Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Walking tour with a twist

As those who know me well will testify, I love a good mystery and exploring new places. So when an invitation came through to solve a crime while on a walking tour of the "Sins of Southwark" I didn't hesitate to sign up.

The Hidden Wonder mysteries are not your average run of the mill walking tours. Oh no. These are much more interesting and exciting. Instead they are a three-hour walk around a given area with the outline of a story, a set of questions and a map.

The idea is simple. Each hunt focuses on a mystery that the hunters must unravel by solving puzzles along the route which takes in pubs, churches, theatres, galleries, museums and hidden gardens.

To crack the case, the hunters need to answer the questions by finding clues which can be found along the way. These can be anything from inscriptions on monuments, street names or a sign on a building and many are extremely cryptic.

What adds to the fun is that you will also learn about the hidden history, culture and secrets of the places you are exploring.

As befits any good adventure, you'll need to use your brain as well as your feet. But if you have a desire to explore and an inquisitive mind, then Hidden Wonders mysteries are made for you.

The brains behind it all is Robert Collett who came up with the idea with two friends because he wanted to find out more about London and its history.

Each tour has taken them months of painstaking research spent pounding the streets and alleyways, and hours pouring over books in libraries, to create the mystery which needs to be solved.

There are currently four tours to choose from each focusing on specific areas of the city and all of which are suitable for any age.

I chose the Sins of Southwark, partly because it's close to home, but also because of its literary theme as it features three of my favourite authors, Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens - who all have links to the area.

I roped my friend and fellow literary fan Adele to come with me and we met Robert and the other people who were taking part at the George Inn off Borough High Street.

We divided ourselves into teams and were each given instructions, a map and set of questions before heading off.

The crime we had to solve was a death involving just three people. The mystery took us down Borough High Street, Southwark Street and Bankside, along the river, down numerous back streets, through gardens, Borough Market and even a graveyard, past churches and two theatres and up to the Tate before heading back to the pub.

Along the way we found out more about the three authors and the playhouses, pubs and prostitutes that once made these streets the playground of London.

It was fascinating stuff and along the way we stumbled on places and buildings we had either walked passed and never really seen before or simply didn't know they existed.

In one pub, which I confess to have frequented a considerable number of times, I was astonished to see a picture relating to some fascinating facts about Dickens but which I had previously walked passed and ignored.

At Borough Market, another place I love to visit, I discovered the table of rents board which was another blindingly obvious but nonetheless - to me - a previously invisible fixture of the market which I had never properly acknowledged before.

Being a competitive sort I was desperate to get all the clues correct and thus find out the truth about how the person in our story had died.

Some of the clues were relatively easy but some were extremely tricky and Adele and I spent ages at a few locations furiously scratching our heads trying to work out the fiendishly devious ones.

Once we had discovered all the clues, we stopped at the Tate for a quick cuppa and to give us a chance to work out who had done what and who had died.

It wasn't as easy as it seemed though and there was a fair bit of exercising the grey cells to work it out.

Once we thought we had cracked it we hot footed it back to the pub where we met the other teams to see who had got it right.

Unfortunately Adele and I hadn't - mainly due to putting the wrong answer down to one of the clues. But despite this schoolgirl error, which we kicked ourselves over, it was a great way to spend three hours on a Saturday morning.

The genius of it is the inventiveness of it. It was extremely interesting, clever and fun and although we didn't get the answers 100 per cent spot on, we had a huge amount of fun doing it and we learned a great deal more about this fascinating city. And at a tenner each, great value for money.

I'm now off to book a place at the others!

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