8 Reasons Why You Should Visit Oxford.

Oxford is a city located in the south of England, renowned for its history, culture, and world-class education. As one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the world, Oxford is a must-visit destination for those interested in history, education, and architecture. Here are some reasons why you should visit Oxford.

  1. World-Class University

Oxford is home to one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious universities, the University of Oxford. Founded in 1096, the university has a rich history and has produced many famous alumni, including 26 British prime ministers and numerous Nobel Prize winners. Visitors can take a stroll through the beautiful college grounds, visit the Bodleian Library, and attend a lecture or tour to experience the university’s rich academic heritage.

The Radcliff Camera, part of the Bodleian Library

Oxford is renowned for its stunning architecture, including the grand Gothic buildings of the University of Oxford, the beautiful 18th-century Radcliffe Camera, and the medieval Carfax Tower. Visitors can take a stroll through the city’s winding streets and admire the beautiful buildings, including the many churches, museums and libraries.

The Famous Bridge of Sighs.

Oxford is home to a thriving cultural scene, with numerous museums, galleries, and cultural institutions offering a wealth of exhibitions, performances and events. Visitors can explore the Ashmolean Museum, which houses one of the finest collections of art and archaeology in the world, or attend a performance at the Oxford Playhouse, one of the country’s leading theatres.


Oxford has a rich history, dating back to medieval times, and is home to many historic sites and landmarks, including the beautiful medieval Christ Church College, the famous Radcliffe Camera, and the iconic Carfax Tower. Visitors can explore the city’s many museums and galleries, which offer a fascinating insight into its rich past, or take a guided walking tour to learn more about Oxford’s history and heritage.


Oxford is a shopper’s paradise, with a wide range of shopping options, from high-end boutiques and designer shops to quaint, independent stores selling unique gifts and souvenirs. Whether you’re looking for the latest fashion, unique antiques, or handcrafted goods, Oxford has something for everyone.


Oxford is home to a thriving food and drink scene, with many local restaurants, cafes and bars offering a range of dining experiences, from casual pub meals to gourmet dining. Whether you’re a foodie, a wine connoisseur, or simply enjoy trying new things, Oxford has something to suit every taste and budget.

Some of the amazing food you can try in Oxford.
  1. Outdoor Activities

Oxford is surrounded by beautiful countryside, offering a range of outdoor activities, from scenic walks and cycle rides to water sports and horse riding. Whether you’re an avid adventurer or simply looking to get some fresh air, Oxford is the perfect place to enjoy the great outdoors.

  1. Accommodation

Oxford is home to a range of accommodation options, from charming bed and breakfasts to luxurious hotels. Whether you’re looking for a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of city life or a romantic getaway, Oxford has something to suit every taste and budget.

In conclusion, Oxford is a city of contrasts, offering a wealth of history, culture, and beauty to visitors. Whether you’re interested in education, architecture, shopping, dining or outdoor activities, Oxford has something for everyone. With its rich history, stunning architecture, vibrant cultural scene, and world-class facilities, Oxford is a must-visit destination for anyone looking for a truly memorable experience.







8 Reasons Why You Should Visit The Cotswolds.

The Cotswolds is a picturesque area located in the south of England, stretching across six counties and encompassing several charming towns and villages. This area is known for its rolling hills, traditional stone houses and idyllic countryside, making it the perfect destination for a peaceful and relaxing getaway. Here are some reasons why you should visit the Cotswolds.

  1. Scenic Beauty

The Cotswolds is a breathtaking region of natural beauty, dotted with charming villages and quaint towns. The rolling hills and sprawling countryside provide the perfect backdrop for scenic walks, horse rides and bike rides, and offer breathtaking views that are truly unmatched. Whether you’re an avid hiker or simply looking to take in the scenery, the Cotswolds is the ideal place for you.

Some of the stunning scenery of the Cotswolds
  1. Rich History

The Cotswolds has a rich history, dating back to the medieval times. The area is steeped in history, and its heritage is evident in the many historic buildings, monuments and attractions that are still standing today. Visitors can explore the ancient ruins of Cirencester, the charming medieval town of Burford and the Roman spa town of Bath, to learn more about the region’s rich past.

One of the old Roman statues found in Bath.
  1. Warm and Welcoming Communities

The people of the Cotswolds are incredibly friendly and welcoming, and are more than happy to share their love of the area with visitors. Whether you’re in the market for a delicious local meal, a cosy bed and breakfast or a relaxing drink, the Cotswolds has something to offer everyone.

  1. Cultural Attractions

The Cotswolds is home to many fascinating cultural attractions, including historic houses, museums, galleries and more. Visitors can explore the iconic Westonbirt Arboretum, the famous Shakespeare birthplace and the world-renowned Tate Modern gallery, to experience the region’s rich cultural heritage.

Holy Trinity Church, in Stratford-upon-Avon. This is the Church where William and his wife Anne are buried.
  1. Outdoor Activities

The Cotswolds is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise, offering a range of activities to suit everyone, from the more strenuous pursuits such as hiking, cycling and horse riding to more leisurely pastimes like fishing, bird watching and picnicking. Whether you’re an experienced adventurer or simply looking to get some fresh air, the Cotswolds has something to offer you.

  1. Local Cuisine

The Cotswolds is home to a thriving food and drink scene, with local producers and suppliers offering some of the finest produce in the country. Whether you’re a foodie, a wine connoisseur or simply enjoy trying new things, the Cotswolds has something for you. From traditional pubs serving local ales and ciders to gourmet restaurants offering the finest dining experiences, you’ll be spoilt for choice.

Some of the amazing local produce that is available throughout the Cotswolds.
  1. Accommodation

The Cotswolds is home to a range of accommodation options, from charming bed and breakfasts to luxurious country hotels. Whether you’re looking for a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of city life or a romantic getaway, the Cotswolds has something to suit every taste and budget.

  1. Shopping

The Cotswolds is home to a wealth of shopping opportunities, from quaint country markets selling local produce to high-end boutiques and designer shops. Whether you’re looking for unique gifts and souvenirs, handcrafted goods or the latest fashions, the Cotswolds has something for everyone.

In conclusion, the Cotswolds is the perfect destination for a relaxing and rejuvenating getaway. Whether you’re looking for scenic beauty, rich history, friendly communities, cultural attractions, outdoor activities, local cuisine, accommodation, or shopping it’s easy to see why the Cotswolds are such a sought after place to visit!

Want to take a tour of the Cotswolds? Why not take a look at our:

Private Explore the Cotswolds Tour from London
Private Day In The Cotswolds Tour 
Private Downton Abbey Day In The Cotswolds Tour

Our Top Places To Vist In Wales

Want to vist Wales but aren’t sure where you should visit? Why not take a look at the 10 places that our Welsh guides have recommended? Listed in no particular order, you could follow the list from North to South Wales and explore the whole country if you wanted to!

The Snowdonia National Park 

This beautiful park in north Wales is home to Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales. It’s a popular spot for hiking, rock climbing, and other outdoor activities. The Snowdonia National Park is also home to some rare and endangered species such as Red Squirrels and Pine Martens, these rare animals, and the abundance of birds make the Snowdonia National Park a perfect place to visit if you happen to love animals. One of the best ways to see the national park, and the nature that it has to offer, is on one of the many scenic railways. Not only can you get the train up to the summit of Snowdon (known in Welsh as Y Wyddfa and is pronounced as “er with-va”) but you can also explore the beautiful countryside of North Wales by taking a trip on one of the many steam trains. Why not take the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railway from the famous Norman fort of Caernarfon, through the mythical town of Beddgelert, and down to the wettest town in Wales Blaenau Ffestiniog


Conwy is a small walled town located on the north coast of Wales. It is a popular destination for tourists due to its rich history, stunning architecture, and scenic location. Visitors can explore Conwy Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which was built in the 13th century and offers stunning views of the town and surrounding countryside. The town is also home to several other historic buildings, including the medieval walls and gates, the smallest house in Britain, and Plas Mawr, a beautifully preserved Elizabethan townhouse. Conwy is located on the shores of the Conwy estuary, which offers stunning views and a range of activities from Water sports to birdwatching. The town is also a great base for exploring the nearby Snowdonia National Park, which is renowned for its stunning scenery and outdoor activities. With its rich history, beautiful architecture, and stunning natural surroundings.

Conwy Castle, part of Edward I's infamous 'ring of Iron'. This series of castles were designed to dominate the Welsh in the late 13th Century.


Llandudno is a popular seaside resort town located on the north coast of Wales, at the foot of the Great Orme headland. It is known for its beautiful sandy beaches, Victorian architecture, and scenic location. Visitors can take a ride on the Great Orme Tramway, a cable-hauled tramway that takes passengers to the top of the Great Orme headland, which offers stunning views of the town and surrounding countryside. Llandudno is also home to several historic buildings, including the 19th-century pier, the neo-gothic St. Tudno’s Church, and the Llandudno Museum, which houses artifacts and exhibits relating to the town’s history. The town’s shopping district, Mostyn Street, offers a range of independent and high-street shops, as well as several cafes and restaurants serving locally sourced produce. Close to the island of Anglesey, the city of Bangor, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Caernarfon, Llandudno is the perfect place to stay, if you fancy exploring the north Wales countryside and coastline by car.

The famous Llandudno Pier


Aberystwyth is a charming seaside town located on the west coast of Wales, known for its stunning scenery, rich history, and vibrant cultural scene. Once suggested to be the capital of Wales, thanks to institutions such as Aberystwyth University and the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth could be seen as the Welsh Oxford. Founded in the 13th-century with the building of Aberystwyth Castle, which sits on a hill overlooking the town today Aberystwyth is also known for historical buildings such as the University’s Old College which was built in the style of the Gothic revival, its 1920’s Train Station, and its range of old, traditional pubs. Aberystwyth is also home to several museums and galleries, including the Ceredigion Museum, which tells the story of the region’s history and culture, and the Aberystwyth Arts Centre, which showcases a range of exhibitions, performances, and events. The nearby Ynyslas National Nature Reserve is home to a range of wildlife, including rare birds and seals, and the Aberystwyth Cliff Railway provides easy access to the famous Constitution Hill. The Rheidol Railway also has a terminal in the town. This small railway (which was once used to transport Lead to Aberystwyth Harbour) takes travellers up the Rheidol Valley on a scenic steam train ride through the picturesque countryside. Our advice is take an early train, sit in the last carriage and enjoy the view as you travel to Devil’s Bridge. Once there explore the waterfalls, learn the myths and the legends of the Devil’s Bridge and take an afternoon train back to Aberystwyth and once again sit in the last carriage as you get some exceptional views of the train snaking round the mountains!

Pembrokeshire Coast National Park

This beautiful coastal park in west Wales is home to some of the most breathtaking beaches in the country, as well as a number of charming towns and villages including Tenby and St David’s. The Pembrokeshire town of Fishguard was the last place in mainland Britain to be invaded back in 1797 when the French invaded, only to be stopped by the local Welsh women! If you like to walk, the coastal path, which runs around the whole of Wales making it the only country in the world where you can walk the whole length of the country’s coast, offers some exceptional views. You may even see a Dolphin or two if you’re lucky!

One of the stunning sunsets looking out from Pembrokeshire's Coastal Path.


Tenby is a charming coastal town located in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park in West Wales. It is a popular destination for tourists due to its stunning scenery, sandy beaches, and picturesque harbour. The town is famous for its pastel-coloured Georgian houses, which line the narrow streets of the old town. Visitors can explore the historic town walls, which date back to the 13th century, and the ruins of Tenby Castle, which offer stunning views of the town and surrounding coastline. Tenby is also a great destination for water sports enthusiasts, with a range of activities on offer, including surfing, kayaking, and paddleboarding. The town has a thriving arts scene, with several galleries and art shops, and hosts the annual Tenby Arts Festival. With its relaxed, friendly atmosphere, beautiful scenery, and rich history, Tenby is a must-visit destination for anyone traveling to Wales.

Tenby is loved by tourists for its beauifully colourful georgian houses

St David’s

St David’s is a small city located on the far western coast of Wales, in Pembrokeshire County. It is named after the patron saint of Wales, Saint David, and is the smallest city in the UK. Despite its size, St David’s is a popular destination for tourists due to its beautiful architecture, rich history, and stunning natural surroundings. Visitors can explore the 12th-century St David’s Cathedral, which contains the shrine of Saint David, as well as several other historic buildings, including the medieval Bishop’s Palace and St Non’s Chapel, which is said to be the birthplace of Saint David. The city is located in the heart of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park and is surrounded by some of the most breath taking scenery in the UK, including rugged cliffs, sandy beaches, and hidden coves.

St David's Cathedral was once one of the most important sites of Christian Worship in Britain

The Brecon Beacons National Park

This national park in south Wales is home to some of the most stunning landscapes in the country, including waterfalls, mountains, and valleys. It’s also a great place for outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, and horse riding. Famous for being the training centre for the British Army (the Infantry Training Centre is nearby in the town of Brecon, and the British Special Air Service also train in the area) some of its paths and walks are not for the fait hearted. That said the views from Pen Y Fan, the tallest mountain in South Wales can reach, on a clear day, all the way to Bristol! Take your time and a packed lunch, and you won’t be disappointed by the views.


Hay-on-Wye is a small market town located on the Welsh-English border that has gained worldwide recognition for its vast collection of bookshops. It is home to over 20 bookshops, making it a haven for book lovers worldwide. The town also hosts the Hay Festival of Literature and Arts, a world-renowned cultural event that attracts famous authors, artists, and musicians. This festival has been running for over 30 years and has helped to cement Hay-on-Wye’s reputation as a cultural hub. Additionally, the town’s stunning location, surrounded by the Black Mountains and the River Wye, adds to its allure, making it a popular tourist destination for those seeking to explore the beauty of the Welsh countryside. Even if you don’t love books the town is still worth a visit as its cosy cafés, restaurants selling local produce, and pubs make it an excellent place to stop whilst exploring Wales.

Hay-On-Wye is a booklover's paradise.


Wales’ capital city is a vibrant and cosmopolitan place with plenty of cultural attractions, including the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff Castle, and the National Museum Cardiff. A Vibrant city with a rich cultural scene, we highly recommend the National Museum Cardiff which houses an enviable collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art by artists such as Monet, Van Gogh, and Renoir. Looking for somewhere to eat in Cardiff? Why not try Y Dosbarth/The Classroom? This restaurant is a hidden gem and is part of the local college which the food critic Jay Rayner described as ‘really excellent’. Serving Modern European Food, it is really not to be missed… even if the entrance (which is the main entrance to the college) may be difficult to find.

From Cardiff you could explore some of the old Norman castles which the area is known for. If you wanted to take the easy option you could always book our Private Day Tour of Cardiff, including Cardiff Castle and Caerphilly Castle. Or if you wanted to take a trip back in time why not visit the 2019 Museum of the year on our Private Day Tour of Cardiff, including Cardiff Castle, St Fagan’s and Cardiff Bay which visits the famous St Fagan’s Museum where numerous ancient buildings from across Wales have been lovingly restored.  

Did you know that the hit BBC TV series Doctor Who has been filmed in Wales since 2004? Cardiff has been a big part of Doctor Who, but so have many of the other locations we’ve listed here. Want to learn more about the filming of Doctor Who in Cardiff? Why not check out our Doctor Who tours on our tours page?

10 Facts About James Bond You Probably Didn’t Know

We are approaching the 70th anniversary of James Bond as a character in literature. The first James Bond novel, Casino Royale, was published on the 13th of April 1953. 

Here are ten facts you may not know about James Bond and his world from the novels and films.

1-James Bond’s Drug Use

Bond’s enjoyment of cigarettes and alcohol is well known, but in the novels, he also uses Benzedrine, which is an amphetamine. Benzedrine was used in inhalers from the 1930s, and in World War 2, it was used to combat fatigue in soldiers, and this is why Bond uses it in the novels. In a number of instances, the drug gives Bond the edge he needs to win.

Bond takes tablets before his final mission in Live and Let Die. He uses the drug to keep sharp during his arduous underwater swim through the coral reef to the island of Surprise. 

In the next novel Moonraker, Bond is asked by M to prove that Hugo Drax is cheating at cards. Before the high-stakes bridge game where Bond intends to teach Drax a lesson, he has dinner with M. An envelope is delivered to him which contains Benzedrine and in front of M, Bond mixes Benzedrine with Dom Perignon champagne. As M says, “It’s your funeral.” 

Bond also takes Benzedrine in The Spy Who Loved Me. This time with coffee. 

The only reference in the films to Bond taking anything other than alcohol is in Skyfall when Silva is looking at Bond’s medical report and reads aloud, “Alcohol and substance abuse indicated”.

2-Bond’s Address

In the novels, Bond’s address is never given, but it’s revealed that he lives in a ground-floor flat in a square off the King’s Road in Chelsea. Bond’s flat is provided by the government, and Bond has an elderly Scottish housekeeper called May Maxwell. May only appears in the novels. 

In the films, Bond’s flat has been seen three times, in Dr No, Live and Let Die and Spectre. A number of props from the films feature Bond’s onscreen address, which is 61 Horseferry Road. Horseferry Road is real, but there is no number 61 in real life.

3-The Epidemiological Analysis

A couple of years ago, an amusing paper written by Wouter Graumans, Teun Bousema and Will Stone was published in the journal Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease. The paper covered James Bond’s risk of infections during his travels. The three academics watched all the Eon James Bond films as research. They counted 86 international journeys to 47 countries. In the paper, they go through all the risks in the various locales that Bond encounters, and it’s very entertaining. If you want to read the paper in full you can do so HERE.

4-Before Vauxhall Cross

The SIS (Secret Intelligence Service) moved into their current building at 85 Albert Embankment in 1994. And it was from that point that the public was finally aware of where the British Secret Service headquarters were located, and as it is such a distinct structure, it made sense to include the building in the James Bond films.  Before 1994 the locations of the secret service were secret.

Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, chose to put his version of the secret service in an office block overlooking Regent’s Park. At the time Fleming was writing his novels, and during the release of the first two Bond films, the SIS was based at 54 Broadway. Then in 1964, they moved to Century House at 100 Westminster Bridge Road, where they were until 1994. It’s hard to imagine Bond or M in this building. In a government report in 1985, it was called “irredeemably insecure” as it was made mostly of glass and had a petrol station at its base. The Daily Telegraph once said that it was “London’s worst-kept secret, known only to every taxi driver, tourist guide and KGB agent”.

5-Bond’s Closest Ally

The character of Bill Tanner is M’s chief of staff and has been played by four actors over eight films. Michael Goodliffe (uncredited) in The Man with the Golden Gun, James Villiers in For Your Eyes Only, Michael Kitchen in Goldeneye and The World Is Not Enough and Rory Kinnear since Quantum of Solace. In the novels, Tanner is a minor character, but unlike in the films, Bond and Tanner are very close. They are friends, often play golf together, and Tanner is Bond’s closest ally in the British secret service. This friendship has never been explored in the films.


For fans of the Bond films who want to read the original novels, I would recommend reading them in order starting with Casino Royale. It’s hard to choose a favourite Bond novel, but I love Moonraker, which was the third Bond novel published in 1955. It bears no relation to the 1979 film apart from the name Hugo Drax. It’s the only novel where Bond stays in Britain, and in my view, it’s a blueprint for modern blockbusters. The stakes are raised much higher than in the previous two stories as Bond has to stop the destruction of London with a nuclear weapon. The book also reveals details about Bond’s life when he is not on a mission. The subject matter was heavily researched by Ian Fleming, and it shows. The book was way ahead of its time and in my view could possibly be the first techno-thriller. It’s also a book of its time and plays very strongly on the fears of the 1950’s as it’s about nuclear destruction, attack from above by rockets (the V2 attacks had been 10 years before), communism and the re-emergence of Nazism. And if you think that Bond always gets the girl, well…you will have to read the book. A year after publication there was a BBC radio adaptation of Moonraker broadcast in South Africa. It starred Bob Holness as James Bond. Holness is best remembered these days as the host of the popular quiz show (from the 80′ and 90’s) Blockbuster. Holness wasn’t the first actor to play Bond…

7-Barry Nelson and Casino Royale

The first actor to play James Bond was Barry Nelson in a 1954 television adaptation of Casino Royale. Nelson was a successful and popular character actor in his day and these days is best known for playing Stuart Ullman, the manager of The Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s film of The Shining. The television Casino Royale was the third episode of a new American anthology television show called Climax. It was broadcast in the USA on October the 21st 1954. Ian Fleming was paid $1000 for the rights. As James Bond was not yet the well-known character he would become quite a number of liberties were taken with the story. In the episode James Bond is American, Vesper Lynd and Rene Mathis are combined into one character called Valerie Mathis, and Felix Leiter is changed to Clarence Leiter and is working for British Intelligence. The episode is worth watching as a curious period piece and also because Le Chiffre is played by legendary actor Peter Lorre who is the best actor in it. The episode can be watched for free on YouTube.

8- Daddy Bond

In No Time To Die it’s revealed that Bond is a father. But Bond actually fathers a child in the original novels. At the end of the novel of You Only Live Twice, Bond loses his memory and conceives a child with Kissy Suzuki. Bond leaves before Suzuki has a chance to tell him that she is pregnant with his child. Whether Fleming would have explored the fate of this child in future novels, we will never know as Fleming died shortly after publication. The fate of the child was explored in a short story by Rayond Benson called Blast From The Past. In this story Bond has a son from Kissy called…you guessed it, James. 

9-Scrambled Eggs’ James Bond’

The recipe for Scrambled Eggs’ James Bond’ is revealed in a short story called 007 In New York. Ian Fleming loved scrambled eggs and it’s his own recipe. It’s not known how often Bond eats this as it involves twelve eggs although the recipe does serve four people. Fleming insists that it is served “on hot buttered toast on individual copper dishes (for appearance only) with pink champagne (Taittinger) and low music.”

10-Coffee Over Tea

James Bond does not like Tea. When he is not drinking alcohol, he drinks coffee. In the novel Goldfinger, Bond says, “I don’t drink Tea. I hate it. It’s mud. Moreover it’s one of the main reasons for the downfall of the British Empire.” In the novel Thunderball, Fleming says of Bond, “Bond loathed and despised tea, that flat, soft, time-wasting opium of the masses.” Bond’s taste usually reflected those of his creator Ian Fleming. Bond drinks coffee a number of times in the books and films. Bond drinks coffee from an American filter machine called a Chemex. In the ’50s, this was the height of sophistication, and most people in Britain had never heard of it and definitely would not own a coffee machine. This shows how much Bond favours coffee over Tea. 

Want to know more about James Bond? Why not book our James Bond Walking Tour of London? 

For more details, click this link. 

10 Facts About Ian Fleming That You Probably Didn’t Know.

April 13th 2023, will mark the 70th anniversary of the publication of the first James Bond novel Casino Royale in 1953. James Bond will be 70. So to mark the anniversary, here are some facts relating to the creator of James Bond, Ian Fleming. As it’s the 70th anniversary, and Commander Bond turns 70 I wanted to come up with 70 facts, but I was ordered to never say 70 again. So we’ve whittled it down to our favourite 10.

1  – Cigarettes

Ian Fleming was a prolific smoker who smoked 60 cigarettes a day and when he was gambling up to 70. He liked to greedily suck the smoke through a long ebony cigarette holder. During the Second World War, one of Fleming’s colleagues in the Admiralty complained that Fleming had a constantly runny nose from the very strong cigarettes he was smoking. When in London, Flemming would buy his cigarettes from a tobacconist called Morland and Co based at 83 Grosvenor Street. They were handmade especially for him, with no filter and triple gold bands as a decoration, which mirrored the three bands on Fleming’s uniform during the war when he served as a naval commander. 

When James Bond became a popular character, Morland and Co made a deal with Ian Fleming to make a James Bond Special cigarette with gold bands. They were sold in blue boxes of fifty or one hundred. Two versions of the cigarettes were made, one with the name James Bond on each cigarette and one without. Each box came with matches advertising the cigarettes. 

2 – Turner’s House

One of the houses that Ian Fleming lived in had once belonged to the painter JMW Turner. Fleming’s father, Valentine, had been killed by shellfire during the First World War. In 1923 Fleming’s mother, Eve, bought three adjoining workers’ cottages and turned them into one home. With a striking lack of originality, Eve called her new home Turner’s House as the famous painter had lived there for the last eighteen years of his life and had died there in 1851. 

3 – Ian Fleming’s Little Sister

It’s widely known that Ian Fleming had three brothers. His older brother Peter and younger brothers Richard and Michael. But Fleming also had a sister who was born when he was 17. Fleming’s mother, Eve, had a relationship with the famous painter Augustus John. After accompanying John to Berlin in the spring of 1925, she returned to London pregnant. Eve was an unmarried widower and wanted to avoid scandal. She told all her staff that they would have to find another job and then disappeared for the rest of the year. She returned in December with a baby girl called Amaryllis, whom she claimed she had adopted. Amaryllis believed she had been adopted until her early twenties when she finally learned Eve was her birth mother and Augustus John was her father. Amaryllis became a very successful cello player and teacher, and the Royal College of Music concert hall is named after her.

4 – Ian Fleming, The Tart, And The 43 Club

Ian Fleming was educated at Eton and went on to become a cadet at The Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, where he would train for eighteen months to become an officer in the British Army. While there, one of his tutors said Fleming would become a good soldier “provided that the ladies don’t ruin him”. Whilst training at Sandhurst, Fleming had a relationship with a young woman called Peggy Bernhard. Peggy had a longstanding arrangement to go to a ball with another young man. Fleming was very jealous of this arrangement and threatened to go to London to “find myself a tart”. When Peggy went to the ball with the other man, Fleming carried out his threat. Fleming headed to the notorious 43 Club, a nightclub at 43 Gerrard Street in Soho. He had sex with a hostess in a back room of the club and a few days later was diagnosed with gonorrhoea. As Fleming couldn’t afford the treatment, he was forced to tell his mother, Eve, who was enraged. He was booked into a clinic for treatment, his relationship with Peggy was over, his mother pulled him out of Sandhurst, and he never completed his officer training.  

5 – Ian Fleming’s Wembley Motorcycle Trip

Ian Fleming was lifelong friends with Ivar Bryce. They had met on a beach when they were both children, went to Eton, and were friends for the rest of their lives. At Eton in the early 1920s, Bryce bought a motorbike. On a school holiday, Bryce and Fleming broke school rules and rode the motorbike to Wembley to see the British Empire Exhibition. On the way back to Eton, the pair were overtaken on the road and seen by a very unpopular and severe Eton master, who the boys called “Satan” Ford. They feared they would be expelled. Ford was the German teacher, and the next time Fleming had to show him a composition, Ford gave him a pointed look and said, “Very good, Fleming. You must have put in some work during the holiday.”

6 – The Mercury Network

After serving in naval intelligence during World War 2, Fleming worked as the foreign manager of the Kemsley newspaper group. He worked at The Sunday Times offices at 200 Gray’s Inn Road. On his office wall was an expensive map of the world with flashing lights, each representing a correspondent of the Kemsley Imperial and Foreign Service, also known as Mercury. Fleming was well aware that a number of the correspondents for the newspaper group were either being used by MI6 to gather information for Britain’s foreign intelligence service or that some correspondents were actually MI6 agents undercover as correspondents.

7 – A Strange Question At The Ivy

The Ivy is a famous restaurant on West Street which was, and is, popular with actors and celebrities. It was there on May 12th 1952, that Ian Fleming had lunch with a good friend of his called William Plomer, who was an author and poet. During the lunch, Fleming asked Plomer, “William, how do you get cigarette smoke out of a woman once you’ve got it in?” Plomer thought it was a sexual question and was confused why his friend Ian would ask him as Plomer was gay. Fleming said that he didn’t want to use a word like “exhales” and that “puffs it out” sounded silly. It was then that Plomer realised his friend had written a book. This book was Casino Royale which was to become the first of the James Bond novels. Plomer wanted to see the manuscript, but Fleming was reluctant. Two months later, Fleming finally relented, and Plomer read Casino Royale. He loved it and was instrumental in getting the novel published by Jonathan Cape the following year.

8 – Warwick House

On the east side of Green Park is Warwick House which after World War 2 was the home of Esmond Harmsworth, also known as Lord Rothermere and his wife, Ann. Ann had an affair with Ian Fleming for many years, and he would visit Ann at Warwick House when her husband was away. In 1948 Ann gave birth to a baby girl. Her husband thought the child was his, but Ian Fleming was the father. Tragically, the child Mary died after a few hours. All three parents were devastated. Eventually, Ann and Esmond divorced, Ann married Ian Fleming, and they had a son called Caspar. 

9 – Books

Ian Fleming loved books. He owned a great many of them and was a voracious reader. In 1929 at the age of 21, Fleming was walking down Bond street when he entered a bookshop called Dulau. Inside he met the manager, who was called Percy Muir. Muir was fourteen years older than Fleming, a cockney, self-educated and very left-wing. Although being very different, the pair hit it off, and that meeting was the beginning of a lifelong friendship. Muir was a bibliophile, and he helped Fleming become a serious collector of books. After Fleming’s death, his widow Ann sold his huge library of books to the University of Indiana and it was Muir who helped to pack the books for shipment.

10 – Russian Condoms

This final story is one of my favourite Ian Fleming stories. In 1939 before the outbreak of war, Fleming went to Moscow to cover a trade delegation as a special correspondent for The Times. He was almost certainly spying too. While in Moscow, he struck up a friendship with another journalist named Sefton Delmer. As they left Russia, they shared a compartment on the Warsaw Express. As they were approaching the Russian Border, Delmer was committing to memory notes that he had taken about Russia. He didn’t want them seized at the border, so after remembering them, he ripped them up and threw them out of the window. Ian laughed at Delmer, “Why don’t you swallow them? All the best spies do.” At the border, the Russian customs officers carefully searched Fleming’s luggage and found a box of Russian condoms. They were not for personal use. They were made of artificial latex, and Fleming thought that if he brought back a box, then they could be examined to determine the success of Soviet industrialisation. The condoms were taken out and examined very closely while Fleming was extremely embarrassed. Delmer got his own back and said, “You should have swallowed them.”

Want to learn more about Ian Fleming’s James Bond? Why not book our James Bond Walking Tour of London?

Our Favourite LGBTQIA+ Places in London.

Tours of the UK Logo with Pride Background

London, like any major city, has always been a centre for the LGBTQIA+ community. London’s relationship with the LGBTQIA+ community has changed dramatically over the years, and while we have a tendency to think of a modern London which is welcoming to all, for a large portion of London’s history being LGBTQIA+ in the capital was fraught with dangers of blackmail, violence, and arrest. The London of cottaging grounds, seedy bars, and the fear of prosecution for ‘gross indecency’ is long gone, but the legacy of LGBTQIA+ oppression still remains, as LGBTQIA+ figures are underrepresented in the capital’s statues, blue plaques, and memorials. Pride in London, whatever its faults, is a beacon of hope for many LGBTQIA+ people who live and work in London. Pride’s party atmosphere brings people from all backgrounds together and the awareness and viability that pride generates has helped move the equal rights movement forward. Many of the rights that LGBTQIA+ people enjoy today, including an equal age of consent, civil partnerships, and gay marriage can all be traced back to campaigns and cases found at pride.

Sadly this year Pride in London (like on a lot of UK cities) has been cancelled this year due to Covid19. Because of this we wanted to share with you some of our favourite LGBTQIA+ spots in London, all of which will hopefully be reopening soon; offering all members of the LGBTQIA+ community safe spaces to mix and mingle in a socially distanced manner. These suggestions are just a small glimpse into our favourite places, and sadly we couldn’t list them all, as both Soho, and Vauxhall, are packed with amazing places to visit, party, and play. Missing from this list are the amazing clothes shops that litter Soho, such as Clone Zone, Prowler, and Regulation, all of which have amazingly friendly and supportive staff, as well as some of the more ‘out-there’ nightclubs that litter the ‘naughtier’, or more interesting parts, of London.

RVT aka The Royal Vauxhall Tavern

372 Kennington Lane, London SE11 5HY

Nearest Tube: Vauxhall

The RVT (or the Royal Vauxhall Tavern) is the oldest surviving gay venue south of the River Thames. Now a grade II listed building, one of only a few buildings that has been given historical protection thanks to its links to the LGBTQIA+ community, it is considered to be of national, and international importance to the LGBTQIA+ community. Famous for its performances by a range of both local and international artists, cabaret nights such as Duckie! (The RVT won the title of London’s Best Cabaret venue in both 2018 and 2019!) its Drag shows, party nights that honour gay icons from George Michael to Kylie Minogue, to Ariana Grande, and its links to both the LGBTQIA+ ‘alternative’ and Kink/Fetish scene, The Royal Vauxhall Tavern is a must-visit venue for anyone who identifies as LGBTQIA+ and their allies. A favourite venue of LGBTQIA+ celebrities for years, it has seen performances by famous Drag Queens like Lilly Savage and Charlie Hides, and it is even rumoured that the lead singer of Queen, Freddie Mercury, smuggled Princess Diana into the RVT dressed as a “rather eccentrically dressed gay male model!”.

One of our favourite nights at the RVT is Duckie! a messy, irreverent, belly laugh of a night out which has been a regular at the RVT for almost 25 years! Sadly postponed (we would hate to see it cancelled) until the end of the COVID19 pandemic, it has been a staple of the RVT’s Saturday night schedule. With entry to Duckie! costing between £5 and £8 depending on what time you arrive, we have never failed to enjoy a night out at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern.

Gays the Word Bookshop

66 Marchmont Street, Bloomsbury, London, WC1N 1AB

Nearest Tube: Russell Square

We’ve mentioned Gay’s the Word Bookshop in previous posts. Located 66 Marchmont Street in the Bloomsbury area of London, Gay’s the Word is a must-visit for anyone who identifies as LGBTQIA+. Now the oldest surviving LGBTQIA+ bookshop in the UK, Gay’s the Word was founded in 1979 and was one of the few places where you could buy LGBTQIA+ literature, at a time when it was not widely available. Home to numerous LGBTQIA+ groups including Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) who were made famous throughout the world thanks to the film ‘Pride’. One of LGSM’s co-founders, Mark Ashton (who sadly died of pneumonia in 1987 after contracting HIV/Aids), is commemorated with a blue plaque above the shop which is still home to the weekly Wednesday Evening Lesbian Discussion Group (Wednesday evenings between 8 pm – 9 pm) as well as the monthly Translondon Group (every 3rd Tuesday of the month at 7.30 pm).

A trip to Gay’s the Word is always a special occasion, as while many of London’s major bookstores now carry an LGBT+ section, this was not always the case. Unlike the bigger bookstores, the staff at Gay’s the Word are always willing to chat, and offer some friendly advice. Gay’s the Word also offers a much wider selection of books (and other paraphernalia that relate to LGBTQIA+ cases and issues including t-shirts for LGSM, badges etc) than most of the bookstores in London which have dedicated LGBT+ sections within their regular stores.

According to their Facebook page, Gay’s the Word will reopen on 1st July with some amended opening times due to the COVID19 pandemic.

G-A-Y Bar

30 Old Compton St, Soho, W1D 4UR

Nearest Tube: Tottenham Court Road

G-A-Y Bar is one of the most well-known, popular, and notorious LGBTQIA+ venues in London. Open from midday, there isn’t an LGBTQIA+ person we know who hasn’t spent at least one very drunken night here. Often used to start a night out (thanks to the deals that G-A-Y offers to its sister sites G-A-Y Late, which is around the corner on 5 Goslett Yard, Soho, London WC2H 0EA and Heaven, which we will talk about a bit later) G-A-Y often has a mixed clientele of young and old. Split over several floors, which are not all open in the afternoon, or on quiet nights, the crowd at G-A-Y is usually quite diverse including students, tourists, and office workers, with a mainly male crowd on the upper levels and a mainly female crowd downstairs. Like many of London’s LGBTQIA+ nightclubs G-A-Y Bar can get very busy and you will need to queue to get a drink, the longest we have waited was 30minutes – but this was on New Year’s Eve! Like all of London’s nightclubs G-A-Y Bar operates a search policy on entry and the door staff are normally pretty good if you feel uncomfortable being searched by a member of the same or opposite sex – just ask them and they are pretty accommodating. Again like all nightclubs in London, G-A-Y Bar also operates a zero-tolerance policy on drugs and people have, in the past, been refused entry for carrying licenced medication such as autoinjectors for allergies, pain medication etc – our advice is to leave it at home (if you can) as there is nothing worse than queuing to get into a nightclub or bar, only to be refused entry for something which you could have avoided! If you can’t leave them at home try and grab a member of staff before you start to queue (better yet call them earlier in the day or drop them a message on social media!) and explain your situation to them. We also highly recommend that you make use of the cloakroom (found downstairs near one set of toilets) if you have any shopping or precious personal items with you; but be warned that the queue for this facility can get very long if G-A-Y Bar is busy.

While we highly recommend G-A-Y Bar, just so you can say that you have lived through the experience, we would advise that if you do not enjoy loud music or very busy bars that you visit earlier in the day. We quiet enjoy popping in on a Saturday afternoon just after the matinees in the nearby theatres have started when the volume (both of people and music) is lower and it is easier to find a seat and get served at the bar.

The Above the Stage Theatre

72 Albert Embankment, Vauxhall, London, SE1 7TP

Nearest Tube: Vauxhall

Founded in 2008 above an LGBTQIA+ pub called The Stag (hence the name) Above the Stage Theatre is now situated underneath one of the railway arches in Vauxhall. The only theatre in the UK producing, and programming, exclusively LGBTQIA+ theatre it is a popular spot with the London based LGBTQIA+ theatre community. We’ve seen numerous productions here that have ranged from the brilliantly funny, to the poignantly moving and we always end up drinking in the theatre bar until closing time! If we are honest the bar is a great place to hang out and drink if you happen to be in Vauxhall anyway!

Although it is currently closed due to the COVID19 pandemic the Above the Stag Theatre should re-open in November for their annual adult panto, which this year is Dick Whittington: A New Dick in Town, which follows on from their highly successful Pinocchio in 2019.

The Admiral Duncan Pub

54 Old Compton Street, London W1D 4UD

Nearest Tube: Tottenham Court Road

The Admiral Duncan is one of the oldest gay bars in London and is named after the British Naval hero Admiral Adam Duncan who defeated the Dutch fleet at the Battle of Camperdown. Known throughout the United Kingdom for the Admiral Duncan terrorist attack, which was part of the 1999 London nail bombings (where the Neo-Nazi David Copeland placed three nail bombs in Brixton, Brick Lane and The Admiral Duncan over three consecutive weekends) where three people were killed, and seventy-nine people were injured. Today the pub is a popular place for all members of the LGBTQIA+ to come together and has a memorial chandelier and plaque to those who died and were injured during the 1999 bomb attack. Known for its friendly staff, cheap(ish) drinks, and Drag shows, The Admiral Duncan is certainly a favourite with many of our LGBTQIA+ guides who often pop in here after their tours.

5 Places Our London Guides Are Missing During The COVID19 Pandemic.

Over the COVID19 pandemic, everyone at Tours of the UK has come to miss so many of the things that we used to take for granted. From grabbing a quick coffee from one of the many food and drinks markets to enjoying a stroll through the streets of London everyone is missing what used to be boring and mundane. With this in mind, we asked our London based team the palaces that they are missing and why.

1. Gordon’s Wine Bar, Villiers Street. Nearest Tube: Embankment

Gordon’s is believed to be the oldest wine bar in London, having been founded in 1890. Called “London’s Worst Kept Secret” in The Londonist this bar is a favourite of Londoner’s and tourists alike. Serving only wine and water, and covered with old posters, newspapers, and magazine cuttings from the bar’s illustrious history it is a place to sit, people watch, and relax. Famed for its barrels behind the bar (pictured below) and the candlelit ambiance of its cellar bar CJ who works in our office said “I miss spending evenings here with my boyfriend. He’s a guide with Tours of the UK and was the first person to take me to Gordon’s. The first time we went it was freezing and we had to sit on the terrace in one of the seats without heaters. The amazing thing is that the atmosphere, and the wine, kept us both warm. I really wish we could go here and enjoy a nice bottle of wine and some of their amazing cheeses! It’s one of the few bars in London where people will still talk to each other. We went here the night before lockdown started and it was the only time, I’ve seen it quiet. I can’t wait to get back there and enjoy a bottle (or two) in the sun!”

Gordon's Wine Bar, Cellar Bar, Tours Of The UK
Gordon's Wine Bar, Cellar Bar, Tours Of The UK

2. The Southbank, Southbank. Nearest Tube: Embankment OR Waterloo

The Southbank is home to several of the major cultural organizations in London, including the Royal Festival Hall, The Queen Elizabeth Rooms, the Hayward Gallery, the BFI and the National Theatre. In the summer you will see throngs of people walking along the river Thames stopping wherever they can to enjoy a cold drink – usually a glass of Pimms. Outside the Royal Festival Hall is an art installation called Fountain: Appearing Rooms by the artist Jeppe Hein which is hugely popular with kids (both young and old). Our Head Guide Dewi said “One of my favourite things to do at any time of year is to walk from Waterloo, along the Southbank, past Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, and Borough Market and over London Bridge to Fenchurch Street Station where I get my train home. In the winter it can be pretty cold, but there are plenty of places to stop and warm up such as the Founder’s Arms or The Anchor. Both are great pubs and are great places to drink at any time of year. In the summer I tend to walk all the way without stopping and treat myself to a G&T on the train home. Or if I am with friends, we will pop into one of the bars at Gabriel’s Wharf or have a drink outside the National Theatre. I’m awful for getting distracted by the National’s Bookshop whenever I walk past it and usually end up buying something. I also tend to loiter under the south side of Waterloo Bridge if the Southbank book Market is open as you can always find a book there that you didn’t know you wanted, but definitely needed to add to your collection! I’m really missing the walk, not so much for the exercise, but for the chance to stop and look at the books, people watch and just enjoy the view of the City of London from the south side of the river. It’s a walk I’ve done thousands of times when I want to be alone with my thoughts and I miss it”

3. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, Bankside. Nearest Tube: London Bridge

This was a popular choice with several of our guides who come from a theatrical background. Opened in 1997 this replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is a popular destination for theatre lovers, students, school groups and tourists. Offering a wide range of productions, including new writing and special commissions, the Globe is a must-see for anyone who has a love of theatre. Dewi, Jan and Henry all agree that standing as a groundling is the best way to see a production as you are often involved with the action, with the actors walking and performing amongst the audience. However, if you cannot stand for the duration of the play (and it’s a struggle for Dewi, Jan and Henry when they go) then we suggest you take or hire, a pillow as some of the seats can be very uncomfortable. Henry said “I’m not a Shakespeare expert, but I love the Globe! I usually go at least once a year, sometimes with Dewi who has been studying and teaching Shakespeare for years, and sometimes on my own or with my girlfriend. I remember seeing Titus Andronicus with Dewi a few years back and being shocked how gory it was! That said I have never seen something at the Globe that I didn’t enjoy. I think this year will be the first year since I moved to London from Aberystwyth where I won’t have been to see a performance here.” If you are planning to visit the Globe Dewi recommends the guided tour which is provided by the Globe Theatre. It gives you a deeper understanding of the Globe Theatre, Shakespeare, and the context in which his plays were written.

The Globe Theatre, Tours of the UK
The Globe Theatre Stage, Tours of the UK

4. Borough Market, London Bridge. Nearest Tube: London Bridge

Borough Market is the oldest market in London dating back over 1000 years to the 10th Century. Situated on the south side of London Bridge, and next to London Bridge Underground Station’s Borough High Street exit the market is a Mecca for local office workers, NHS Staff who walk from the nearby Guy’s Hospital, Londoners who are looking for a taste of home, the exotic, or to try something new, and tourists looking to explore this foodie paradise. Often you will find Harry Potter Tours traipsing through the Market as the Mexican restaurant El Pastor on Stoney Street was the filming location of the Leaky Cauldron in “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” while the Globe Pub (where it is said the Great Train Robbery was planned) is a filming location for the Bridget Jones films. Every tour guide in London adores Borough Market as you can always find something to eat here, even if you aren’t hungry! Kate loves the perfect pasta from La Tua which is tucked away in the Borough Market Kitchen area, while Dewi highly recommends the Ethiopian curry from Ethiopian Flavours (located in the Green Market, close to the railings of Southwark Cathedral), and Henry loves the chocolate from Rabot 1745 (who have their shop on Bedale Steet). Kate said that “I love walking through Borough Market, the smells are always amazing! It’s usually packed but I think that’s part of its charm, that everyone in London comes here to eat and drink. I love that in the summer you can get glasses of Pimms or Sangria. In the winter there is always the most amazing smell of mulled wine – I usually come here with my partner who always gets carried away buying gifts for people. This year we are going to treat ourselves and buy a turkey from one of the butchers and pretend we’re Bridget Jones and Mark Darcy! I miss being able to treat myself to something tasty and worry that some of my favourite places won’t reopen after the pandemic”

TOP TIP: If you are planning to visit Borough Market after the lock-down we suggest you visit on Thursday as this tends to be the quieter day and so social distancing should be easier. Also, if you are planning to eat here, take a good stroll first and look at all of the options that are available to you. Often people buy the first thing that looks delicious (and it all looks delicious) and are disappointed to later find out that their favourite food was just around the corner. We suggest a good look around first and then if you are in a group you can split up and meet back at the seating area in the Borough Market Kitchen area of the market, go and get what you really fancy. Of course, if you are feeling hungry you could just eat everything you see, but even those of us with massive appetites might struggle to manage this!

5. The Harp, Chandos Place. Nearest Tube: Charing Cross

“I hate it when guides tell tourists about The Harp!” exclaimed Henry when we told him that his favourite pub was going to be included in this list. He went on to moan that “it’s difficult enough to get in there at the best of times, but if we all keep telling tourists to visit there, we’ll never be able to get in, let alone to the bar!” sadly too many of our guides mentioned that they were missing this beautiful boozer and its impressive selection of beers, ciders, wines, and spirits for us to miss it off this list. Often packed with locals (who would also rather we didn’t tell you about this impressive hidden gem), the best time to visit The Harp can be earlier in the afternoon before the ‘locals’ finish work, or on Sunday evenings when the bar has a much more relaxed and calm atmosphere. The first thing you will notice when visiting the pub is the huge number of Pump Clips (pictured below) hanging from above the bar and how small the bar area is. We suggest that you grab a drink and, if the weather is nice, head out the back of the pub into Brydges Place where crowds of people stand clutching their pints. Due to the UK’s smoking laws, this is usually where smokers and their friends hang out, but if you can stand the smell of cigarette smoke it is an excellent place to people watch and spot the odd actor and celeb from the nearby theatres. If drinking al fresco isn’t your thing head up (the very steep steps) to the rooms above and relax in one of the armchairs – the only problem with this is carrying your pints past people coming down the stairs from the pub’s loos.

The Harp, Pump Clips Above The Bar. Tours of the UK
The Harp, Pump Clips Above The Bar. Tours of the UK
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