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.

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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…

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

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(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.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to get more active, spend less time propped up at my desk or slouched on the sofa and get moving without it feeling like a monumental effort. I think the days slowly getting lighter (I LOVE Monday evenings right now, don’t they just seem brighter each week?), the booking of our summer holiday and a willingness for winter to be over has done it. I’m ready to stop hibernating!

I’ve decided my first task is to embrace walking more. I can easily walk for miles, it doesn’t fill me with dread like running, and it’s less risky than me on a bike in central London.  So it’s a pretty good way to get that 30 minute exercise we’re supposed to get each day. In London, you probably already know that it’s a great opportunity to get to know the city a bit better and make new discoveries. It’s also the cheapest way to spend a day, an hour, a morning or afternoon because it’s FREE.

I thought I’d share 8 great walks in London for anyone who fancies getting active like me. Grab a friend and your camera and get going!

N O T T I N G  H I L L

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Forget Portobello Road for a minute and when you get out of Notting Hill Gate take one of the roads parallel. Before long you’ll be meandering among cool white town houses, squares with private gardens, and all those colourful houses you’ve seen pop up on Instagram.

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Wind your way down to Ladbroke Grove and you’ll be sure to have seen some pretty sights.

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S O U T H  K E N S I N G T O N   T O  H O L L A N D  P A R K

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Once you’ve admired the stunning V&A and Natural History Museum, take a tour around the side streets of South Kensington and see how many mews streets you can find. You could follow the route I did or you could make one up as you go along (all I did to get my route was google map the area and search for all the nearest mews).

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Once you’ve seen enough of London’s prettiest streets, head over to Kensington Gardens and find a bench to sit on.

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Before making your way to Holland Park for one of these hot chocolates.

P R I M R O S E  H I L L  T O  R E G E N T’ S  P A R K

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As you can tell I love roaming around picturesque neighbourhoods so Primrose Hill had to feature here. Hop off at Chalk Farm, find the colourful street where Paddington lived (Chalcott Crescent, pictured above), make your way up to see the view of the horizon and march down to explore the delights of Regent’s Park.

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N E W  R I V E R  P A T H

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I only did the part from Canonbury to Essex Road, about a 15 minute walk, making it the shortest one on the list! But if you live in Finsbury Park or nearby, it makes a walk to Islington that bit nicer.

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R E G E N T’ S  C A N A L  W A L K

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I’m lucky enough to work near to Paddington Basin and the starting point of the Regent’s Canal in West London. If you follow me on Instagram you’ll know that I’m a big fan of Little Venice, but the walk over to King’s Cross offers a surprisingly peaceful way to cross central London.

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H A M P S T E D  H E A T H

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I’ve only made a small dent in discovering all the beauty that Hampstead Heath offers but if there’s one place to start or end a long walk there, it’s Parliament Hill. From there just amble along within one of the most peaceful pockets in the capital.

H Y D E   P A R K  T O  S T  J A M E S’  P A R K

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You could easily lose a day or two lounging in the city’s Royal Parks but I like to keep moving. Jump off the central line at Ladbroke Grove to find the beautiful Italian Gardens and then wind your way down to St James’ Park before waving to the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

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T H A M E S  R I V E R  P A T H

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It would be wrong not to mention the Thames River Path in this post. I’ve been in London for more than six years now and I never get tired of wandering alongside the Thames on a sunny day. I think I’ve walked most of the central part by now and there is so much to see and say about it that it needs its own post. But for now, if I want a more peaceful walk I’d take the route from Wapping to Tower Bridge. There’s a part near the beginning of this route where it’s easy to get to the ‘beach’ without being mistaken for a performer!

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Do you have a favourite walk in London?

When it comes to ‘doing stuff’ in London, I like to think that I’ll try most things once. Does it mean I’m fearless? Definitely not, I’m no daredevil and I doubt you’d ever find me climbing up the Shard or risking my life for anything anytime soon. Does it mean I’m adventurous? I’m not sure but I like to think that I’ve got a little adventurous streak and I’m determined to do and see as much as I can. As the title unimaginatively suggests, this leads me to my latest adventure with James, white water rafting at the Lee Valley White Water Centre.

You might recognise it as one of the stadiums used for the London 2012 Olympics (in fact there’s a picture of it in this post from 2012!). It’s now home to a whole host of water activities including scuba diving, hydrospeeding, canoeing and of course white water rafting.

I bought James a voucher for the white water activity for his birthday last year and we finally got round to booking a slot on a sunny autumn Sunday a few weeks ago.

We hopped on a train from Tottenham Hale to Waltham Cross and after a 10 minute walk from the station we arrived at the centre. It looked pretty calm and peaceful as we approached.

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But once we’d checked in and made our way to the terrace, we found the part where all the action is going on and it’s a whole different atmosphere.

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I didn’t feel too nervous at this point as from my experience of the white water rafting we did in Montenegro, it wasn’t all that terrifying. The course isn’t too long either so I thought, what’s the worst that can happen?!

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The whole area is open to the public so you can stroll around and see what you think before you book it. Here’s a video I took before I jumped in to give you a bit of an idea.

Watching it now makes me realise that it looks super fast but at the time and before we got in it really didn’t.

Once we were suited, booted and had our helmet and life vest on, we got a safety talk and an overview of the experience. To make sure we weren’t a liability on the water and were happy that we might enjoy the rest of it, they made us do a swim test down one of the rapids. All we had to do was jump in, make sure we were lying on our back and feet were facing forward, go down a rapid, swim through the current and get out on the side.

The water looks much more rapid up close! James did it like a pro.

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I, on the other hand, didn’t and the picture they took of me is shocking. However, I did survive and I passed the test. If you don’t look so comfortable at this stage but you want to carry on they might swap your helmet for a yellow one so they can watch out for you during the experience.

After getting wet and ready for the rapids, it was time to jump into the raft. The next stage was to test that if we fell out of the raft, we could climb back in again and help someone else do the same. I think I passed this one much more easily. The adrenaline had started pumping and I was partly excited and partly scared.

The first round was a fairly gentle trip around the course where the instructor tested our reaction speed to directions (particularly knowing my left and right which whilst I know the correct answer I’m strangely rubbish at on the spot).

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Each route got more and more exciting, adrenaline pumping, scary shall we say. Despite being a little terrified at flying out into the water and picturing some kind of embarrassing rescue (my face below says it all) it was a lot of fun.

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This was when we tried to surf the rapids without toppling in. James particularly loves this picture, so as it was a birthday treat I let him have it when we chose five photos to take away with us.

I chose this one because I think it’ll look much better in a photo frame!

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After about five or six trips around the rapids (I lost count after a while but we were in the water for a good hour and a half), and on an adrenaline high, we showered, got dry and dressed. We decided to head up to the cafe terrace for a hot drink and sugar rush. I wasn’t expecting much as I sort of pictured those cafes you find at the local swimming pool, but I was pleasantly surprised.

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It was a lovely place to bask in the glorious sunshine.

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I guess one of the perks of hosting the prestigious Olympic games is the nice places that are built and left behind!

If you’re looking for something more substantial you’ll find hot food (burgers and chips I think) on the terrace, where there’s a bar serving alcohol too.

Overall, it was a really great experience. I’d definitely go back and do it again, especially in a group. If you have a little adventurous streak like me and you’re a comfortable swimmer I reckon you’d have loads of fun too. It’s a great gift to give someone as well.

You can find all the details on the website here. It’s open all week and up to 9pm on a Friday night. We did it on a Sunday as it was considered off-peak and a bit cheaper (£50 pp vs £65 pp). The closest station is Waltham Cross which is about 40 minutes from Liverpool Street Station or about 15 minutes from Tottenham Hale (near the end of the Victoria Line). Bring a swimming costume, towel and stuff for a shower, basically anything you would usually take to a swimming pool.

Credit for the four professional photos goes to Lee Valley. We paid £25 for five digital photos. It was £60 for the whole set, which I thought wasn’t too bad if you were in a large group and could share the cost.

What do you think? Would you do white water rafting in London?

Working out West and living South West means East London often gets neglected unless I have a good offer or excuse to head over (cocktails, coffee, and Columbia Road Flower Market ranking highly). When Talented Talkers got in touch to ask if I fancied joining a group of bloggers on a Street Art Tour, with mobile photography tips and a trial of the Lumia 930, I was in. The meal at Pizza East had nothing to do with my acceptance…

I’m an Apple addict at heart, getting into the brand early on with a green Apple Mini and now owning a bit of an Apple collection including an iPhone. I’m well aware that the iPhone might not be the best mobile out there in terms of its camera and technology power, so I’m always keen to see what other phones have to offer. Nokia was one of my favourite early mobiles I had a 3310 (with changeable covers!) when I was about 15. I have to admit I forgot about the brand when the mobile market took off but with Microsoft behind the scenes they’ve refreshed its reputation with the Lumia range.

As for street art, I love how it catches you by surprise and have been known to snap the ones that cross my path. But my knowledge of what it means and who created it is so limited!

So with Karim providing the tour, Phil sharing the photography tips, and being with a group of lovely bloggers, I knew I was in for a fun night (even if it was raining at the time and I was optimistically wearing sandals and had no umbrella!).

We started at Braithwaite Street with something I’ll admit you could easily walk straight past.

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A creation by street artist Hottea (also known as Eric Reiger). It’s a form of non-destructive street art and whilst I wasn’t WOW’d by this, his other work is much more impressive and colourful.

The next piece certainly had more impact.

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Created by Gary Stranger and Lily Lou it’s an impressive example of their talents combined.

At this stage I was spending a fair bit of time getting used to the Lumia 930’s camera and realising it has SO many functions that make it more similar to a digital camera. The main feature being able to change its ISO settings and white balance with more accuracy, useful on grey days in the city. You might notice that the size of this photo is different to the others and that’s because it’s the original dimensions from the Lumia. When I came to uploading the photos I noticed they were quite different to the dimensions I now use on the blog, which meant I’ve done a bit of cropping on these pictures so they’re consistent. One thing with the Lumia to be aware of if you do use photos from your mobile!

From this point on I got a bit snap happy and started to focus a bit more on taking pictures than what I was actually taking pictures of (#bloggerproblems). The whereabouts of these photos are a bit of a blur but the next part of the route took us from Calvin Street to Grey Eagle Street.

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Karim explained the difference between street art and graffiti, with street art seen as a form of art and graffiti being about tagging areas with your tag.

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The following piece was one of my favourites from the tour. Painted on a gate entrance, I just really liked how Faith 47 blended the painting into the back ground. I also liked the appropriately placed ‘Shhhh’ sign!

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By this stage in the tour we’d had a good few tips from Phil, from thinking about things like is there any irrelevant stuff in the background or foreground to cut out and are there brightly coloured things that will grab a reader’s attention, to considering the angle you’re taking the picture from. Street art is definitely a good way to test these tips!

At Grey Eagle Street we saw a piece by Shepard Fairey.

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One thing I hadn’t really thought much about before was how famous some of these street artists are and a tour around Shoreditch is a little like walking around an outdoor art gallery when you know what you’re looking at!

From here we headed to Hanbury Street.

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And ended up at Brick Lane, underneath the unmissable Heron by ROA.

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Still on a roll, I took a few more photos whilst I was there.

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Before we moved on Heneage Street, Pedley Street and Cheshire Street.

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(I spotted this Space Invader piece en route and I then found lots of his work in Paris just a couple of weeks later.)

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With rumbling stomachs we finally arrived at Pizza East and I devoured a good few delicious slices.

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But before we made our way home we had a few more pieces to see and some night photography tips to pick up.

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My favourite piece of the night session was this one, which I think may be by Buff Diss.

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You wouldn’t know it from a distance but it’s made entirely of tape!

I headed to the underground with a mind full of street artists and photography tips (and a stomach full of pizza!).

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After an evening using the Lumia 930, I don’t think I’ll be exchanging my iPhone just yet. I thought the camera definitely provided good quality pictures (the only editing I’ve done is cropping) and the settings were helpful to enhance the pictures. But I realised that when it comes to my camera phone I like good quality photos but I like simple settings and prefer editing pictures after rather than changing the settings at the scene (a complete contrast to how I use my DSLR!).

If you’re more interested in the street art from this post and want to do the street art tour, you can book yourself on to Karim’s tour here.

I was invited by Talented Talkers to attend the evening and share my thoughts. I thought it was a great offer and as ever all opinions are my own.

It’s 1888 and terror sweeps through an impoverished East London as five women’s lives are taken by a brutal unidentified killer. Fast forward to a chilly evening of the Halloween weekend in 2014, East London is a hub of creative and financial activity, but the infamous killer known as Jack the Ripper remains unidentified. James and I join a tour to find out more behind the area’s murky past….

At Aldgate, we meet our tour guide and hosts of the evening Three Mobile (who provided us with a new iPhone 6 to take spooky snaps). Ken, dressed fittingly in a long green coat giving the look of a detective, takes us to Saint Botolph to give an introduction to the poverty felt in the area towards the end of the 19th century and set the chilling tone of the evening.

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In contrast to what you’ll see today where the Gherkin stands proud, Aldgate and the surrounding area was home to the incredibly poor. Shelter for those without a permanent residence cost 4 pence a night and involved sleeping upright on benches (like the image above). Prostitution funded many women’s lives back then but the temptation of cheap gin also left them vulnerable on the streets. So it’s no surprise that Jack the Ripper’s victims were all of this background.

London’s history has been well-maintained in many parts of the area, particularly the spot of the first killing, a quiet alley where you can still see the same kind of giant rats that roamed then (yes, we did spot one the size of a cat! *shudders*). It quickly takes you back in time.

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Even on Brick Lane, where curry houses dominate, you can find hints of its darker past. You can’t see it in this picture but Shaad was once a pub called ‘Frying Pan’, and was the place where the first victim was last seen.

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But further down more obvious references to the lane’s past can be found.

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Away from the bright lights, you’ll return to lamp-lit streets, which on the Halloween weekend adds an extra shiver down the spine on a tour about a serial killer.

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You can’t deny that at night these dimly lit streets still hold a hint of a once very poor area. And as each of the five murders is described by the tour guide at the place each body was found, they feel like a fitting scene for a horror movie.

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The place close to the fourth murder definitely had an eeriness about it.

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Whilst the facts of each murder are described, you’re taken back in time to a place so very different from where you’re standing. A rivalry exists between the City of London Police and the Metropolitan Police. Cameras, known as ‘white magic’, are newly in use and many believed that the last vision of the dead could be captured by this new invention.

It’s also quite unbelievable to think that a building like this, now a residential building, was once the scene where Jack the Ripper left a message.

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At the end of the tour, Ken gave us his verdict on the royal connection he thought may have been behind the murders. It definitely got James and I thinking about whether such a conspiracy could be true or what other possibilities are out there.

Hopefully this gives you a flavour of the tour, I’ve avoided going into too much detail as I think part of the fun is getting the story of Jack the Ripper and all the facts about London’s history from a time so long ago but is still talked about today. I’d recommend going at this time of year when the temperatures add to the atmosphere, but I’d definitely make sure you wear layers as it involves being outdoors for about two hours. You can buy tickets and find more information here.

A special thanks goes to Three Mobile for inviting James and I on the tour. I had fun testing out the photographic abilities of a shiny new iPhone 6.

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All of the photos taken in this post (excluding the above photo) were taken on the iPhone 6, without flash, or Photoshop editing. Dark photos are always tricky with a mobile but as you can see I definitely think the quality is better and less grainy. It’s so light weight making it easy to carry round compared to my DSLR and the larger screen also helps frame better pictures. The zoom is a step up from the iPhone 4s I currently use, although there’s still some improvement to go.  If I’d had more time to play I’d definitely have experimented with the time-lapse and slo-mo video options added to this model which seemed better than the apps out there.

If you’re like me and love new features and functions for mobile photography, more information about the latest iPhone can be found here.

Have you been on a Jack the Ripper Tour? Or have you been on any other tours which take you back in time? 

As mentioned this tour was hosted by Three Mobile and I was kindly asked to share my views on the iPhone 6. As someone who loves to do different things in London and enjoys testing new technologies I was more than happy to accept the invite. All opinions are my own.