For a self-professed book nerd what could be better than spending three days exploring the literary treasures that our capital holds?
My journey began leaving for a super early train to make the most of my time to London; getting in for 10.30 to meet my friend who unfortunately lives miles away down south. With plenty of time to explore she suggested we headed to Covent Garden, and after wandering the markets we discovered this beautiful little French café, tucked away downstairs. After a delightful lunch which featured plenty of goat’s cheese, we headed off to some of the high street shops. Deciding to wander over to where I was staying in St Pauls took us on a bit of a tour of the city, passing Drury Lane and heading down Fleet Street.
A hurried departure took place and I headed into the youth hostel I would be staying in to meet the group the trip had been organised through. We got to know each other while waiting for everyone to arrive and eventually began our Literary Tourism: heading over the river for a visit to The Globe theatre. The exhibition was really interesting and really informative on the history on the theatre and productions are often done using traditional methods of stage effects and costume design. Then we got to the actual theatre which was incredible and has only stoked my desire to see a show there.
After tea at Pizza Express and a quick refresh at the hostel we began our ‘literary pub crawl’. This took us to The Wheatsheaf, The Marquis of Granby and The Duke of York which were favourites of writers like Dylan Thomas, Virginia Woolf and George Orwell.
Day two got even better with our first trip being the British Library. Here we saw the brilliant Alice in Wonderland exhibition which showed original manuscripts and illustrations and told the story of how the tale has developed through the ages and its adaptations. After this we made our way to the Treasures which are the very best in artefacts of our literary history, with first editions, manuscripts and annotations from some of the most famous names in British writing.
The afternoon brought a walking tour where we visited Bloomsbury, and saw various writers houses, inspirations and tributes to their legacies. This eventually led us to Charing Cross Road for our bookshop crawl! We hopped from store to store, some old second-hand, others full of rare finds and all smelling beautifully of books. We ended these few hours of bliss in the flagship Foyle’s store which, other than the local Border’s of which I hold fond childhood memories, might well be my new favourite bookshop. Pockets lighter and bags heavier I walked away with a beautiful hardback copy of fairy-tales as written by Angela Carter.
One of the main parts of the trip was our evening trip to the theatre for which our wonderful organisers got tickets to see A Christmas Carol starring Jim Broadbent! Perhaps belatedly festive but still within the twelve days of Christmas it was completely allowed! I was worried when the show first started; how well could this translate to stage? The true answer is not very unless you are very clever which was exactly the case in this performance. Rather than take itself too seriously almost every part of the play mocked its own terrible stage effects and farcical humour. Without wanting to give out any spoilers the ending was so cleverly managed that it brought an entirely new perspective to a story that is at the very least, a little tired, which completely pulled the rug from under its unsuspecting audience. Even more praise comes for Broadbent who is even more brilliant in the theatre.
The last day started early for a tour at Dr Johnson’s house. This was a lot more interesting than expected and our guide was so knowledgeable about the man and his works. Even for someone studying modern and contemporary literature this was such a key moment in the history of both literature and our language that I couldn’t help pouring over the copies of his dictionary to see the shape our words took over two hundred years ago. The next and final stop as part of the organised trip was the National Portrait Gallery, where we were particularly looking for famous writers. I love art galleries and some of the works were beautiful, I could have spent a whole day there. But in an effort to find the writers, I did speed round a little. I particularly enjoyed the more modern 20th Century section with combinations of abstract art and photography.
Lunch-time brought an end to the trip and time to say good bye to some of the fantastic people I had met. However I still had several hours to kill before my very late train home, so me and another girl, who also had spare time, went for a wander to see a few more sights while we could. A Conversation with Oscar Wilde happened to be just round the corner and is quite a cool, if somewhat hidden, tribute to the great writer. A fairly quick tube ride then took us to 221b Baker St to see the house in which the fictional detective lives, which is currently home to the Sherlock Homes museum. We didn’t go round the museum but did take plenty of photos and popped in the shop which has a very Victorian parlour room atmosphere.
The other girl headed off and I was left with still time to spare so I headed over for a wander in Regents Park which was cut short by a sharp and very cold reminder that it was January, so I headed in search of somewhere warmer. My plan had originally been to visit the Dickens Museum, based in his home in Holborn but unfortunately it was closed to take down the Christmas decorations. So instead I made my way back to the British Library for the West Africa exhibition which we had missed the day before. This was utterly fantastic and I spent hours here perusing all the displays, recordings and reading material. I learnt a lot and am definitely inspired to add some of these authors to my reading list when my course reading is over!
Evening came and finally brought my train home, unfortunately not for Hogwarts, despite a quick peek on Platform 9 ¾ . It was a fantastic three days which felt like paradise to an English student and more than anything I wanted to sit with my chai tea latte and read all my new purchases rather than being jolted back into the real world of uni and work. But I at least had some great experiences and many memories, and would truly recommend a similar literary tour of London to any book lover out there!