I have to thank Tim Miller and his podcast “Human voices wake us” for bringing this great London poem to my attention.
Pressed with conflicting thoughts of love and fear I parted from thee, Friend, and took my way Through the great City, pacing with an eye Downcast, ear sleeping, and feet masterless That were sufficient guide unto themselves, And step by step went pensively. Now, mark! Not how my trouble was entirely hushed, (That might not be) but how, by sudden gift, Gift of Imagination’s holy power, My Soul in her uneasiness received An anchor of stability. — It chanced That while I thus was pacing, I raised up My heavy eyes and instantly beheld, Saw at a glance in that familiar spot A visionary scene—a length of street Laid open in its morning quietness, Deep, hollow, unobstructed, vacant, smooth, And white with winter’s purest white, as fair, As fresh and spotless as he ever sheds On field or mountain. Moving Form was none Save here and there a shadowy Passenger Slow, shadowy, silent, dusky, and beyond And high above this winding length of street, This moveless and unpeopled avenue, Pure, silent, solemn, beautiful, was seen The huge, majestic Temple of St Paul In awful sequestration, through a veil, Through its own sacred veil of falling snow.
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.
It seems that I was one of the few people who liked The Millenium Dome, as it was called when it was called when it was first built. I had a couple of very enjoyable days there at the start of the century. So, when I was given the tickets to walk over the roof of it, as a birthday gift, I was delighted. It’s called the O2 arena now and the walk over its roof is “Up at the O2” with a tagline of “Get over it” – which might be a reference to how unpopular the venue was when it was opened.
The tours run every 15 minutes from roughly 10am until 10pm, although the start and finish times do vary from day to day. You can book them a long way in advance, but I would recommend waiting until you have a good idea of what the weather will be like before booking. They run whatever the weather, rain or shine and only cancel if there are gale force winds or if there is lightning within 5 miles.
It was a lovely sunny October day, the 30th, on the day we did it and although I’d imagine it would be an interesting experience in a thunderstorm, I suspect it would not be as pleasant. The walk up and down is quite steep at times, 30% maximum gradient, but the path is wide, and you are hooked up to a safety harness, so the journey to the top and back did not feel dangerous at any point. There are grips to hold your shoes on the steepest parts, but I bet the surface becomes quite slippery in the rain.
The podium at the top is big and provides beautiful panoramic views of the city skyscrapers and of the Thames east of London. The only cameras you are allowed to bring are those that will fit inside your zipped pockets. They do have gilets with zipped pockets, that they will lend you, if your jacket does not have zipped pockets. The pillars do make it a bit difficult for someone of my limited photographic ability to get photos that do justice to the views. The maximum group size is twenty and our guide, was very helpful with lots of information and offers of picture taking.
Hidden City Adventures provide an option of three treasure hunts taking you around different parts of London, guided by clues sent to your mobile phone. The one we chose to do was Moriarty’s Game, a Sherlock Holmes type mystery that led us around Fitzrovia and Mayfair.
The walks are set in the real world and do involve you interacting with various people along the way -such as going up to a barista in a certain coffee shop and telling them that the white knight sent you (not an actual clue, by the way!). It will involve real detective work and the clues are quite challenging, but this all adds to the sense of achievement when you actually figure them out. You should think of the experience as a day out, rather than a brisk walk, because although we covered a distance of 3km, it took us around three hours with breaks for drinks or snacks as we sat and worked on the various clues.
The games have been set up with great care by people who are interested in London because they bring you through surprising areas and spaces that you would not otherwise see. I have lived in London almost my entire life and there were some places that I didn’t realise existed right in the heart of town. I would say, that it is a social activity – best undertaken with at least two or possibly a small group – as working out the fiendish clues together can be a fun, bonding experience. Also, you should be aware that you will need to add the cost of stopping for coffee or drinks, two or three times during the walk, to your budget for the day.
Having said that, this is a great day out, it involves a small amount of exercise, that you can take at your own pace. It has great puzzles that will stimulate your brain. It is a good social activity, that involves interacting with both unknown people and members of your group, you get a nice sense of achievement when you complete it…. and most of all it is fantastic fun!
Highclere Castle is the home of the Earl of Carnarvon, a Grade I listed building, and Grade I listed garden, in Hampshire between Newbury and Andover. It is a beautiful, historic building in its own right and has added renown because of its use in many films and TV series, probably most famously Downton Abbey. If you know these films or watch the TV series, you will recognize the building as you drive up the long sweeping drive to the car parks.
The walk up to the house from the car park is also recognizable and there was a constant queue of people having photos taken at the famous front door.
When you book, you need to be aware that there is no photography allowed inside the house, however the interior decoration is both sumptuous and recognizable. You certainly do have the feeling that you are walking around a film set rather than a family home. The views of the gardens from the windows of the house are equally attractive, which is a testament to the talent of Capability Brown, the famous 18th Century landscape gardener, who designed the ground in the 1870s.
The house is full of historic interest too. It was used as a hospital for wounded soldiers in the first world war, a storyline used the TV series, if I remember correctly. Before that, it was here that the discussions were held, that led to Canada becoming an independent country. There is a Canadian Maple tree in the front garden, donated by the Canadian embassy, to commemorate this. The building also holds a notable Egyptology Museum, as the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, funded the dig that exhumed the tomb of Tutankhamun. His interest also led him to purchase many other ancient treasures from that part of the world.
The day I went to Highclere was a more expensive tour than the basic entry day and although this did not appear to give a great deal more (a couple of extra rooms, a personal guide and a talk) in terms of access, it did limit the number of people in the grounds and castle to under 200 through the whole day. On a normal open day, they can get over 1100 people, so I’d imagine that queue for photos at the front door becomes very long.
There is a café and bar, and you can order afternoon tea on the lawns. It is about an hour from London by car and roughly the same by train (a £20 taxi ride from the station). I spent about 4 hours there wandering the house and gardens and the time passed very quickly, so with the travelling times, it was a full day out – and a day well spent.
This Gallery holds the art collection of The City of London. Not only is it free to visit, but most weekdays it has a free guided tour of the gallery at 12.15pm and 1.15pm. The collection on display is small compared to the National Gallery or the Tates but it certainly worth a visit.
The original gallery was destroyed in the Blitz and not rebuilt until 1999. When it was rebuilt, it was designed around holding the painting above, which is huge, around 5.4m by 7.5m, as there was no other gallery in the UK with a space large enough to hold it. The gallery was actually commissioned to be built in 1985, but they discovered that it was being built on the site of a Roman amphitheater. It is possible to visit these remains in the basement of the gallery.
The remains are well laid out with some pieces still in the floor but covered in glass and other areas cleared for you to walk around with a light show imagining where the seats and auditorium would have been.
The most famous work is possibly “La Ghirlandata” by Rossetti which has been recently restored and is now on display on the first floor. It has many commissioned works from the 18th Century to the modern day and there are a couple of the Lord Mayors parade, one from the 1880s and another from the 1960s. It is interesting to compare what has changed and what has remained the same in the intervening years.
Just in case all this was not enough, they have The City of London’s actual copy of the Magna Carta on display on the lower ground floor. Apparently, this is not on permanent show though, so if this would be your main reason for attending, check before you go. It was very quiet on the afternoon I went and there are plenty of seats for you to sit and appreciate the art. All in all, I would say that The Guildhall Gallery is a much overlooked and underrated London Gallery.
Falconwood to Grove Park is one of the shorter walks on the ring, I’m not sure how come it measured 9k on my app, when the ramblers site says they did it in 7.1k. I think they followed the direct route from the station to the footbridge whereas I followed the signposted path, which I have to admit looks a little more circuitous on the map. Start by walking in Eltham Park North, which changes to Eltham Park South once you cross the brutalist footbridge over the busy A2.
Next, we have a section of suburban streets. A typical London mixed income area, some posh houses and schools, with some modern new build, low rise blocks of flats, Eltham would be considered a reasonably well-off part of South London. Its big claim to fame is that it is the birthplace of Bob Hope. Conduit Meadow here. held the spring that fed the river Shuttle, although it is not visible here, and it provided the water for the nearby palace.
As the houses become older, the street names become more interesting, and we enter Tilt Yard Approach. This is a hint that we are arriving at a place of historical significance and sure enough as we go down the hill we see the walls and moat of Eltham Palace.
This is a fantastic historical building. Now cared for by English Heritage, both the house and gardens are a treat to visit. It has great architectural items from two very distinct historical periods. It was the country residence of the Kings and queens of England from the 14th to 16th century and then in the early 20th Century it was bought by the Courtauld Family and is one of the beautifully preserved Art Deco buildings in the country.
Past the Palace we go along King John’s walk, which is now a lane of stables and riding schools. It has a lovely juxtaposition of old and new with horses grazing before a classic London skyline. There are also some nice ornate wrought iron gates along this walkway. It also passes a large house, named Fairmont, that was once the home of the cricketer W.G. Grace.
A brief walk College meadow, past football and cricket training pitches brings you to the nicely named, but less interesting to look at, Quaggy River. This is the end of section 2, and on to Grove Park station which brings you Back to London Bridge. Grove Park has a nice mural to Edith Nesbit, who wrote “The Railway Children”
The World Reimagined is an exhibition of 103 individual, artist decorated globes, set out in 10 trails, in 7 different cities throughout the UK. I walked the City of London trail, which has 10 globes.
The Globes are designed to make us think about our history in an honest way and they hope to inspire us to look toward a fairer future.
The city of London trail was a little over 3km and took around 2 hours. Some of the globes were hard to find and if I’m honest the map wasn’t great. If anyone does the trail and finds the first globe, I would be grateful if they could give me a hint as to where it is. I used the app after the map was less than helpful and when it said “you have reached the globe” it was nowhere to be seen!
The globes on the City of London trail are a lot about slavery, which I guess is actually where a lot of its wealth came from. The stories they tell are interesting and informative. The trail takes you through a part of London that is rich in history and that is also fascinating to walk through today. You will see St Paul’s Cathedral, Bank, Bow Bells, The Gherkin and much more.
The exhibition runs until the end of October, there are 4 different trails in London, as well as trails in other cities including Swansea, Leeds, Liverpool, Leicester and Birmingham.
The world reimagined has a big online element too, with many YouTube videos, and each globe has QR codes that can be scanned so you can “collect” the globes and read information about them, such as the artist and what they represent.
All in all, an ambitious project – the globes and trail are only a part of it. I found it an entertaining morning out, so if you are in any of the cities taking part and you fancy a walk, I would recommend looking up “The World Reimagined”
Ronnie Scott’s has been at the heart of the London Jazz scene for over 60 years. It opened in 1959 and has hosted many of the world’s most famous musicians in that time and continues to do so now. During the week they host shows in the late afternoon and evening, staying open until 3am. However, on Sundays they have and afternoon session between noon and 4pm, they serve brunch, and they have a live band playing between 1pm and 3pm.
This session is usually relaxed swing, and they serve a lunch menu – what better way to spend a chilled Sunday afternoon. If you wish to eat there is an extra charge, but the food is good quality, and the service was fast and unobtrusive on the day we were there. Once you have bought your seat ticket there is no pressure to buy either food or alcohol, the waiters refill your glasses with still water through the show.
On the Sunday I went, the music was of the highest quality, a set of Wayne Shorter songs, from his time with the Miles Davis band. Every seat in the intimate venue has a good view of the stage and the sound quality is what you would expect from one of the most famous jazz clubs in the world. The décor is dark, and the lights are low, the whole place is geared to showing off the band on stage to their best effect.
The sunshine is a shock when you leave at 4pm but it is a very pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon!
Kensington Palace has been a place of residence of the British Royal family since 1689. It was bought as a completed building by William and Mary when they ascended to the throne. Those parts not being lived in are open to the public. Currently they contain four exhibitions, one ticket allows entry to all four. Entrance to the Palace gardens, including the attractive sunken gardens is free and these are certainly worth the time it takes to walk round them on days when the weather is clement. The first two exhibitions are about Queen Victoria and Princess Diana’s dresses. They are both interesting in different ways, I have a blog post about them here: Kensington Palace, London W8. Part 1. Victoria Revealed & Diana, her fashion story.
The next two exhibitions are The Queens’ State Apartments, which has the rooms decorated as they were in the 1690s, during the reign of William and Mary, and The King’s State Apartments, which has the rooms restored in the way they were in the early 1700s, during the reign of Georges I and II.
These are arranged in reverse chronological order, entry is through the sumptuous King’s Grand Staircase. Decorated in the time of George II, this is broad and spacious, we are overlooked by painted figures as we ascend. The staircase is certainly grand, immediately we can tell that we are in an era when conspicuous wealth was expected of the monarchy. The mural was painted by William Kent in 1724 and contains depictions of many actual members of the royal court at the time. Kent even included himself in the painting, he is the man wearing a brown turban and holding an artist’s palette, and the lady looking over his shoulder was reportedly his mistress.
The rooms in the King’s State Apartments have many wonderful Georgian features. The fireplaces and ceilings are spectacular. One ceiling is decorated with shields representing the members of the Order of the Garter, with its insignia making the centrepiece. The King’s Gallery has a mantelpiece with a map of the British Isles and Western Europe. This is linked to a weather vane on the roof, so that King George could see how the wind was affecting his fleet. It is still working today. The drawing room has some interesting examples of gaming tables from the era and the best perspective of the gardens, down to the lake.
The Queen’s State Apartments are 17th Century and this exhibition is more intimate, showing their bedrooms, their dining room and gives a little more of an insight into how they went about their, still opulent, daily lives. The furniture and delft is remarkable and the tapestries and bed coverings are extravagant. It is interesting to see the shortness of the four poster bed, it was thought at that time to be beneficial to health to sleep in a sitting position.
The exhibitions also contain lovely examples of the fashions at the time, there are some wonderful farthingale supported embroidered skirts, which look spectacular but must have been completely impractical to wear.
Between all four of the shows here, it would be difficult to do it justice in less than a couple of hours, there is almost too much to see in one visit. Perhaps it would be worth viewing the Palace on one day and the Gardens, Park and Orangery, which are free to enter, on another. This way you could spread the visit over a couple of days and only have to pay the, not inconsiderable, entry fee once. Kensington Palace and Gardens is one of the most historic visitor attractions in London, the exhibitions are well stocked and informative, although it is not cheap to visit, it should be among the sights that you consider when in London. It is free to enter with an Art Pass, if you have one of these you should not miss it, Kensington Palace is a highlight of their offer.