Day 1.  A late autumn visit to London

A cold morning at home so before leaving the house I donned my winter coat and woollen scarf for my journey to London.  I find long distance train travel relaxing and, once on board, I settled down to reading ‘Mr. Gandy’s Grand Tour’ by Alan Titchmarsh and happily spent the journey with my book, some nibbles and an occasional glance at my phone.

Kings Cross Station Food Market
Arriving into London’s Kings Cross Station at around 1.30 pm the city was bathed in sunshine and a food market was taking place on the outdoor plaza so I wandered around the stalls and treated myself to an Arbroath Smokie canapé which was delicious. Hearing music, I headed in search of it, to find the Irish Guards playing a medley of songs near the Underground station entrance so I sat awhile to enjoy the melodic sounds.   I’ve been to London more times than I can remember but whenever I come I find something new to experience or see – I could never tire of our capital!

Irish Guards at Kings Cross Station
As I wasn’t meeting my son until 4.00 pm, I hopped on the Piccadilly Line and enjoyed a coffee in one of my favourite cafes near Piccadilly Circus before moving on to South Kensington, where we had arranged to meet.  Just outside the Tube station you will find the magnificent buildings housing the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Victoria & Albert (V & A) Museum.  Upon crossing the road, I was surprised to find the winter ice rink in action, complete with Christmas tree despite it being only early Novembet- Christmas festivities seem to start earlier each year!

Ice Rink, Natural History Museum, London
Continuing, I passed the Royal Albert Hall, another architectural gem and a building in which I’ve attended two degree ceremonies as a very proud parent.  If you ever get an opportunity to look inside this magnificent hall or attend a performance here I’m sure you will be stunned by its elegance.   Nearby,  I met my son ready to begin our London long weekend together.   We stopped off for piping hot mugs of hot chocolate and then went back to watch the skating at the Natural History Museum ice rink which looked much prettier than earlier as it had gone dark.

Royal Albert Hall, South Kensington, London
From here, we took the underground to Victoria from where we boarded a main line train the short distance to Clapham Junction where our accommodation for the next three nights was located.  We checked into the Travelodge which is centrally located and a hotel we have stayed at previously.

South Kensington Underground Station Entrance
After a short rest we decided to go out for something to eat,  our original plan had been to take the train to Waterloo (only 8 minutes) and find somewhere along the South Bank, but it had started raining so we decided to eat locally.  A short distance from the station lies Northcote Road, a smart area lined with good quality bars and restaurants.  Clapham Junction and Clapham are, confusingly, two separate places and we find Clapham Junction to be the more stylish and attractive of the two.

After dining, we returned to our hotel and relaxed awhile and discussed our plans for the next day before bedtime.

Day 2.  A walk along the Thames Path 

Leaving our hotel in Clapham Junction we walked the few steps across to the railway station in order to board a service to Putney in south west London, just 10 minutes away.    We then enjoyed a hearty breakfast on the high street before wandering round the shops and making our way towards the river.

Putney, South West London
Strolling along the Thames in the direction of Hammersmith we past several sailing clubs and boat slipways.  The annual university varsity boat race between Oxford and Cambridge starts from here and continues four and a half miles down river passing through Hammersmith and ending in Mortlake.    There were several rowing crews practising on the river as we passed the Wetlands Centre in Barnes and the former Harrods department store depository which has now been redeveloped into luxury riverside apartments.

Hammersmith Bridge, London
Our original plan had been to walk as far as Chiswick but as it started raining heavily, we curtailed our walk in Hammersmith where we crossed the ornate iron bridge and travelled by Underground to Turnham Green.  This small district has a village feel with its green, tree lined avenue and high quality independent shops.  After browsing the high street we continued onto Chiswick High Road, a broad avenue again with high class stores and a district that I’m certain you would enjoy visiting as it’s off the tourist trail but certainly worthy of a look round.

Chiswick Park
Leaving here, we took the Underground to Bank as we had pre arranged tickets to visit the Sky Garden just as the sun was setting at 4.15 pm.  No one can predict the weather and as it was still raining heavily there was to be no beautiful sunset to admire this evening but we still enjoyed our second visit to the Sky Garden, viewing the twinkling lights of the Thames from on high.  If you would also like to visit the Sky Garden you can follow my link for details of directions and how to book a visit.  The Sky Garden closes at 6.00 pm daily so if you wish to experience the sun setting there, I’m afraid it will only be possible during the winter months.

Sky Garden at dusk
From here we wandered along the Thames Embankment onto Tower Bridge.  This iconic landmark is currently closed to vehicular traffic whilst bridge repairs take place, providing us with opportunities to take photographs from the middle of the road without any danger of being run over.

Crossing Tower Bridge traffic free
It was then time for dinner which we ate nearby at The Pommelers Rest, enjoying large plates of fish and chips with glasss of Merlot – perfect comfort food for a dreary November evening.  Later we returned to the hotel feeling content after another enjoyable day in the capital.

Day 3.  Kingston-upon-Thames and a Firework Display

A 20 minute rail journey from Clapham Junction lies the south west London town of Kingston-upon-Thames and our starting point for today. The large town has some attractive Tudor buildings and a small market selling fruit and vegetables takes place in the central market square at weekends.   The town has a good range of shops including the indoor Bentalls shopping mall near the river.

Market Square, Kingston-upon-Thames
After a hearty breakfast and some coffee we headed to the riverside walk for a stroll along this section of the Thames Path. A rowing competition was taking place and crowds had gathered on both the bridge and the riverbank to cheer the crews along. On previous visits, we have walked as far as Richmond but this morning we turned back after awhile and caught a bus to the village of Ham as we wished to visit Ham House, a National Trust property between Kingston-upon-Thames and Richmond.  Built in 1610 for the Earl of Dysart and his daughter the Duchess of Lauderdale, the house faces the river which was the main form of transport from central London to leafy Richmond at that time.  Ham House boasted some ornate piers where guests disembarked from their boats and were then taken along the tree lined avenue to the front entrance.

The Thames at Kingston bridge
Either Bus 65 or 371 will take you near to Ham House in 20 minutes and on alighting the bus it was a pleasant walk along historic tree lined avenues to the impressive 17th century property.  As it’s November not all rooms in the house are open to the public but guided ‘Highlight Tours’ of the building can be taken throughout the day.

Canal, Kingston-upon-Thames
As it was 45 minutes until the next available tour, the guide suggested we wander through the grounds and take a look in the outbuildings and under stairs rooms which can be visited without a guide.    We started off at the Dairy then made our way downstairs to the cellars which were a warren of narrow corridors leading into large rooms off to each side.

Ham House
The kitchen had a magnificent, large mahogany table which was built in situ.  Having a large wooden base, maids used to sleep beneath it so that they could tend the range to keep it lit all night and keep warm themselves.  I hope they remembered they were sleeping beneath the table otherwise they would have banged their heads on rising!   One of the National Trust volunteers was baking a caraway cake to a traditional recipe and suggested we return later for a slice but sadly we didn’t have time to return to try it.

Historic Avenue, Approach to Ham House
More corridors led to sculleries, meat safes and the ale room.  The ale room had a marvellous vaulted ceiling and we were invited to sample a tot of Moroccan Ale which had a spicy taste to it and left us feeling nice and warm.

The Grand Hall and Balcony, Ham House
The final room we visited below stairs was the bathroom, said to be one of the first 17th century bathrooms recorded in this country.  The bathtub was large and circular and was located downstairs as the water was heated in the cellars.  An ante room adjacent to the bathtub contained a day bed where the duchess used to rest following her ablutions.

Gardens of Ham House
A stroll round the gardens followed, sections of garden being designed with Yew hedges providing shelter from the wind.  We came across the medicinal garden filled with herbs and fruit trees and the artistically designed conifer garden.  Soon it was time for our tour of the interior.  Our guide introduced us to artwork by Titan and other renowned artists adorning the wood panelled walls of the grand hallway and staircase.  He then took us into some of the principal rooms and provided useful background information about the lives of the family residing there.

Richmond bridge
On leaving Ham House, we walked the short distance to the river and followed the Thames Path approximately one and a half miles into Richmond-upon-Thames the upmarket neighbour of Kingston.  We passed many runners along the path, some looking very weary and slowly jogging along.  We discovered that the  ‘ Thames Meander ‘ Marathon and Half Marathon was taking place that day and as we approached Richmond we passed a drinks station and distance markers.

Beautiful buildings along the riverside at Richmond-on-Thames
The riverside at Richmond is truly beautiful with its majestic Regency style buildings overlooking the Thames.   After glancing in a few shops, we took a mainline train back to Waterloo taking around 20 minutes.   Remember, that if you are travelling on mainline trains in London you can pay using your Oyster card enabling you to ‘cap out’ for the day making travelling cheaper.

Canary Wharf, London
We then headed on the Jubilee Line to Canary Wharf where we enjoyed an early evening meal in the Ledger Rooms pub. Canary Wharf bustles with activity on weekdays but it’s quite peaceful at weekends.     After a little rest we set off again, this time just taking the Underground one stop to Canada Water as we had tickets for the Annual Fireworks Display in Southwark Park.   As Guy Fawkes (Bonfire Night) 5th November actually falls on a Saturday this year and we knew we would be in London, we arranged tickets online from Southwark Council.  These are free of charge but numbers are limited to 30,000 for safety reasons so barcoded tickets must be scanned at the park gates.

Southwark Firework Display

The event was well organised with a funfair and lots of stalls selling hot food.  There was a chilly north wind blowing but it was a dry evening for the firework display which commenced at 7.00 pm and kept us enthralled for around 20 minutes with a dazzling display of pyrotechnics.   Leaving the park took awhile but we were soon on the Underground heading towards Waterloo and back at our hotel to warm up after a lovely end to our day in London.

Day 4.  Maritime Greenwich and a walk along the South Bank

We woke to clear blue skies and sunshine but needed to wrap up warm on this November morning.   After checking out of our Travelodge, we left our luggage and made our way to Greenwich taking the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) from Canary Wharf.  Please remember if using the DLR that there are no ticket barriers but passengers still need to touch in and out on the yellow pads provided to avoid over charging.

Cutty Sark, Greenwich
Our first stop in Greenwich was for breakfast in the Gate Clock Pub then, after eating, we were ready for a walk passing the Cutty Sark and the magnificent old buildings which form the Old Royal Naval College, designed by Sir Christopher Wren between 1696 and 1712 and used originally as the Royal Hospital for Seamen.  It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the grounds and some of the buildings being open to visitors.

Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich
After strolling along this section of the Thames Path awhile we turned inland and had a little look round the indoor Greenwich Market which is the only historic London market set within a World Heritage area.   The market consists mostly of food stalls, arts, crafts, vintage fashion and bric a brac and is a popular tourist spot becomng extremely crowded at weekends.

Greenwich Market
Leaving Greenwich we headed by Underground to Trafalgar Square and from there we walked to the Embankment, crossed the footbridge over the Thames and enjoyed a stroll along the south bank of the river to the Tate Modern museum of Modern and Contemporary Art located opposite St. Paul’s Cathedral at Bankside.

St. Paul’s Cathedral from Tate Modern
The vast ground floor Turbine Hall is hosting an exhibition entitled ‘Anywhen’.  It’s a site specific exhibition that changes throughout the day and is continually evolving over a period of six months.  Whilst we were observing, some visitors were laid on the floor and a series of white planks slowly came down from the ceiling creating a partially opened carton encasing them.  I don’t really understand how this is art but perhaps some of you might!

‘Anywhen’ Exhibition, Turbine Hall, Tate Modern London
The main reason for visiting Tate Modern this afternoon was to visit the new Switch Building extension which opened in June at a cost of £260 m.  This building can be accessed by walking through the large gift shop and then by taking the lift to the 10th floor visitors can go out onto the new viewing platform.

The Shard from the Tate Modern Viewing Platform
This open viewing platform has 360 degree views of the London skyline, the Thames and St. Paul’s Cathedral.  Moving round to the rear side of the building we were surprised to be able to see right into the glass fronted living rooms of the luxury Neo Bankside complex apartments.  Tate Modern had affixed signs requesting visitors to respect their neighbours privacy but we could see that many visitors were taking photos of the apartment interiors.  Along with the Sky Garden which we visited on Day 2, this viewing platform provides some panoramic views of the city and admission to both the museum and the viewing area is free of charge.  We will certainly return again, hopefully on a sunnier day next time!

Tate Modern, Bankside, London
Continuing along the river, we enjoyed pizzas at the Bankside branch of Pizza Express which has window seats overlooking the river on its upper floor.  We then made our way on foot to London Bridge station from where we were able to return to our hotel via Waterloo to collect our luggage.  The Travelodge at Clapham Junction is in a good, central position and trains depart to both Victoria and Waterloo at approximately 3 minute intervals making it easily accessible to the Underground system.  It’s also a good base for visiting south west London as we have been able to do this weekend.

I returned home on the 7.00 pm train out of Kings Cross Station after enjoying yet another fun filled long weekend in the capital.

If you enjoyed this series of posts on London you might like to read about my other London weekends to give you more ideas of how to spend time in the city.

London weekend – May 2016

London weekend – February 2016