All through the month of August we'll be blogging a few choice nuggets from The Mothership – that's www.walks.com, the main website of London Walks. Our From The Archive series is written in the main by London Walks' Pen David Tucker and will feature practical tips on joining in with a London Walk, some general London info as well as some more "off the beaten track" bits…
About London Walks
A peek beneath the bonnet...
London Walks is the oldest urban walking tour company in the world. It's also – by common consent – the premier urban walking tour company in the world. It's the gold standard.
A simple fact and a 24-carat judgement. And they alloy perfectly.
London Walks was founded nearly half a century ago by Keith Baverstock, an Australian. In Graham's lapidary phrase, "Keith started London Walks because he was fed up with the banality of typical London tourist fare."
Which, if you think about it, means that one of the keynotes of London Walks was sounded ab origo.
And there's no need to be coy about this: there are huge advantages that go with "owning the category" as they say in business-speak. 1) You blaze the trail you learn a great deal. 2) Your foundations go deep and they're very solid. 3) You've got a very long "corporate memory" to draw on. 4) Practice makes perfect. 5) Your very ethos – let alone ways and means – is aged in the cask. And that's no bad thing.
Its long history and way of doing things are part and parcel of London Walks' distinctive identity. (I'm tempted to say footprint.) And that's not something that can be successfully imitated. It has to be earned. Over many years. In Mrs. Thatcher's trenchant words (different context of course), "imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but an imitation is still a fake".
And as long as we're surveying this territory, it's, well, reality-based to say that London Walks is also the best loved urban walking tour company on the planet. And you know something, I wouldn't bet against us either in the little matter of how the company is run. Indeed, it's the world's foremost walking tour company not least because it's family-owned and loved and run. It's small enough to be hands on, big enough to benefit from a few critically important economies of scale – and to have secured for our people – our walkers – all kinds of wonderful "added value", to open doors that wouldn't normally be open, etc.
In short, no one else can provide what London Walks provides – whether you're talking quality, range, calibre of guiding, level of service, sheer value, etc. etc. etc.
Now some more background. All of it germane. When Keith returned to Australia in the early 1970s the torch was passed to one of the guides, Ian, a City of London banker. Ian and his wife Pat ran London Walks until 1990 when Mary and I (David) inherited it. (I'd been a London Walks guide since 1980.)
So far so "normal". But here's what sets London Walks apart. Mary and I own it – just as Ian owned it before us and Keith before Ian – but it's essentially run as a guides' cooperative. I.E., on a share the proceeds basis: a larger slice to the guide, a smaller one to London Walks. What's more, it's all done on a "trust and honour" basis.
What's not to like and admire about that? And yes, we're achingly proud of London Walks. Proud of it. And passionate about it.
It doesn't come much better than this way of doing things. The work itself is both a joy and very satisfying. (Let alone fun!) Nobody's getting ripped off, nobody's being exploited. The walks are great value for our customers. And for that matter "great value" as well for the Londoners whose neighbourhoods we explore – because walking tours are "ecologically sensitive" tourism. And they're just generally good for you – whether you're a walker or a guide or a bemused neighbour who steps outside to kibbitz – the fresh air, the exercise, the "social component", etc. etc. And as long as we're reasonably successful – well, no need to be coy about this either: for both the guides and London Walks GHQ it goes some way toward keeping the wolf from the door. And into the bargain it's a very enjoyable way of earning part of your living.
It works as well as it does because of the way we're structured. We're all pulling together. That's something quite extraordinary – something very special – in this day and age. And the bottom line – and I'm using the term with full resonance intended – is that the way we're structured is the reason we're able to attract and keep the best guides in London.
And to complete the circle – well, imagine a pebble dropped into a pool. The ripples extend out to you guys, our walkers. You're the third leg of the stool (to mix my cliches). The point being that there's a wonderful little eco-system here which works brilliantly for one and all. London Walks is like a big, bouncing, friendly, happy, welcoming, extended family. Take a resonance imaging "snapshot" of this little enterprise and you'd see that it's mercifully free of a lot of the poisons – the tensions and unpleasantries and resentments – that seem to go with the territory in a lot of rigidly hierarchical "concerns".
So if it "feels good" to a lot of you – and clearly it does – well, now you've got a rather better idea about what it was you'd sensed about us and what we do and how we do it. And why, for that matter, the company is good to be a part of – is, well, good company (it's such a marvelous word, that – the Latin roots are with and bread – to share bread with) – why, in short, it's worth your support and affection and loyalty.
A London Walk costs £9 – £7 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at www.walks.com.