Traveling through books: London and the UK

You’ve probably noted my series of posts about movies shot in locations that are great for armchair traveling. I’ve read a couple of non-fiction travel books lately and it put me in mind of several others I’ve read on the same subject, my favourite city, London and of the UK in general. A couple of them are true “travel” type books, and a couple more are more historical facts but equally interesting and one is fiction that describes the  history of the city through the eyes of several families and their descendants. I like that because it describes how various familiar sites and areas of London developed and changed over the centuries. Makes me want to visit those sites on my next visit!

The city of London has changed and grown considerably around St. Paul's Cathedral, and there's no end in sight.

The city of London has changed and grown considerably around St. Paul’s Cathedral, and there’s no end in sight.

Move Along, Please – Mark Mason

This man has undertaken the journey between Land’s End and John O’Groats, the southern and northernmost points of the main island of the U.K. He’s doing it by local busses, not long distance “coach” and thus meanders along the countryside meeting local people who take the bus for work or shopping or school. By avoiding the main motorways where long distance coaches travel, he’s seen more of the “real” everyday Britian. He’s armed with several books written by people who have done this journey in the past by various means and meets up with others along the way who have local knowledge in various stopping points.

Bizarre London – David Long

This is a book of facts about London, the weird, wonderful and little known facts and events. Read about a cross dressing highwayman, a licensed brothel on Whitehall, read about architectural features that tell stores of the past, odd museums, murders, and all sorts of things.

Tales from the Tower of London – Daniel Diehl

A series of stories about the goings on in the Tower of London over the centuries from it’s establishment by William the Conqueror to the 20th century. Mainly it’s about various people that were incarcerated there and includes historical events such as the Gunpowder Plot and the Peasants’ Revolt. Not bad and if you’re interested in the history of London you will probably find it worth a quick read. Not really in depth but easy to read.

London: The Biography – Peter Ackroyd

It did take me quite awhile to read this book but it’s easy to pick up and put down. Each chapter tells about an aspect of the social history of London and it all comes together over centuries to become the city it is today. Crime, poverty, theatre, economics, architecture, neighbourhoods, strengths and weaknesses. It doesn’t read like a textbook, it’s quite interesting.

London – Edward Rutherfurd

Rutherfurd writes long involved fictional histories of an area or city starting, usually, with very early civilization up to the present day. The story he’s written about London starts just before the Roman invasion and ends after World War II. He introduces a handful of familys and traces the stories through them and their ancestors over the centuries. It’s life from the every day people’s point of view. The stories get briefer in the more recent century and a half, with the updates from the 20th century past WWI being just touched on. The best bits are the early to medieval and Tudor/Stuart eras. There’s a family tree at the start to keep them all straight though you can’t see it very well if using an ereader.

UK: Icons of England – Bill Bryson

Bryson edits a collection of contributions from other people who write about their favourite bits of England. They aren’t exactly icons in the traditional definition of the word but they do give a broad feeling of different aspects, such as weather, various nature, seaside, and a lot of them are recollections from the writer’s past. The book was originally a coffee table type with photographs and was a fund raiser. I read it as an ebook and it was not bad. Not always interesting but everyone’s taste is different. You would probably get more out of it if you’d lived there.

Notes from a Small Island – Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson is a very good travel writer, lots of dry humour in his observations which has reduced me to weeping giggles often.This was the first of his books I had read and I reread it last year and giggled just as much. He travels around Britain, mainly by public transportation on busses and trains, to towns, villages and cities as well. He’s an American but has lived in the U.K. for quite a number of years. He has the point of view of a non-native and yet is spot on in many of his observations. Thoroughly enjoyable.

These are the books that I’ve read that can give a reader a great look at London and some of the UK. They give more than just dry historical facts or a generic travel guide “things to do and see”, they show you the past and the present in ways you might not think to look for.  Most of them are available as ebooks from your favourite site (Kobo, Kindle etc.) and you library or a second hand bookstore will have many of them as well. Feel free to comment and suggest others I or other readers might enjoy about London and the U.K.

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