Cities need guides. They’re confusing, noisy, jumbled places. “No two people live in the same city,” writes Rebecca Solnit in her book Infinite City. “A city is many worlds in the same place.” We all have our own versions of a city, our islands of familiarity and straits of routine, but what’s happening elsewhere and in other people’s heads? Curiocity magazine (pictured above), which launched in 2011, highlights unexpected London experiences in its folded maps. Here are 10 more quirky guides from across the UK.
Herb Lester (from £4) If you’re an uncle at a loose end or you need some rubber wear in a hurry, Herb Lester has the map for you. Since 2010, Ben Olins and Jane Smillie have been producing eccentric, folded maps of London. Their avuncular pseudonym, Herb Lester, has proved the inspiration for a range of themes, from their first map, You Are Here, which charts quiet spots to work, to a Pub for All Reasons, an East End Companion and London on Two Wheels. Now they’ve expanded globally, carving cartographic inroads into other cities including Glasgow, New York, Tokyo and Copenhagen.
Bristol Cider Map (free) This free download is your ticket to a scrumptious cider trail around Bristol. If you get to the end before the streets start to swim, you’ll visit 15 spectacular cider specialists, from the Apple cider boat to The Orchard, with its serried ranks of perries and artisan ciders. The map accompanies James Russell’s Naked Guide to Cider, which is sadly not an alcoholic naturist’s almanac, but a gloriously bucolic celebration of cider and a guide to enjoying it around the UK. It even has instructions on how to make it.
Typographic Tour of Sheffield (free) It seems appropriate for our tour of printed guides to include a celebration of typography. Inspired by Stephenson Blake, the last type foundry in Britain, this beautiful poster map of Sheffield introduces you to a highly eclectic crowd of public typefaces. You’ll pore over signs and pavements, spelling out fonts from ancient boundary markers to the Chick King takeaway. The stylish design agency Eleven has created the guide, which scours the city for serifs and stories, tracing tales of secret tunnels, underground societies and daredevil steeplejacks. They’ll send you a copy in exchange for a stamped envelope.
An Exeter Mis-Guide (£4.99) What is a guidebook? The Wrights & Sites team have stripped the idea down and blown it apart. These artist-researchers based at the University of Exeter have created a “mis-guide” to the city that challenges the way you approach the most familiar of urban experiences. Become a tourist on your own doorstep: trace touch trails of urban surfaces or walk your own version of Peru’s ancient Nazca lines, plotted on a street map. Sound bizarre? It’s not as disconcerting as their Mis-Guide to Anywhere, which could apply to any city in the world …
Aal Aboot Geordie (£4.95) The UK’s diversity should be celebrated, so we’re thankful to David Simpson for Aal Aboot Geordie, which steers confidently through the proudly impenetrable language of Newcastle. In his words, tyek a keek te find oot aboot the burr, the bairns, the borns and the broon. He’s also written the companion volume, Aal Aboot Newcastle, which deals with the history and landscape of the Toon, from the half-timbered houses of Sandhill to the breathtaking bridges over the Tyne.
Literary Walks in Bath (£15) The Georgian terraces and crescents of Bath evoke Empire lines, barouche-landaus and the barbed pleasantries of Jane Austen, but as well as charting the “delightful place” of Austen’s novels, authors Andrew Swift and Kirsten Elliott track 10 other sets of literary footsteps in this scholarly volume. You rub shoulders with Mr Pickwick; stump up hills with Tobias Smollett; get romantic with Coleridge and the Shelleys; and drink a nostalgic cup of tea with John Betjeman. Apparently even Shakespeare came for a dip in the hot springs.
Liverpool – In a City Living This wistful tour of Liverpool’s municipal memories is the passion project of historian Ged Fagan. The three books in his poetically titled In a City Living series collate his own photographs alongside archival images of Liverpool’s wartime tenement housing blocks, most of which have long since disappeared. This record of domestic monuments is complemented by Ged’s own memories of people and places, and tales of his life growing up in a tenement. The result is a ghost guide that will raise a nostalgic lump in anyone’s throat.
Lost in London (£10) Over half of London is green, and the best equipment for navigating its parks, woodlands, orchards, farms and rivers is Lost In London, the magazine for city dwellers “with a taste for the good life”. Edited by Lucy Scott and Tina Smith, the quarterly issues present seasonal compilations of natural wonders, with stunning photos and designs. Find the best wild swimming spots; cook up some local produce; wander through wildflower meadows; or hunt for dragonflies – all without leaving London. They’ve also published a beautifully produced compilation volume (£14.99).
The Pocket Guide to Oxford (£7.99) This delightful romp around Oxford is the witty and erudite brainchild of Michael Johnson and the late Philip Atkins, both book designers at Oxford University Press. The inventive layout ricochets between subjects that include punting, Pitt Rivers and the Emperors’ heads, with illustrations from Lewis Carroll and the Victorian artist Orlando Jewitt. There are sardonic observations from the dodo in the University Museum of Natural History, who casts his world-weary editorial eye over the typescript, and is presumably a relation of the protagonist in the pair’s other extraordinary book, A Dodo in Oxford.
The Local’s Guide to Edinburgh (£9.99) Extrapolating the maxim that it’s people who make the place, Owen O’Leary and Claudia Monteiro have hung their intimate guide to Edinburgh on interviews with 17 “local legends”. You can read the city through the eyes of taxi driver Bob McCulloch, or former Scottish rugby fullback Gavin Hastings. Each interviewee describes life in the city and recommends their favourite ways to savour its charms. The elegantly designed book also covers poetry, films, Edinburgh recipes and an essential glossary of words for weather.