Mike Pentelow and Peter Arkell
BARDT TRAVEL GUIDES UK
(£12.99 or with 40% reduction quoting LWB)
There is of course an ethical dilemma in reviewing a book to which you have made a contribution, but as I wrote a mere 530 words of a 244-page guide book I do not feel too guilty.
Bradt seem keen to target the older demographic, in this particular case the London Freedom Pass user, while previous companion volumes have looked at scenic and memorable bus journeys round the UK. However there would be nothing to stop a London based Oyster card user following any of the listed 25 walks, as they can all be easily completed in a few hours and at little cost depending on your beer consumption.
There is one caveat to this – the author and his photographer friend are clearly great ‘real ale’ connoisseurs and therefore each walk is liberally sprinkled with specific brewery recommendations – of course if the book runs to a second edition they will have to visit every hostelry again to make sure the same beers are on offer. Beer is not my particular thing so you have been warned. Interestingly the ‘Famous Women’ Feisty Females (Walk 24) walk is actually a pub crawl as much as anything – you need to hop on a bus or two between stops. I shall need to ask my nephew’s opinion as he enjoys and knows his beer.
Refreshments apart the walks are reasonably well distributed round inner London and the green Belt and range in length from 1½ to 9 miles, the latter being the good old Fleet. The authors do acknowledge previous walk compendia and any seasoned walker will recognise some of the contributions relying as they do on branching out from the Capital Ring, Thames Path and London Loop.
However it is fair to say that Mike Pentelow and his photographer friend give a fine spin to some of the sights and sites en route – they do have a light touch and this comes as a welcome surprise after some of the more po-faced contributions to the earlier bus volumes; also because they have authored the whole book there is a greater consistency in style and approach. To say these walkers wear their political hearts on their sleeves is an understatement – there is one whole walk dedicated to Karl Marx and the Communist Party and their political leanings are fairly transparent throughout – not that we mind as the LWB have not been fans of many recent political parties and what they have ‘achieved’ (hah) round London. William Morris gets a big ‘shout-out’ along the Wandle (Walk13) as do Ramsay McDonald and Friedrich Engels on their version of the Fleet walk (Walk 6). I admire the author’s skill in giving us potted biographies or nuggets of history at the different stopping points as I know this can be difficult to do without becoming too teacherly in your text.
The real test of a walk book however is how clear is it to follow? Will you stand at the crossroads non-plussed or stride ahead confident that you won’t be retracing your steps any moment soon when the paths gives out? A bonus for this book is the little ‘Hands Up’ ✋ sign meaning – you can bale out here with all the relevant transport links given – and they are not sparing with these. Also they advise having back-up maps either A-Z or Ordnance Survey.
The little maps are nicely illustrated, though as ever digital black and white always looks a little disappointing and the colour pictures suffer a little from appearing as compilations, which detracts from their innate quality.
The book has a slightly ‘blokey’ feel to it (own up chaps) though I suppose most pubs do coffee nowadays…However this book makes an excellent introduction to walking for pleasure – if you are a London-based seasoned walker much of this will already be familiar but they have managed to find new angles, certainly new watering holes and it offers a good all round use for London’s Freedom Pass users.