Another of my occasional posts about places other than Switzerland from a trip during a week of glorious weather in May 2023.
The real beauty of London is the endless little points of interest. There is history attached to almost every building, corner, or even something as seemingly dull as a bollard. Most of these don’t warrant going out of your way, but are often worth a small detour or quick glance as you go past. The biggest challenge is finding out about everything and linking it all together. The videos at Joolz Guides are a seemingly endless source of information on this.
- Hunterian Museum. The collected works (or what wasn’t blown up in WW2) of John Hunter. Basically lots of body parts in jars and medical devices. We arrived on Saturday to a museum that was so obscure that it didn’t even have a sign outside, to find a big queue inside – turns out that was the week it reopened after a long closure for renovation. Not as big as the fantastic Surgeons’ Hall Museums in Edinburgh, but it is free and well worth a visit if you have almost spent a large part of your life studying body parts. Free.
- The Grapes pub. A cosy historic pub which isn’t all that convenient for most places. It is part owned by Ian Mckellen and has Gandalf’s staff behind the bar (though if it is the actual movie prop or a replica isn’t clear). We stopped in for food and a few drinks. It actually hit the news at the start of the year for bad; I figure that the best time to visit has to be right after a bad with national publicity when they are trying really hard to fix it – there were no ill effects at any rate.
- Café in the Crypt – London – St Martin-in-the-Fields. A somewhat plain crypt (no piles of bones or other features beyond plain brick work) but good food and drink in a novel location. There are plenty of other church/crypt cafes in the UK; but this was noticeable for just how quiet it was for the location. Despite the adjoining Trafalgar Square being rammed with tourists (and the steps of the church) it felt like everyone inside was just a local on their lunch break. Opens at 11am so don’t plan an early morning visit.
- Brick Lane. Londoners give the feedback of curry quality as very hit or miss these days. Edible but far from the best curry I have had. It is worth a visit if you are in the area just for the atmosphere/feel of the place which is so different to the rest of the UK.
- Southwark Cathedral. Right next to the extremely popular Borough Market but always quiet inside. It is far from the biggest cathedral around, but still impressive with a well presented archaeological dig showing layers down to a Roman road next to the front door. It also offers the chance to try and find the resident cathedral cat.
- Monument. Rather overshadowed now by the much taller Shard and Sky Garden.
- Docklands Light Railway (DLR). The automated light rail system connecting the city to the east feels like a 60s Sci-Fi vision of the future with a raised train driving through the city – especially around Canary Dock where it is going inside/underneath buildings. Not an attraction in itself, but it does add a nice novelty to the trip out to Greenwich. Sit at the front for views forward down the track.
- Greenwich. A pretty but small place which feels more like a little town rather than part of London. The market is one the main attractions. The Maritime museum is free and is relatively quiet with some interesting objects and exhibits. The Former Naval College is notable for starring as old London in a number of films (and being smashed up by the Avengers). We got off the DLR a few stops early at Mudchute and walked through the city park. It is surreal to one minute be in the financial heart of London with towering glass skyscrapers, and then be walking down a quiet path in the woods that could be deep in the countryside. The view across the river from Island Gardens park near the Island Gardens station is one of the best in London. From there we walked under the river through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel (built in 1902 with WW2 bomb damage to show for it) – this is always a novel experience, not least as you emerge with the Cutty Sark right in front of you. We also headed up to the observatory for the views over the city and to the prime meridian (though to stand on the line properly you have to pay to get in).
- Walking along the canals from Paddington to Little Venice to Camden (2.5 easy miles) with the option of carrying on along the canal to Kings Cross. Little Venice is rather a wishful name. Nice spot, though there are many more interesting inner city canal sections in the UK. You even get a little glimpse of monkeys and a few other animals in London zoo.
- Victoria and Albert museum cafe. This had been on my radar for a while and was a lovely spot for a snack and rest. The whole museum was interesting and seemingly unendless. Much quieter than the neighbouring Natural History Museum (kids are less excited if there aren’t any dinosaurs). Free.
- Imperial war Museum London. A very well done museum with many Interesting objects and stories on display. Free.
- Brighton. The sea front itself is rather ugly but the lanes between the beach and station full of little independent shops are much more interesting. We made the mistake of going on a Sunday when half of London had the same idea
- Portobello Road. It was in the area so we called in. Busy – it felt like there was an endless procession of people headed up and down it. The area is nice enough the market is worth a browse.
We spent 3 relaxed nights in Bath. It isn’t very big and is only 1hr20min from London by train so Bath is certainly doable as a day trip, but we wanted a more relaxed few days somewhere a bit smaller than London and access to the countryside.
Despite having spent most of my life in England this was actually my first first to Bath (still never been to Stonehenge) and I was impressed by how extensive the nice parts of town were. Other places like York or Stratford have a beautiful section then quickly run into modern parts, Bath just keeps going (like Edinburgh new town). Being Georgian rather than mediaeval certainly helps there.
Bath is not your standard UK town. Between tourism and being within commuting distance of London it is rather more affluent and economically healthy than most places. The average UK high street isn’t supporting 2 cheese shops. It says quite a bit that there isn’t a Tesco express on every corner but there is instead is a big Waitrose (the ‘posh’ supermarket) in the centre.
- The Wikivoyage page is quite good, especially for suggestions on pubs.
- Roman Baths. Clearly the main attraction. Expensive but surprisingly extensive and well worth the entry fee (a fee which varies significantly by day and season). I especially liked the extra audio guide commentary by Bill Bryson.
- St Mary’s Churchyard. The UK knows how to do a good graveyard, and this is one of the best I have seen.
- Afternoon tea at the Roseate Villa. Really good food and tea in a quiet garden with only a few other guests.
- Evening picnic on hillside at the top of High Common (near Cavendish Crescent). A fantastic spot with views over Bath and the surrounding countryside.
- Took a train to the pretty little village of Bradford-on-Avon and walked along the river to Freshford and back via the canal (10km and basically flat). Stopping at a few beautiful pubs along the way (Cross Guns, The Inn at Freshford). It is only a short 10-15 minute ride from Bath and there are frequent trains.
- Another idea was Wells (the filming location for much of Hot Fuzz) but a 1hr40min bus ride each way for what would just be 35 minutes with a car was a bit off putting. There are endless beautiful little villages in the region, but transport without a car can be a little slow.