Britain’s Tallest Tree?

IMG_3739There’s a sign, facing you as you leave the car park at the Loch Fyne Oyster House pointing towards ‘Britain’s Tallest Tree’.  In the several times I’ve been to Loch Fyne over the last six months, this sign has been the subject of much discussion.  Surely, if there was such a remarkably tall tree just off the road beside the loch we would have noticed it before now?  We’ve been visiting the oyster house since its beginnings as a caravan in a lay-by; the tree must have been hiding all this time.  How could we have missed it?

On Friday we decided to make  special expedition to search out this tallest of specimens, with the promise of carrying on to the the restaurant for lunch, even if the tree thing turned out to be a bit disappointing.  And anyway, the drive from Helensburgh to Loch Fyne is beautiful, no matter what the weather, and there’s always the progress of the never ending construction works to mitigate the frequent landslides on the Rest and Be Thankful to review en route.

The turning off the main road to the Ardkinglas Estate is a sharp one, followed by a steep descent along a narrow lane, stone walls on either side, and finally, if you are approaching from the south, a sharp left turn, doubling back on yourself.  There’s a lot more land between the road and the edge of the loch, than I’d ever appreciated, and it slopes quite dramatically down towards the waters edge, leaving room and elevation for the mystery tree to have been flourishing for over a hundred years, unseen and unremarked, at least by me.

The Woodland Garden was established, like so many idiosyncratic things in this country by a wealthy Victorian who liked collecting stuff from around the world.  In this case trees, shrubs and bushes; collecting his own, and playing swapsies with his neighbours and sometime collecting rivals.  A folded pamphlet showed us a route around the garden pointing out the highlights.  The rhododendrons were in early flower, as well as the delightfully named skunk cabbage, and we could see where the blue bells would be coming in a couple of weeks.  The landscape is barely manicured – it’s a collection of trees that have been there a long time, and benign near neglect seems to be the presiding philosophy: where trees have fallen they have been left and the path has been rerouted around them.

And there is the tallest tree in Britain.  Or it was the tallest tree in Britain for a bit.  It’s not at the moment, although I am unclear if that makes it the second tallest tree in Britain, or if it has fallen down the rankings even further.  It’s been playing tag with another specimen just outside Inverness for the last few years, but at 64 metres you still have to bend your head quite far back to look up at it.

The biggest surprise for us was the extent and prettiness of the Woodland Garden, so when topped off with Scallops and chips at the Oyster House (and astonishing blue sky), the day out ranks as a success.

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Drawing in Clissold Park

After such a dreary and wet winter, the Spring sunshine is very welcome.  Not only was it shining on Thursday, it had been out long 2014-04-10 14.11.48enough to dry the ground sufficiently for me to sit on it and only get slightly damp.

Clissold Park is one of those places in north London that I have driven past more times that I could count, yet have never actually set foot in, so having a drawing class outing there provided an opportunity to tick it off the list of ‘things I’m too ashamed to admit I’ve never done in London’.

We were remarkably lucky with the weather, and as the day progressed more and more people joined us in the park.  Stoke Newington is the land of the organic babycino and all terrain baby buggies, but dog walkers, cyclists and small boys playing football were also lured out  into the open by the sun.  People watching was compulsory and compelling; as well as eavesdropping on conversations.  Or is that just me?  (Fran, over at Sequins and Cherry Blossom recommended the cafe for the people watching, but was silent on the eavesdropping ……)  And our small sketching party drew our own share of attention, and comment, and even a couple of annoying little dogs which weren’t beyond jumping in the water and then shaking themselves over the sketchbooks of my classmates.  It’s all added texture to the al fresco experience.

IMG_3715From some angles it is possible to believe that you are not in London, but instead in a small English Market town, with a Green in front  of the church, beside The Big House, and we spent the day drawing trees and leaves as well as the reflections in the stream.

Later, when I met a friend for supper, she observed that I’d caught a little but of sun on my face.  Now, that’s a proper day out!

Down with the Kids at the Horniman Museum

IMG_3714You know how much I enjoy visiting places in London that are new to me.  It’s even more fun when I didn’t know they existed before, and they turn out to be idiosyncratic and a bit bonkers.  Let me introduce you to The Horniman Museum.

If you live in south east London I expect you’ve heard of it already, but for those of us in the North, it was a mystery.  ‘South of the River’ represents a transport challenge we’re not always prepared to scale; south east in particular is one of those areas that, for me, is pretty much a blank on the map.  So when my Drawing in Museums class was due to take place there, I was torn: it was good to go somewhere new, but how on earth was I going to get there?  It turned out to be surprisingly easy, making use of the Overground lines, (which I have avoided since a particularly miserable journey from Richmond a couple of years ago.)  It turns out that some of their trains do actually go to where they say they will.

The Horniman Museum was established by Mr Horniman using the wealth his family had generated through tea trading in the 19th century.  His fancy for collecting ‘to bring the world to Forest Hill’ led to the building of a museum which he left to the people of London.  His main areas of interest seem to have been in zoological specimens, handicrafts from far flung cultures and musical instruments.

It’s an eccentric collection, but on the day of my visit it was undeniably popular, perhaps too popular, as a destination for the under 10s.  A brilliant place for a school trip, for crocodiles of small children to file past glass cases filled with stuffed animals, shells and animal bones before a visit to the aquarium.  The noise was astonishing.  The barrel ceiling and the wooden and glass cases threw back the squeals and chattering of scores of young voices and the tramp of school shoes on linoleum.

Sitting in front of a glass case of shells, I was the perfect height for the passers by to be able to peer at my sketch book and ask me IMG_3713questions.

‘Do you do this all the time?’

‘What is it?’

being my particular favourites.

It was quieter in the afternoon, and I spent the time in the Centenary Gallery where I started to sketch a little wooden figure apparently used to decorate the prow of a boat in the Samoan Islands, but my efforts were thwarted when the light that had been illuminating its display case went out.  I turned my attention to the chicken mask which is also from the Pacific Islands.

Some museum information shed light on the evolution of the curating philosophy of the Collection.  At the outset, much of its purpose was to illustrate ‘primitive’ arts from less advanced peoples to prove the superiority of the evolution of the western European.  In post Colonial times, the collection has been entirely reassessed and is now organised to show,  in the Centenary Gallery at least, the results of the same preoccupation with masks and the illustration of people in different communities around the world.

Part of the point of having our drawing classes in Museums is to look at entirely unfamiliar objects, and render them on paper.  Their unfamiliarity means that it is not possible to fall into the trap of assuming I know what they look like.  I find it a surprisingly relaxing and engaging thing to do.  I can sit quietly, and draw.  It doesn’t matter if I finish or not, it doesn’t matter if it’s any good or not.  It’s just a drawing; lines on a piece of paper.

As I’m writing this I realise that I have lost that feeling of freedom to experiment and to fail and it not matter, in my writing.  Somehow, if I take it seriously  it has to carry more weight and expectation, and it has become correspondingly more difficult.

Now what am I going to do with that realisation….?

 

Light and Dark – An Afternoon in the City

2014-03-04 12.41.01I have, with a friend, an, as yet unrealised, plan, to spend a full day doing cultural things in London without spending any money.  Being a plan concocted by two lawyers, it is of course not quite as simple as that – it would be too easy, and therefore a bit of a cheat, just to sit in the National Gallery or British Museum all day.  To be fully ‘plan compliant’ the day has to involve us in doing something we’ve not done before, to fulfil the other ongoing objective to explore our city.

A lunchtime concert in a City church has long been on the agenda (perhaps not strictly speaking ‘free’, as it would require a very mean spirit indeed not to leave a donation, but we agreed to allow it within the rules of ‘the plan’).  We picked a day, Tuesday of this week, and of the recitals we could find on the internet, we picked the one at St Stephen Walbrook, on the basis of location; neither criteria being particularly culturally sensitive.  So what a lucky happen-stance.

St Stephen Walbrook is a Wren designed church, which now cowers beneath City behemoths on three sides, and stands opposite a massive hole, filled with cranes ringed by hoardings.  Inside, it is calm and filled with light.  The centre is dominated by a Henry Moore created altar, and the pews are ranged in concentric circles around it.  The recital was by The Guastalla Quartet, and their programme was Beethoven’s String Quartet in G Major Op 18 N02, and Shostokovich String Quartet No3 in F Major Op73.

I wasn’t familiar with either piece; during the Beethoven I admired the church, and wondered about its reconstruction after it was bombed in the War, and looked at the play of light from the high windows and thought what a lovely way it was to spend a lunchtime, with some nice music.  When it came to the Shostokovich however, there was nowhere to look but at the musicians; the drama and energy of the piece demanded my full attention.  In half an hour, it charts every emotion of war, from the self delusional belief that things aren’t that bad before it begins, through the horror or battle to the grief of bereavement and on to the resolutions to avoid it in the future.   It was an astonishing and unexpected experience.

Outside, afterwards,  the cranes and City blocks were still there, making the cocoon of the church building feel even more surreal than before.

We were heading for the Museum of London. but the walk at street level along London Wall is unremittingly awful, so we took a 2014-03-04 15.42.33detour through the Barbican, even if it is always, at least for me, pure chance if I find where I want to go at my first attempt, so confusing is the layout.  There, The Curve, an odd sliver of space behind the concert hall, usually houses interesting installations.  (Last year I visited the Rain Room installation)

At the moment, it is hosting Momentum by United Visual Artists.  The space is completely dark apart from a series of moving lights, each a sort of pendulum, moving both together and independently of each other.  Ambient sound adds to the generally unsettling environment.  It took several minutes for my eyes to adjust to the deep blackness at the start of the walk through, and I was anxious about tripping up or bumping into someone; the sounds in the distance suggested the baying of dogs at night time, and I did, briefly think about turning back.  As the intensity of the lights changed and their position moved, I was forced to focus on nothing but the spots of illumination, and as we walked around the curve, sometimes we tried to be in the spot light, while at other moments tried to move out of the way as it swept over us.

It was fun….. and the world was very bright when we came out the other end.

Our final destination was The Cheapside Hoard exhibition at the Museum of  (not exactly free, but reduced price entry with out Art Fund Pass, another flexing of the rules associated with ‘the plan’, allowing us to capitalise on the sunk cost of the annual membership).  A cache of Elizabethan and Jacobean jewels found in a cellar in Cheapside just over a hundred years ago, the Hoard retains an aura of mystery and is yet to be fully researched and analysed.  Believed to have been hidden sometime between 1640 and 1666 (when London was destroyed by fire), it is explained as being the stock in trade of a goldsmith, which was most likely hidden during the time of the Civil War and then couldn’t be found again after the destruction of the Great Fire.

It is a huge collection of gemstones, necklaces, rings, pendants, cameos and other curios, some of them so tiny and detailed that you need one of the freely supplied magnifying glasses to be able to see them.  Among many surprises was how far many of the jewels must have come – that there were trade routes stretching all the way around the world – and that it was thought worthwhile to transport the gems to London.  I also couldn’t help but wonder how the craftsmen ever had enough light to work on such tiny yet detailed pieces.

A selection of portraits from the period illustrate how many of the items on display were worn; understatement clearly not being fashionable at the time.

It wasn’t a free day, but it wasn’t expensive, and worth every penny.

A Day at The V&A

IMG_3616Another day, another drawing class, another museum.

This time, we were at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and spent the morning in the Cast Court, and the afternoon with the Mediaeval architectural detail.  And once again, we were in a nook of the museum, which I’d never spent any time visiting before.

The Cast Court is a strange, eerie place.  It’s a large space, filled to the glass covered roof in plaster casts of monuments and architectural bits and pieces from around the world, from Trajan’s  Column, displayed in two sections, to architraves, to the tombs of Mediaeval knights .  Evidently, the collection of such copies was a Victorian obsession, for both the act of collecting itself, as well as providing props through which to educate the contemporary designers about great historical art and architecture.  Consequently, much of the collection reflects the Victorian interest in the classical and gothic.

With over two hours to dedicate to one drawing, with no letting up of concentration or challenge from the teacher, I was forced to focus entirely on one object, while at the same time feeling the weight of all the other enormous casts bearing down on me.  I chose one of the Celtic crosses because I thought the areas of erosion would suit me – it doesn’t matter that the sketch looks like nothing, the thing itself was just covered in nobbly bits……  But the more I looked at it, the more I could discern what must have been the original design of the carvings.

The specific challenge of the class was to draw tonally and without line – I only cheated a little bit.  I simply couldn’t work out how to capture the circular element without an outline.

IMG_3617The afternoon presented another test for my concentration: hoards of French teenagers.  Attracted by the same comfy padded benches in part of the the Medieval Gallery as me, they spent a couple of hours playing with the various features on their telephones, and despite the best efforts of the museum’s custodians, sitting on some of the displays to eat the leftovers from each of their pack lunches, and jeering at their classmates.

I didn’t budge.

Finney’s Post, an elderly architectural detail, comes with an entertaining myth. Finney had a wife who was alleged to be a scold.  One day, she fell into a stupor and was believed to be dead.  On the way to the churchyard, her coffin was bumped into this post and she woke up.  She went on to live for several more years, not necessarily to the joy of her husband.  The post bore his name ever after.

I’m on Mrs Finney’s side.

Adrian Villar Rojas at The Serpentine Sackler Gallery

2013-10-02 15.15.45We’d had a coffee in the courtyard cafe at the Victoria and Albert Museum, still able to comfortably sit outside on the unseasonably warm October morning, once the rain had stopped, and decided that we should go and have a look at the new Serpentine Gallery.  All we knew about the new space had been gleaned from newspaper articles: it was somewhere in Hyde Park, had been a munitions store, and the refurbishment had been designed by Zaha Hadid.

With no discussion, but deep in conversation, we headed down Brompton Road towards Knightsbridge.  It was only after we’d navigated the crossroads by Harvey Nicks that we looked at each other , and in near unison, said, we should have just walked up Exhibition Road.

I like to congratulate myself on the London map that I have in my head.  There are whole areas that are blanks, there be dragons,: tracts  of the City, most of what is South of the River, but the West End and west as far as South Kensington, I like to think I’ve got well mapped as it were.  But walking two long sides of quite a big triangle, instead of taking the direct route, is a reminder that it can sometimes be quicker to think about where you are before setting off.

Having said that, it was a lovely afternoon for a walk in Hyde Park; the sun was so warm that we both ended up carrying our jackets, and because of our ridiculously roundabout route, I saw areas of the Park from new angles.  Our wandering tour was worth it in the end.

The inaugural exhibition at the Serpentine Sackler is a huge installation by Adrian Villar Rojas.  When we arrived, the gallery was being evacuated because of a fire alarm, so we walked around the outside of the building to examine the curves and sweeps of the Zaha Hadid 2013-10-02 15.11.07extension.    From some angles, the whole looks rather incongruous: a square building of golden bricks with a white curve stuck on the side; but the curving roof does have a pleasing shape, and cries out to be stroked – a possibility in those places where it swoops to the ground.  It appears to be made of painted plastic and canvas.  Light flows into the space from light wells in the roof, which are integrated into the support pillars, shapes reminiscent of the depiction of Triffids on 1960s editions of the John Wyndham novel. (There are T-shirts sporting the design shapes, in the minimalist shop for a mere £45.)

It clearly wasn’t a major fire emergency, as by the time we had complete the circuit of the exterior of the building, we were allowed to go inside.

The whole gallery is dedicated to the Villar Rojas installation, even down to the bricks on the floor, which the young man who greeted us at the door informed us were specially made, and had been laid loose, so that they respond with creaking and chiming as you walk on them; like a distant relation to the nightingale floors of Imperial Japan.  Evidently, all of the bricks are newly made using traditional South American methods.  It’s an astonishing feat of concentrated hard work and industry.

The entrance area is dominated by a sculpture of an elephant, made from textured concrete and plaster, apparently ramming itself into the wall, pushing its way into the gallery.  There is something both powerful and poignant about it – its great shoulders stuck underneath a lintel, and its trunk curling helplessly below it on the floor.  The surface is rough, and cracked, as the concrete has dried.  Interior walls of slowly drying and cracking concrete surround the rest of the installation.  The temptation to touch and to feel the surface is near overwhelming (and I gave in, but only for a moment, and really, really gently on tippy tippy finger tips), and there is that smell of fresh plaster in the air, that reminder of every hellish home refurbishment project ever undertaken.

Villar Rojas has created a collection of apparently random objects, the detritus of bits and pieces of contemporary life, and displayed them on racked shelved reaching to the ceiling.  Many are coated in concrete, or sprout vegetation growing from green potatoes.  It’s as if we are looking at a vision of our world which has been dug up by slightly confused archaeologists of the future.

I’m not sure I understood it, but it’s one of those exhibitions that will stay in the memory, if only for how much fun it was to walk on the brick floor.

We Could Almost Be Abroad……

IMG_3447Where in the world have I been for the last couple of days?  Well, looking at this photo you might well think it was somewhere outside Britain, (unless of course you recognise it.)  A little chapel on a continental lake, perhaps, or a remote place of pilgrimage to a church rescued from an inundation?

Well, it’s in the Midlands.  It’s Normanton Church  and is all that was left standing above water when this valley was flooded in the 1970s to form Rutland Water, a reservoir providing water to the East Midlands.  It’s a surprising sight in quite an odd place.

It’s hard to put my finger exactly on why the place feels a little bit peculiar; but I think it’s to do with the newness and neatness of the environs.  It’s obviously not natural; it has that inauthentic faux feeling of a golf course, or the sailing ponds created out of the quarry pits beside motorways, pretending it blends naturally into the surrounding environment.

It’s pretty though, and on a sunny day we had a pleasant walk along the tarmac path which, according to the information, is 40km all the way around.  Its popularity with cyclists is evidenced by the hangar like size of the cycle hire franchise.

My curiosity as to its history could only be satisfied once we got home and consulted Mr Google: the information boards along the path were devoted exclusively (and disappointingly repetitively) to the osprey which have been introduced to the area.  It’s almost as if we should believe that it has always been there.  This made me even more curious to know about the engineering and the controversy of its creation.

In the meantime, I quite like the incongruity of the stranded church with all the stones banked around it, and it’s odd proportions because its base is flooded.

At The Imperial War Museum

It’s time for another shameful confession: until last week, I had never been to visit the Imperial War Museum.  There’s no particular reason; it’s not for want of interest, but maybe because it’s south of the River, or the moment has never been right.  Anyway, I hold my hand up, and the fault is now rectified.

I could, perhaps have chosen a better time for my inaugural visit, as the building is currently undergoing significant reconstruction in preparation for major exhibitions from next year memorialising the centenary of the First World War.  And when I say ‘significant’, I mean big.  More than have the building is shrouded in hoardings and the sound of jack hammers pounds the air in the stairwell.  The galleries that we visited were soundproofed from the din, although the cafe, stranded in a bay of dusty concrete looked and sounded far from appealing.

As I was visiting with a friend and her four children, we had an excise both to be very selective about what we visited, and perhaps more importantly, to visit the Horrible Histories exhibition about WW2 spies. I’m not that familiar with Horrible Histories, but they appear to offer snippets of real history in a way designed for children, highlighting the ridiculous, the brave, the scatological and the extraordinary, with a fair bit of dressing up thrown in.

The four children found the interactive displays, the collecting of secret stamps on their attendance cards and the things to sniff and touch fun; they were more adept at finding the hidden radio transmitters than I was, and enjoyed stamping around to catch the exploding rats projected onto the floor.  My friend and I enjoyed it too: it provides an edited highlights story of four real people who worked for SOE in the war.  It didn’t shy away from the reality of the dangers they faced, and illustrated their bravery and ingenuity.

I’d recommend it to anyone, although you may need to disguise yourself with a child or two in tow.

The children were still enthused by the exhibition, and, with the promise that they could go to the main shop after we’d seen something else, we opted to visit the A Family in  Wartime display.  Using the story of a real, ostensibly ‘ordinary’ London family, the Allpresses, the exhibition explores the impact of the War on the people of Britain.  With a father who worked in a reserved occupation on the railways, and a family of 10 children, they experienced many of the social changes and dangers brought by the War, from the Anderson shelter in the garden, to one daughter working in a munitions factory and another for the WVS, to the temporary evacuation of the youngest child, and being bombed out of their south London home.  Bringing world shattering events down to the level of the specific and domestic make a far more affecting story for me than more flamboyant and flash-bang displays.

The Museum holds a significant art collection, so I shall be returning now I know where it is!

More London Surprises

Brown Hart Gardens

Brown Hart Gardens

It never does to assume that I can’t be surprised by London, or that I won’t see things I’ve never discovered before, even if I’m not looking for them.  There are the constant changing redevelopments, demolitions and rebuilding that generates those but what used to be there? conversations, which are to be expected, but then there are also the places that have always been there, it’s just that I’ve never noticed them.

On Wednesday evening I was killing time in the West End of London and I decided to walk from Green Park to Marylebone, through Mayfair, specifically on roads that I don’t usually use.  You know how it is, you get used to going particular ways, for example, on my way to the Curzon cinema from Piccadilly I will usually walk up Clarges Street, but on the way back prefer to come back down Half Moon.  There’s no rhyme or reason, it’s just habit.  So this week, instead, I followed my nose, which led me a slightly crooked path, as few of the roads run straight, but I did I end up walking up South Audley Street.  Waiting to cross the road at one point, out of the corner of my eye I spotted what looked like park gates.

Now I never knew Mount Street Garden existed.  But, according to the information board, they’ve been there since the Victorian period.  Tucked in an irregular triangular gap in the middle of red brick mansion blocks, it apparently affords a warm micro climate permitting the growth  of a couple of palm trees not usually found so far north.  All the paths are lined with wooden benches dedicated to those who have enjoyed the park in the past.  They were sparsely occupied at 6 on a Wednesday evening, but I can imagine there must be standing room only on a warm lunchtime.

Farm Street Church occupies one end of the gardens.  A Jesuit church built in the 1840s its painted Gothic style interior was quiet and quite a surprise. Half a dozen or so people were sitting spread out around the nave, and I sat for a few moments looking at the elaborate altar which was evidently designed by Pugin, the man responsible for much of the interior design of the Palace of Westminster.  All the decoration and the extreme heat made the place feel very claustrophobic, but I’m pleased I paused to look inside.

I worked for many years in the area just north of the west end of Oxford Street and devised a number of ways to walk without ever having to go along the pedestrian hell of Oxford Street itself.  I frequently walked past a building at the end of a scrubby raised area; the building looked like something out of Belle Epoque Paris.  I didn’t know what it was, and in a pre internet age, I didn’t’ do the legwork to research what it was.

On Wednesday I finally found out.  It was by chance more than design that I walked past it.  It was very exciting to see that the gates that used to do nothing but stop the accumulated rubbish that had been thrown over from spilling into the street, were open, so of course I climbed the steps.  It’s a garden.  The Brown Hart Gardens, recently refurbished and opened to the public after years of closure and neglect.

When, at the turn of the twentieth century, an electricity sub station (my imagined Parisian folly) was built in what had previously been a public open space, the landlord insisted that a park be created.  It was open until some time in the 1960s when it was closed, to be reopened, extensively refurbished, only recently.

It’s not a question that’s been keeping me awake at night, but it was very satisfying to both have the mystery of what it was solved, and to see it put back into proper public use.

Do you have favourite hidden nooks and crannies around London?

From Kings Cross to Paddington along The Regent’s Canal

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At Kings Cross (with a little bit of #acrossthebuildings)

To walk from Kings Cross to Paddington by the road would not be a particularly pleasant undertaking, on such a busy, traffic filled main artery.  I had heard however that the walk along the canal was a different proposition all together.   It’s been on the list for some time, and its made to to the top before, but then I’ve been thwarted by the weather.  But this week time, intention and meteorology were all in alignment.

According to the available information, it possible to walk the length of the Regent’s Canal from Limehouse to Paddington, but until now I’ve only seen small sections of it when I’ve happened upon it looking over road bridges, or one small walk east from Islington.  I had no real idea how it all joined up.  There is a section from east of Kings Cross to Islington which is underground through a tunnel, without pedestrian access, so my plan is to do the walk in two shots, starting with each end of the tunnel.

Much as I love those stories of bargees having to lie on their backs and propel their barges through the tunnels by walking their feet along the tunnel walls while the horses walked over the top, I accept that I may never get to experience that(!)

IMG_3378We started at the Kings Cross end and headed west. Walking in that direction, we passed from the shiny newly renovated areas around Granary Square and King’s Place, to more grubby urban building backs, through to Camden lock where the chaotic food stalls spill out onto the path.  We walked past people sitting on damp bits of grass, eating food out of plastic boxes.

It’s one of those areas to which visitors to London flock, but I have to confess now, that although I have lived in north London pretty much since 1981, I’ve been there only once before sometime in the 80s, and have since felt no particular need to return.  We did find a congenial spot to sit at a picnic table for a drink, but it is not the most pleasant part of the journey.

From Camden it wasn’t too much of a walk before we were passing along the top perimeter of Regent’s Park. leafy and on a wide path, only occasionally being skimmed by cyclists speeding by.  It’s possible to peer through some of the fences and see birds in one of the the aviaries of London Zoo.

More peering, although perhaps more discretely, was possible when we walked by the ranks of house boats moored in village like areas IMG_3390along the banks.  It all feels a bit packed in together and dense, so while it’s fun to look at all the things people manage to grow in pots on the roofs of their boats, it didn’t make me want to rush out and get one for myself.

And from there, after a little detour on the road, although still quite close to the canal and on a level with it, we came to the fancifully named Little Venice, where, after a cup of tea from a cafe in a boat, we turned away from the bend in the canal and headed down into the Paddington Basin.  Walking underneath the road bridges and hearing the roar of the traffic was a reminder that we had been in central London all the time, but in a quieter parallel world, if only for a short while.

It’s a walk of somewhere between 4 and 5 miles, and at our leisurely pace with plenty of pauses and sit downs along the way, it was a nice way to spend an afternoon.

Now I just have to organise myself to do the section east of the Islington tunnel……

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