Taking a walk on the ‘alternative’ side.

Living in London and having a sofa for friends to crash on makes me a popular person. This is great, obviously, but trying to find interesting capital-based activities that do not require a generous overdraft is not easy.

A mixture of artists's street art
A mixture of artists’s street art

However, it is not impossible. Know where to look and you’ll find that London offers a smorgasbord of affordable entertainment.

One such offering comes in the shape of ‘Alternative London’ walking tours. At just three years old the group may be young but after being touted as London’s number one tour provider on Trip Advisor for 52 consecutive weeks, they’re far from inexperienced.

I must confess that I have not been on many organised treks. I usually walk aimlessly taking photos of things that interest me with very little knowledge of what they represent but last weekend the sun was shining and I had a thirst for knowledge so I thought I would give one a go.

Josh sharing some history
Josh sharing some history

We were told to meet our pink clipboard-carrying guide by the goat statue in Spitalfields market. Ten minutes before the tour was due to start there were around 30 of us gathered by the goat. We were a mixed rabble ranging from 18-55 years of age, some were Londoners, others not, some were walking tour virgins, others were going on their second of the day!

After five minutes or so the group were divided and I became a follower of a graffiti artist named Josh. He said his aim of the day was to find one artist we’d love enough to like on Facebook or follow on Twitter. If he managed that he would be happy.

As we walked through the busy streets of East London Josh would stop at selected artwork and dish out dollops of information about the artists, where they were from, the techniques they used and whether their piece was illegal or commissioned. He told us about the possible fines and jail time you could be given if caught decorating a wall without the owner’s permission and spun a story about a time he himself was caught painting a piece he ought not to have been.

Stencil artist graffiti
Stencil artist graffiti

Throughout the tour Josh linked in artwork and architecture to the history of the area, telling us how about the Jewish routes of Brick Lane as well as the past and present market trade of the street. I generally consider graffiti / urban art / street creativity / whatever you want to call it, something to enjoy and the way Josh spoke of it made the pictures seem part of an underground culture as opposed to vandalism blighting the walls of the local businesses.

When the tour ended Josh thanked us for choosing ‘Alternative London’ and invited us to check out the website for information on the other tours they offer (there are quite a few to choose from). The group lacking its leader dispersed, taking their photos, smiles and sunburnt noses with them. I am sure that many will have noted their favourite artist from the day and Josh will get his wish. Who was mine? I’m still deciding.

Written and photographed by Jay Stone

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