East London is somewhere that I have never really explored. The beating heart of London's creativity, and where all the cool kids hang out, I've periodically gone on nights out there, but I would never say I knew it. So, when the opportunity came around to go on Bowl of Chalk's My Neck of the Woods walk one Sunday morning, I jumped.
Led by our humorous and rather knowledgeable guide Jonnie, we set off to explore the city, the only 'locals' in our group (although I was assured by a very nice American lady that she thought it was very cool we were touring our own city!). The tour itself delved in to the history of the area (generally quite dark) and the present (generally quite creative), through bustling areas and residential streets, piecing together my altogether patchy knowledge of the area. It was also incredibly fun and friendly, with Jonnie making a clear and genuine effort to include everyone as we navigated the streets for a solid three hours.
East London is covered (quite literally) in street art, at every turn there is something interesting to look at, be it a giant stick man by street artist Stik, or a teeny landscape on a piece of gum by Ben Wilson (which unfortunately we couldn't find). This is a neighbourhood that wears its creative heart on its sleeve.
East London is steeped in (somewhat dark) history (there is so much that I wont risk boring you here, go on the tour, Jonnie tells it better!) and our tour took us through the beautiful and ancient Bunhill Field's Cemetery. Tucked away off Old Street, I think this could become a favourite place for a quiet moment, sitting in dappled light, watching people pay their respects at the graves of William Blake and Daniel Defoe.
Columbia Road flower market is somewhere I have always wanted to go. Only open on a Sunday, the market keeps Londoners in bright blooms in the summer, and Christmas trees in December, it is a crazy, beautiful and unique place - and I was really excited to hear that we would be dropping by as part of the tour!
Given the awesome weather last Sunday, the market was extremely busy, so when let loose by Jonnie to explore we decided to stick to the side streets and explore the small flee market that had sprung up in a parking lot nestled between quaint old cottages. This area is such a rare gem in an area that was nearly entirely decimated by bombing, it is almost like stepping in to a country village.
While exploring we got really lucky and stumbled upon London Scoop Ice Cream - serving out of a makeshift shed, they serve the best fig ice cream ever, an excellent mid-walk snack!
Moving on from the flower market, we headed through the residential streets, exploring one of the first council estates in London, a beautiful arrangement of red brick buildings set around a community garden - moments away from a busy commercial area, these streets felt like another world!
Our tour wound down in Spitalfields - a market on the apex of all London's personalities (and a good place for lunch), surrounded by narrow streets heaving with activity and culture both old (French weavers) and modern (Tracy Emin).
I came away from my three hours traipsing the street with a greater sense of what my city is all about, and some excellent pub quiz trivia (I am always on the team that comes second, I hope to change that!). Whether you are a visitor, or a local, a Bowl of Chalk walk is a great way to get to know one of the most dynamic and diverse parts of London in a really relaxed and informal way.
Bowl of Chalk (Cockney rhyming slang for walk) do guided tours in London where you 'pay what you want' - there are three regular weekend walks as well as the opportunity to have your very own local guide for your visit who will come up with a bespoke tour, just for you!