V&A, Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington

The V&A calls itself “The world’s leading museum of Art and Design”, a bold claim. In a city that has many of the greatest museums in the world, the Victoria and Albert is among the best of them. It is certainly my favourite. The permanent collection is vast, with almost 3 million objects and the variety of displays is huge, in terms of time -from antiquity to the present day, geography – literally all over the world and, ideas – ancient Japanese art, through early 20th century arts and craft, to current video game design.

London is very lucky in that most of its museums and galleries are free. The V&A charge for some of their exhibitions but the permanent collection is always free. There are lunchtime lectures most Thursdays, which are free, and these are on a wide variety of topics, recent examples range from “The Christmas Story in Late Medieval and Renaissance Paintings” (I admit that sounded a bit dry, but it wasn’t!), to “Beatrix Potter” and “Hallyu” about popular culture in South Korea.

They have free music concerts – the last time I went, there was a pianist, Ivan Moshchuk, playing Schubert, in Gallery 87. There are also tours of different parts of the collection, varying in subject from Female Voices, through African Heritage, Fashion, and Theatre and Performance.

The collection is far too big to do in one day. So, you will probably need to choose the areas that you are most interested in and save the rest for another day. They have a really good theatre area, very hands on with costumes to dress up in, excellent if you bring children. Their gold and silver collection is remarkable, there is a solid gold door from a Kyiv cathedral, that had been given to them by Catherine the Great. I’m not sure how it managed to get to be in the collection of the V&A, but it is remarkable nonetheless.

There is a huge room dedicated to jewelry. The windows of one side of the second floor are covered inside with stained glass. There is a collection of ancient Chinese ceramics and of Philip Treacy hats. They are strong on fashion, from 16th century underwear to Alexander McQueen evening dresses. There is a display on the history of the mobile phone, it is surprising to see things that you have owned in a museum collection. It made me think “Have I still got one of those in a drawer somewhere?” There is a room of 1960s and 1970s futuristic furniture, which is truly amazing.

The cafe is fantastic, both in terms of the food it sells and its decor. The central seating area is the earliest ever museum cafe, decorated in the bright colorful style of a Parisian Cafe, but with English tin glazed majolica tiles. It is still in remarkably good condition. There are two slightly smaller seating rooms, one decorated by Edward John Poynter and one by William Morris off to either side. The food ordering area is late 20th Century with the sharp clean lines and muted colours of the time. Even if you are not intending to eat you should certainly walk through.

As you may have guessed, I really like this museum and if you are only going to visit one museum in London (but don’t only visit one – see The Wallace Collection, The Science Museum and Natural History Museum too, if you can) then this should be the one. I am certainly not going to dispute their claim to be “The world’s leading museum of art and design”. If you get the opportunity, you should definitely go.

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Capital Ring – Section 4

Crystal Palace to Streatham Common

Section 3 goes from Crystal Palace Station to Streatham Common, it is pretty short at 6.5km and has some spectacular long views at various point through the walk. Definitely one to choose on a clear day. On leaving the station and Crystal Palace Park, you cross over Anerley Hill Road and go up a steep hill to Palace Square, which has an interesting juxtaposition of posh 19th Century houses on one side and a 1960s council housing estate on the other. Continuing uphill, we soon reach Belvedere Road, which just has posh houses, one of which has a blue plaque marking the residence of Benjamin Waterhouse-Hawkins, the designer of the dinosaurs in Crystal Palace Park.

Belvedere Road, posh houses with a nice view.

Nest we go downhill through Westow Park which is a small park with a children’s playground, apparently this was the grounds of a young gentlemen’s school in the 19th Century, which is probably why the road when you exit the park is named College Green. From here you can see Norwood Recreation Park which we cross. Uphill after leaving we arrive at Beulah Hill, a busy road, but with some spectacular long-range views into central London.

London from Beulah Hill.

Next, we go down Biggin Hill, which has views southward, and a pathway between two houses leads us into Biggin Wood, another small remnant of the Great North Wood.

Norwood Grove is uphill once again. It is the grounds of Norwood Grove House a Grade II listed mansion with a beautiful Cedar tree and more southward views, this time towards Croydon, the number of cranes indicating that this skyline will get more crowded in the coming years.

Norwood Grove is joined to Streatham Common, the first part you reach is The Rookery, just to the left of the Capital Ring and this is a Grade II listed Historic Garden. It is certainly worth strolling through, it has ornamental ponds, beautiful old trees and attractive herbaceous borders. It was on this site that the “Streatham Springs” were discovered, and The Rookery was originally the grounds of a now demolished spa hotel. The grounds were bought by public subscription after the demolition of the house, in order to prevent them from being developed for new housing. The waters from Streatham Springs were said to be “beneficial in Bilious and Liver complaints, headaches, jaundice and digestion”. Just outside is “The Rookery Cafe” which serves teas, coffees, sandwiches and other dishes. It also has a vibrant community notice board.

From here Streatham Common slopes gently downhill towards the London Road, giving nice long views to the west. It also looks attractive from the road, its slope displaying the families out enjoying the sun during the summer. The Common has an annual kite day, regular fairs, a firework display in autumn and a large open-air nativity scene at Christmas. London is lucky to have so many, well maintained, green spaces for such a large city and Streatham Common is a fine example of this.

Capital Ring Section 3

Grove Park to Crystal Palace – section 3 – is the longest on the Capital Ring. Starting at Grove Park Station we soon reach Railway Children Walk which commemorates the fact that the author E. Nesbitt lived nearby. There was very successful British film of the book in 1970, starring Jenny Agutter, and there have been many other adaptations since it was first serialized in “The London Magazine” in 1905.

14.8km Station to Station

Soon after this we arrive at Downham Woodland Walk, a narrow strip of woodland, which was once part of the Great North Wood. This itself was once part of the prehistoric forest that covered most of England, so many of the trees here are direct descendants of that forest. It does actually feel like a very old forest as you walk through it, although I guess that could be because I read about it before the walk.

Great North Wood

Just before you leave the wood there is a marker to let you know that you are crossing the Greenwich meridian line. Soon after, we come to Beckenham Place Park, crossing the Ravensbourne River by means of a humpbacked bridge. Legend has it that the river got its name because Roman soldiers were led to the spring at its source by a raven. This is a large park; we walk alongside a golf course and cross a railway track before we come to Beckenham Place Park Lake, which appears to be a popular spot for wild swimming.

Swimmers in Beckenham Place Park Lake

Up the hill from the lake is Beckenham Place Mansion. It was a fine house in its day, it is grade II listed. Now it belongs to Lewisham Council, who appear to be renovating it, although I have to say that it seems to be going on for years with little change. I have a similar picture from the 2010 walk, and it looks very much the same except that the scaffolding is in a different place on the building.

Beckenham Place Mansion

There is a section of residential streets before you reach a small but pretty park, Cator Park. It has two small rivers running through it, The Chaffinch and The Beck, tributaries of the Ravensbourne. It has a busy cafe, a playing field and nicely tended flower beds.

Fir trees Cator Park

The final section of the walk is through Crystal Palace Park. This is packed full of interest. It was built to hold The Crystal Palace, of the Great Exhibition of 1851, when it needed to be moved from Hyde Park. When it was built it was London’s most spectacular pleasure garden. It hosted firework displays, circuses, concerts and shows. It had fountains, cascades, statues, a maze and a miniature railway. The Crystal Palace itself was destroyed by fire in 1936 and was never replaced. Now it has a National Sports Centre with first class athletics and swimming facilities.

Crystal Palace Dinosaurs

The Dinosaur Court was built in 1854 and contained the first ever dinosaur sculptures in the world. Having spent most of the 20th Century out of favour, in 1973 they were made Grade II listed and following renovation early in the 21st Century they became Grade I listed in 2007, putting them in an exalted list with St. Paul’s Cathedral, Monument, The Bank of England and others. One of E. Nesbitt’s books, written in 1907, has a storyline where the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs come to life.

Brown and Green café

The Park has two very nice cafés too, both called Brown and Green, one at the Penge end of the park and one at the entrance to Crystal Palace railway station. The one at the lower end of the park was very busy with parents and children in buggies on the day I was there, but the one in the station had plenty of space and quick service. Crystal Palace station is the end of a long but satisfying walk full of interesting sights.

Mural on the wall of the Park Tavern Pub near Penge East Station

The Capital Ring, Section 1

12.5km Station to Station

The official walk is from Woolwich foot tunnel to Falconwood bridge and is 11.7km. The nearest train stations are Woolwich Arsenal station and Falconwood station. This adds a little under a km to the walk and is well worth the extra because Woolwich Arsenal and Woolwich Market are both interesting in their own right. Also, Woolwich Arsenal is a station on the newly opened Elizabeth line.

Woolwich Market entry sign

The Woolwich Market sign is the first thing you will see on leaving the station and although it is possibly not as vibrant as it has been at times in the past, there has been a market in that square for over 400 years! Walk through the market, through Woolwich Arsenal, a mixture of ancient cannons and modern apartments and just before you arrive at the Thames you will come to a lovely piece of open-air art – “Assembly” by Peter Burke. When it was first installed, many people (including me) thought it was by Anthony Gormley, but although there is a similarity in their work (both brilliant), this is definitely more in Burke’s style.

Assembly by Peter Burke

Soon we arrive at the entrance to Woolwich Foot Tunnel which goes under the Thames. This is the official starting point and when we emerge from this in a few weeks’ time, it will signify the completion of the Capital Ring. It was built in 1912 and you are allowed to cycle through as well as walk. If you have a car or lorry there is the Woolwich Free Ferry, I guess this would also be an option if you were claustrophobic and did not wish to walk under the river. There has been a ferry at this point for possibly a thousand years, there is reference to it in the Doomsday book in 1086.

Woolwich Free Ferry

This part of the Thames was a Royal Naval Dockyard in the times of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Many of the most famous ship were built here including the Ark Royal, HMS Vanguard and HMS Beagle, made famous by Darwin’s voyage. The Thames Barrier has been here since 1984, built after the 1953 floods in which hundreds of people drowned.

This is where we leave the river and head south through a series of parks. Maryon Park and Maryon Wilson Park were both originally sandpits and Maryon Park was the setting for the 1966 film “Blow Up”. Next up is Charlton Park which holds Charlton House, which was the home of the aforementioned Maryon Wilson Family. It looks very imposing, a fine example of a Jacobean house, it was built in 1612.

Charlton House built 1612

Then we go through Hornfair Park, where the infamous Charlton Horn Fair used to happen until it was banned in the 19th Century because of continuous “unseemly behavior”. Tut, tut, those naughty Victorians! On to Woolwich Common where the Royal Military Academy was situated until it moved to Sandhurst in 1948. This is where Generals like Gordon, Kitchener and Wingate were trained. Off the Common we cross Shooters Hill, which could be named for the soldiers that used to train here or for the Highwaymen for which it was notorious. Dick Turpin plied his trade here.

Severndroog Castle

Next, we go through a series of woods. Castle Wood which holds the triangular, Severndroog Castle, which is named after a pirate fortress in 18th Century India. This is the highest point of the Capital ring, giving long views over south London. Jack Wood is an oak wood and has a beautiful carpet of leaves, if you manage to visit it in a season when it hasn’t been too wet.

Carpet of Leaves

Oxleas Meadows lead into Oxleas wood. Oxleas Meadows has a lovely cafe which does tea, coffee, sandwiches and hot food. This also has lovely long views over the South of London. Oxleas Wood has many ring-necked parakeets. Bright green and noisy, you are likely to see them in many places on the Capital Ring, but they are in abundance here.

View from Oxleas Wood

Finally, a walk through Eltham Park North to Falconwood footbridge and then left to Falconwood station to catch the train back to London Bridge. A lovely 12.5k walk through leafy south London and I would guess that less than 1k of it was on city streets. If you have a morning or afternoon to spare in London this is a great way to spend it!

Rich Mix, 35-47 Bethnal Green Road, London E1

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Rich Mix is a flexible, interesting venue, very handily located less than 100metres from Shoreditch High Street Overground Station. It has a theatre space and a bar on the 4th floor, holding around 100 people comfortably. The ground floor has a licensed bar in a space suitable for theatre, dance or live music and this area can accommodate many more. The first floor is a mezzanine, looking down over the stage. There are three cinema screens on the floors in between and there is also an Indian restaurant/café on the premises.

What really makes this venue, is the variety and diversity of the cultural events that are put on here. If you look at the programme for the coming month alone, there is theatre, dance, live bands, open mic nights, story-telling evenings, political events, family events, not to mention the films showing in the cinema, where it is one of the venues hosting the London Film Festival. It is also a venue for London Dance Umbrella Festival.

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There mezzanine doubles as an art gallery and currently hosts a multimedia exhibition: Black Pride.  Among upcoming exhibitions are “Hard to Read” bringing together art and poetry, and another depicting illustrations of Syrian refugees. There are weekend markets with different themes, one in December is specifically for independent potters and ceramicists.

An adaptable venue, embracing the local community, accommodating the art scene and enhancing London’s rich cultural diversity.

Park Room and Library, Grosvenor House Hotel, Park Lane, London

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We were looking for somewhere to celebrate our wedding anniversary and the Park Room and Library sounded like a good deal, so four of us came for the bottomless champagne afternoon tea. The room is beautiful. It is light and airy; full of windows which look across Park Lane into Hyde Park. The traffic is muted by the flower displays between you and the pavement. The room is decorated in pale summery colours with a pretty butterfly motif throughout. It will appeal to overseas visitors; the formal dress of the staff and the height of the ceilings gives the room a light, old colonial feel.

The afternoon tea itself was very good, limitless finger sandwiches, as many scones as we liked and a wide array of pastries served on pretty cake stands. We were even given a selection box of these to take when we left! There was a big choice of both savoury and sweet options and the waiter enquired about any dietary requirements before he took our orders. The service was fantastic, out waiter was generous with the champagne and our glasses were topped up constantly during our two hour meal. There was a big variety of teas from which to choose, all served on a bone china tea service.

Its position at the top of Park Lane near to Marble Arch is very central. If you are visiting London and looking for a venue to have a British Afternoon Tea, especially if you are partial to a glass of Champagne, this would be a very nice place to enjoy it. We booked about a week in advance and it was busy, so I think you would need to be very lucky to just walk in without booking. I guess at £40 it is not the cheapest afternoon tea in London, but with unlimited food and Champagne, I think it represents pretty good value.

 

Skylark Café, Wandsworth Common, London

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The Skylark Café is in a lovely old fashioned building in the middle of Wandsworth Common. It has been decorated in a more up to date fashion once you are inside, with a built in banquette into the bay window and child friendly furnishings in the back room. There is floor space for the children to run around here too. If you prefer a less boisterous area, there is a room at the front which had a more adult clientele on the day we were there. There are also seats outside. The views are pretty, Wandsworth Common is well maintained, and there is a pond nearby where you can bring your kids to feed the ducks.

It has a good community notice board although you have to go into the toilet area to read it. It also has a blackboard listing different events that it hosts during the month. In April, for example, it has music days and popup shops. If you would like to see what to expect before you go, it has a particularly well designed website.

The food offering is good. It does soup, sandwiches, and a wide variety of cakes and muffins. There was even healthy snacking food for the ducks! It was busy with parents and children on the weekday early afternoon that we were there, so it is obviously popular with local people. The service was attentive, helpful, and friendly.

It is about halfway along section 5 of the Capital Ring, so it is the perfect point at which to stop for refreshment, if you are doing that walk around London. A very pleasant place, and just what a park café should be.

 

 

Shake Shack, Victoria Nova, Victoria, London

 

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This is a shiny, brand new, glass fronted burger and hot dog restaurant on the corner in Victoria Nova. The building is beautiful and given the location, there will be a lot of passing trade. It is licensed, so it sells beer and wine, although I did not order any with my burger, and to be honest I did not see any alcohol on any of the tables that were occupied.

The burgers are marketed at the top of the price range, advertised as being 100% Aberdeen Angus beef, source verified and traceable. I don’t doubt that this is true. I had a single smoke shack, which comes with bacon, cheese and cherry peppers.

It was good without being exceptional, the cherry peppers were a nice addition, but the meat  was a little bit greasy for my taste. The chips were an extra £3 and were poor value. There wasn’t enough of them, and they were crinkle cut, semi-crispy and hollow. They were also cold when they arrived, although when I complained they changed them without query. The shake was nice and thick, but very sweet, perhaps they are more aimed at children than adults.

Given all the new high-end burger joints opening in London, the competition must be fierce and this did not strike me as one of the best. Sorry to say, I think “5 Guys” does it better.

The Rookery Café, Streatham Common, London.

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The Rookery is an ornamental garden on Streatham Common. It is on the site of an old guest house, now gone,  where Queen Victoria used to visit, to take the water, from the three springs, on Streatham Spa. It is still a very pretty, well maintained garden with long views over South London and the South Downs.

The Rookery Café is a nice, old style, park café, with indoor and outdoor seating. There are  pleasant views from the outdoor tables. It is child and dog friendly. It has bowls for water and dog treats in a jar on the counter.

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It has a good selection of hot and cold food. It has vegan, vegetarian and gluten free choices. It has a well maintained community noticeboard offering everything from local plays to invitations to join a brass band.

rookery cafe notice board

It is on the Capital Ring, near the end of Section 5, a very pleasant place to stop for refreshment, if you are doing that walk.

Springfield Park Café, Capital Ring, Section 13, London.

Springfield Cafe

Springfield Park is a pretty park with lovely views over Hackney Marshes. The Café is just inside the main entrance to the park on Springfield Road. It is in North London, not far from Stamford Hill.  Its a lovely old fashioned park café with plenty of seats inside and out. The view from the outside seats is very pretty; over the Lea River and the canal boat marina.

The café has a great choice of both hot and cold food, with the menu hand written in chalk on blackboards behind the counter. I loved the, industrial sized, vintage orange press that freshly squeezes your juice while you wait. It looks like it comes from the early 1970s. There is a big community notice board in the hallway, crammed with flyers for events in the area. It has everything from flats to rent, through mindfulness meetings to trombone tuition!

 

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View from the tables outside.

 

The park itself is on the Capital Ring, a long distance walk around London. Although the café is  a bit nearer the start of section 13 than the end, it is definitely the nicest place to stop for a break, if you need one.

A lovely café in a very pretty park.