Going underground is part and parcel of every day life in London. In fact, after a few weeks of living here you don’t even think about millions of people travelling around like ants many metres below ground. So you may be wondering why I chose to visit a deep-level shelter, 30 metres beneath Clapham South station. Surely it’s just like every other journey below ground?

As we clambered down the stairs, sirens blaring, I was sure that (as I’d hoped when I booked the tickets some 12 months earlier) I’d discover something that would bring to life what it was like to live in London during a huge part of the capital’s history.

You see in 1940 the British Governent laid plans to create mass shelter accommodation for 100,000 people and 10 shelters, each to accommodate 10,000 people, were commissioned. There were to be five in the north of London and five in the south, every one 30 metres below ground. The intention was to increase safety and boost morale during the height the Blitz.

As the Hidden London tour guide closed the door and set the scene of life during World War II, it was easy to imagine the sense of relief at being able make your family safe whilst the rest of the city shuddered.

The deep-level shelter was spilt into two levels and broken down into individual sub shelters named after senior British naval officers.

Although we all travel like sardines with what feels like 1,000s of people every day, can you imagine spending the night with them all?

It was incredible to discover something that was built so quickly and needed to be not only safe and sturdy, but able to manage basic requirements of each and every individual.

With the shelters finished as the bombing had eased off, due to the cost to run the shelters, it wasn’t until 1944 that a number of them were put to their intended use. Clapham South being one of them.

Each shelter opened held rows upon rows of triple-tiered bunk beds.

The conditions were basic but there were toilets and a canteen serving hot drinks and snacks.

Carrying your own form of entertainment was recommended.


Other, smaller rooms, served the needs of 1,000s of people below ground, including medical and recreational rooms.


Pretty cosy to say the least.

Each tour guide did such a great job of taking us back in time, not only to the war but also to other times the shelters were put to use. Like the 50s when it was rebranded as the Festival Hotel. What a great idea to reuse them as inexpensive accommodation for overseas visitors to the Festival of Britain.


I’m surprised someone hasn’t been tempted to take the shelter off Transport for London’s hands. I can totally imagine a luxury version of the Festival Hotel being popular today.

But the shelters were actually built with a more practical future in mind. The shelters were built alongside the Northern and Central lines with the intention that they’d be able to serve as express underground lines in the future and support the growing population.

Although it just looks like a series of tunnels I was transfixed by the stories of life below ground all those years ago. It brought to life what it was like to live here during the war so much more than any other tour I’ve done.

Hidden London do a number of special tours, the most well-known one being the closed Aldwych Station. The tickets are notoriously hard to get hold of but if you sign up to their newsletter you will find out as soon as tickets go on sale. I really wanted to see Aldwych Station but those tickets went in a flash, luckily Clapham South was a pretty great subsitute.

Have you done any of Hidden London’s tours?

I often approach places at the end of the underground lines with scepticism, whether rightly so or not they just seem like far away places, not helped by their names. Cockfosters always gets a chuckle (I know immature), Morden obviously sounds like Mordor, Amersham out in zone 9 doesn’t seem like it could still count as London at all. However, when it comes to the much loved Victoria Line, I’ve been more open to find out what’s in store.

Brixton has been a weekend destination for a while, attracting hungry Londoners from far and wide, the food scene there just keeps getting better. It’s also south of the river, so given that I live that way it doesn’t seem so foreign (and I’ve definitely found myself there accidentally after missing the interchange at Stockwell). At the other end of the line, Walthamstow is emerging as the place to watch with some intriguing places to discover. Just 20 minutes from central London, home to a pretty quaint village (for zone 3!), it’s no surprise that new restaurants and cafes are finding homes there.

It got added to the 2017 wishlist and towards the end of January it made for the perfect Saturday afternoon trip out.

We started at the village, but not having used my camera for a while I totally forgot to take any pictures (oops!). Let’s just say the small street that makes up the centre of Walthamstow Village is possibly what you might expect, there’s a village hall, boutique shops, independent cafes and restaurants, and a cobbled street to amble around.

We grabbed a couple of coffees at Froth and Rind and made our way over to God’s Own Junkyard.

I’ve written about the Christopher’s Bracey’s neon light collections before and have wanted to see his main collection for a while now. To be honest, other than seeing some friends up in Walthamstow, I wasn’t really aware of any other reason to go until recently.

As soon as I stepped in I realised I should have come sooner. A million lights to look at and a rainbow of colours was guaranteed to be right up my street.

 

Chris Bracey was an artist in his own right and created many neon artworks. His collection of neon signs and sculptures at God’s Own Junkyard is one of the biggest outside America. It includes vintage fair and carnival signs, show promos and original pieces made on site.

Although no doubt extortionately expensive, it’s fun to try and find one you’d actually put up in your own home. This one was amongst my favourites.

I reckon it’d look quite cool in my dream kitchen.

After I’d had my intake of bright lights we went in search of lunch. Of course, I had somewhere in mind that wasn’t exactly nearby but at least it gave us chance to see a bit more of the area.

I spotted Hillman’s Tearoom on Jaime’s blog a while ago and was won over by her description and photos.

Tucked down a small street that forms the Georgian Village (which has tons of potential), it could easily be missed. But the attention to detail that has gone into this little cafe makes it something of a vintage experience to put on your own London wishlist.

From the vintage decor…

 

To dainty old-fashioned tea cups.

They’ve thought through every lovely detail.

I had one of the fruit teas and it was full of flavour.

The toasted sandwich was simple but delicious. Who doesn’t love a toastie with a bit of crispy melted cheese?

I checked the time and realised we’d spent a good few hours exploring already, but there was one more place I wanted to squeeze in before we went back south. The William Morris Gallery.

I did GCSEs in Art and Textiles and William Morris was often a subject of study. It was great to go back in time and appreciate his designs as a grown up with more of an interest in interior design.

His intricate designs that covered walls from floor to ceiling back then would have guaranteed William Morris as the Pinterest sensation of his day.

But if you’re not into art or textiles the once family home of the Morris family is equally beautiful.

The garden out back, which forms part of Lloyd Park, would be the perfect place to enjoy a picnic too. I’m certainly tempted to go back this summer.

Have you explored Walthamstow? Is there anywhere else we should visit on our next trip to the end of the Victoria Line?

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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

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

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(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.

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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.

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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.

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See, January isn’t all doom and gloom 😉

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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…)

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

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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

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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.

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The lights dimmed and the carols begun.

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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.

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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.)

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

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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.

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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.
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Designed by Robert Adams in the late 18th Century, it was intended to be both a library and a place for entertaining.
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It certainly looks fitting for both purposes. But I could have happily sat reading a book in such beautiful surroundings.
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After much admiration of the library, we eventually moved on to other rooms.
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Almost as opulent, but much more comfortable and cosy. A place you might hide away with your studies or an important piece of work.
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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.

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

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Even the more modest staircase has its own charm.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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?