I’ve always thought that National Trust memberships were for older people. Now at 31, I don’t consider myself ‘old’ just yet but as James and I entered the gates of Ham House at the weekend, we seriously considered signing up on the spot. With an entry fee of £10.80 each versus a monthly direct debit of £9.00 between us that covers access to 100s of places, the numbers certainly add up. Yet, what appeals to me about National Trust places now is the chance to peek at someone’s home, take away a snippet of history and relax in their luxurious grounds. Does this mean I’m old or was I wrong all along?

Ham House has been on my radar since a trip to Petersham Nurseries over the winter. After a few busy weeks at work, all I crave right now is peace and quiet, somewhere I can let my mind unravel a little bit. Ham House seemed like the perfect option.

It’s a couple of miles away from Richmond station, but the walk along the River Thames is lovely, especially on a sunny day (when there is no shortage of ice cream vans).

We ambled along taking in the gentle rythm of the river, talking about our house purchase and where life would take us next. (These days you’ll often catch me saying ‘when we move in…’. But the journey of house buying is a whole other post in itself.)

About half an hour later we arrived at the gates, Ham House basking in the sunshine.

We decided to pay the one-off entry fee, promising to get a full membership when our move date has been settled and we have access to a car, meaning we can make full use of the properties available. For then, we were happy with exploring the house and gardens and making the most of our entry fee.

Since the sun was shining but the clouds threatened rain, we started with the garden. I wasn’t sure what to expect and as the grounds are protected by tall walls I had no clue until we wandered through the arched entrance to the Kitchen Garden in front of the Orangery. You can imagine the wisteria hysteria I experienced upon discovering a whole wall full of wisteria vines.

It smelt wonderful.

And I loved how it framed every window and doorway.

Can you imagine if this was your home? Let alone just part of the grounds!

We were tempted to take a seat and order something to eat from the Orangery, but having only just got there I was keen to keep exploring.

As spring has just sprung in the UK, a lot of the garden is tucked underground awaiting rain and the warm weather of the seasons ahead.

But what is blooming at the moment is lovely on its own.

I could have happily spent an afternoon on this bench with a good book.


This chap clearly had the right idea.

It’s funny how I crave peace and quiet so much more than I used to. It seems the busier life gets, the more precious relaxation and silence becomes.

As we explored the other parts of the gardens, I discovered that Ham House has plently of peaceful pockets to escape to.

You can choose to take a seat or gently amble along the grass, admiring the beautiful symmetry before you.

Back in the day, Ham House was known for its opulence and the perfect presentation of the latest fashion. Even today, it must be quite a task for the gardeners to maintain such perfection.

As I stood there shaded by the leaves above me, I couldn’t quite believe how much there was to explore and how few people were around.

It allows you to let your imagination loose, picturing what life might have been like back in the 17th century (when the building was created), soaking up the sunshine in several layers of petticoats.

But before I got too comfortable, there was one more secret spot to discover.

The Cherry Garden was once a private garden and really symbolises how much attention to detail went into Ham House and its garden.

I literally gasped a little at its lovely perfection. The kind that I’m afraid normal folk like you and I are unlikely to achieve.

All the better to appreciate the effort that goes in to all this as it must be incredible.

By this point, James and I managed to while away a couple of hours and with the house closing to visitors at 4pm, we decided to turn our exploring indoors.

You may be wondering by now who lived in such opulence. Well, Ham House was built in 1610. The lease was given as a gift from King Charles I to his friend William Murray and what you’ll find there today is a mixture of both his taste and that of his daughter Elizabeth. The house became her own under Charles II’s rule and as the Duchess of Lauderdale it was transformed into one of the grandest houses in England.

We started with the more modest part of the house, the cook’s kitchen and servant quarters.

Moving on to the more lavish parts of the main house.

With the Duke and Duchess being well-travelled, there are both exotic and English influences throughout.


Whilst the house was clearly built for entertaining, with a grand entrance hall.

Some of the most interesting parts of the house were the tiny closets where residents could lock themselves away and get away from it all.

If only that’s what closets allowed us to do today! (Are you now picturing yourself squeezing into your own ‘closet’ for some peace and quiet?)

One more peek at that perfect garden…

And we returned to the Orangery for a light lunch of warm sausage rolls and soft drinks, with a side of wisteria.

For the next few months Ham House itself is open for visitors to explore at their own will between 12pm and 4pm. The gardens are open between 10am and 5pm. As the open times can vary depending on the day of the week and the time of year, it’s worth checking out the website before you visit.

A bit of a mamouth post there! I’ll leave now and just ask what your views are on National Trust memberships and properties? Have you been to any that you’ve loved at first sight?

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.

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?

I’ve been engrossed in some real #firstworldproblems recently so sorry for the blog silence of late. The effort of not doing my usual pre-holiday panic of getting myself sorted just days before flying has just felt a bit consuming at times. Then there’s working out the craziest year yet for events and weddings, where I’m managing the fine art of being calendar controller, hotel booker and finance magician all at the same time. Not to mention working 9 to 5 (*plays Dolly P in my head*). Nice problems to have and so much fun ahead, but until I’m swinging in a hammock on the beach or sipping a celebratory glass of champagne, any moment of peace and time to do what I love is absolutely cherished.

I had the Sunday before last all to myself and as the sun was due to shine, all I planned to do was potter around a park. Luckily I’d found a new one nearby, which would lazily satisfy my endless desire to discover new places. Let me introduce you to Cannizaro Park.

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Cannizaro Park is a set of grade II listed gardens, over 300 years old and found just on the edge of Wimbledon Common. It was owned and tenanted by various aristocratic and wealthy families until the 1940s when it was bought by the council and opened to the public.

South of the river is well-known for its green spaces, expansive commons that fill up in the summer with sports teams, enthusiastic runners and impromptu picnics or catch ups. It’s one of the main reason I returned after two years of living on the northern side. But whilst they’re great for summer vibes, sometimes you crave something a bit quieter and I think I’ve found just the place in this park.

One tube stop to South Wimbledon, a 2 mile walk (accidentally falling into H&M enroute) and I was hot footing it down the park’s manicured entrance, thinking to myself “how on earth did I not know about this place before?”

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I inspected the map and had no idea where to start but I was quickly intrigued by an enclosed path to my right and signs to a rose garden.

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I ambled along in the sunshine, peering around corners to see what I could find. It instantly felt a little like wandering an abandoned estate.

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The walled rose garden was just starting to come to life.

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As the last of the wisteria faded away.

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I was surprised to find it completely empty and would have sat there for a good while if I hadn’t have been so keen to find more. So I carried on wandering.

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I stumbled across the Roman goddess, Diana, and her fawn (apparently the statue dates back to 1843.)

Then ambled through stretches of grass.

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And a maze of azaleas.

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The park is said to have an impressive mixture of foliage and flowers, whilst I’m no expert I can at least enjoy its calming beauty.

I eventually made my way to the Italian Garden.

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It’s not quite up to the standards of the Royal Parks, but it has its own deserted sort of charm.

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I could just imagine it back in its former glory with courting couples sneaking off in the summer for a romantic walk.

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These days it would make a peaceful spot for a celebratory picnic or even a summer wedding (Tis the season after all!)

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On the other side of the wall I found the final ingredient which makes a park, a good park (in my opinion), a soothing water feature.

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Then just when I thought I’d seen it all I spied a sunken garden next to the hotel.

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And behind that a herb garden, where I sat for a while in the sunshine.

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Cannizaro Park is such a hidden gem. It’s much more peaceful than the Royal Parks and commons. I’m sure I’ll be heading back there this summer (and probably Autumn when it is said to be full of beautiful colours too.)

_ _ _ _

Do you know of any other hidden green gems in London?

 

 

This weekend felt like the official start of the Christmas build-up for me. We put up the Christmas tree, I did my biggest Christmas present shop yet (and absorbed the smell of real Christmas trees along the way), but most importantly I went to Christmas at Kew.

Every year Kew Gardens illuminate a mile-long path with a collection of colourful lights and its usually a sell-out event. I missed out last year after hearing about it too late and discovering it was completely sold out, so this year I persuaded a group of friends into a Christmas get-together and booked tickets a few weeks ago.

We decided to make the evening into a full-on festive event, put on our Christmas jumpers, raised a glass of prosecco and delved into a roast dinner at the Coach & Horses Hotel. Lucy and I swapped stories of childhood trips to Walsall Illuminations (it was a the Christmas event for children in Birmingham in the 90s), before wrapping up and venturing into the gardens in darkness.

The singing bushes at the start of the trail put us into good spirits.

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I was too busy snapchatting to get a good video to share, but here’s Lucy’s!

A video posted by @rheady1 on

I’m the one in the bobble hat! 🙂

I was surprised that despite the crowds, it was quite relaxing wandering around and seeing the gardens in a different light.

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The scented fire garden was both beautiful and mesmerising.

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It smelt amazing too, a mixture of scent and burnt out candles (which I love the smell of).

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After every corner that attracted a crowd, there were a few places of pretty peacefulness.

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But for the colour-hunter, there was no shortage of bright lights on this mile-long walk.

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The wall of lights that changed colours provided a great selfie spot.

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Followed by the tunnel of lights.

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My only attempt is a pretty poor quality one I’m afraid!

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(Luckily I managed to find my friends to get a better group shot for the 2015 Christmas collection.)

The showstoppers of the night were these brightly-coloured peacocks amongst a field of neon flowers.

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Whilst I really enjoyed all of the displays I have to admit that I didn’t quite get that heart-warming festive feeling until I saw the HUGE twinkling tree.

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And sang along to the festive finale.

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A great warm up for the Christmas sing-along sessions to come!

At various points in the route you can buy hot drinks and marshmallows that you can toast over fireputs. I don’t often get dessert regret but as I had no room for a sweet treat (thanks to demolishing a warm chocolate brownie at the pub), I was sad to miss out on the hot chocolate from Beltane & Pop.

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Next time maybe!

Christmas at Kew is a lovely way to warm up that lurking festive feeling for the weeks ahead (16 days to go! Eek!). I definitely recommend it whether you’re a group of adults or a family with children, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

Tickets cost £16 per adult, £10 per child. It opens at 5pm and you can book tickets to visit until the event closes on 2 January 2016 here.

There are times when I’d love to go back to being a child again and experience the London that’s made for the young. The bright lights of a big city, enormous and exciting museums, and parks packed with endless opportunities for play. Luckily, the capital has a great way of creating things that are child and adult friendly, meaning that you can either see the adult side or embrace your inner child.

When I spotted from afar this year’s colourful Serpentine Pavilion on a sunny day at the beginning of July, I thought I was approaching a child’s playground (and was obviously drawn to its multi-colour reflections). On closer inspection, and after reading more about its designers selgascano, I could certainly see more behind its playful facade.

Serpentine Galleries has commissioned an annual Pavilion by different architects and artists since 2000, making this year its 15th anniversary. Each year the brief  has been to:

“Design a flexible, multi-purpose social space with a café that is open to all throughout the summer.”

With such a broad brief, Hyde Park has seen a variety of difference structures over the years (I wrote about the 2013 Pavilion here) but this year feels like its most colourful thanks to its Spanish architects.

José Selgas and Lucía Cano are the two architects behind selgascano, the first Spanish company to be invited to design the Pavilion. They’ve got some spectacular building concepts in their portfolio, characterised by clean, contemporary design and plenty of colour. Here’s a handful of my favourite buildings via Google.

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Clockwise from top left: Factory Mérida, Badajoz; Office in the Woods, Madrid;  Plasencia Auditorium and Congress Centre, Cáseres; El ‘B’. Cartagena, Auditorium and Congress Centre; Murcia – Image source

You can certainly see the their style reflected in this year’s Pavilion and knowing its architectural background is part of what makes it interesting for adults.

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Talking about the design themselves, Selgascano said:

We sought a way to allow the public to experience architecture through simple elements: structure, light, transparency, shadows, lightness, form, sensitivity, change, surprise, colour and materials. We have therefore designed a Pavilion which incorporates all of these elements. The spatial qualities of the Pavilion only unfold when accessing the structure and being immersed within it. Each entrance allows for a specific journey through the space, characterised by colour, light and irregular shapes with surprising volumes. (Source.)

But putting all of this aside, the colour and shape is the main thing that will draw adults and children alike inside.

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It may look a little flimsy as, in simple terms, it is made from ribbons and a special kind of plastic. But for snap happy people like me it certainly challenges you to get a little creative.

If you don’t care for cameras you can just enjoy a cool drink inside (it does get warm in there when the sun shines!).

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For the real children visiting it’s a great space to run around and burn off some energy, particularly as it provides a playful route that switches between indoors…

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And outdoors…

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This year’s Pavilion has seen some negative reviews since it opened and I can see that for adults it might not look all that great on first impressions. But I think if you look a little harder or embrace your inner child you’ll find something to enjoy there, even if it is only for a minute or two.

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The Serpentine Pavilion can be found here in Hyde Park until 18 October 2015 and you can get undercover between 10am and 6pm.

More information can be found on the Serpentine Galleries website.

Have you seen any of the Pavilions from the last 15 years?