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Photograph: Kristi Blokhin/Shutterstock
Photograph: Kristi Blokhin/Shutterstock

A London tour bus guide reveals three underrated gems of the city

One’s a top-secret giant clock tower called ‘Big Ben’ (only joking)

Written by
Kate Lloyd

All parks have blurred into one. Canal towpaths are boring. There are only so many times you can say ‘ah, that’s a nice bird’ or ‘I’ve not noticed that building before’ until you want to drop to your knees and scream for so long your tonsils get signed off with burnout...

What we’re saying is: it’s hard to get excited about ‘going for a walk’ these days. Sure, it might once have sounded like a joyful concept – a nice way to get a bit of nature in after a hard day at work – but now that we have done that for 365+, nothing feels duller. That’s why we've asked one of the people who knows London best to share secret spots to discover on lockdown walks with us. No, not a city planner or historian, one of those open-top bus tour guides. Phil Harris is the lead guide at Big Bus Tours

1. The Olde Cheshire Cheese step

‘The Olde Cheshire Cheese is a famous pub on Fleet Street rebuilt in 1667. For more than three and a half centuries it has been frequented by famous writers as well as journalists, City workers and even a US President (Theodore Roosevelt). As you enter, you step on a metal grille that covers the worn step below. If you step on the worn step you have literally stepped on the same step as Charles Dickens (you can sit in his chair in the chop room) Mark Twain, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dr Samuel Johnson to name but a few. It’s 354 years of history in one step.’

2. John Snow’s water pump (and the cure for cholera)

‘If you happen to be around the Carnaby Street area, take a two-minute walk to The John Snow pub on Broadwick Street (formally Broad Street). Outside is the water pump that John Snow, the eminent epidemiologist, in 1854 discovered was the source of the local cholera epidemic. He subsequently found the vaccine for cholera. Millions of lives have been saved because of one man and a pump.’

3. The Tyburn tree plaque

‘In the traffic triangle at the junction of Marble Arch and Edgware Road is a small plaque. It notes the area of an execution gallows that stood here from 1571 to 1783. 1,100 people were executed, mostly for highway robbery and murder but also for other crimes such as theft and treason. Oliver Cromwell was hanged here for treason. When Jack Shepherd, a thief famous for escaping from prison numerous times, was hanged here in 1724 – up to 200,000 people, one third of London’s population, attended.’

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