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Sunday, 11 October 2015

Sights, shopping and shows?

Another travelong no that's not a typing error it is a long travelogue so if that's not your bag just skip it! I will this time divide the story into two so you can read it in installments or all at once or not at all as you see fit.

We were in London for a few days last week and when I tell anyone where we went they automatically think of the 3 Ss above.  No we didn't do any of the above but we had a lovely time exploring our capital. There is so much more to it than shops and tourist attractions etc.

Day 1

We set off on Wednesday by train to Waterloo where we met up with The Wanderer who had come to meet us to collect one of her rucksacks which we had been storing in our loft.  She isn't content with a few days holiday in the UK like us but is off to Nepal on her own to do some serious trekking!  Don't know where she gets it from and I don't want to think too much about it till she gets back safely!  Having handed over the rucksack and had a brief chat over a coffee she set off for home (she was working from home that day and this was supposed to be her lunch break) and we, having purchased a sandwich and a drink, wandered to the South Bank where we enjoyed our lunch in the sunshine before walking over the bridge to Charing Cross to get the bus to Kensington where we were to stay..

Having settled into our room and had a cup of tea we decided to walk to Holland Park apparently considered one of the most romantic and peaceful parks of West London.  Holland House was badly damaged in the war and only parts of it remain but it was lovely wandering round the park in the late afternoon sunshine - for hadn't we chosen well the weather during our stay was beautiful.   I wanted to see the Kyoto Peace Garden which we'd read about.

It was lovely and so tranquil we quite forgot about the busy Kensington Road we had left only a few minutes earlier.

 Enormous koi carp in the pond one of several.

 Peacocks wandering round.

 Though none of them had big tails - wrong time of year/young ones?  I don't know.  For some better pictures of this lovely gardens try Googling Kyoto Peace Garden Holland Park - my photos are not as good as they might be I fear.

There is some seriously expensive housing round here and I loved the topiary on this one.  Now the sun was beginning to drop in the sky and we wandered back to our hotel before going out to find some dinner.

Day 2

Having slept well - though the hotel we were staying in is only a short distance from the busy Kensington Road it was quiet and our room overlooked a pleasant residential street - we set off after breakfast to go to St Pauls Cathedral.

We got a bus to Charing Cross where we changed and got the 15 to St Paul's and this is the number 15 bus we got - a heritage bus and a real trip down memory lane for us since all buses were like this when we were young!  Speaking of buses I would highly recommend traveling by bus if visiting London and if possible sitting on the upper deck since you see so much that you wouldn't be able to see even had you a chauffeur driven limousine.  It's amazing how much more interesting the architecture is above ground floor level when it is often shop windows and so on.  I am constantly impressed by the workmanship which went into some of the older buildings with all their stone carving etc.

 By the time we got to St Paul's we thought a cup  of coffee would be good before we embarked on our walk round the City and we chose this cafe where the board outside made us smile although we didn't have to pretend since everything actually was OKay!  It is right opposite St Paul's and you can sit and enjoy a coffee or whatever whilst watching people going in and out of the cathedral.

Our walk was to take in some of the gardens in the City - a similar walk to one we had done back in May but I had no photos of any of the gardens since my computer threw a wobbly if you remember and all my pics which were on it were lost.  The roses were still in bloom this October day and just look at that sky!  There is something about the light in October which is different to that in the summer months and the sky seems to be a translucent blue not seen at any other time of year.  Maybe it is because we know it cannot last long and we appreciate it more for that reason.

Whilst all the tourists were thronging at the front of the cathedral we wandered round to this lovely garden at the back not a soul in sight and the trees and shrubs acted as a baffle to the traffic noise too so it was really peaceful!

And on toward Christchurch Greyfriars, badly damaged during the war it retains just the tower and the rest has been turned into a lovely little garden.  According to the leaflet:  The planting plan is noteworthy as the design echoes the church and the community - the pews are recreated by box hedging, the stunning flowering beds represent the congregation and wooden vertical structures planted with rambling roses and clematis indicate the crumbling pillars that once supported this church.  London is full of little patches like this where there are seats and a moment's peace and respite from the busy traffic, from the stresses of work and so on.

We were headed for Postman's Park another quiet little garden just opposite what was the HQ of the General Post Office and this statue is of Rowland Hill who introduced the unified penny post.

The grass is looking a bit scuffed and worn now at the tail end of summer but it is a little oasis of green for the workers to come with their sandwiches at lunchtime although now that the GPO HQ has moved how many of them are postal workers I don't know.

In the garden is the Watts memorial built in 1900 and again according to the leaflet: Watts was a radical socialist with strong sympathies towards the dreadful living conditions of the urban poor, and in 1887, wrote to the Times proposing that a park commemorating 'heroic men and women' who had given their lives attempting to save others would be a worthy way to mark Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee year. This eventually took the form of the Watts gallery in Postman's Park. For  more information on Watts and his art and life check out this link.

One of the memorials - there were many and all done in this style on tiles.

 We continued our walk through the City.  It wouldn't be London without a few cranes and building work would it?!

 I was continually fascinated by the reflections I came across in all the plate glass of the newer buildings as we walked.

 Here we are at  Bunhill Fields  just outsided the City's square mile founded in the 1660s as a burial ground for non-conformists, radicals and dissenters amongst whose numbers lie Daniel Defoe, John Bunyan and William Blake.  It is another quiet oasis of calm and was designated a Grade I park in 2011.

 William Blake

 Daniel Defoe

 and John Bunyan.

We crossed the road to this flower bedecked pub where we enjoyed a sandwich lunch with a glass of shandy each before.....

...wandering over to the Quaker Gardens which is the remaining fragment of a former burying ground for Quakers in use from 1661 to 1855. George Fox , one of the founders of the movement, was among those buried here.

 A little further on we came to John Wesley's house and chapel on the busy City Road.

Apparently the chapel built in 1778 is considered to be one of the finest Georgian buildings in London.

Behind the chapel is a small garden which was very tranquil and in which John Wesley is buried

This is his memorial. The garden is somewhat overshadowed by the modern glass building which is not in keeping with the house, chapel and garden but doesn't actually affect the peace in the garden.

We had a guided tour of the modest house - quite plain and simple inside - and having already looked round the chapel and the museum of Methodism we left passing this fuchia tree in the garden - I don't think I have ever seen fuchia grown as a tree like this before.

 More gardens...

 ...more reflections this time seen from St Botolph without Bishopsgate churchyard....

... and more modern buildings.  This one is the Heron Tower and currently one of the tallest skyscrapers in London - it was quite a strange feeling to stand looking up at it and I don't think I would like to go up in the lift to the top as it traveled so fast as seen through the glass tower at the right of the photo.

Now for something completely different - something you'd probably never notice if you didn't know where to look!  This photo shows two little mice fighting over a piece of cheese adorning the cornice of a building on the corner of Philpot Lane as they have done since 1862.  They are apparently a memorial to 2 men working on the building, or perhaps the Monument nearby the information differs according to where you read it, who fell to their deaths during a scuffle when one accused the other of eating his lunchtime sandwich but mice were subsequently discovered to have been the culprits.  For a larger clearer photo click on this link.

 We were on our way back to St Paul's by now and this is Whitington Garden. The garden was named in honour of the City of London's best known Lord Mayor Dick Whitington, who was buried in 1423 in the nearby church of St Michael Paternoster Royal no mention of his cat though!

 The above photos are of Cleary Garden once again constructed on what was a bomb site though the garden has a long history which you can find on the link.

 By now it is late afternoon and dusk is falling.  I just had to take this picture of the building reflected in the glass it is so perfect you might think the reflection was in fact part of the building don't you agree?!

Back at St Paul's having enjoyed our walk.  Time for a cup of tea in the cafe before heading back to the hotel by bus, tired and footsore perhaps but with enough energy left to go back out looking for supper.

Day 3

Today's walk was to be in Marylebone and taken from one of our books called London's Hidden Walks Vol 2.  So we got the bus to Marble Arch and started our walk from there.  Marble Arch apparently stands on the site of the Medieval village of Tyburn and was London's main site for public exectutions for over 500 years.  Thankfully nothing like that happens there now.

Portman Square a private residents only garden in the centre of the square.

Hertford House originally called Manchester House on the north side of Manchester Square which houses the Wallace Collection containing a wide variety of art works which is free to visit.  We didn't go inside but it's on my list for another time.

 The private garden for residents of Manchester Square - taken through the railings.

Hinde Street Methodist church - one of many surprisingly large churches in Marylebone.

The famous trimmings shop VV Rouleaux which drew me like a magnet and had I gone inside that might have been the end of the walk as I would have been like a kid in a sweetie shop!

 Marylebone High Street is lined with cafes and individual shops and although not truly villagey being more like a market town it is hard to believe you are only minutes away from Oxford Street with its hoardes of people and traffic. We decided to have a coffee and some chouquettes in Paul.  Memory Lane for us since we often used to take coffee in Paul in Limoges when we lived there and I once asked for some chouettes (owls!) and wondered why the waitress didn't know what I was talking about.  I loved the decor, the books were not wallpaper as I had first thought but very effectively made from thin wood and if you check out the link you will not see the books in the pics so they must be fairly new to the cafe.

Paddington Street Gardens  just off the High Street in Moxon Street another of those hidden little oases though had it been Sunday morning there would have been a Farmers Market in the nearby car park behind Waitrose so the peace would have been shattered no doubt though that would have been interesting too.
Another view of Paddington Street Gardens.  Our route now took us to  St Marylebone church via little narrow lanes and passages.

We passed a building which had been a Ragged School this would have been a slum area and the poorest children would have attended schools such as this.  Now the area is very affluent and the school building here is now offices or somesuch.

We came to Mary-le-bone church shown here but to get a photo would have meant standing in the middle of the busy road so this is from a notice board and shows what the church would look like viewed from Regents Park York Gate and of course the view from the front of the church was towards Regents Park.

Just round the corner was where Dickens once lived and wrote some of his principal works and on the wall of the current building - an office block perhaps? - is this relief sculpted from stone showing Dickens and some of the characters from the novels.

A pretty street of conbverted mews - no traffic so very quiet.

Our route now took us towards Wimpole Street.  Lots of houses like this one (I can't for the life of me remember whose this one was!) where many famous names had lived.  Arthur Conan Doyle had briefly practised as an opthalmologist, Elizabeth Barret Browning until she eloped with Robert, Paul McCartney had lived as a lodger at the family home of his then girl friend Jane Asher and wrote Yesterday and I Want To Hold Your Hand whilst living here.  On down to Wimpole Mews where Stephen Ward of the Profumo Affair scandal had lived and on to Harley Street home of London's medical profession since the 19th century and then to Portland Place a wide 18th century street said to be amongst the grandest in London and where is housed the Chines Embassy.  Whilst we were walking along here a cavalcade of police on motor bikes and in cars accompanying a big black car headed past obviously going there somebody important no doubt. 

Another of the mews that have been converted into desirable houses costing upwards of £1,000,000!  No horses stabled here now nor servants living above.

Here is BBC Broadcasting house a notable Art Deco building opened in 1932 and featuring statues and reliefs by Eric Gill a controversial figure (see the link).

All Souls church Langham Place just next to BBC Broadcasting House designed by John Nash and consecrated in 1824.

Now we turn down Portland place having passed the Langham Hotel once the grandest establishment of its kind in London and patrons included Conan Doyle, Mark Twain, Napoleon III, Oscar Wilde, Noel Coward and the Emperor Haile Selassie before we turned down Portland Place with its Medical Society of London building founded in 1773 the oldest medical society in the UK.

Eventually we reached Cavendish Square a pleasant garden area just behind John Lewis.  There has been an empty plinth here since the statue of the Duke of Cumberland was removed in 1868 as it was never popular due to his status as the Butcher of Culloden but a new statue has been errected and if you click on the photo below you will be able to read all about it!

We had hoped to lunch in St Christophers Place an attractive narrow street leading to Oxford Street and lined with cafes and boutiques but being such a lovely day and also being lunch time it was packed so we gave up on that idea and returned to Marylebone High Street and Pauls where we enjoyed a light lunch before heading back to Oxford street.

Back in Oxford Street and we made our way to the bus stop passing this rather clever sand sculpture of a quite realistic dog on the pavement.  What a shame he would have to be returned to just a pile of sand later that day and not trot home at heel!  The bus stop was packed with people and our bus didn't actually stop but sailed on past as there wasn't space to pull in.  A youngish lady waiting for the bus turned to me and complained and started a conversation about the dreadful state of the bus service and how she'd written to Boris (Mayor of London) about it etc etc.  We chatted till the bus arrived a few minutes later and I wondered why they say that in London one should never make eye contact with anyone and that Londoners don't chat tostrangers etc.  They seem to do so to me!  I thought too that where I live one might have to wait an hour or in some cases a week for the next bus so a few minujtes was neither here nor there but of course I hadn't just finished work and wanted to get home to start my weekend.

We finished our day with dinner at Maggie Jones a quirky restaurant off Kensington High Street where we enjoyed an excellent meal before heading back to our hotel.

I will stop here and continue the second half of our trip on another post. 


  1. What a wonderfully informative time you're having. I have also enjoyed time in London when my son was living there, and we manage to travel good distances without seeing a shop at all. Holland Park is wonderful when the operas are being rehearsed. You can sit in the cafe and listen.

  2. It was lovely walking along with you through those beautiful parts of London. Brought back a lot of memories.

  3. London is full of interesting and beautiful things if you look for them, I've seen some of the places you write about including the two mice :) but there's a lot here that I haven't seen and would like to. A fascinating post.

  4. I was going to ask how you found our walking routes but I see you mention a book part way through. I am going to check that book out as I think it would make a good present for my parents who live half and hour train ride from London :). Thank you for sharing a wonderful travel along I do love reading these posts.

  5. London is full of wonderful sights, things that probably never make it into the tourist guidebooks. The Christchurch Greyfriars looks like a lovely place to spend a few quiet moments. Beautiful tour for those of us far away.


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