Try the inmidtown experience this Christmas
Published: 30 Nov 2012 09:300 comments
Find out more about our capital from spooky tales to unusual shops and even the place where the country's first Christmas card was printed on free walks organised by inmidtown - a Business Improvement District promoting Holborn, two Tube stops from Regent Street and Oxford Street.
I joined office workers on their lunch break and day trippers for a Haunted Holborn walk led by professional guide and history graduate Aly Mir. Despite having worked in Holborn earlier in my career Aly led us along a tiny passage I had never noticed, telling intriguing tales of priests murdered in The Ship Tavern, around Kingsway via Red Lion Square - said to be haunted by three figures including Oliver Cromwell whose bodies were dug from their graves to stand public trial for treason - to Lincolns Inn Fields.
Aly's brisk 45-minute walks are designed to fit into a busy commuter's lunch break. There are 93 themed walks which will increase to 100 next year, some are longer and more in depth and topics range from his favourite, music, including the home of Ready, Steady, Go to Dracula And Frankenstein, India, Christmas Crackers and a tour of film locations. Aly's narrative is informal but informative with plenty of advice on doing your own more thorough exploration if you fancy it.
I followed his advice to walk from Lincolns Inn Fields to The Strand passing The Olde Curiosity Shop - the oldest shop in the country and now selling women's shoes - to The Courtauld Gallery.
It is respected around the world as a centre for the teaching of art, art history and conservation and home to headline paintings by artists such as Van Gogh, Rubens, Manet and Freud covering a period from the early Renaissance to the 1960s. The paintings are set in the intimate rooms of Somerset House and while tickets usually cost a very reasonable £6 for adults, with concessions available, every Monday (not public holidays) from 10am-2pm admission is completely free.
I savoured the chance to revisit some of my favourite Impressionist paintings without the impatient bustle of larger galleries. Dr Ernst Vegelin, head of the Courtauld Gallery, explained: "Here you can have a really personal experience of these great masterpieces, you can get up close in an informal, intimate room and you can linger. It's unhurried, it's such a different experience."
The gallery changes the work on show three times a year, with Picasso coming up in February, Gauguin in the summer and Durer in October.
All this culture was working up an appetite so I headed back to Holborn where I had been assured Hush, a new brasserie with plenty of tables and cosy booths serving up a fresh, modern menu would be able to cater for my gluten-free no meat diet. Every member of staff was confident in giving me specific answers about dishes on the menu with a complete allergy list on hand. I tucked into tasty braised Portobello mushrooms, a main course of chunky moist roast cod fillet served with french fries, tried the creamy butternut squash risotto and still had room for home made honeycomb ice cream with a generous slab of honeycomb on the side helped by a glass of crisp pinot grigio.
All this food needed to be walked off - so I set off back to Waterloo via the Tube to Oxford Street (trying not think about Aly's tales of the screaming Egyptian mummy haunting the old British Museum station) for some window shopping, walked along Regent Street nipping into Hamleys for some early Christmas shopping and back on the Tube at Piccadilly Circus.