After being taken down by the flu this last week, the beginning of January seems like a long time ago. (Doesn’t the month drag its heels!) Whilst I don’t love January, I actually don’t mind the down time too much as it usually means I feel less guilty about staying in to keep cosy, I’m more motivated to do life admin and my wages go further than they usually do (I get paid mid month, hurrah!). That said, I often get to a point when it feels like I’ve transported myself from one place to the other with little or no movement, so I like to check out a local park to get that bit of fresh air and the kind of achy legs that feel satisfying.

Bushy Park is the last Royal Park on my list to visit, although I will no doubt need to visit Brompton Cemetery, Victoria Tower Gardens  and Grosvenor Square Gardens for completeness. After spending over a week from Christmas to New Year on various different sofas, I was desperate to get outside and fancied somewhere new. Bushy Park was the obvious answer.

Since we live south of the river it wasn’t the longest journey to Teddington, the station we decided to go to to reach Bushy (you can also access the park via Hampton Court). It was a short walk from the station to the gate before we were contemplating the map and which bit we’d cover.

Bushy Park is the second largest of the Royal Parks (Richmond coming in first) with 1,100 acres. Like many of London’s parks it’s impossible to do it all in a day, so we opted for the one half with most of the main attractions.

Armed with a steaming hot chocolate, we entered the Waterhouse Woodland Garden next to the Pheasantry Cafe.

bushy-park

What I instantly liked about the park was all of the water. Longford River is a 19km canal, built on the order of King Charles I to provide water to Hampton Court and the parks various ponds.

bushy-park-1

It adds a soothing quality to a slow walk through the gardens. It’s also helpful in pointing you in the right direction as we simply followed the flow of water in a sort of backwards L shape.

The route takes you through all of the different parts of the gardens.

bushy-park-2

(How peaceful would it be to live right in the middle of a park like Bushy?!)

bushy-park-3

Although winter strips the park of any lush colours, I liked the richness of the fallen leaves and the light streaming through the bare branches.

bushy-park-4

As a Royal Park since 1529, you can find plenty of history in Bushy Park.

bushy-park-5

Waterhouse Pond dates back to 1710.

There’s a sort of uniformity that hints at how it has developed over the centuries for the entertainment of the gentry.

bushy-park-6

Eventually, we found ourselves back out on open land and I started playing spot the deer.

bushy-park-7

Luckily they’re no longer hunted and get to roam freely for the enjoyment of visitors.

bushy-park-8

They’re such elegant animals, it’s hard not to become a little mesmerised by their graceful movements.

bushy-park-9

(Spot the deer part II.)

With aching legs I was tempted to leave it there, until I realised that we hadn’t seen the Upper Lodge Water Gardens. So we went on a bit of a longer-than-anticipated walk to find the entrance.

bushy-park-10

The gardens were restored in the 1990s, disguising a history that goes back to 1710, when it was a private recreational garden for the first Earl of Halifax.

bushy-park-11

Satisfied that I’d seen as much as possible, we took a leisurely stroll towards the exit, enjoying the lovely low winter sun.

A pub lunch at The Railway proved the perfect end to a lovely winter’s day.

bushy-park-12

See, January isn’t all doom and gloom ūüėČ

Find all the details you need to know on the Royal Parks website.

‘Twas the weekend before Christmas and everything felt strangely calm. For the first time ever I had done all my present shopping and even wrapped most of them too, leaving a whole Sunday to find more of that festive feeling. I’d organised a last-minute catch up with Vanessa after realising we were both free to snap our way around London, which when added to the evening tickets I had for Carols by Candlelight at the Royal Albert Hall, made for a festive-filled day.

Columbia Road Flower Market was our destination of choice. I could go at any time of of year but I was particularly excited to see plenty of seasonal blooms.

The first thing we smelt was a forest of fresh Christmas trees waiting to be picked and given a warm home.

columbia-road-flower-market-1

We don’t have a real Christmas tree in our house as we’re not at home long enough to really justify getting one, so I made sure I took a few deep breaths of that sweet grassy scent.

We wandered into the busy flow of people looking¬†for perfect centre pieces or, like me, imaging what I’d buy if I was hosting a lovely big meal. Of course the Flower Market has all of your festive flower needs covered.

columbia-road-flower-market-2

columbia-road-flower-market-3

columbia-road-flower-market-4

columbia-road-flower-market-5

columbia-road-flower-market-6

columbia-road-flower-market-16

There’s something about the beauty of wreaths that I’m totally hooked on. I guess they make houses look so much more warm and welcoming at this time of year.

columbia-road-flower-market-7

And mistle toe is just so delicate, with that added bit of romance ūüėČ

columbia-road-flower-market-8

As it approached midday the market got busier and busier so we wandered the quieter streets nearby.

This part of town is full of colourful doors, but the wreaths at Christmas add that extra bit of charm.

columbia-road-flower-market-12

columbia-road-flower-market-11

We passed a curious looking piano on wheels and then realised it was a sort of mobile carolling group.

columbia-road-flower-market-9

Sadly they weren’t ready to sing at the time.

But luckily, there was plenty of other music drawing in the crowds (and I knew I had some carolling to enjoy later on…)

columbia-road-flower-market-10

columbia-road-flower-market-13

We grabbed some hot drinks and enjoyed watching everyone getting into the spirit.

columbia-road-flower-market-15

columbia-road-flower-market-14

Since we’d got up so early we realised we still had some daylight to spare so we made our way west to Belgravia.

It’s always interesting to experience the contrast of east versus west in London. All of a sudden it feels just a little bit less relaxed and a little bit more luxe.

belgravia-2

Wild at Heart is one of those stores I will happily window shop.

Peggy Porschen meets all my perfect pink needs and sweet tooth desires.

belgravia-3

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the Christmas lights on Elizabeth Street but I loved how chic and minimal there were.

belgravia-4

We found just enough time to find a few more lovely wreaths.

belgravia-1
And I went home feeling festive enough to enjoy the evening ahead.

Christmas carols at the Royal Albert Hall has been on my to do list for a couple of years, maybe even since Anita mentioned it in about 2013. But I always forget about tickets until it’s too late. This year I just about managed to get them before they sold out. As I made my way there I realised I was so excited to add another festive activity to my annual to do list but also to finally see inside such an iconic building.

Not so excited to miss seeing the Natural History Museum at night though.

south-ken-1

After a short walk I turned a corner and there it was.

royal-albert-hall-1

The hall was opened by Queen Victoria in 1871 and was dedicated to Prince Albert, who had died 10 years earlier.

I’d just finished Victoria and loved the tv series earlier this year so it felt easy to picture it as it was back in the day.

Not surprisingly it’s just as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside, especially when decorated for Christmas.

royal-albert-hall-3

royal-albert-hall-2

The lights dimmed and the carols begun.

royal-albert-hall-4

Carols by Candlelight is a mixture of performances with and without audience participation. It took me right back to school days, especially singing 12 days of Christmas and everyone hollering “FIVE GOLD RINGS”.

We drank mulled wine, ate mince pies and enjoyed a festive-filled evening.

It was such a lovely weekend (James and I had managed Winter Wonderland the day before!) I can’t wait to enjoy the final festivities with our families.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas! xxx

During the colder months, I always associate Sundays with walks through the park, an endless supply of tea and biscuits (why are Maryland cookies so moreish?!), a hearty roast dinner and some kind of period drama. It was a good way to break up study sessions and it’s the perfect way to relax these days.

When Vanessa and I were organising a catch up a few weeks ago, we both agreed that meeting up in Hampstead and exploring Kenwood House would make a lovely Sunday afternoon. With the original house being built back in the 17th century and most of the current house dating back to the later part of the 18th century, it ticked the period drama box in a bit of a different way, (largely through my imagination!)

We took a long walk through the Heath, talking life, work, and Instagram tips and tricks. It’s always fun to be around someone with similar interests and gets the whole – I have to take a photo of this – thing. As much as all of my friends are supportive of my interests (namely photography), it just means I don’t have to worry as much about getting distracted or going a bit quiet to concentrate.

After wondering if we’d taken the right path, we eventually spotted the house in the distance. It’s easily recognisable. Do you remember it from a scene in Notting Hill? You know, the one where they’re filming a period drama and Hugh Grant overhears Julia Roberts. Anyway, it’s been the backdrop for number of films and it’s easy to see why.

kenwood-house-2

Set on the borders of Hampstead Heath (some 790 acres of green space), it has a pretty impressive back garden. Parts of the house date back over 300 years, where the house has grown from something quite modest to what you’ll find today.

It has had some wealthy residents over time and once housed servicemen during the Second World War. But from the 1986 its care was given to the English Heritage. It has had a few refurbishments over the time, but as much original detail as possible has been maintained. The surprising bit is that it’s completely free to enter. ¬†(You’all soon understand my disbelief at this.)

The entrance is essentially around the back, leaving the best views of the Heath to the windows out front. Right from the start I was picturing carriages and stately dress (my imagination fuelled no doubt by having recently watched Victoria.)

kenwood-house-1

Greeted by some friendly hosts we wandered the house at our leisure.

kenwood-house-3

I’ve come to love homes like this, the decor, the grandeur and the history just makes for a fascinating couple of hours.

We were immediately drawn upstairs.

kenwood-house-14

Don’t you just love banisters like this? They remind me of the beautiful staircase in Queen’s House (which reopened this summer!).

Within just a minute or two we found ourselves stood in the centre of one of the most striking rooms in the whole house.
kenwood-house-4

Designed by Robert Adams in the late 18th Century, it was intended to be both a library and a place for entertaining.
kenwood-house-5

It certainly looks fitting for both purposes. But I could have happily sat reading a book in such beautiful surroundings.
kenwood-house-6
kenwood-house-7
After much admiration of the library, we eventually moved on to other rooms.
kenwood-house-8
Almost as opulent, but much more comfortable and cosy. A place you might hide away with your studies or an important piece of work.
kenwood-house-9-2

I fell in love with almost every colour scheme. I usually find period homes a bit dark or a little gaudy in decor but the combinations here were almost perfect.

kenwood-house-10

kenwood-house-11

OK, maybe the chandeliers would look a little OTT in your average London flat or suburban home but they’re just so elegant.

kenwood-house-12
Even the more modest staircase has its own charm.
kenwood-house-13
After a good hour of exploring and taking pictures to our hearts’ content. We left the house still pondering how we were able to nosey around without paying a penny (of course donations are encouraged).

We took our thoughts with us to the charming tea room next door for tea and cake.

kenwood-house-17

A pretty, perfect Sunday stroll.

Have you visited Kenwood House yet? Are there any places you’ve found that Vanessa and I should venture to next?

Kenwood House can be found here. It’s currently open all week, 10am to 4pm. We met at Hampstead Heath tube station on the Northern Line and walked up through the Heath, which took about 20 minutes.

You can never make too many visits to Kew Gardens and I’d even say it’s a must-visit if you’re spending a week in the capital. Its 300 acre patch on the banks of the Thames is enough to keep you coming back again and again. But, as I’ve said before, it’s the changing seasons that will have you captivated each time.

Originally the gardens to Kew Palace, started by the same man that created Chelsea Physic Garden (William Aiton) in the early 19th Century, it’s inevitable that you’ll find the finest flowers and trees there. I have a free pass through work, so I’ve made a few trips over the last few years to see¬†Christmas lights twinkling and spring blooming.¬†I even celebrated my 30th birthday there last summer with a small family picnic. But I’ve never been in autumn.

Lucinda and I agreed to make a trip at the beginning of the month, but there was only a few pops of colour at the time. I was also pretty engrossed in our¬†conversation to really concentrate on taking¬†many good¬†pictures. So I decided to see if I could fit in a return trip¬†a few weeks later¬†to¬†check if anything had changed.¬†I couldn’t believe the difference.




I saw this scene as soon as I walked through the entrance and was so excited to see the rest of Kew I didn’t know which direction to go in. I decided to head to¬†the treetop walkway and then figure out where I’d go next when I got there, generally¬†aiming to¬†walk in a bit of a circle. Obviously I got distracted along the way.

 




The arboretum, which is said to be an autumn highlight,¬†has 14,000 botanical and ornamental collections of trees, representing more than 2,000 species and varieties. It’s no wonder then that¬†at autumn the colours are spectacular.

I don’t really think my photos do sights like these red trees the justice of what it looks like in person.



I couldn’t get over just how many colours there¬†were in front of me.

I eventually found the treetop walkway.

autumn-at-kew-gardens-9

And made my way up.

It’s definitely worth doing on any visit to Kew. But after all the colour I’d seen so far, there wasn’t quite as much to see up high.

So I made my way around and then down to carry on exploring. From the treetop walkway, I aimed west to walk through the Cedar Vista. Stopping here and there when I spotted something colourful.

autumn-at-kew-gardens-29

Since there’s just so many of them, it’s worth¬†inspecting the odd leaf as some of them are HUGE!


Once I’d¬†arrived at the river,¬†I just ambled along in the most colourful direction.


As I was aiming to complete a bit of a circle, I eventually found myself¬†at some of my favourite features of¬†the gardens. I only discovered the Waterlily House¬†last year but I love the building and couldn’t resist a peek.

autumn-at-kew-gardens-19

I was surprised to see that even in a steamy greenhouse, the autumnal colours continued.

autumn-at-kew-gardens-18

But the Palm House is always a highlight of my visits. It’s still hot but much more bearable than in the summer months.

I always discover new things in Kew and realised there is a family of fan palms called ‘Pritchardia’, a name very close to my own surname!

Proof that it’s always worth paying attention to the little details.

After¬†I’d enjoyed enough of the late afternoon sunlight flickering¬†through the steamy glass and¬†watching the leaves swaying from up near the roof, I thought I’d make a return trip to The Hive.


A stunning combination of art, design and nature. The structure represents a bee hive and the gentle humming, together with the lights, mirrors the actual activity of a nearby hive. The more active the hive, the more bee activity seen and heard in The Hive.


I really hope that it sticks around. The lights and the sound are strangely mesmerising and relaxing.

It’s worth stepping back to take in the impact of the design.


As the sun dropped and the light waned, I realised that I’d been walking pretty¬†much non-stop for over 3 hours.¬†So I waved goodbye and made by way to the underground.

Until next time!

Kew Gardens opens at 10am all year round. Until 30 October it closes at 6pm, after then it will close at 4.15pm until February 2017 when it will then close a bit later at 5.30. You can find plenty more about Kew on their website.

Are you a fan of Kew Gardens? Where have you enjoyed autumn this year?

Apparently today is National Gin & Tonic Day. I don’t usually celebrate such days here on the blog (there seem to be a number of G&T celebrations…),¬†but as it’s one of London’s most iconic drinks and a favourite tipple of mine, it gave me a good excuse to think of a way to share last week’s trip to Sipsmith’s Gin Distillery.

My friend Lyndsay and I have been trying to fix a date to¬†catch up for ages, with neither of us remembering when it was that we last saw each other we knew one was overdue. Luckily for me, Lynz had booked in a trip to Sipsmith’s and she had a spare ticket. I was so excited to be free, I¬†snapped up the offer. A few weeks later I escaped out of work a bit early to head further west to¬†Turnham Green.

You probably know that Sipsmith is a popular distiller of batch-produced gin. Their latest and larger distillery is based in Chiswick. I have to admit the quaint, leafy streets of the area felt a bit at odds with a gin distillery. I imagine these places to be found in the midst of an industrial estate or at least somewhere that feels a bit more urban. But after stepping through the doors it felt completely at home with its surroundings.

sipsmith-distillery-tour-3

Instead of giving too much of the tour away¬†(the story of the brand¬†is better heard on site),¬†I thought I’d share five new facts¬†about gin I learned whilst I was there.

1. The G&T was invented in the mid 19th century.¬†¬†Quinine, an extract from the South American cinchona tree, had long been used as way to cure and prevent malaria. (It was known to the indigenous population as the “fever tree” as it stopped people getting the chills. Hence the tonic brand ‘Fever Tree’.) In the 19th century, British Officers in India¬†took to adding water, sugar, lime and gin to make the cure more palatable. And so the G&T was born. As we don’t need this as medicine today, the tonics we drink tend to include much less quinine and are often sweetened to make it less bitter.

2. From 1751 to 2006, the smallest still (the machine that makes gin) you could get a licence for was 1,800 litres. Back in the day London had a heavy gin consumption and it was being produced and sold all over the city. In a measure to reduce consumption, the government introduced a limit of only being able to produce gin (legally) if your still was 1,800 litres. In 2006, two years after Sipsmith hatched a plan to set up a batch distillery, Gordon Brown reduced the limit to 300 litres.

3. Sailors received a gin ration to fend off illnesses right up until 1970. On 31 July 1970, known in the navy as Black Tot Day,¬†all free alcohol rations (a ‘tot’) for sailors¬†were stopped.

4. It has always been the tradition for distillers to give their stills female names. There are three at Sipsmith – Prudence, Patience and Constance. Here’s one of them…

sipsmith-distillery-tour-2

5. The amount of gin produced at Sipsmith in a year could be produced in one day at a large distiller like Tanqueray.

sipsmith-distillery-tour-1

(The tasting wall at Sipsmith’s – where all their new flavours are tried and tested. I saw mince pie and cold coffee flavours up there!)

Sipsmith Distillery Tours run Monday to Wednesday evenings and Lyndsay tells me they book up fast. You can buy tickets through their website. It would make a great gift for any gin lover and could be a fun date option.

Are you partial to a G&T? Have you done any other distillery tours?

P.S You can find out more about gin from this post. There are also some great articles for gin lovers on the Sipsmith blog.

After almost seven years of being a London dweller (*gulp*), you’d think that I’d have every major event in the diary and have worked out how to make the most of them by now. But despite learning a few lessons about whittling down the enormous list of places to visit during Open House London last year, the weekend came out of nowhere. I’d hardly taken a look at the list, let alone thought about entering any ballots.

I could only make the Sunday, which cut down the options somewhat and sadly eminated some of the places I didn’t fit in last year. So I worked through the remaining list based on whether I was willing to get up before dawn to queue and how far I was willing to travel. This left me with one choice, Two Temple Place.

All I knew at the time was that it was built in 1895 for William Waldorf Astor, a wealthy American-born attorney, politician, businessman, and newspaper publisher, and that it was previously known as Astor House.  It promised intricate details from the inside out and I was intrigued to step back in time.

two-temple-place-1

It’s fascinating what you learn when you pay attention to the small things.

two-temple-place-2

Apparently the cherub at the bottom of this bronze lamp, conversing over the telephone, celebrates the then new age of telecommunication and electricity.

But it was in the intricate design on the interior that had the main impact.

two-temple-place-3

Dark wooden carvings and bright light streaming in through the stained glass was certainly striking.

two-temple-place-4

As there was a steady stream of visitors admiring the centerpiece, I thought I’d take a look around the ground floor.

two-temple-place-5

The building was intended to be Astor’s estate office, with residential space to help create a home away from the US after emigrating to the UK.

The warm wood adds a darkness that makes it much easier to see it as an office than a home. There’s a sort of seriousness that you’d expect from its original owner.

two-temple-place-12

With a postcode on Embankment, it is certainly prime real estate and I couldn’t help contemplate what the views from each window must have been like back then. Neighbour to Middle Temple and overlooking the Thames, I actually suspect the view hasn’t changed dramatically over the centuries.

Two Temple Place has had a number of owners since the Astor family sold the house in the early 20th century, carrying various different names including the Incorporated Accountants Hall. But despite the names and damage during the war, it has remained in its original shape for over 100 years.

I made it up the staircase doing that tricky thing of gawping up at the view overhead and watching my step and other visitors. There was so much to look at.

two-temple-place-6

The mahogany carvings by Thomas Nicholls depict The Three Musketeers, said to be Astor’s favourite book. I like the fact that these details tell you a little more about the owner. It adds more of a personal touch than you’d expect from the late Victorian era.

Just as I’d thought the stained glass in the staircase was beautiful, I turned to my left on reaching the top of the staircase and found this intricate scene.

two-temple-place-9

An Alpine Landscape, is thought to depict the Italian Alps.

two-temple-place-10

A Swiss Summer Landscape, is more obviously located. Can you spot the Swiss flag?

Both were created by Clayton and Bell, one of the most prolific workshops for stained glass in the 19th century. These commisions were the only ones they completed that depicted a landscape.

You can hire Two Temple Place as a venue and I could imagine how beautiful it would look dressed with tables and low lights.

two-temple-place-8

As I wondered what events may have been hosted there over time and the stories those panels could tell, I found myself in a small office.

two-temple-place-11

It felt like a much more private space, with panels disguising secret book cases and a concealed entrance. I imagined this was where Astor came to get away from it all.

With so many details to take in, I could have spent hours wandering around, trying to build a picture of its original owner.

One of the best things about Open House London is how by entering each building you get a peek into someone else’s life and another era of time. An obvious observation I guess but just popping into one place reminded me what a great event it is and how I must get more organised about it next year.

The Bulldog Trust currently looks after Two Temple Place and whilst it’s not open to the public all year round, it does host an annual exhibition that allows access to the building. If all else fails, you should definitely add it to your Open House London list.

Did you go to Open House London this year? Where did you visit?