyone else was dressed as comic book characters? Turns out that Marvel Comic Con was on in the next door hall – if only I’d had my Wonder Woman outfit with me I could have gone to that instead!
The Education Show was probably not quite as much fun as Comic Con, but we did enjoy ourselves and met lots of lovely teachers and school administrators interested in bringing their school groups up The Shard and learning about London from the top. The stand opposite obligingly let us use one of their colourful lockers to secure our personal belongings in throughout the day – didn’t even have lockers when I was at school, you just left stuff in your desk and lugged the rest round with you all day as you moved from classroom to classroom.
The tools and resources available for schools is also quite amazing and has clearly improved a lot since I left school, as we certainly didn’t have all the electronic and computer tools. I also don’t recall the book fairy reading to us – just loved her ‘open book’ wings!
Another early start, this time from Victoria Coach Station, as I took a group to the Cotswolds for the day.
First stop was the beautiful village of Burford, with its lovely sloping main street and 15th century church of St John the Baptist, where a stark plaque commemorates three Levellers from the New Model Army who were shot on the orders of Oliver Cromwell in 1649.
Next we headed to the quaint village of Bibury, which William Morris described as “the most beautiful village in the Cotswolds”. It certainly is picturesque with the River Coln running through it and the 16th century cottages in Arlington Row.
Lunch was at The Swan, a former coaching inn, where I enjoyed grilled whole trout from Bibury Trout farm next door, before we carried on to the ‘Little Venice of The Cotswolds’, Bourton-on-the-Water.
By this time, the sun was starting to make an appearance and Bourton with its tearooms was doing a roaring trade as we strolled along the River Windrush. Some of my group took time to visit the motor museum, the model railway exhibition and the model village, all of which are worth a visit.
Our tour of the Cotswolds finished in the market town of Stow-on-the-Wold, where at the height of the wool industry 20,000 sheep would exchange hands at the annual fair. Stow is also the scene of a major battle in 1646 at the height of the English Civil War – a pet subject of mine. So I took advantage of the free time my group were enjoying browsing the antique shops and treating themselves to a cream tea, to visit the parish church of St Edward where there is a memorial to those who died in the battle.
A Parliamentarian victory, this was the last battle of the first English Civil War and saw the destruction of the Royalist army with about 200 Royalist soldiers killed and 1,700 taken prisoner. Local legend has it that the slaughter was so bad that blood flowed like a river down Digbeth Street, as the Royalist commander, Sir Jacob Astley, sat on the steps of the market cross at his surrender.
Needing some sustenance before the journey back to London, I finished the day by treating myself to a nice cup of tea and a lardy cake (made to a secret recipe) in Huffkins (www.huffkins.com), a family bakery that was founded back in 1890 and occupies a rather wonky Grade II listed building made of Cotswold stone.
Nothing wonky about my lardy cake though , which was rather delicious – it’s well worth a visit to the Cotswolds just to visit Huffkins, let alone the quintessentially English villages!
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