London Villages

London Villages

One of the things I like best about London is how it is really made up of many, many different areas, all of which are quite diverse and could be in quite different cities. For example, get out of a station at three random locations – say, Holland Park, Shoreditch and Crystal Palace – and you will find yourself in three quite different worlds. This is one reason why London never tires. For these reasons, Zena Alkayat’s new book on London Villages caught my eye.

This cute little tome covers no less than 30 villages in London, visiting each corner of the capital (north, south, east, west and central). Each village has its own pretty hand-drawn map of the highlights (illustrated by Jenny Seddon), which also handily includes the closest stations. Village life is great but it can be frustrating when you visit a new area and its highlights are hidden away down a side-street. This book should put paid to this problem – at least for these 30 areas.

LondonVillagesmap

Of course not every village in London can be included, and while I’m sure everyone could think of some that they would insert (Rotherhithe village, that most village-y city village, and Clerkenwell/Farringdon are two that spring to mind), there is an excellent coverage in general. The book is a handy size (it would easily fit into a bag but is not so small it seems insignificant) and contains lovely photographs by Kim Lightbody for each village. I’ve already spotted a few new places to visit, so it will be accompanying me on some future explorations. And it’s perfect for a certain gift-giving season on the horizon…

Frances Lincoln has kindly offered readers of The Londonphile a special discount on this title. To order a copy of  London Villages for £7.99 including p&p* (RRP £9.99), telephone 01903 828503 or email mailorders@lbsltd.co.uk, and quote the offer code APG14.
*UK only – Please add £2.50 if ordering from overseas.

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Art Deco Bloomsbury

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It may not be particularly fashionable in architectural circles, but I’ve long had a rather large soft spot for Art Deco buildings. So when I heard that Yannick Pucci (aka @ypldn) was running the first of his new Art Deco walking tours as part of the annual Bloomsbury Festival it went straight into the diary. I don’t want to give away all of Yannick’s secrets here, so this will be more of a pictorial post. And the buildings shown here are by no means all of the ones included on the walk – yet more deco delights await you in Bloomsbury.

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Having said that, I do want to write just a little about my favourite stop on the walk: 7-11 Herbrand Street. This stunning white, black and green example of Art Deco started life as a Daimler car hire garage and also did time as a car park – the circular section on the right was the ramp for cars. Built in 1931 by Wallis, Gilbert and Partners (who were also the architects behind Perivale’s Hoover Building and the Victoria Coach Station), this structure has a little bit of everything for the art deco fan (zigzags! tiles! patterns! circular motifs!) and really is worthy of its own blog post. Today it is home to advertising giant McCann London.

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UCL School of Pharmacy (detail), Brunswick Square – (Herbert Rowse, 1937-60, delay due to war):

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Clare Court, Judd Street (TP Bennett & Son, 1920s):

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Tavistock Court (detail), Tavistock Square (circa 1934-5):

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Gower Mews (1930s) – the first Art Deco mews street I have seen – the other side is Victorian, which makes for quite a contrast:

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And last but most certainly not least, the magnificent Senate House, University of London. Designed by Charles Holden (the architect of over 50 tube stations, and much more besides), this 19-storey mammoth was indeed London’s first skyscraper. It was taken over by the Ministry of Information during World War II and famously inspired George Orwell’s vision of the Ministry of Truth in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

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The good news is that Yannick will be running more Art Deco treks around Bloomsbury in the future. He has just added new dates in November (the 2nd and the 30th); also keep an eye on the Art Deco walk page on his blog. This fabulous tour also covers other significant architectural sites in Bloomsbury in passing, so is highly recommended for all lovers of London’s architecture.

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The Diamond Street app

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I’ve had a number of serendipitous moments since I started the Londonphile, but one of my favourites occurred just last weekend when I was trying out Rachel Lichtenstein’s new Diamond Street app and stumbled across the author leading her own tour. There were others out and about in the streets of Farringdon’s Hatton Garden using the app too, which successfully brings to life – and back to life – a fascinating area and its history.

Bleeding Heart Yard

Bleeding Heart Yard

The Diamond Street app developed out of Lichtenstein’s latest book Diamond Street: The hidden world of Hatton Garden, the second part of a non-fiction trilogy exploring London streets, which commenced with 2007’s On Brick Lane. Hatton Garden is an area the author knows well, with her family having long-running connections with the diamond and jewellery trade that flourishes there. The focus on a small area translates well into an app – although Hatton Garden is a street name, ‘the Garden’ now refers to the wider area, bordered on its southern side by the boundary of the estate once owned by the Bishops of Ely.

St Andrew's Charity School, 1721

St Andrew’s Charity School, 1721

Not having explored Hatton Garden before, I can confirm that the app was very helpful with navigating a new area, as well as bringing the area to life for me. Crucially, it also brings back to life parts of the area that have been lost or changed beyond recognition over time – particularly through the use of interviews with former residents. I was interested to learn that part of the area was once known as ‘Little Italy’, and found it fascinating the way the app gives you pause to consider the origins of street names. Lovers of London’s lost rivers will also enjoy hearing about the now subterranean Fleet River.

Once home to some of London's most notorious rookeries - and Fagin's den.

Once home to some of London’s most notorious rookeries – and Fagin’s den.

By researching the area through old maps, Lichtenstein also managed to debunk a long-held myth that ‘the Garden’ had been a medieval jewellery quarter, discovering instead that it was mostly farmland. Today, two of these maps are included in the app’s timeline. I don’t want to give all of the app’s secrets away, but I have included here a few photos of my own personal highlights – you might well discover different ones for yourself…

The Diamond Street app is free and can be downloaded on iTunes or on Google Play for Android phones.

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Ely Place

Ely Place – once home to the Bishops of Ely

St Etheldreda's - chapel to the Bishops of Ely, 1580

St Etheldreda’s – chapel to the Bishops of Ely, 1580

Old Mitre Tavern, built in 1547 for servants at the bishops' palace

Old Mitre Tavern, built in 1547 for servants at the bishops’ palace

Criminal London

Criminal LondonSurely a sign of a good guide book is that it helps you discover new places and inspires you to visit them. And this being the case, Kris and Nina Hollington’s new tome on Criminal London must be a good one indeed as it’s already spurred the Londonphile to set off to explore a new site. And so this is the book review that turned into a blog post…

Criminal London: A Sightseer’s Guide to the Capital of Crime – to be published on March 14th – is an extensive (336 pages!), well-researched guide to the darker side of London, which is well illustrated with strong photographs (and the odd drawing of sites no longer in existence). It includes a nice mix of the historical (Bedlam, King’s Bench Prison), the gruesome (good old Jack and numerous other spillers of blood), and the downright odd (The Murder Bag – actually both gruesome and odd) – with a touch of espionage thrown in for good measure (Litvinenko). Neatly divided into south, east, north and west London, all up 124 sites are covered, along with three extensive walks following in the footsteps of the Krays, Arthur Conan Doyle and Jack the Ripper.

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As soon as I saw number 11 (south) I knew I would be heading off to visit what remains of Southwark’s Marshalsea Debtors’ Prison. Marshalsea is most famously known as the place of incarceration for Charles Dickens’ family when father John could no longer pay the bills, an event which meant a twelve-year-old Charles had to take work in a blacking factory. Dickens’ time visiting his family (who were all staying at the prison, as was the practice) and the lengthy walk he took across London each day to do so, had a lasting impact on the author, to say the very least. These experiences inspired his social conscience and the prison itself features in Little Dorrit. Dickens later secured accommodation closer to his family, in nearby Lant Street, where a plaque commemorates his stay.

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While all that remains of the complex – which closed in 1842 – is the south wall, it is still an evocative place, with its old bricks and lamps (I doubt the authenticity of these as they now light the alleyway leading – rather appropriately – to Southwark Coroner’s Court, but they look good). Two memorials inscribed on the ground in the alley commemorate the site and John Dickens. The wall is today situated within St George’s Churchyard Gardens on Tabard Street – a former burial ground that is now decorated with some of the old gravestones.

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Kris Hollington has been writing on London crime for a number of years – and his expertise really comes through in this guide. It’s already had me out on the streets exploring London’s darker history and will hopefully leave you similarly inspired. Criminal London is published by Aurum Press and will retail at £10.99.

WIN A COPY: And thanks to Aurum I have a copy to give away! Just post a comment below or send a tweet to @londonphile to enter. Competition closes 1pm Saturday 30th March 2013. A winner will be selected randomly and contacted directly.

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Thames beachcombing

It’s amazing what you can find along the Thames. The Londonphile has been beachcombing around Rotherhithe and is developing quite a collection of blue and white china. The Thames foreshore is truly a treasure trove, and the best part is that it is constantly being refreshed as the tide washes in and out twice a day, both bringing with it new items and revealing new finds as the water rolls back. I collected the items above over just two short trips to the foreshore at Rotherhithe (along stretches near the Mayflower pub and Surrey Docks Farm respectively). Here are a few more photos of what I have found so far:

I particularly like the pattern on this one:

This one has almost – not quite – washed away; possibly it’s an older piece:

These pieces are tiny (around two centimetres) but come out well in a photograph (if I do say so myself):

But it’s not just about blue and white – here are some brown and cream items:

Clay pipes are also a popular find along the Thames. These can date as far back as the 16th century and were indeed used for smoking. Jane from Jane’s London makes jewellery out of clay pipes she finds along the Thames. Here are some pipe stems I found:

If you want to do your own spot of treasure-hunting you should check the tide times to determine when there will be a low tide – the lower the tide the better as more of the foreshore is exposed. BBC Weather has a webpage showing tide tables for London, which I think are easier to understand than the one published by the London Port Authority. I would also recommend some hardy gloves, wellies (or at least sensible shoes – the mud can be surprisingly thick) and a bag for finds. Just remember that while you can pick up anything from the surface (i.e. without any digging, scraping or lifting or rocks) without a licence, if you do find anything that may be of archaeological value this must be reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme Finds Liaison Officer at the Museum of London on  020 7814 5733 or flo@museumoflondon.org.uk.

If you don’t feel like going it alone there are a number of groups that run organised walks or fossicking tours along the Thames. Thames Discovery and Thames Explorer Trust run a number of archaeology and beachcombing walks on various sites along the Thames. I wrote about Thames Discovery’s Rotherhithe Winter Walk earlier this year; the Thames Explorer Trust will hold a free Custom House Walk on Friday 22nd June 2012, 9:30am to 11:30am – there are currently seven places left so be quick! Keep an eye on Thames Discovery’s Events page as new walks are listed regularly. London Walks also hold Thames Mudlarking walks guided by an archaeologist. The Surrey Docks Farm holds irregular foraging sessions along their foreshore – there will be one this Sunday 10th June at midday – no booking is required and it’s free.

Book review: Thames Path in London

It seems fitting that the Londonphile’s first book review features two of my very favourite things: London (naturally) and the Thames. As many Londonphiles out there would undoubtedly be aware, there is already a guidebook that leads us down the Thames Path. But Phoebe Clapham’s new publication – Thames Path in London – is unique in that it focuses on the areas within London, starting at Hampton Court and taking us all the way downriver to Crayford Ness, on the Thames Path Extension. That’s 50 miles (or 80kms if you prefer) of good guidance!

Just like David Sharp’s Thames Path guide – published in the same series by Aurum Press – Clapham’s tome contains top notch Ordnance Survey maps. A yellow line is superimposed onto these maps to clearly demarcate the Thames Path (which as fellow Thames-lovers would know, can be surprisingly meandering in places). It is further designed for ease of use by having each of the eight sections that the path is divided into begin and end near a station. Practical tips on essentials such as eating and drinking are also provided at the start.

One of the best aspects of Thames Path in London is the semi-regular break-out sections featuring information on various historical sites, events and themes found along (or in) the Thames. These vary from the well-known (Tower Bridge and London Bridge) to more esoteric themes such as Arcadian Thames and the pleasure gardens of a bygone age. Not only are they interesting and well-researched but they serve to break up the constant direction-giving necessitated by such a guide. Clapham’s book is also interspersed with historical images – including illustrations, photographs and paintings – ensuring a publication that goes above and beyond the call of the average functional guide, and one which helps to bring to life the fascinating (and often lost) history found along the Thames.

Although the guide has no index – as is also the case with Sharp’s guide – the main map at the front shows how the full route is divided up into the eight sections, and the main areas included in each of these. It’s tricky writing a guide to a path that is found on both sides of the river for much of its duration. The guide gets around this by dividing the text up into the North Bank and South Bank according to colour (purple and green respectively, just so you know). Two substantial circular walks diverting off the path (in Richmond and Limehouse), written exclusively for this publication, are also included.

You will certainly be in safe hands following Clapham’s directions along what is the section of the Thames Path most densely packed with sights, history and, well, just about everything really. And as the publishers note, it will also come in handy for anyone attempting to follow the Jubilee flotilla on foot in June!

Thames Path in London, by Phoebe Clapham, will be published by Aurum Press this Thursday 24 May. RRP is £12.99, but thanks to Aurum I have one copy to give away to a lucky Londonphile follower out there.

WIN A COPY: Twitter followers can tweet me via @londonphile to enter; Facebook followers can add their name to the list I will create on www.facebook.com/thelondonphile. New followers are welcome to join in too! Competition closes 5pm Tuesday 29th May. A winner will be selected randomly and contacted directly.

London Coffeehouse Tour

Unreal City Audio’s Coffeehouse Tour covers two of the Londonphile’s favourite things: London and coffee. Historian and tour leader Dr Matthew Green conducts these tours around the old City, explaining how a gritty and bitter Turkish drink transformed the capital. Ably assisted by a small troupe of actors and musicians, he brings the City’s old coffeehouses to life – no mean feat considering that they no longer exist.

Appropriately enough the tour commences outside St Michael’s Cornhill – in 1652 Greek entrepreneur and coffee-lover Pasqua Rosee started the city’s first coffee stall here in the churchyard. People queued up all the way down St Michael’s Alley to get their caffeine fix from dishes of coffee sold from a wooden shack, while the church pews sat empty. Over 600 dishes a day were sold.

The old and the new.

One of the most fascinating – and fundamental – aspects of the original London coffeehouses was that they were not a solitary experience, as is so often the case today. Instead, they were an opportunity for people (read: men) to talk to strangers, strike deals, and generally impart news, information and mis-information. The early coffeehouses were so strong a feature of London life that they survived not only the Great Fire (which destroyed all 82 coffeehouses in the City) but the wrath of King Charles II, who attempted  – and failed – to shut them down with a 1675 proclamation.

The tour takes you to the sites of some of the earliest coffeehouses – most of which came to be associated with a particular business, such as insurance, auctioneering and stockbroking and were essentially to become the birthplaces of these industries. So as Matthew points out, it’s no coincidence that this same area has since housed Lloyd’s of London, The Royal Exchange and the London Stock Exchange. Along the way you also get to explore some of the City’s quaint, hidden back streets and churchyards. And as for whether or not you will need your coffee fix before the tour: you may still want to partake beforehand as although you will get opportunities to taste it, the old style coffee is quite different and won’t be to everyone’s liking – even though it’s served in a diluted form!

Check Unreal City Audio’s website for future dates – and be warned that they often sell out quickly. There is an email list you can join for advance notice of tours. They will also be running a Chocolate and Coffeehouse Tour on Saturday 7th April for Easter.

The Barbican Estate

A tower looms above Frobisher Crescent

A tower looms above Frobisher Crescent

If you like your architecture to come with a strong dose of brutalism and lashings of retro styling, then you’ll love the Barbican. The Londonphile is a big fan but I am aware that many are not – the design of both the residences and the Arts Centre that makes up the Barbican Estate has divided Londoners for decades now. Love it or loathe it, the design is a momentous one, and while its groundbreaking use of concrete and brutalist aesthetics makes it a landmark complex, what I find most fascinating are the clever historical and architectural references scattered across the site.

St Giles', London Wall remains, high and low-rise residences and pilotis.

St Giles', London Wall remains, high and low-rise residences and pilotis.

The Barbican Estate was designed to re-populate the City of London, which had a tiny live-in population of just over 5,000 people following World War Two. The area had been so badly damaged during the Blitz that it was little more than a bombed-out wasteland. St Giles’ Church, which can be found in the middle of the complex, was more or less a shell and had to be significantly re-built. So what was once a very old area of London became a very modern one, although this modernity sits side by side with structures like St Giles’ and fragments of the old London Wall.

Contrary to popular belief, the Barbican was not built as social housing – although its architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon also designed the nearby Golden Lane Estate. Now of course its residences are highly sought after – particularly those in the three triangular-shaped towers, which were the tallest residential towers in Europe when built. A series of highwalks connect the area to its surrounds while simultaneously demarcating it as a rare pedestrian oasis in the city – there are no roads within the Barbican. The name Barbican derives from the Latin word ‘barbecana’ meaning a bastion or fortified outpost and refers to the ancient barbecana once situated in this area. The architects have included a number of references to castles, including a crenellated wall, arrow slits and a small staircase tower that resembles a gatehouse along the western side of the complex.

Chamberlin, Powell and Bon also sought to emulate and give a modern twist to West End Squares and European formal gardens – there are eight acres of gardens and lakes across the site, but as many of the larger ones are for residents only they are often overlooked. Frobisher Crescent, meanwhile, is reminiscent of a spa town crescent. A semi-circular motif is repeated across the Estate, and even used in the Arts Centre’s branding, possibly referencing the semi-circular remains of the London Wall near St Giles’. The mediterranean use of barrel vaults (also semi-circular), as seen in Greek island church roofs, was another reference point. The biggest influence – as acknowledged by Powell – on the Barbican’s architects was Le Corbusier. The use of pilotis – the large circular columns holding up the apartments above the lakes being the most notable example of this – is textbook Corbusier. The rounded balconies used on the towers and elsewhere strongly recall the curved lines of his Notre Dame du Haut.

Rounded balconies and barrel vaulted roofs.

Rounded balconies and barrel vaulted roofs.

And if you’ve always wondered why the Arts Centre is mainly located underground, this is because it was a late inclusion in the design and it was hoped this lower postion would prevent noise spilling over into the already completed residential areas. Another concession to the residents was the creation of the conservatory to hide the Barbican Theatre’s very tall fly towers (where stage sets and the like are stored directly above the stage). The section of the tube that runs underneath the lake is the only part of the underground to be supported on rubber bearings – also aimed at noise reduction.

Although planning for the Barbican began in the 1950s, the residences weren’t completed until the early 1970s and the Arts Centre only opened in 1982 (it is celebrating its 30th this year) – giving us some idea of the massive scale of the project. Chamberlin died in 1978 before the Barbican was completed. If you’d like to learn more about the Barbican’s history and architecture I highly recommend taking one of the Arts Centre’s 90-minute Architecture Tours, or the Hidden Barbican Tours, 75-minute behind-the-scenes tours which will take you to backstage areas and up the fly tower. Tours cost £8/6; check the website for details as times vary across the year.

www.barbican.org.uk/tours

Thames archaeology walks

Not content with being a river that has inspired artists and writers and other creative types across the ages, the Thames is also an amazing archaeological site – when the tide rolls back and allows its treasures to be revealed. In fact, at low tide it becomes London’s longest open-air archaeological site. As I am also a huge Thames-phile, doing a Thames archaeology walk has been on my to-do list for some time now, so last weekend I took the opportunity to go on the Thames Discovery Programme’s Rotherhithe Winter Walk.

Elliott Wragg led us on this ramble from Rotherhithe to Bermondsey – an area that was long associated with ships and ship building. And sure enough, we were immediately able to locate a number of nautical remnants, such as anchors, rudders, and ship timbers that have been re-used to form a slipway. Sadly, due to rapidly increasing erosion more and more of these items are being revealed – good for archaeology, not such a good portent for the environment.

Elliott also taught us how to ‘read’ the various areas along the river bed. When you look closely you realise that certain areas have a preponderance of say, glass, where there would have once been a glass foundry (or maybe just a pub!), or pieces of old leather and shoes where a shoe factory was based. You can also find a large number of bricks along the foreshore in this area that are actually the remains of bomb damage from the Second World War, when the dock areas were heavily hit.

Thames Discovery also have a Putney Winter Walk coming up on Saturday 11th February, which will explore the Putney foreshore (free but donations welcome). If a spot of mudlarking (i.e. hunting for treasures along the river bed) takes your fancy, you may prefer the Thames Explorer Trust’s Millennium Bridge Walks (suitable for families and £8 for adults, £5 children), where the hunt is on for pipes and pottery (dates are currently scheduled for March and April). Alternatively, London Walks run Thames Beachcombing sessions (also guided by an archaeologist), on weekends when the tide permits (dates are currently scheduled up until the end of April, places are £8).

The Thames foreshore was almost deserted apart from our group on this fine (but admittedly rather crisp!) winter morning. In the nineteenth century the Thames was London’s premiere playground, with people piling onto boats for cruises and parties. I think it’s time we re-claimed the Thames, so come summer let the river become your own walking trail, beach  – and archaeological site. In the meantime, there are always these walks to consider:

Putney Winter Walk:
http://www.thamesdiscovery.org/events/putney-winter-walk 

Millennium Bridge Walks:
http://www.thamesdiscovery.org/events/millennium-bridge-walks

London Walks Thames Beachcombing:
http://www.walks.com/London_Walks_Home/Thames_Beachcombing_/default.aspx#20695 

Seven Noses of Soho Walk

In short, anything that Peter Berthoud doesn’t know about London (or more specifically, Westminster) probably isn’t worth knowing. He’s a trained City of Westminster Guide and the person behind the wonderful Discovering London blog and – luckily for Londoners – your personal tour guide on his Seven Noses of Soho Walk.

So just what are these mythical noses? Some time ago people started noticing plaster noses affixed to walls around London. Inevitably a number of theories regarding their origins started doing the rounds. Taxi drivers in particular are said to have promulgated many of the myths surrounding the Admiralty Arch nose, which has been variously claimed as Wellington’s, Napoleon’s, et al….Most importantly, it was said that it you could locate all of the noses, infinite wealth would be yours. Or some such.

Then just last October artist Rick Buckley outed himself in the Evening Standard as the creator of said noses, which he revealed he had placed around London (not just Soho) all the way back in 1997 as a statement against the proliferation of CCTV (get it: nosey!). The noses vary from quite realistic looking ones to much larger, inflated protuberances, though all are apparently taken from a cast of the artist’s own nose. The high placement of some certainly suggest clandestine, night-time visits with a ladder. Needless to say, the buildings’ owners were not consulted, and not all of the noses have lived to tell the tale (Buckley claims he affixed 35 in total). Many are painted the same colour as the wall to which they are attached, making spotting these noses more of a challenge. And this is where the walk comes in…

However, Peter’s tour isn’t just about the seven noses. You will also get to see a fake nose, a missing nose, an ear and some fingers. And if all these body parts aren’t enough there is also a very tall door (with a singular purpose), a delightful community garden and a surprising amount of street art. Without giving away any of Peter’s secrets, I’m fairly confident that if you do the walk on a Wednesday you will see something at a large art institution that you have probably never seen before…

One of the joys of this walk is that Peter also weaves in snippets about Soho’s history and cultural life – but in a far less dry manner than a standard historical tour – so if you’ve always wanted to know more about this fascinating area of London this could be the walk for you. Upcoming walks that still have places available are on Sundays 5th and 19th February, at the very civilised hour of 2pm. But keep an eye on Peter’s website, as more dates are sure to be added:

http://www.peterberthoud.co.uk/walks-timetable/