Thursday, 27 May 2010
Walking London - Keren David
Which park did Mary Poppins visit with the Banks children? Where was Dick Whittington buried? Where was the antique shop run by Paddington Bear’s friend, Mr Gruber?
All these questions and many more are answered in a book which should be a must-have for families in and around London, or anyone thinking of visiting the capital with children. London Adventure Walks for Families, by Becky Jones and Clare Lewis has 25 walks in a handy pocket-size paperback, along with maps, suggestions for snacks and games; information about museums and monuments, poems, pictures and loads of fascinating facts.
Many of the walks are inspired by classics of children’s literature. There’s a 3-mile 101 Dalmations romp around Regent’s Park, which starts at Mr and Mrs Dearly’s rather grand house in the Outer Circle, and takes you around the park - including the arched bridge where Pongo fell in love – ending up in Primrose Hill, where you are helpfully directed to a café, a book shop and a pet shop.
A Charles Dickens walk is a great introduction to Oliver Twist, Great Expectations and David Copperfield. I’d forgotten that Clerkenwell Green - where my agent has her office – is also where Oliver and the Artful Dodger pick Mr Brownlow’s pocket. Reading the details of the walk reminded me of the thrill of coming to work in London after growing up in a new town. I worked near Chancery Lane and I'd recently studied Bleak House, so Dickens' characters seemed to walk beside me as I explored the Inns of Court. The layers of history and literature everywhere made me fall in love with the city.
For young readers, seeing the real places described in books can be magical, helping them visualise characters and places better than any film. It also gives them insight into the craft of a writer who borrows from real life. And if you pick one of the walks that takes children somewhere they've never been before, it could be a good starting point for creating stories of their own.
But even if the children are not interested in literature and history and only care about the ice-cream at the end, a family walk is well worth doing. It's an opportunity for exercise, talking and sharing, away from the distractions of everyday life.
I must admit that I was pre-disposed to like this book - I’m in a writing group with one of the authors, Becky Jones, and we share a publisher, Frances Lincoln. But it wasn’t until I got a copy in my hands that I realised what a gem it is - and how useful it will be over half term. I’m already planning some walks for next week – Dick Whittington and the City of London one day, perhaps and Coram Boy another.
And if it rains, well, Mary Poppins always did have an umbrella.