Thanks to a London friend, I took a walking tour of London before Christmas that I would probably never have found on my own. The name of the outfit that conducted the tour is Hairy Goat and if you are a history, photography or architecture buff, or just an ordinary Anglophile, you need to check them out when you are in London.
I went on their Photography Mystery Tour. It lasted a bit more than three hours and took in a large part of the square mile known as the City of London (sort of London’s equivalent of Wall Street). By day, this area is filled with zillions of perfectly attired business people rushing in, out and around a riot of old and new and mostly functional-looking buildings. There seems nothing to lure a tourist at any time of day, or so I had always assumed.
Corinna, the brains behind Hairy Goat, met me at the rendezvous point at 11am on a breezy morning a few weeks ago. I wish I’d taken better notes during the tour, but Corinna’s enthusiasm and encyclopedic knowledge of her subject were spellbinding, an essential feature of any good walking tour. It was only the two of us, so our conversation was constant, probably the main reason I wasn’t scribbling away in my journal the whole time.
London’s early history, beginning with the Romans, breezing through the Middle Ages and continuing into Victorian and Georgian times came alive. The history of various London guilds was a revelation; many of these guilds not only still exist, but still own large chunks of the City!
We went up and down side streets, ducked into ancient bank buildings, stuffy-looking on the outside but functioning now as pubs, if lavishly appointed ones with their antique features largely intact. Talk about not judging a book by its cover!
The tour began at the Royal Exchange and finished after a stroll through the absolutely stunning Victorian market of Leadenhall and a quick peek at the shop whose exterior was Ollivander’s wand shop in the Harry Potter movies.
When I travel, I’m always taking a ton of photos and freely admit that my photography skills are basic at best. My four year old digital point-and-shoot has a zoom capability and, until I took the Mystery walking tour with Hairy Goat, I was happy enough with the quality of my photos. Hairy Goat’s business primarily relates to photography, so Corinna spent some time giving me a few tips on getting more from my camera. Unfortunately, because my brain can take a long time to process information, I wasn’t able to make the best use of her pointers. Worse, I became self-conscious about taking photos during the walk and that feeling hung around for the rest of my stay in London. A cautionary note – if you don’t know what a button does on any piece of equipment, DO’N TOUCH IT (sic)! I could swear that photos that used to come out fine on other trips didn’t this time because I was mucking about cluelessly with my camera. I shoulda known better.
Some of my best photos during the tour are included here with this post, but I’ve already resolved to track down the instructions for my camera to see if I can figure out a few more of its features. The photo of the mice is a building feature that may represent an ancient feud between two men who lived and worked in the City ages ago. The mice are about life-size, so the fact that they look like mice at all is a surprise in itself, given how far up the wall they are.
One final note – there are a couple of new office towers going up in the City that spoiled the atmosphere of treasured antiquity we were studying.
On the one hand, I suppose it’s better to have a 40-story building with a small footprint that does not require too much demolition of old structures. On the other, though, they will forever change the character of the City at ground level and make for some nasty wind tunnels into the bargain. Bundle up!
And, next time you’re in London, book a walk with these folks.