DISCOVER WESTMINSTER A CITY OF SURPRISES
To many people Westminster consists of the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and Downing Street, and many who come to London are content tick these, justifiably, world famous attractions off their list of "to do's" and then head off to their next, well trodden, tourist haunt.
Yet to do so is such a pity. For Westminster has so much more to offer. Scratch the surface, delve into its back streets, hidden squares and narrow passages, and you will uncover a secret world into which few Londoners, let alone visitors, ever venture.
And, here at Discovery Tours, we are on a mission to put this secret side of London well and truly on the map and, on our hidden Westminster walk, you will enjoy a gentle stroll through 1,000 years of captivating and fascinating history.
So join us for an enchanting few hours in the course of which we will shake off the shackles of 21st century Westminster, leave the aforementioned locations to the milling hoards, and stray into an atmospheric hinterland where the beating heart of hidden Westminster keeps time with our every step.
THE FIRST STEP ON OUR MAGICAL HISTORY TOUR
We begin our exploration by taking a pleasant stroll along what, at first glance, seems a pretty none descript, even average, London street.
But appearances can be deceiving. As they say, you should never judge a book by its cover, nor should you judge a London street by the first impression.
For, turn a corner and, suddenly, stretching before you. is one of London's mots exquisite thoroughfares.
Picturesque houses that date from the late 18th and early 19th centuries line up to form an ornate guard of honour that welcomes you to the secret world of hidden Westminster.
Canopied porches grace the facades of many of the properties, whilst grimacing faces, their features twisted and contorted into all manner of strange and bizarre expressions gaze down upon us from their upper storeys.
A little way along we will even encounter the graceful statue of the English Queen who gave her name to this delightful backwater, and it is alongside her that we shall pause to take in the breathtaking majesty of our surroundings.
Your guide will introduce you to the long line of great and good to whom these historic properties have been home. Lord Palmerston, Jeremy Bentham and Charles Townley, whose collection of historic artifacts were at the heart of the founding collection at the British Museum.
Could you wish for a more illustrious list of company in which to start your?
NARROW ALLEYWAYS - GATEWAYS TO HISTORY
So we're off to a great start as our tour wends its way through a long, narrow passageway that delivers us into the bustling centre of Westminster.
But, oh what a vista we come up against.
For, looming before us is one of the best views of the West front of Westminster Abbey itself and, to its left, the Houses of Parliament.
Yes, for one moment, we will pause to take in this truly stunning vision that has appeared before us.
Yet, even here, surrounded as we are by the crowds, our ears lambasted by the roar of the traffic, we manage to tease another secret out of the area in the form of an old gate that was once the entrance to one of London's most notorious prisons.
WESTMINSTER SCHOOL - A TRANQUIL OASIS
But then it's very much back to the secret world of Westminster as we duck through a timeworn arch to find ourselves in a tranquil courtyard surrounded by the buildings of as school, the origins of which stretch all the way back to the year 1179.
Former pupils who have trodden the very flags on which you walk include the playwright Ben Johnson, the architectural genius Sir Christopher Wren, Warren Hastings (who he?), A.A. Milne, the creator of Winnie the Pooh, Ambrose St John (who he?), Shane McGowan, lead singer with the Pogues, impresario and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, the actress Helena Bonham Carter, and the Deputy Prime minister Nick Clegg (who he?), to name but a few.
HIDDEN HOUSES OF GEORGIAN LONDON
Via another time-washed arch, the Secret Westminster walk then meanders through a muddled medley of Georgian Streets, each one lined with houses that have been lived in, and still are lived in, by the great, the good, the not so good and the not at all good!
The names of those who have called these streets home include T.E. Lawrence, he of Arabia fame; Lord Reith, the first Director General of the BBC; the mysterious government minister upon whom George Orwell based Big Brother in 1984; former British Prime minister Harold Wilson; pioneering investigative journalist W. T Stead, whose life ended tragically with the sinking of SS Titanic; and even the great consulting detective Sherlock Holmes, albeit his residence here was in a film.
And, if this illustrious line up is insufficient to get you donning those walking shoes and venturing into the hidden streets of Westminster, then how about screen goddess Marilyn Monroe, Norma Jean herself, who stayed for a night in one of the glorious old houses that we will stand outside.
CURIOSITIES AND STREETS FURNISHINGS
For many who join us on our secret London walks, one of the most rewarding experiences is the fact that your guide will point out things that you might not otherwise notice.
There are a multitude of such things in London, little pieces of street furniture that hide in plain view, remnants of the past that people pass on a daily basis and don't notice them as they hurry by.
The Secret Westminster Walk is a case in point when it comes to these artifacts from history, and your guide will ensure that not one stone is left unturned and not one curiosity is left uncovered.
You'll get to see them all. From faded, long ago street names that merge into the background of the walls they adorn, to ancient link extinguishers that transport us back to the days before lighting lit the streets of London by night, to the ghostly images of signs that point the way to long forgotten World War Two air raid shelters. They're all out there just waiting for you to discover them.
You'll even catch a glimpse of Queen Anne's footstool and, if you can resist the urge to Google it before you join the tour, you might be quite surprised at what it actually is!
THE GREEN YOU'VE OFTEN SEEN
Twisting our way through more of these historic streets, we emerge onto the Green where the television cameras frequently line up to conduct interviews with the polititians from the Houses of Parliament opposite.
You'll have seen this view time and time again, and its easy to see why this spot is so often chosen for political interviews, since the view is so stunning it can easily distract from what's actually been said!
A MEDIEVAL TOWER NO LESS
But, hidden away to the side of this Green, and the main reason we venture onto it, is to include the hidden fragment of the great medieval Westminster Palace that once covered he ground over which we walk.
This is such a wonderful relic of old London, and yet many of those who mill around the entrance to the Houses of Parliament opposite never even notice it.
Just a little way along and we come upon the time worn bust of Charles 1st, which stares accusingly across the road and one of Westminster's more eye catching statues.
Everyone who passes the Houses of Parliament notices the statue. Few who pass the bust of Charles ever notice him.
As a result, few are privy to the reason that the eyes of the statue are downcast, as though unable to look Charles in the eye. Why should this be? Worry not, for your guide will regale you with the tales of intrigue, betrayal that swirl around the two of them whose long ago clash, quite literally, chanmge the course of English history.
OH WHAT A FINALE AWAITS
The mantra for our London walking tours is always end with a strong finish and on the Secret Westminster Walk we most certainly follow that mantra to the letter.
For, as the walk draws to its conclusion, we find ourselves gazing across at the Houses of Parliament and, from this magnificent vantage point, you really do get to appreciate what an impressive and absolutely stunning set of buildings they truly are.
So, if you really want to get beneath the skin of one of London's most famous neighbourhoods. If you want to visit old streets and buildings that are untouched by time. If you want to learn about the lives of some of London's famous, and less famous, former residents - then join our Secret Westminster Walk and let us take you on a magic roller coaster of a ride through 1,000 years of history.