Monthly Archives: September, 2015

Seeing the Sights

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Karen asked if I could help her and her husband plot a route around London to see the sights. I went one better and provided a fully illustrated guide to every major site in London that was completely walk-able. With no idea how long it would take to walk, or even if it was all that feasible, they set off with it. Fortunately, it worked, and they were able to see everything they wanted.

As such, I provide the same route here for anyone who wants to see as much of London as possible in one day. I’ve posted a walk before, but this one has more of a goal. All you have to do is start at London Bridge station…

Head up above ground and under the Shard, and go down St Thomas Street or London Bridge Street. Go towards Borough Market, which looks like a strange sort of greenhouse. Pass through the market, heading towards the Thames. You will pass Southwark Cathedral and then arrive at the Golden Hinde. Go down Clink Street and you’ll emerge on the side of the Thames again, between a Nando’s and a pub called The Anchor.

Millennium Bridge

Walk under Southwark Bridge, and opposite Bankside Pier is Shakespeare’s Globe, the only thatched building that’s been allowed in London since the Great Fire in 1666. Next is the Millennium Bridge, famously destroyed by Death Eaters but now back in one piece. This is in front of the Tate Modern. On the other side of the bridge you will see St Paul’s Cathedral, but don’t go there yet, I’m factoring it in for later.

Go under Blackfriars Bridge and you’ll pass The Coat and Badge pub. Keep on walking past the National Theatre and then past the next two bridges (the Thames has over two hundred bridges, as well as twenty-seven tunnels, six ferries and a cable car) and you’ll come to the London Eye. The Jubilee Gardens are nice here. At Westminster Bridge, cross over the Thames at last! This should have taken about an hour so far, not counting time to stop for photos.

Here you will pass Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster where the government are busy messing up the country. Just past this, you’ll see Parliamentary Square which is full of statues of famous politicians. On your left is Westminster Abbey.

This next bit has been a bit trickier to try and fit in without going back on yourself, so I think this works as the most sensible method. Turn right before Parliamentary Square and you should be on Whitehall. Up here on the left is the entrance to Downing Street. There’s also usually some guardsmen up here too looking very severe. Walk the length of Whitehall and then you’ll reach Trafalgar Square at the end. Don’t cross over to it yet, you’ll be coming back.

The Mall, towards Buckingham Palace

Turn into the next street on the left, under Admiralty Arch, and go down The Mall – it’s the street painted red. Follow this right down and (you’ll have seen what’s at the end) you will be outside Buckingham Palace. Alternatively, you can walk through St James’s Park on your left to the same destination once through the arch.

With Buckingham Palace behind you, on the left is Green Park. Walk through here until you reach Piccadilly, and then turn right. You should pass Green Park Station. On this road you will pass The Ritz, Fortnum & Mason (grocers to the Royal family), my favourite bookshops; Hatchard’s and the flagship Waterstone’s store, and you will emerge into Piccadilly Circus. Keep going through Coventry Street and you’ll find yourself in Leicester Square, home to cinemas, restaurants and M&M’s World.

Carry on through Leicester Square and then turn right into Charing Cross Road. Keep on down this road and you will come out at Trafalgar Square. When you’re done here, your next stop is St Paul’s, but there are two options.

ONE: Go to Charing Cross tube station, get the Bakerloo line to Oxford Circus and change to the Central line to St Paul’s. This will take about ten minutes.

TWO: Walk along Duncannon Street and then into the Strand, the curve of Aldwych, down Fleet Street, and Ludgate Hill. This will take about half an hour, but takes in the Royal Courts of Justice, as well as Ye Olde Chesire Cheese, one of London’s oldest pubs.

Either method you choose, you’ll arrive at St Paul’s Cathedral. Opposite this is the geometrically angular new shopping centre One New Change, which is fairly unremarkable but there are gorgeous views from the cocktail bar on the roof, which you can get into without having to buy anything.

I promise, you’re nearly done, just a few more things to show you.

The Monument

If now facing towards the river (you should be able to see Millennium Bridge and the Tate Modern on the other side of the river), turn left into Cannon Street. At the end, turn riverwards down into King William Street then into Monument Street to see Monument, built to acknowledge the Great Fire of London. You can climb it, but it’s narrow and tough on the legs. Out of Monument Street, you’ll come to Lower Thames Street and keep going left. After another fifteen minutes or so, you reach the Tower of London.

Go down to the riverside, then cross Tower Bridge. Turn right off the end here and you’ll pass City Hall (Boris’s office) and now you’re on the home stretch back to London Bridge! Walk along this side of the river and you’ll pass HMS Belfast, and at the end of this run, you’re back at London Bridge station.

Ta-dah!

Once you’ve gone full circle, you should have seen every major tourist spot in central London. There’s still some debate about how long this takes – Karen veered off at one point, and I’ve not added up the different sections (writers, infamously, cannot do maths) – but my only advice would be to wear comfortable shoes. This is a long walk but hopefully it’s worth it.

If you feel inspired to try this walk for yourself, please let me know by commenting and tell me how it worked for you and what you particularly liked along the route. I hope this will provide a crash course in London for many of you.

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Hole-In-One-A-Saurus

Dinosaurs were history's greatest golfers. Fact.

Dinosaurs were history’s greatest golfers. Fact.

I am unequivocally not a sportsman. As such, when it comes to chatting about Wimbledon and the like on this blog, I’ll probably farm the task out to some friends who are keener than I am. But despite all that, I’m not completely anti-sport. After all, who doesn’t love a bit of golf? And when I say golf, I mean crazy golf, of course. The sport of kings.

You see, London isn’t all old statues, expansive museums and fancy architecture. London might well be a working city, but my god if it isn’t a fun one too, and what could be more fun than whacking a few brightly coloured balls around an obstacle course peppered with denizens of the Jurassic era? Accompanied by my better half, Sophie, we set out to explore Jurassic Encounter Adventure Golf.*

But first, some history.

Mini golf, I was happy to discover, seems to have had its origins in London. The first mention of something along these lines is in The Illustrated London Review, way back in June 1912, when it advertised something called “Golfstacle”. After this, the Americans and Canadians took it and ran with it, the first opening in 1916 in North Carolina and called the Thistle Dhu course. In 1922, Thomas McCulloch Fairbairn changed the game and made it more accessible to people by inventing the right material for the greens. By the late 1920s, there were over 150 mini golf courses in New York alone, although the vast majority were destroyed during the Great Depression.

The sport returned to Europe in 1926, first in Germany and then up through the Scandinavian countries. The Swedish, in particular, seem to adore the game, forming the Swedish Minigolf Federation in 1937; the oldest mini golf sports organisation in the world. The game has seen very little popularity outside of North America and Europe, and even there it is seen only as an occasional pastime, rather than a competitive sport.

Anyway, back to the present day.

Desperately hoping I can leap the river beneath the net.

Desperately hoping I can leap the river beneath the net.

We arrived around lunchtime having walked from Raynes Park (I have no idea how we used to cope before Google Maps) and, with it being a Saturday, found it fairly busy with families and, right in front of us, a birthday party. We collected clubs, balls and scorecards and waited by the first hole. It is a full eighteen hole run, apparently “designed and built one of the world’s best adventure golf designers”, with all the trappings one comes to expect of crazy golf. Some holes are fairly straightforward, while others have lumps, bumps, slopes and steps to navigate as you aim your ball for the hole. The more elaborate ones contain water hazards and tunnels.

The holes are generally par two or three, but I’m so damn terrible at the sport I didn’t do many of them in less than four. Sophie, however, trumped me when about halfway round she got a hole-in-one and I began to fear that she’d been hiding a secret skill in mini golf and I was about to get royally trounced. (I wasn’t.) The final few holes are inside a cave with more tunnels and opportunities for your ball to end up in the river.

Accompanying you around the course, and giving it its theme, are the dinosaurs. Nine of them, including an overbearing Tyrannosaurus rex at the course’s opening, move and roar as you go round. Other dinosaurs featured are the Velociraptors, Stegosaurus, Triceratops and Brachiosaurus, as well as the lakes being full of crocodiles. Dotted around the course are fact plaques too, giving visitors information about the reptiles they’re currently sharing the course with.

The whole place is on the site of the World of Golf, which offers lessons and practice sessions for proper golfers, including a large driving range, and a golfing shop, so if you want to be a bit more serious about things you can always go there but, frankly, who wouldn’t want to play golf surrounded by dinosaurs? Fools, that’s who.

Genuine terror provoked by plastic dinosaurs.

Genuine terror provoked by plastic dinosaurs.

I’m assured that getting there is easy, but frankly it’s probably easiest to drive. The course is in New Malden, not far from Kingston or Richmond. There’s a bus stop directly outside for the 265, so that’s handy if you’re already in the area, but otherwise it’s just a couple of stops south of Clapham Junction. Get off at Raynes Park and then walk for about twenty minutes. It’s not very well signposted from this angle, and there are other stations nearby you could use, but get up Citymapper or Google Maps and you should be able to get yourself there quite easily.

Prices vary depending on when you go. On the weekends, it’s £10 per adult and £8 per child, but these prices drop by a quid for weekdays. Alternatively there are options for family passes and adult groups, and if you want to play a second round on the same day, you pay half price, which seems fairly reasonable. For London, the prices are about what you’d expect, but in Brighton you can play two rounds for the price of one here. There’s also the option for children’s birthday parties (as we saw) with extra tailoring to personalise the day, and dinosaur themed party bags. Bit jealous of those, whatever they contain.

All in all, it’s a fun experience and a bit of a laugh. You can’t take these things too seriously. Obviously it’s built more with kids in mind, but the fact they even offer price discounts for adult groups proves that we aren’t alone in wanting to go and play this daft game. We had a laugh doing it though, and if you want to do something a bit more relaxing and frivolous, you could do much worse than this.

Frankly, I’m just surprised I’ve managed to eke out a thousand words on the subject of mini golf. That alone deserves a trophy, surely?

*(Alright, technically, technically, this is in Surrey, but since I can get there on a London Overground train ticket, for the purposes of my London love letters, it totally counts.)

Inside the Horniman Museum

My favourite museum in the city is the Natural History Museum; always has been and probably always will be. My friend Claire again accompanied me this week for my London jaunt, and while we had originally planned to go to Kensington, we decided spontaneously that morning to go somewhere else instead. Thus, the Natural History Museum isn’t the focus of this week’s post. The Horniman Museum, however, is.

Situated not far from Forest Hill train station, the museum was founded by Frederick John Horniman in 1901. He was an avid collector, and after years of travelling had amassed around 30,000 items, mostly anthropological artefacts, examples of natural history, and slightly more unusually, musical instruments.

He's not hungry; he's stuffed.

He’s not hungry; he’s stuffed.

The natural history cases are particularly marvellous, although some of the taxidermy is perhaps slightly unnerving. (If you visit, look for the rockhopper penguin and you’ll know what I mean.) Standing proud in the centre of the room on an enormous iceberg is a behemoth of a walrus. It’s a real one, now stuffed, and it’s been on display for over a century. However, when it was mounted, few people had ever seen a walrus alive, so this particular model is, shall we say, “overstuffed”. Walruses are far wrinklier than this in real life, but his popularity is assured, being a mascot to the museum in the way that Dippy and the blue whale are to the Natural History Museum.

Around him are many cases containing examples of many mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and invertebrates. They are mostly arranged by species and family – for example, whole cases are given over solely to different species of ducks or parrots, but some work in other ways. One, for example, shows the many different ways that animals have learnt to defend themselves, lining up creatures with spikes, horns, toxic bites or noxious tastes together. One notable exhibit has the head of a wolf surrounded by the heads of various breeds of dog such as a bloodhound, bulldog and collie, showing how selective breeding has changed dogs into so many different appearances.

Personally, my favourite creatures in here are a bittern with a serious case of “resting bitch face”, two skunks, the okapi and the family of musquash (also known as muskrats). There’s plenty else to see in this room alone, though. Almost every species of primate seems to be present and there are comparative skeletons of all the great apes, including a human one, making the similarities look even more striking.

Downstairs is a small aquarium which splits off into tanks showing several different biomes, from a typical British pond to coastal seas and rainforest swamps. It’s small and you have to pay extra to go in, but it’s worth taking a look around. It’s home to dogfish, jellyfish, rays and rather a lot of frogs.

I'd but a joke about being horny here, but I'm not that crude.

I’d but a joke about being horny here, but I’m not that crude.

Another room is called the African Worlds Gallery. I confess that Claire and I didn’t spend too long in here because of an unnecessarily loud school party (we’re too old for that nonsense) so I can’t give you too much detail about it. From what I did see, it was a lot of photos, costumes and artefacts from all over Africa, displaying great examples of the people and culture of this often misunderstood continent. If I go back again, I shall check out this exhibition in more detail.

The final part of the museum’s interior is perhaps the oddest, dedicated as it is to thousands of musical instruments. Contained here are examples of everything you could ever imagine from pianos to mouth organs, violins to bagpipes, xylophones to flutes. Whether you pluck it, blow it, bang it, shake it or tap it, there’s one of it here. We got excited at the prospect of the primary school favourite, the recorder, turning up and weren’t disappointed. The museum has several, including an enormous bass recorder that would certainly make school assemblies a bit more interesting.

I’m not musically inclined, but seeing all these together is rather astounding. Humans have been making music for as long as we’ve been talking, probably longer, and the wide variety of instruments we’ve created for the purpose is nothing short of breath-taking.

Can't keep up with these Joneses.

Can’t keep up with these Joneses.

Our visit to the Horniman Museum was rounded off by a stroll through the beautiful gardens. It was a gloriously clear day and from the bandstand just above the museum itself you can see right across London, taking in Battersea Power Station, the Shard and the other nearby skyscrapers and St Paul’s, which looks miniscule from this far away. There are also specialist gardens here, one for food and one for medicinal plants, all labelled to tell you what they do. Most spectacularly of all though is the Grade II listed conservatory that sits just behind the museum. It dates back to 1894 and used to be at the Horniman’s Croydon family home, but was moved to the museum in the 1980s. It is beautiful in the extreme, ornately crafted and makes your average conservatory look pathetic in comparasion.

The Horniman Museum is a reminder than London is packed full of museums that most people don’t bother to go to, or even know about. The three in Kensington get all the glory, but one of the purposes of this blog is to show people places off the beaten track and find treasures like this that they may not normally see. I daresay there will be many more museums to come, so watch this space.