Day 1. Walking through Central London

This morning I took a Virgin East Coast train to London arriving into Kings Cross at 1.00 pm, from here I hopped on the Piccadilly Line for the short journey to Piccadilly Circus where I’d arranged to meet my older son in the Virgin Lounge.  I was first to arrive which gave me a few minutes to take a look at a black and white photo exhibition / fundraising event of street children in Kolkata that was taking place.

Guardsman outside St James’s Palace
After meeting up and sipping coffees we strolled along Piccadilly, passing the Royal Academy and glancing in the elaborate Piccadilly and Burlington arcades which are filled with small designer shops featuring low mullioned windows.  Moving on, we turned left onto St James’s Street then onto Pall Mall so that we could view the guards outside St. James’s Palace which is located just off The Mall on Marlborough Road.  Here you will find two guardsmen and you can watch them marching between their sentry boxes.   It’s an ideal location to take photographs as very few people seem to know about guards being here even though it’s just around the corner from Buckingham Palace.  It’s nice to visit both palaces but here you can enjoy the courtyard to yourselves and take snapshots without anyone in the way.   If you look at the guardsman’s bearskin hat you will notice a coloured feather on the side – this identifies the regiment, I believe these are Irish Guards.

Victoria Memorial, The Mall
Continuing along The Mall,  we wondered why cars were being allowed to park there this afternoon,  so being curious we asked a policeman who told us that the Queen was hosting an afternoon garden party and invited guests were permitted to park along the road.    Walking towards the palace, a few minutes later, police stopped the traffic and we saw Prince Charles and Camilla being driven through the palace gates.  It happened so quickly that unfortunately  I didn’t have time to take a photo of them!   Many guests were arriving for the garden party, some men wearing morning suits and top hats whilst ladies tottered on high heels sporting hats of every style.

I did take a few photos outside Buckingham Palace and of the Victoria Memorial with its gilded  ‘Winged Victory’ standing on top of the central pylon and glistening in the hazy sunshine.

St James’s Park Lake
Our afternoon stroll then took us through the adjacent St. James’s  Park – one of my favourite Royal parks, where we spotted some pelicans and herons by the water which was a good opportunity to practise using the zoom feature of my new camera.  Standing on the park’s Blue Bridge there are some spectacular views across St. James’s lake to Buckingham Palace and of the London Eye looking the other way.

Pelicans in St. James’s Park
Leaving the park, we strolled along Birdcage Walk, so called because James 1 set up an aviary in St James’s Park in the 17th century.  On our way to Westminster underground station we  passed the Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament) with its iconic Elizabeth Tower clock, widely known as Big Ben after its main bell.  This has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987.  (See feature image above).

Heron, St. James’s Park
It was then time to check in to our hotel over in Docklands so we travelled there by Jubilee Line and the Docklands Light Railway (DLR).  After a short rest we headed out to Canary Wharf for dinner and a little walk around before returning to our hotel for the night.


Day 2. The Woolwich Foot Tunnel and more

Part One

This morning we took the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) to Woolwich Arsenal where we enjoyed breakfast in the ‘Great Harry’ pub which was in the main square.  Woolwich is a historic naval and military town situated three miles to the east of Greenwich. Leaving the pub we walked towards the river passing the historic site of the Royal Artillery, at one time the world’s largest manufacturer of guns and explosives, employing over 70,000 people at the outbreak of the First World War.  Nowadays a small part of the building is a museum Firepower – The Royal Artillery Museum.  The Military Academy was also based in Woolwich but since its move to Sandhurst the area has suffered severe hardship and decline, most noticeable on its high street.  There are now signs of regeneration as smart riverside apartment blocks are being built to coincide with the new Crossrail (Elizabeth Line) station which will cut journey times, speeding passengers across the capital in minutes from 2018.

Entrance to Woolwich Foot Tunnel
Walking along this section of the Thames Path we could see the free Woolwich Ferry which transports vehicles and foot passengers across the river.  Near the ferry lies the Woolwich Foot Tunnel, one of only two pedestrian tunnels beneath the Thames.  The tunnel features a Grade 2 Listed entrance at both sides.

Walking through Woolwich Foot Tunnel
The refurbished lifts are spacious,  retaining elegant wood panelling having ample room for several bicycles.  On reaching the other side, (North Woolwich) we continued along to the nearest DLR station (King Gerorge V) travelling along to its terminus at Bank, taking 25 minutes.

It was then time for a coffee near Monument followed by a short walk to the delightful Leadenhall Market. (See feature photo above).  Located on Gracechurch Street in the City of London this Victorian covered market is a hidden gem.  A market since the 14th century it has an old fashioned butchers, cheesemonger, fruit and vegetable stalls as well as some inviting delis, bars and cafes.  It’s open 10.00 am until 6.00 pm Monday to Friday and we really like it.

The Royal Exchange
Our next stop was to the nearby Royal Exchange, this magnificent building was founded in the 16th century as a centre of commerce, being occupied by the Lloyds Insurance Market for almost 150 years.  Today it contains offices, luxury shops and restaurants, making a delightful lunch venue.

I’ve split today’s activities into two posts, part 2 follows.

Day 2. Financial and Legal London

Part Two

After our lunch break at the Royal Exchange we only had a few steps to walk to the next place on our itinerary – the Bank of England Museum.  It’s a little known museum with free entry and is only open Monday to Friday from 10.00 am to 5.00 pm.  The Bank of England, affectionately referred to as ‘The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street’ where it has its main door, invites visitors into its museum via its Bartholomew Lane entrance.  On entering the foyer there was airline type security but this didn’t take long as the museum was very quiet.  We were then handed two booklets entitled  ‘Your Money and the Financial System’ and  ‘Your Money – What the Bank Does’ both of which we have found very interesting.

Setting  Monetary Policy Gallery
It was our first visit here and we found the exhibits fascinating.  There’s something for everyone from interactive displays for children to several interesting galleries.

Visitors can feel how heavy a gold bar is
These focused on: Navigating financial storms, the History of the Bank since it was founded n 1694 and the Modern Economy 1946 to present.  In the Banknote Gallery we could inspect the new £5 polymer banknote which will come into circulation in the autumn.  Some exhibits are displayed in the beautiful Rotunda which is surrounded by statues called caryatids which were original features of the bank.  There is also a small gift shop where you can buy ‘coin’ key rings and other souvenirs.

Relaxing on the Lawns of the Inner Temple
After gaining some economic knowledge it was off to visit the legal world at the Inner Temple.  To get there we boarded a bus to Blackfriars and walked along the Embankment to the splendid entranceway (see feature image above).  The Inner Temple is one of four Inns of Court which are incorporated associations and have been in existence since the 14th century.  The role of the Inner Temple is to recruit student members, train aspiring barristers and provide continuing professional development for established barristers.  The Inn has over 8,000 qualified members including judges, members and pupils.

Wisteria with Barristers’ Chambers
If you haven’t visited before you will be surprised at the size of the estate – small leafy courtyards and cobbled lanes filled with barristers’ chambers. You can visit the 12th century Temple Church originally the home of the Knights Templar – it’s full of medieval effigies and stone heads along with the peaceful Inner Temple Garden.  The garden is open to the public between 12.30 and 3.00 pm weekdays and entrance is via the main gates opposite Crown Office Row.  The Inner Temple Garden covers three acres and has many specimen trees and wide herbaceous borders which were full of colour.  Interestingly, we noted that the garden would be holding a Chelsea Flower Show ‘Fringe Event’ of posy making – which sounded fun!  If you find yourself walking along the Embankment one afternoon, do pop in for a wander round and a few minutes of peace and quiet away from the hustle and bustle of central London – I’m sure you’ll like it and with the exception of the Temple Church, it’s completely free!

Piccadilly Circus
Leaving the garden, we strolled along the Embankment a short distance to Temple underground station and enjoyed afternoon tea on Piccadilly before looking round Liberty’s which is always a delight.  The store is so inviting with its timber framed Tudor inspired building, it’s on Great Marlborough Street with a rear door leading onto the once trendy pedestrianised Carnaby Street.

The Royal Barge, Gloriana
Feeling hungry we headed along the Jubilee Line to London Bridge for dinner near the Tower of London then had a short stroll around the nearby St. Katharine’s Dock where we noticed the Royal Barge, ‘Gloriana’.  The Royal Barge was commissioned for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and was the lead vessel in the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant.  Sometimes the barge is moored at Richmond as we have noticed it there, too.

The end of another interesting day in London!




Day 3. Out and About in London

We started the day with a cooked breakfast near Tower Bridge followed by a walk along the south bank of the Thames Path as far as London Bridge, taking a few minutes to walk round the attractive Hay’s Galleria.  Originally a warehouse and enclosed dock this listed building was converted in the 1980’s to offices, shops and cafes.

Hays Galleria, South Bank
Taking the Underground from London Bridge we travelled to Notting Hill Gate station for a Saturday morning wander along Portobello Road.  Before continuing to the market we paused for coffee on Notting Hill’s high street on the edge of Hyde Park.  Continuing towards the market,  it’s very crowded here at weekends with food stalls, antique and vintage clothes shops.  Houses are painted in attractive pastel shades and street entertainers are to be found on every corner playing saxophones, singing or even juggling.  Noticing a blue plaque we read that George Orwell was once a resident here.  Westbourne Grove crosses Portobello Road and along here are some upscale small shops and bars.

Portobello Road Market
Having had enough of the hustle and bustle of the market we took the Tube from nearby Ladbroke Grove to Belsize Park as we wished to take a walk on Hampstead Heath.  Leaving the underground station we walked up Haverstock Hill into Hampstead which is a prosperous village with a refined air.  It’s signposted to the Heath from here (taking about 10 minutes to walk from the Tube station).

View from the top of Parliament Hill, Hampstead Heath
Hampstead Heath is a large, hilly expanse of heathland with a lake in one corner.  It has a famous open air lido with mens, ladies and mixed ponds.  We climbed to the top of Parliament Hill where, on a clear day, the Houses of Parliament can be seen.  It was quite dull this morning so it wasn’t possible to pick out some of the famous city landmarks.   We walked down the hill leaving the park at the Parliament Fields gate from where we caught a bus to Piccadilly for a light lunch in Haymarket.

After enjoying our snack and a little rest we headed off to Sloane Square – one of my favourite London shopping districts.  We walked along the King’s Road then decided it was time for tea and cakes in Peter Jones.  We both selected slices of the chocolate, liquorice and blackberry gateau – a combination neither of us had sampled before but it tasted delicious so I’ll have to look out for it again.

Crossrail Place, Canary Wharf
Canary Wharf was our final place to visit today, we walked over to West India Dock to visit Crossrail Place.  This will be the new Crossrail station from 2018 and has been partially open since May 2015.  The futuristic building, pictured above was designed by Sir Norman Foster.

Roof Garden, Crossrail Place
We took the lift to the upper level so that we could visit the Roof Garden which is open daily during daylight hours.   With its self watering roof,  the garden reflects the area’s heritage as a trading centre, with many of the plants being native to the countries visited by the ships of the West India Dock Company who unloaded their cargo on the site of this new station.

The garden is planted in an east / west arrangement.  Asian plants such as bamboo are in the eastern section of the garden whilst plants such as ferns from the America’s are planted in the west.  Narrow, winding pathways and attractive wooden teak benches create a rainforest atmosphere – it really is a haven of tranquility yet steps away from the hectic life of the adjoining financial centre.

Leaving the garden we walked along to the nearby East India Dock where we enjoyed dinner in the ‘Ledger Building’ pub overlooking the dock.

Canary Wharf Underground Station sign

Day 4. London’s Docklands

Checking out of our hotel near London City Airport we headed to Greenwich where we enjoyed a hearty breakfast in the Gate Clock pub.  Around the corner from here is the 19th century Cutty Sark, the world’s only surviving tea clipper.

Cutty Sark
The sailing ship has been raised over three metres so that visitors can walk beneath the vessel to admire its hull.  Our idea was to take a walk through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, one of only two foot tunnels under the Thames in London (on Day 2 we walked through the Woolwich Foot Tunnel)

Entrance to Greenwich Foot Tunnel
The foot tunnel entrance is just beside the Cutty Sark and it’s interesting to take a ride down the large wood panelled lift and walk through the tunnel from the Royal Borough of Greenwich at one side to Island Gardens on the Isle of Dogs (Tower Hamlets) across the water.  From this side of the river one can admire fine views of Maritime Greenwich.

Maritime Greenwich

Several rowing crews were out practising so we paused to watch them awhile before continuing our Sunday morning walk heading north west through Millwall Park to the dock basin, passing Mudchute DLR station on the way.  Arriving at Millwall inner dock we passed a sailing school and watched some children dinghy sailing awhile.  It’s so good to find sailing clubs so close to the huge financial and business hub of Canary Wharf.

Millwall Inner Dock
Continuing, my son noticed a large naval vessel moored in the South Dock so we wandered over to take a look.  We soon discovered that HMS Duncan, a type 45 destroyer was in port for the weekend and open to view.   Few people seemed aware of this and after passing through security screening we were soon climbing on board this modern naval vessel which was only handed over to the fleet in 2011.

HMS Duncan
We were able to tour large parts of the ship starting on the deck where a Navy Wildcat helicopter was positioned.  We viewed some cabins which looked particularly spacious having much better living conditions for the crew than older ships. HMS Duncan has a crew of 190 but can accommodate a further 50 if needed.  Next we saw the Officers Mess, and in the Operations Room we were invited to sit and view the shipping charts.  It really was an unexpected treat to take a tour of the ship and back on land the Southend Sea Cadets had a welcoming fundraising stall selling cakes and drinks.

Operations Room, HMS Duncan
A few minutes later we arrived at Canary Wharf where we visited the Museum of London Docklands located in a converted dockside warehouse at West India Quay.  This is another of London’s lesser known museums but one we always enjoy visiting.  Admission is free and it’s open daily between 10.00 am and 6.00 pm.

Navy Wildcat Helicopter
This interesting museum contains eight galleries starting with the building of the dock in 1802 demonstrating how the docks and warehouses operated. We then learnt about Trade Expansion – how ships sailed from London to India and China bringing back cargoes of tea, spices and silk.  We walked through a re-created street ‘Sailortown’ and explored the dark alleyways of this impoverished part of the city.

Museum of London Docklands
By 1880 London was the world’s busiest port and until the outbreak of the Second World War the warehouses along the Thames contained almost every commodity, but by the 1960’s the docks declined, finally closing in the 1980’s.

Inside the Museum of London Docklands
The final gallery brought us up-to-date with Europe’s largest regeneration project, transforming Docklands into one of the world’s largest financial and business centres together with the building of the Docklands Light Railway and the extension of the Jubilee Line.

Gallery of Building the Underground in Docklands
If you do get an opportunity to visit I’m sure you will find this museum very enjoyable and interesting.  It was now mid afternoon so we headed off for afternoon tea at John Lewis on Oxford Street.  I’m not a fan of Oxford Street except for visiting John Lewis and Selfridges, but our tea and cakes were very nice.

We ended the day with a walk along the South Bank near Waterloo and just had enough time for our favourite Romana Padana goats cheese and caramelised onion pizzas in a branch of Pizza Express before our late evening trains back home – the end of another lovely, long weekend in London.

If you are looking for more ideas of what to see and do in London you might like to read about my previous weekend visit here.