We were recently invited along to Insider London’s quirky tour of the capital and so sent our intrepid travel blogger Laura to check it out!
My quirky tour of London began at Covent Garden where, as I exited the tube station, I was met by tour guide Tony. From the get go I knew it was going to be a fun afternoon as he greeted me with a huge smile and started talking to me in such a way it felt like I’d known him for years!
Coco Chanel on the lamp posts
Once all the bloggers had assembled we set off on our educational adventure and took three steps. At this point we found ourselves at the first stop on the tour – a lamp post! This particular one had the well-known Chanel logo on it – something I’d never noticed before, but apparently they adorn the vast majority of lamp posts in the City of Westminster. This is because the Duke of Westminster was totally infatuated with Coco Chanel, so much so he proposed to her, and she turned him down, 25 times!
This interesting fact was the first nugget of information we were given on what turned out to be a truly fun and fascinating tour of London.
From here we made our way through the Covent Garden crowds and street performers to the Apple Market. Tony guided us to the one shop here which, apart from some structural work, hadn’t been renovated since it opened back in the 1880s – Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop. Traditionally painted in primary colours, this shop front stood out from the rest. You climb a white staircase and are instantly transported back in time as you enter the shop whose walls, shelves and alcoves are dotted with toys and trinkets from a bygone era. Most noticeable were the beautiful paper theatres, which entirely covered one wall.
A 200 year old toilet turned nightclub
Heading out of the market and towards the Royal Opera House, we wound our way past theatre land and Charles Dickins’ favourite coffee shop, which inspired him to pen “All the year round”. We found ourselves at the smallest nightclub in London, which is housed in what was a 200-year-old public toilet. I’m not sure how much bleach you need to get 200 years worth of public toilet out, but I really want to visit!
Next we headed through the grounds of Somerset House towards Waterloo Bridge, which I found out was nicknamed the Ladies’ Bridge after the women who built it during WWII – something that, sadly, history has forgotten over the years.
As we walked up Carting Lane, near the Strand, Tony stopped us at the Iron Lily – another lamppost with an interesting history. This was a Webb Patent Sewer Gas Lamp, which used to burn off the gasses produced by waste in the streets in Victorian London. And, because of the smell, Carting Lane became affectionately known as “Farting Lane” – lovely!
Around the corner lies the majestic Savoy Theatre and Hotel, where we found out just how expensive it is to get a drink – the average cost of a cocktail in the bar is £120 and the most expensive is an Old Fashioned which would set you back £5,000!
We also discovered that the road leading up to the front door of the hotel is the only UK road where it’s legal to drive on the right hand side. This is because women traditionally sat behind the driver and therefore it is easier for the doorman to open the door without having to walk around the carriage, meaning the lady can walk straight into the hotel.
A London tour with a difference
Our tour ended at Trafalgar Square roughly two and half hours after it had begun. I loved the quirky and different take on the traditional walking tour and Tony made the afternoon really fun with his laidback approach and friendly demeanour. Plus he really knew his stuff! Throughout the tour, he kept mentioning how he’d found these interesting facts, but wanted to know more so delved deeper, which I thought showed his passion for his job and how much he loved his home city, it was really refreshing to see!
He dotted his speech with how certain words and phrases came to be in today’s English, which to someone who loves words and etymology I found fascinating! By the end of this original tour not only had I learned more about the history of our capital, I’d also learned to keep my eyes open. There is so much more to see in London if you look up when you walk around instead of staring at the ground. I also think I’ll take to the streets more often now rather than jump on the underground – there’s so much up there I might be missing!
We were the guests of Insider London for this tour. As ever, all opinions are our own.
The Quirky London Tour runs Thurs-Sunday plus UK Bank Holidays. To find out more or to book your place visit http://www.insider-london.co.uk/product/quirky-tour/.