London Diary – Jane Austen Festival in Bath!

Sep 12, 2016

It is not officially autumn yet, but it is unmistakably palpable, cooling spells, leaves on the streets, schools starting last week and it seemed all the sudden it is starting to get dark at 8 not 10. It is at such turn of the season Bath welcomes its annual Jane Austen Festival. We were there for its opening over the past weekend. Three times in Bath, I like it better each time. In fact, it is becoming my favorite of all cities.

Beautifully situated along River Avon and over the hills on its banks, Bath is a prefect union of town and country. From architectural delights in the heart of the city, Bath Abbey, Roman Bath, Pump Room, Guild Hall, Putney Bridge, Royal Crescent, The Circus, The Assembly Room, to its average honey colored sand stone buildings and houses, to Queens Square, Victoria Park and Parade Garden, Bath is lovely to behold. Drive up to Alexandra Park south of the river, a breath taking view of Bath awaits. Fox and Hound north of the city is a popular pub with lovely view and great food. From that outward, Bath is surrounded with that typical, delightful Cotswold country side.

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Making it extra fun for me is Jane Austen Festival, which is a 10 days event and each day is filled with a range of programs. The costume parade is one of the highlights and officially commences the festival. The first time we went to the festival in 2014, there were more than 500 people participated in the costume parade, a record breaking year and a spectacular parade. The weather was less than perfect this time. But despite the rain, more than 300 people participated in the parade. We again were observers of the parade, next year I have a mind to go back in costume.

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Other events we did included pre festival get together, Jane Austen afternoon tea at Pump Room, a festival fayre at Assembly room, where you find Regency costumes and accessories for sale, and a 20 minute, comical version of Pride and Prejudice performance. My favourite was Austen Undone, a brilliant 90 minute program that seamlessly fitting together a walking tour with storytelling. The story is a spinoff of Austen characters, plots and humor. We got to watch it unfold live on the streets of Bath. Hilarious!

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Icing on the cake are the many fun places to shop, a few special mentions, Barlett Antique Center near Assembly Room, Mallory and Miles Mann (jewelry) near Bath Abbey, Alexandra May (costume jewelry) near Royal Crescent, Milsom Place, market at Guild Hall and monthly Artisan Market at Green Park Station.

London Diary – Lake District and Hadrian’s Wall

After Haworth, further north we journeyed.

The famous Lake District is as beautiful up close as it is on paper. After a brief visit and lunch break at Cartmel village, we headed up to Bowness on Windermere, where we based for this visit. From there, we visited Beatrix Porter’s house museum, Hill Top Farm, William Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage in Grasmere, his last home, Rydal Mount in Rydall, and the town of Keswick. While the towns and villages are lovely from the ground, the best views are to be had higher up. There are different options, we did a couple of hikes, one in Grasmere from Whitemoss car park and another route in Keswick, both walks were tremendously rewarding. Last but not least, Hadrian’s Wall. It was a memorable experience following part of the epic Roman route and stepping way back into history.

Cartmel Village

Have you tried or heard of Cartmel sticky pudding? It is vastly different from the traditional Christmas pudding. While I am not crazy about Christmas pudding I love sticky pudding. So Cartmel I went and discovered much more there. The tiny village is charming and steep in history. Its ancient Priory, founded in 1188 by William Marshal, the “Earl Marshal”, is evocatively beautiful. Paying the church a visit is a must. Do also stop by Cartmel Village shop for simple but delicious lunch or all kind of flavors to take home including sticky pudding in various flavors, toffee and chocolate, etc.

 

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Bowness on Windermere

Bowness is touristy but also picturesque and convenient with many shops and restaurants. The pier is a pretty spot and popular area where you can catch one of the variety of lake cruises. We stayed at Blenheim Lodge in a quiet residential area on top of the hill with a lovely view of Lake Windermere, the largest lake in Lake District. The B&B is housed in a charming former Victoria house and very clean. Next door is a unique house featured in TV show Grand Design.

 

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Hill Top Farm

Beatrix Potter’s house in Near Sawrey is now a museum. The village is tiny and its neighbor Far Sawrey a few minutes away is equally diminutive. It’s a small house too, for such a famous person, which makes it even more interesting as the birth place of the imaginary world created there that has fascinated the world. The garden is wonderful. Seek out the old English roses and smell the lovely scent, divinely fragrant.

 

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Grasmere, Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount

Grasmere is a lovely, tranquil village by Lake Grasmere, where William Wordsworth lived for many years in Dove Cottage. The cottage is a low ceiling, small house with tiny rooms, which however did not in any way prevent the great poet from being prolific, it is where the famous quote came about, “Plain living and high thinking.”

William Wordsworth penned his praise for Grasmere and/or the cottage as “loveliest spot that man hadth ever found”. The cottage is near the lake but its view is currently obstructed by the buildings that had gone up between it and the lake. Only a sliver of the lake can still be seen nowadays from the garden in the back.

The entrance fee includes a guided tour of the cottage and a self guided visit to the separate museum next door. Our guide was a young woman from New Zealand, who studied in US and was at the time working as an intern at the house museum.

The roses at the cottage is also a variety of lovely fragrance.

 

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William Wordsworth’s next home is Rydal Mount in Rydal, a village a few minutes away. It is a more substantial house with a sprawling and lovely garden.

 

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Whitemoss car park is located north or Rydal Water and between Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount. From there we hiked up to the hill south of Rydal Water, then continued on westward until it peaked at south end of Lake Grasmere, where the view is stunning. You can return to the car park via the same route or descend to the lake shore and return along River Rothay. It is an easy and enjoyable walk, with plenty of fox gloves in your company along the way and maybe a deer as well.

 

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Keswick and Latrigg

Keswick is a lovely town in a picturesque setting and also known as home to Coleridge and Sotheby. We found out however Greta Hall, Coolerdige’s former home, is not open to public. A kind man overhearing us at the Info Center pointed out the direction of the house. We drove by accordingly but couldn’t see much of it.

There are more to be explored. Of the numerous viewpoints in Lake District, many take strenuous efforts. Latrigg, as one of the lowest fells, is a relatively easy to take on, and offers one of the best views in the area.

It is just under two miles from town park by the river to the peak and the path goes through some lovely woods but the climb up is quite steep especially as it gets close to the top. The view along the way is rewarding though and it builds up like a crescendo to a stunning view of Keswick and Derwentwater at the summit. The day turned chilly and it was very windy at the summit on that day, some people were paragliding, which was fun to watch, but we did not take the rest of the circular route, returning to town via same route instead.

Here is one guide for the route:

http://www.lakedistrict.gov.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/171792/kw-nu_latrigg_walk_4a-2-10.pdf

 

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Hadrian’s Wall

Hadrian’s Wall was the Roman demarcation for its frontier on British Isle, running about 85 miles long from Bowness-on-Solway on the west to Wallsend on the east. We chose a few spots to visit.

Lanercost Priory. An old monastery beautiful even in ruin.

 

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Walltown Crags. A long stretch of what is left of the wall remains at this site and the open country views are spectacular, you can see miles and miles out, all the way to Scotland.

 

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Cawfield Roman Wall is near a village with two sign posts, Once Brewed or Twice Brewed, depending on which direction you are approaching it. You can see a long stretch of the wall here.

Housesteads Roman Fort. It is an amazing site. Along with a museum in a separate building, it brings vividly to life stories of the soldiers, officers, their families and villagers and their lives within and outside the fort, once again proving how incredibly powerful, far reaching and methodical the Romans were.

 

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London Diary – Readers I’ve been to Haworth!

Haworth, West Yorkshire.

A tongue in cheek attempt at a fantastic opening line. It might not have done the trick but fans of Bronte might have understood the allusion to the famous line in Jane Eyre, “Readers, I married him.”

A steadfast fan of Jane Eyre, the stories of the Bronte sisters fascinate me. In this year that is Charlotte Bronte’s 200th birthday, my wish came true, I made my way to Haworth, Yorkshire over Bronte Society’s annual conference weekend in June.

There were interesting activities during the four day conference. We attended annual lecture, participated in a lively debate on two of Charlotte’s novels, Jane Eyre and Shelly, where the actress Maxine Peake was invited as a presenter, and played a fun trivia game.

The visit to the Bronte Parsonage Museum was memorable. The parsonage on the hill top, the parish church, separated from the parsonage by the grave yard, and a simple, smaller stone building, which used to be a school where Charlotte had taught, would have made the Bronte’s most intimate surroundings. It was very touching to be there, feeling close to the talent and spirits that have inspired so many.

The historic part of Haworth village sloping up to the parsonage and parish church has been well preserved and is atmospherically charming, cobble stoned street, lime stone buildings of Yorkshire characteristic housing shops, pubs, restaurants and hotels.

My other favorite part was walking the Bronte country, following the sisters’ footsteps, through Haworth Moor, beyond Bronte Water Fall and Bridge, all the way to Top Withen. The path starts from the parsonage and quickly enters Haworth Moor with nice view of another village across a narrow, deep valley. After the passing of a few more large sheep farms and houses, there is not much else between man and nature. Most visitors stop their journey at the bridge. We continued on.

The surrounding after the waterfall and bridge becomes more and more desolate and wild. Top Within is a vague speck on the hilltop yonder. There are few trees. Counterintuitively, the vast openness made that two miles appear infinitely distant. But eventually, that tiny speck came into focus. There it was, the ruin of a stone farm house standing next to a lonely, tall sycamore. That was Top Within, the locale that was the inspiration for Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Height, the tale of a tragic, violent love story.

Since Haworth was fully booked, we stayed in Hebden Bridge, a small town 20 minutes south of Haworth. Hebden Bridge is a village on steep hill surrounded by fantastic view. Almost everywhere in Hebden Bridge, you can see a picturesque hill top village and its soaring church spire across the valley. Having been tantalized by it for days, we one day drove out searching for it. After climbing some steep streets, we stumbled across it, Heptonstall, a small village on steeper and higher hill.

The drive between Hebden Bridge and Haworth passes through some dramatic scenery. As it draws close, Haworth appears as a postcard picture on a hill.

It was the Brontes who had drawn me to this part of the country. In turn, it opened my eyes to a landscape that is like none others, and I discovered what had in part helped shape the sisters into who they were.

This part of west Yorkshire is arduously hilly, its scenery alternates between expansive, open, undulating land and steep, narrow valleys. Under thick clouds, it is bleak and dramatic all at once. When the shrouding veil is lifted by shining sun and all is clearly discernible, it is stunningly beautiful. Fog you’d often encounter is a phenomenon. It might be thick and dense on the road you are driving through, or wispy twists hanging in the narrow valleys. In either form it adds an intriguing mystery to the already unusual landscape, on the other hand, it could seem eerie to unfamiliar eyes. And that could be in part its enduring appeal.

 

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Harewood House

Harewood House is an hour north east of Haworth. It is where Lost in Austen was filmed as Mr. Darcy’s Pembley. The house is grand and beautiful. Its banquet room is breathtaking. Many staterooms feature ornately decorated ceilings. Designed by Capability Brown, its ground, lake and garden are tremendous and lovely. Its terrace in the back of the house, famously featured in Lost in Austen, is as romantic and gorgeous.

To make the visit interesting, we discovered its royal connection. Harewood became home to Princess Mary, QEII’s aunt, after she married Viscount Lascelles. The Chinese wall paper in Princess Mary’s former bedroom is beautiful, also her collection of Asian porcelains and figurines. Current Dowager countess lives upstairs of the house, her son, current and 8th Earl, and his wife however do not live in the house. According to a staff member, the Earl joked that it is too difficult to carry grocery up the stairs at the house. There are family photos including those with William and Kate in one stateroom. While having tea on the terrace, I thought I saw the Earl at another table having what seemed a business meeting with a couple.

Harewood is also where on its hall you’d find a life sized portrait of Lady Worsley, befitting to the character and scandal.

 

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London Diary – Summer in Cold Climate

Aug 9, 2016

Summer this year has been vastly different from other places I had lived. Except a few days in the 80s and one day in the low 90s, London has been breezy and a cool 70 on average. Things otherwise have been bustling, lots coming and going. Among others, we’ve vacationed in June in the north to west Yorkshire and Lake District, more on that later, my sister and one of my nieces visited, and my son finally finished his summer schools and made his way to London more than a week ago.

With him we’ve gone to Paris last week, via Eurostar through the Channels, an easy train ride under 2.5 hours from London’s St Pancras to Paris’ Gare de Nord, and unexpectedly only about .5 hour in the Channel.

They say 3 times is a charm, it was true, albeit a few hiccups. Staying, and being in Latin Quarter for the first time, we were close to many interesting spots, on the next block to Pantheon, Church of Saint Etienne du Mont and Saborne University, minutes to Luxembourg Garden, Church of Saint Sulpice, Church of Saint Severin, River Seine, Notre Dame, and although further St Invalide and Eiffel Tower are also within walking distance. A block away, the old, narrow streets in Latin Quarter around Rue de la Huchette are bustling with touristy souvenir shops and restaurants where you easily find variety of options for meals. Just west of Latin Quarter is a quieter neighborhood St Germain des Pres, where you find interesting boutique shops. I’ve got jewelry and accessory in mind and quickly fell in love with the chic and elegant French design. I see future shopping trips coming up :o)

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I found myself comparing ‘Pari’ with London. Roads in Paris are wider in general and there are a great number of broad boulevards throughout the city. There even greater number of grand buildings gracing well planned and neatly organized city blocks, which appeal to the methodical side of my brain.  I especially enjoyed the river front, lined with beautiful buildings, decorated by bridges and monuments, it is picturesque and lovely. To name a few, check out Pont de Invalides, its golden statues and the lofty esplanade leading up to Les Invalides with its tremendous golden dome. The area around Pont de la Concorde is another vast, open promenade where the vista stretches from National assembly on the south of the river, Place de la Concorde on the north to a beautiful Greek temple north east of the square.

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It took this one more visit to fully appreciate the clever line up of these attractions, The Louvre, Jardin Tuileries, Place de Concorde, (where dominating its center is an obelisk which I learnt to be called Cleopatra’s Needle by some), Champs Elysees, Arch of Triumph that is the center of a star shaped block and Grande Arche in La Defense that is a resplendent modern district far west of the river.

Another highlight is Basilica of Sacred Heart on the hill of Montmartre. It is a stunning building and site with great panoramic views of London. Greater views await if you climb the 300 steps to its soaring dome. After a visit to the basilica, go to the market nearby, grab a meal or have a portrait or caricature made by one of the many artists there, about 30 minutes and €20 each person.

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Previously I had traveled mostly by Metro, but I enjoyed it much better going around in buses this time. We bought packs of 10 single ticket that works for both the metro and bus. Many people went around on bikes. You find these bikes conveniently located throughout the neighborhoods and you rent them with a credit card from the machines. So we gave that a try. Weather was fine mostly, at mid-80s, it was hot in the sun. I got my wish, I liked the feel of the summer sun burning on my skin, but interestingly I was also quite relieved when I returned to cooler and breezy London.

Overall, it was the most enjoyable of the three visits. But I can’t pretend that all was the same. There were a few incidents.

#1, At Notre Dame, first time we went on Aug 3rd, it was cordoned off by a number of police and machine gun toting soldiers. Few minutes later, a loud bang shot through the air. My husband’s theory, police blew up a suspicious package. We could not find any report about it on internet.

#2, At Eiffel Tower. After going through security to enter the fenced area, waiting in long line for tickets and going through security a second time before entering the elevator to go up, we got to the second level where the views are rewarding. More waiting however at second level to get up to the summit, an hour later we were finally close to getting our turn with only a dozen or so people before us, when the line suddenly stopped moving and people in front of us were turning around instead. Puzzled, we gathered from other tourists that the elevators to go up had been stopped due to ‘security reason’. A staff member subsequently came over and in raw English told tourists to get down to the ground. Momentary chaos ensued and tourists thronged around the elevator to go down. Announcement was made minutes later in multiple languages that the tower is closed due to security concern and tourists were directed to use the stairs instead. Once on the ground, everyone had to queue up again to have their bags checked before being allowed to exit. We later found out from a couple on the bus that there was another similar evacuation earlier that day.

#3, Pick pockets. I had read about it on the paper before. This time we were given warnings at least three times, by a French man we talked to on a bus, concierge at the hotel and another French man we talked to at the bike stop. As if to illustrate their points, I had a close encounter with a thief on the Metro train. Luckily, I unknowingly foiled his plot and although my small shoulder bag, which I usually wear in front of me, was unzipped, nothing was removed from it.

It is unfortunate that bad things happened. But I am glad to see tourism in Paris thriving as ever. Don’t hold yourself back. But being mindful and prepared helps.

A tip about shopping. Most shops close on Sundays, including big department stores such as Printemps and Gallery Lafayette. Many stores on Champs Elysees open on Sundays but some don’t. 4 Temps, a shopping mall at La Defense, and La Valle, an outlet shopping mall south east of Paris, each 45 to 60 minutes away from central Paris, do however remain open.

London Diary – Henley Regatta

Jun 29, 2016

Henley Regatta is one of top events in the scheme of rowing competition, held annually at the picturesque village Henley on Thames. This year it runs from Wed to Sat this week when teams from the world, including many teams from US, Harvard, Yale, Columbia to name a few, row against each other. It is an exciting sport all right. But it is the social aspect of it that makes it a very English experience.

As it was demonstrated by the daylong program yesterday, which was the first day of event, the Brits surely knows how to live the high life. Watching from one of the river front boxes at Phillis Court, a private club right at the end of the race, guests were treated to noshes and continuous flow of spirits, coffee, tea and Danish pastries for breakfast, champagne and bar snack not long after, Pimm’s (one of those things with a firm British mark on it) heralding lunch, 3 course lunch served in a separate dining room with plenty of wine, then more tea, coffee or champagne continued in the river front box.

There was watching of the sport of course, but it seemed that for most guests, of our group anyway, there was more social going on, along with the people watching. The hats were fabulous and you might have guessed that there is a strict dress code for the club, skirts only for ladies and they have to be just sitting on the knees or below, not an inch higher or you’d be turned out. Gentlemen have to wear suits or blazers/sport jackets with chinos and ties/cravats. All was part of the fascinating experience.

Only thing I would have like to change was the weather, it was so cold few could stay out for long, not what you would hope for a summer day, is it. Anna from Rusia who has lived in England for more than 16 years said there is no summer in England, that one weekend in May was probably all the summer we’d get for the year. If she was correct then English summer had finished before it even started. In any case, it is not going to stop the fun is it.

P.S. I tried Pimm’s first time yesterday, it is a delightful sweet and fruity drink. It is made by mixing Pimm’s into lemonade and flavored and garnished with fruits. Although Pims’s is heavy at 25%, the mixed drink tasted however very light and I figured there can’t be too much Pimm’s in it right. But I was warned. The English likes their Pimm’s, one said, it is more likely there is more Pimm’s in there than it tastes.

 

London Diary –Spring Fun!

May 12, 2016

Having survived the winter season, I’ve never been as appreciative of spring as I am now. Spring has done a beautiful job making over London, putting it at its best since I moved here.

Although a bit more rain, but few stays around for long. In the meantime, there is much more sunshine to be had.

There is lots green everywhere, all trees are now fully clad and lawns stay green. I used to be able to see the entire football/soccer field from my kitchen window bot not at the moment.

Profusion of colors show up here and there. To name a few in my neighborhood, blue bells came and gone, so were tulips, magnolias, and cherry and pear blossom. At every rain, flower petals blanket the neighborhood streets. As of today, Horse Chestnut trees that line the main street are full with its pretty flowers alternating between whitish pink and deeply pink. And Hawthorns drape with clusters of little flowers.

Thank you spring!

May 12, 2016

CAWC’s annual May Tea Party was a great fun. It is English high tea and competition on table decoration in one. Look at the gorgeous tables created by some very creative ladies. Table Re-Love and in the Pink was the winner this year, created by Sara who also won last year. As a result she got to take the trophy crown back home.

 

May 15, 2016

Today we walked with the Bronte London group in City of London, following Charlotte’s footsteps. Charlotte Visited London 5/6 times. We started from Monument and finished at London Bridge by Thames. Interesting walk. A few were places I had visited  before, St Paul, and Temple Bar, but many I visited the first time, Monument, London Bridge, Guildhall, Mansion House, Bank of England, and Royal Exchange.

 

May 17, 2016

Book Bunch Lunch at Sara’s lovely home, she is English but nice Iranian food she can cook. What a treat!

 

Jun 2, 2016

Do as the Romans when in Rome. Donning a hat the British fashion first time ever at lunch and fashion show of London Seasons at Hurlingham Club. It was great fun!

 

London Diary – Magna Carta Memorial and More

May 28, 2016

Plan for Memorial Day weekend: day trips near London.

Day One: Egnham, 30 minutes south west of London

This day visiting Runnymede was nothing short of inspiration. These are the highlights.

Runnymede, an estate by the river Thames in Eghnam, has been home to multiple memorials. Most evocative among them is the Magna Carta Memorial. For it is the site where Magna Carta was sealed 800 years ago on June 15, 1215; seeds for ideals such as democracy and equal rights and fundamental principle for juror trials were planted, thus Britain’s immeasurable contribution to civilization and humanity. On site are also JFK Memorial and Air force Memorial, from the top of which you get a sweeping view of the area extending as far as Windsor Castle.

Royal Holloway was founded by Thomas Holloway as an all-women’s college and opened by Queen Victoria and is now part of University of London. Its crowning jewel is a grand, magnificent, stunningly beautiful building from its opening days.

Having lunch at Runnymede Hotel, which is situated at a lock on the river, watching pleasure and house boats queuing up to go through the lock and kids playing on the hotel lawn, walking along the river, checking out the houses and seeing people having picnic by the river was also great fun.

Dinner at Cafe Gondola, an Italian restaurant in Eghnam Town center, was superb.

 

May 29, 2016

Day 2: Cliveden House, 40 minutes west of London.

The house is grand and beautiful. It is now a hotel run by National Trust. It is open to public and offers a 30 minute guided tour, but only from spring to summer and two days a week. One of the few rooms included in the tour is The Great Hall. It is stunningly beautiful with intricate wood carving. Photos are not allowed in there, which is understandable. Today, it was filled with guests.  It is a short tour but very interesting. As former home to dukes, earls, viscounts, and one Prince of Wales, and then American millionaire, its history, 350 years long, is intriguing and scandalous. The ground and gardens are tremendous and wonderful.  Being a bank holiday weekend with beautiful weather, there were many visitors having picnic throughout the ground. Winter garden, parterre, long garden are all great. And you won’t miss the breathtaking Fountain of Love. The estate is right on the river Thames, it is a short walk to the river from the house where you can do boat tour, hire a boat to row yourself or just stroll along.

 

 

On the way home, we stopped at Windsor for dinner. Look what we found at the boat dock. Ever seen so many swans?

 

May 30, 2016

Memorial Day weekend day trip #3.

Henley on Thames, 40 minutes west of London, is a lovely little town famous for its annual Royal Regatta. Henley Bridge is a handsome feature. Close by is Church of St Mary, beautiful and steep in history. Town center is several blocks around with pretty cottages and nice buildings. The hub of activity that day seemed to be along the river front, between the bridge and River and Rowing museum, some boats cruising, a few kayaks, many ducks and swans bobbing, kids playing on a vast lawn and a large group of Indians doing barbeques at an adjoining  picnic area.  I had heard good things about restaurants in Henley, and The Angel on the Bridge did not disappoint, the slow roast pork belly with potatoes and red cabbage that I had was exceptionally good, the sauce for the potato was divine.

 

London Diary –Spring into Summer! (2)

Yippee hooray the sun came out, and the sky was a concert of blue patches and myriad of white puffs. I could hear children running and shouting on the soccer field. That was in the early morning. Things changed a bit later in the day.

But no matter. Spurred by the success of yesterday, I was eager for more lovely spring outing exploring London.

Walk London Spring into Summer continues with day 2. We are doing Twin Peak of Capital Ring, a section of Capital Ring between Greenford and Harrow on the Hill. After lunch at Black Horse, a pub by the Paddington Canal near Greenford station, we met up with the group which was about 60 people this time, twice as big as yesterday. Our guide were Marlene and David, who are both small in size and appeared to be septuagenarian. Marlene was the lead and goodness gracious, she was strong and as sprightly as can be, setting a brisk pace the entire way. Long walk and two steep climbs later, she was as fresh as when we first started, and we actually finished almost 30 minutes earlier, 4.5 miles in 2.5 hours.

We started at the head of the line but it proved to be difficult to stop to take photos and enjoy the moment and still keep up with the place in the line. I decided to forget about that. What good it is if you can’t stop and enjoy it along the way :o) The whole thing was a bit too hurry to my taste but we managed. After this however, I need a whole week to rest up :o) On the other hand it was worthy every bit of the effort.

In fact, I think today’s route surpasses yesterday’s, we saw delightful green space, interesting locales, and reached hill tops with stunning views.

Leaving Greenford Tube station, we took up Greenford Road by McDonald at Westway shopping center, and quickly entered a nature preserve, where we were surrounded by verdant green, butter cups, cow parsleys and lots of hawthorns.

In a little while, we found ourselves by the canal. We followed Padding Canal for about 20 minutes before changing direction and starting the climb up to Horsenden Hill, which is the highest point in Ealing. The path to the hill top was lovely with profusion of cow parsley lining and enlivening the way. The view of west London once atop the hill was absolutely rewarding and refreshing. You can also see the spire of a church north west of the hill. That spire in the distance is Harrow on the Hill, our next stop.

Harrow on the Hill seemed far from Horsenden Hill, and it was. First, we went through a tract of woods, which is so dense, deeply green and jungle like that it seems out of character, not what I expected to see in London. Once out of the woods, we were back to town and civilization.

After a bathroom break at Sudbury Hill Tube station, we zigzagged our way through residential neighborhoods, passing rows after rows of terrace houses, a small number of which had gardens in the front. I like the brick houses here, they are on average characteristic and handsome, but I’d much prefer them to be detached houses, single family home set in a decent size yard, with nice lawn and garden, which of course is a handful minority in a crowded city like London.

It had been an upward climb for about an hour by now and I started to feel the weight on my body and the reluctance of my legs, then the scene turned interesting. Elegant houses and eventually, the beautiful buildings of Harrow School loom ahead. A boy’s boarding school founded in the 16th century, Harrow School is one of most expensive private schools in UK at more than £12000 per term. Its impressive list of alumni include Lord Byron and Winston Churchill.

On top of the hill, a few steps from Harrow School is the grand church of St Mary and its soaring spire, which we saw from Horsenden Hill. Next to a stone tablet with inscription of Byron’s written words is a look out with stunning view of west London. Walk London Spring into Summer ended with a pretty high note.

 

London Diary –Spring into Summer! (1)

May 21, 2016

London is as wonderful as the rest of the country in cultivating and keeping up its network of foot paths. Moreover, Transport for London sponsors free guided walks three weekends a year, Winter Wander in January, Spring into Summer in May and Autumn Amble in October. See the following link for details and sign up: http://www.walklondon.org.uk/

Having missed Winter Wander in Jan due to a bad cold, I was very happy when the invitation for Spring into Summer came, which falls on this very weekend. The number and variety of walks available are impressive and all seem interesting to me. At the end I settled on a couple of them, High Barnett to Cockfoster for Saturday and Twin Peaks of the Capital Ring for Sunday.

The weather had been sunny most of the week, but it had to turn cloudy this morning, typical London weather for you. Despite that and the sprinkle during the walk, it turned out a great experience.

High Barnett to Cockfoster are two areas far north of London and took 90 and 60 minutes for us to travel to and from respectively. Once the Tube is out of central London, it is out of the underground tunnels and as it gets even further out, you can see large parking lots attached to the stops, the park and ride system for long distance commuters.

Looking for lunch before the walk, we ended up at Red Lion, a pub on High Street of High Barnett. Interestingly, it serves buffet. There is a Carvery where a chef serves by slicing off the roast of your choice, which can be any combination of pork, beef, gammon (ham) and turkey. Next to Carvery station are side dishes, gravy and sauces that you help yourselves to. On top of all that, there is the Yorkshire Pudding which the chef simply calls “Yorkshire” and serves you one only if you want it. Side dishes are stuffing, peas, green bean, red cabbage, carrots, mash potatoes, fried/roasted potatoes and roasted squash.

After some waffling, I decide to try. I chose beef and gammon, which were surprisingly good. Green beans and red cabbage were average but I loved the roasted squash. All those packed in this traditional, hearty English meal and came with a surprisingly low price tag of about £6.50. For another £1.50, you can switch up to a “King” size, I guess you get more meat with that. Interestingly many there were elderly customers. Among the younger customers, a few got their plates piled up quite high.

After lunch, we met up with a group of about 30 walkers at High Barnett Tube station, our guide Paul, and his wife cum assistant of the walk, Jeanette, who was from the French Alps. With a brief introduction, Paul commenced the “walk and talk”. It was a nice route to walk and Paul’s “talk” made it more interesting.

A quick walk through a residential area, we arrived at the first stop, one of those wooden gates that locals call kissing gate. It marks the entering of a natural area, and Paul took advantage of the opportunity to make a friendly banter, aiming at the young couple who were newly engaged, a white women and a black man.

It took a little climb to reach the hill top of Hadley Manor Field, once there though, you get a nice view. The field is also known as the field where Battle of Barnett took place. Across the field is Haley Green. After passing another kissing gate, this time, existing the natural area, we arrived at Monken Hadley, which is a pretty Georgian village with connection to Anthony Trollope and David Livingston, and home to many footballers.

Have you seen the movie Lady in the Van? I saw it on one of my long international flights. Guess what/who I ran into? Sitting on curb of the street between Alms House and village church was this interesting, albeit peculiar, van, across the street from it was a large elegant house in its high brick wall and wrought iron gate. Interesting van and interesting spot for it to park.

Hadley Common is on the outskirt of the village, at the end there is a little stone bridge and a vast fishing pond hidden in the wood. The walk ended shortly after that and near Cockfoster Road and Trent Park.

It was a great time exploring this part of London. Paul set a good pace and Jeanette was in the back making sure no one was left behind. Along the way, there was verdant green around, lots pretty little wild flowers and a variety of flowering trees bursting with colors, abundant of Hawthorns and Horse Chestnut trees in particular, plus a few California Lilac, Gorse, and many others that I could not name.

At the end of the walk was The Cock Inn, a nice pub where we took a nice break, hot tea with sticky toffee pudding for me, beer and sweet potato fried for my hubby. Happy ending to a great walk.

 

London Diary – Isle of Wight Over the May Bank Holiday

May 9, 2016

I don’t seem to be able to stay away from England’s beautiful coast for too long, and this time we were heading to Isle of Wight, an island in the Channel, and England’s largest. The island, bigger than I had expected, is beautiful, rich in its history and diverse in both natural landscape and its villages and towns. With fine weather most of our stay, it made a lovely spring holiday.

First of all, one easy option of getting there is by ferry from Hamshire, Lymington to Yarmouth, Portsmouth to Fishbourne or Southampton to Ryde. I decided to take one route to and a different from, maximizing the “ground” to cover.

On the outbound, we did Lymington, to Yarmouth. The drive from London is longer but it is the shortest ferry ride to Isle of Wight, at no more than 30 minutes, and probably the most scenic. While Lymington was relatively quiet with no more than ferry passengers about, Yarmouth was a bustling hub of coming and going from all directions. The view along the way is picturesque. From the comfortable passenger lounge on the ferry boat or from the deck, you can watch sail boats bobbing about the blue water, Hurst Castle – a mammoth of a structure and its soaring lighthouse – slide by west of the ferry, or yellow fields of Rapeseed zoom in from the island.

Leaving the island, we traveled from Fishbourne to Portsmouth. Fishbourne is a quiet little village and the ferry port is tugged in a residential neighborhood; interestingly the ferry boat was a larger one. The scenery is more interesting as Portsmouth’s cityscape becomes visible.

Keep in mind some hotels can help arrange the ferry ride at a discounted price.

 

Shanklin is a village on the east coast of the island. The Clifton is one in the row of B&B on Shanklin Esplanade, a cliff top area in the village with stunning view of the sea, beach, village and the White Cliff at Culvert Down, and where we stayed. From there, it is a short walk to Shanklin Chine and Heritage Center and the beach which continues onto Sandown with the long row of piers, beach front hotels, restaurants, shops, mini golfs and other amusement.

 

Some favorite part of the holiday was a couple of walks we did. First was from Tennyson Down to The needles in the south west corner of the island. The drive traversing the south coast to get to the starting point from our hotel goes through many spectacular view points and villages, including Cowleaze and Ventnor. From the parking, it is a short walk to Tennyson Monument on the cliff top. The path continues on the cliff top until it reaches The Needles. There are beautiful panoramic views along the way, and lots Gorse, Blue Bells and Plum Blossom to go along. At the tip of the cliff is an old battery currently run as a museum by National Trust. The Tea Room is a cozy little place with stunning view of the three group of rocks called the needles, and famous Old Harry’s Rock, located on the Jurassic Coast off the main land, could be seen from there on clear days.

 

The other circular walk is around St Catherine’s Down, southernmost point of the island. Under the brilliant sun and clear sky, there was spectacular views to behold as far as The Needles. The best is from the top of Gore Cliff above the parking lot, looking down to the village, St Catherine’s Lighthouse, Knowles Farm and the sea. The second half of the route is a hilly climb, but the view at the cliff top is rewarding, with some nice floral to see along the way.

See the following links for details of the walking routes: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lists/walking-on-the-isle-of-wight

 

Isle of Wight has been a vacation destination since the Victorian era, Queen Victoria herself had a summer house, Osborne House, in the village Cowes, north of the island, which is currently an English Heritage property.

The Italian garden is stunning, the house palatial and the estate ground vast. Interestingly the queen wrote in her diary that she was happy to have such a “snug” place to be with her family. The Council Room and Drawing Room are breathtakingly beautiful. Mirrors are cleverly used in the drawing room, creating an “infinite chandelier” effect that some staff on duty might point out to you if you strike up a conversation with him or her. Like nothing else in the house, the Banquet Room is completely decked out in intricate Indian style plaster.

A grassy path through the woods take you in five minutes to an extensive private beach where there is a neat alcove with a bench built for the queen and on display also is the queen’s bathing “machine”.

Don’t miss Swiss Cottage. I was pleasantly surprised by the fascinating story behind it. A brainchild of Prince Albert, the royal children, four princes and five princesses, played and learnt at the cottage ordinary household skills, literally by getting their hands dirty, washing, cutting and cooking in a fully functioning kitchen, where everything was made to 2/3 of the size of regular ware. The princesses also learnt how to set dining table. In addition, they each had a plot in garden where they planted flowers and grew vegetables, which were then used in their cooking. All those plots are still there, one next to another forming a neat line, and currently managed by one gardener. What a remarkable idea by Prince Albert, no experiment like that has been known again.

 

A few other points of interest are: Godshill Village, Carisbrooke Castle, Carisbrooke Priory and a drive up to the top of Culver Down for spectacular views, to the west, Sandown and Shanklin and to the north, across the island all the way to Portsmouth.