The London Grill: Amy Coats and Vanessa Cain

We challenge our contributor to reply to ten devilishly probing questions about their London and we don’t take “Sorry Gov” for an answer. Everyone sitting in the hot seat will face the same questions that range from their favourite way to spend a day out in the capital to their most hated building on London’s skyline to find out just what Londoners really think about their city. The questions might be the same but the answers vary wildly.

Amy-and-Vanessa

[A]my Coats and Vanessa Cain are keen runners and avid London historians. Keen to reveal London’s fascinating stories to a livelier crowd than your standard tour punter, they launched Secret London Runs in October 2015. Since then, they’ve been showing visitors and Londoners a different side to London, exploring London’s secret sights and hidden history.

Secret London Runs is a running tours and events company that aims to help people use their time wisely. Its founders, Amy and Vanessa, design unique themed tours and team challenges, so you can get your kit on, get the endorphins flowing, and cover far more ground than a bus or walking tour.

London-runs

You’ll run at your own pace as your guide reveals the most fascinating tales that lie tucked away under cobblestones and behind grand façades. Whether you’re a gentle jogger or ultra-marathon runner, you’ll love their running tours and events.

What’s your secret London tip?
Do a tour. Bus, bike, boat, walking, running – your choice. There’s so much about London that people just don’t know that sits right under their feet. The real life stories; the insanely rich history, is there on the streets waiting to be told. Having a guide who knows their stuff is priceless. We’re a bit biased of course, so we’d say a running tour is the best way to do it. If you’re running, you can cover more ground and go down the little side streets, nooks and crannies. So a themed sight jogging tour – a combination of running and urban exploration – for locals or visitors is perfect in London!

What’s your secret London place?
We love Pickering Place. Its unspoilt architecture, original Georgian gas lamps and pea-souper smog coloured walls that lean about quirkily, take you right back to a time of duels, deals, and dark conversations.

What’s your biggest gripe about London?
The queues outside some of the most rubbish, trite, overrated, extortionate attractions. Madame Tussauds, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, the M&M shop in Leicester Square… the list goes on. Why are they so bloody popular? These things get such disproportionate traction. It’s baffling. We want to scream at those poor tired tourists who have heard somewhere that those are the things to do – go visit Postman’s Park, or Lincoln’s Inn Fields or one of London’s many amazing museums or galleries! But each to their own though I suppose . . .

What’s your favourite building?
The Boot and Flogger on Redcross Way. It’s so cool inside – original wooden panels and old farming equipment in the downstairs dining rooms make it delightfully eerie. It is London’s first ‘real wine bar’, and the only premises in the country to be able to call itself a Free Vintner. This means it can sell wine without a license, a privilege granted only by the Worshipful Company of Vintners – an organisation dating back to the 12th century.

What’s your most hated building?
The swish private apartments that line the Thames and monopolise the river path and view, for example in Wandsworth. Who on earth allowed that? You feel as if you’re trespassing when you weave through them, only to see corrugated iron car park shutters or get blasted with the stink of chlorine from private gyms. Sorry, ranting. Grrr.

What’s the best view in London?
Standing on the Blue Bridge in the middle of St James Park. If you go there in the evening or early morning and look west you see the sun glimmering on the Angels of Justice and Truth – the golden Victoria memorial statue outside Buckingham Palace. But the real treat is looking east. The grey stone pointy and domed turrets and towers of Westminster renders it some kind of unrecognisable fairy tale land. The view from the top of Greenwich Park is pretty lovely too.

What’s your personal London landmark?
London Bridge. As the city swelled with industry and commerce on both sides, London Bridge was the only way to cross the Thames up until 1726. Its story really sums up a lot of things about London; inefficient, crooked, filthy, and endlessly charming.

What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?
The Ladies Bridge by Historian Dr Chris Wall, Jo Wiser and Karen Livesey. Chris Wall discovered after years of trawling through archives, the story of Waterloo Bridge being built by women during the Second World War. Official history has written this out – which is crazy given that 24,000 female construction workers took on jobs such as building Waterloo Bridge during World War II! In 2005 Wall was joined by film-maker Karen Livesey to pursue the story through oral history.

What’s your favourite bar, pub or restaurant?
The Boot and Flogger – mentioned above. We love it so much that we held our launch event there J

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?
Strolling round Bermondsey Street. Peeking into some of the galleries around Southwark and Borough and grabbing some lunch at Southbank food market. We also love a day on a Boris Bike because of the slow, up-right nature of it and that feeling you get when you jam it into the dock and walk like a badgirl. But remember to be careful and compassionate to other commuters!

Pictures: © Duncan Kelman KoaSound Photography

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