An Eltham Palace jaunt

Eltham Palace window

1930s interiors, beautifully planted gardens and a pet lemur: surely an irresistible combination for a Saturday afternoon. On a recent drizzling weekend, we bundled the kids into the car and set off for a return visit to Eltham Palace and Gardens. (Disclaimer: the pet lemur is no longer there in any living form, sadly, though there is a huge number of pet lemur toys for sale in the shop.)

We last visited at the height of summer and spent most of the day in the gardens, with a quick detour inside. This time round, a mizzling rain was falling and the much-anticipated playground was closed for re-turfing, so we took the time to explore the house more fully.

Learning from our last visit*, we slipped past the persuasive English Heritage membership advocate on the door and managed to resist his attempts to sign us up for a year’s membership.

Eltham Palace cafe

After the rather disappointing discovery of the closed playground, we went straight for the cafe for a restorative cuppa and lunch, despite it only being 11.45am. The cafe tables are located in a greenhouse, surrounded by potted plants and views to flower beds. I think I would be happy if every meal for the rest of my life was eaten inside a greenhouse, but a slight word of warning to anyone else planning on eating at Eltham Palace: the food is good, the surroundings are lovely but the service is really incredibly slow. Start to queue up and order long before the pangs of hunger begin to nip.

Sated and quenched, and having answered the question, “Mum, what’s the name of that flower” about a hundred times, we set off to jaunt round the house.

Eltham Palace bedroom

If you’re visiting with kids, there is a good trail you can follow round the rooms with obligatory stamps and sticker prize at the end. This meant we could linger long in any room with an animal motif to search out for the trail, but rooms not included were rushed past, while I gazed in longingly. The rooms epitomise all that is desirable from the 1930s as far as I am concerned, and I took endless photos with the vague intention of making every single room in my house look the same. There is a brilliant austerity to some rooms, combined with extravagant luxury in others that greatly pleases me.

Eltham Palace Great Hall
The Great Hall

After a trot round the house, the rain had just about let up, so we explored the gardens. A lot of the planting here is herbaceous, so there wasn’t a huge amount to see at this time of year (nothing compared to our last visit, when the borders were heaving with blooms) but blossom was just starting to show on the trees and carpets of daffodils, crocuses and scillas brought colour to the grassy areas. The moat, rockeries and huge walls look just as splendid at any time of year.

Eltham Palace moat and bridgeSpring at Eltham Palace

Eltham Palace moat
Looking at the fish

All in all, it was so lovely that I’m really looking forward to visiting again in a few months to see how the garden is growing. Drat, I wish we’d bought that annual pass now…

*I’m sorry to say that, despite our best intentions, we actually never visited a single other English Heritage property in the year we held membership.

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Notes from a summer: Regent’s Park sunshine

Echinacea in Regents ParkHellebore leavesRegents Park sausage borderA few Fridays ago, I had the most blissfully relaxing day I have had for some time. Possibly for three years, in fact.

The thing about living with small kids, I find, is that no matter how many wonderful, cute, endearing individual moments there are, day-to-day life can feel a lot like a repetitive slog.

Well, I speak only for my own small kids, of course, who both still need post-lunch naps to avoid serious meltdowns, and who will both only contemplate taking post-lunch naps in their own beds, which ties us close to the house at all times, and mostly on a merry-go-round of park visits / singing classes / soft play excursions, all accompanied with a never-ending soundtrack of “why haven’t you put your shoes on yet to go out when I’ve asked you ten times?” or “can you please eat something from your lunch plate that’s not just grated cheese” and “why are you throwing that bouncy ball at your brother / the priceless Ming vase / my head”…

Chocolate cosmosSedumAnyway, a rather exciting development at the end of August was that both boys started to go to nursery two days a week. Leaving me with one day a week to attend my garden design course and one day to… …do whatever I like!

This particularly blissful Friday a few weeks ago, was the very first of my child-free days. I left the boys together at nursery, sitting next to each other at the breakfast table, eating rice crispies and looking very happy and not at all sad to see me leave, which was completely wonderful.

Then I had to pop to Regent’s Park to take some photographs of one of the flower beds there for a garden design assignment.

Regents Park in the sunSunflowers in Regents ParkSedum flowers at Regents ParkAfter which, I went and had lunch with the hubby at a French wine bar in Farringdon. I had pâté and cured ham and drank a kir. Oh my days, I tell you, I felt so carefree and relaxed!

The sun was shining, I travelled the tube unencumbered by prams and without any deadlines to arrive anywhere, I had an actual conversation with my husband without being either completely shattered or interrupted. Well, all in all, it was a pretty heavenly day. And it made me realise that having a few more days like that would no doubt do me (and the rest of the family) the world of good.

All pictures here, by the way, are from Regent’s Park on that day. One of our assignments for my garden design course is to photograph the same flower bed each month of the year to see how it changes. The bed I chose is known as the “sausage border” because, erm, it’s sausage-shaped. It has some really lovely herbaceous plants in there and at the height of summer is an exuberant riot of abundance. If you’re ever close to the park, head over to the Mediterranean garden, just past the rose garden, and you can find the sausage bed a little further north from there, just next to a small pond. It’s a great space to sit and think on a sunny day…

So here’s to days for relaxing, days to yourself and days of sunshine. May we all have at least one of these this month.

Notes from a summer: London Wetland Centre

London Wetland CentreAhoy there! Hello! How are you? It’s been ages, I know. I fell off grid a bit, this August. Technology (such as this dear old laptop on which I write all my blog posts) becoming substantially less appealing than lying outside in the sun on a picnic blanket.

Anyway, such times have come to an end, it seems, with this utterly relentless and miserable rain of the last week, so I’ve finally remembered how to open up Word and plug my camera into the computer to take a look at some pictures I’ve taken over the past few months.

It’s been something of a pottering sort of summer. No big holidays, but the odd weekend away. Few exciting day trips, but lots of time poking around in our garden pond, or building soil castles in the flower beds, or mooching along to the local park.

Still, I have a couple of little gems of visits to share with you so, for the next couple of days, a few notes from summer 2015.

First up, the utterly wonderful London Wetlands Centre. We visited a fortnight ago, when the summer flowers were just reaching their end, and the first hints of autumn were coming in.

Summer planting at London Wetland Centre
Kniphofia, grasses and asters looking abundant
Wood sculpture at London Wetland Centre
I loved this wood sculpture
London Wetland Centre
I shared this pic on instagram, having been astounded at my wondrous photography prowess. Very few people liked it, ha ha. Just goes to show, you never can tell with instagram,

It’s a great spot for kids: acres and acres of lakes, surrounded by long winding paths, perfect for running down and exploring.

(Side note: last time we visited the littlest was still pram-bound only, and I found that a more peaceful experience than our most recent visit when he was off toddling away and I had to keep a close eye to ensure he wasn’t about to leap off into a huge body of water. So if your child is toddling age, perhaps wait six months or so until they really understand why it’s best not to run headfirst at a lake…)

Of course, there’s lots of wildlife to see, of the ducks, birds and otters variety, but I am always especially taken by the glorious plants. It’s naturalistic planting at its best, in my opinion, everything appearing to be growing just where it wants to but – I am sure – in fact carefully planned and designed.

London Wetland Centre
Paths for wandering
London Wetland Centre
All the reflections made me think a lot about what plants are best to sit next to water. There is something lovely about seeing the flickering mirror image upside down of a beautiful plant.

A high point of this trip was discovering three sleepy ducks sitting on a wooden bridge. As we approached, they opened their eyes to take a look at us, but made no attempt to actually move, so I got the chance to photograph them for some time, while the sprogs stared and asked various questions about their feathers, their legs and why they had chosen to go to sleep on a bridge.

Ducks at London Wetland Centre
Zzzzzzz
Duck feathers
Those amazing feathers!

And aren’t these just the sorts of conversations you want to be having on a day out?

Practical info:

  • The Wetland Centre is in Barnes and is run by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT).
  • Entrance is £12.75 for an adult or £7 for a child. Various family, concession and membership options also available. I’ve just seen, while checking prices to write this, that you can save 10% by booking online. Doh, if only I realised that before we went.
  • Their website is here: London Wetland Centre
  • There’s a cafe (essential in my eyes) and various activities for children too.

Trips to the Horniman museum

At last! Another post in my Making the most of London series. A mere year since the last one, ha ha…

Horniman museum | Wolves in London
The stunning conservatory at the Horniman museum. I want to live here

Overstuffed walruses, giant totem poles, kitchen gardens growing lentils; what’s not to love about the Horniman museum?

It’s one of those collections of eclectic eccentricity that the British seem to do so well.

Luckily for us, it’s a mere 15-minute walk from where we live (albeit up an extremely steep hill) so we visit almost every week. But weekly visits are almost a necessity to even start to explore just a little bit of the amazingly diverse activities and sights here: almost all of them ideal for children.

Bandstand Horniman museum | Wolves in London
A view out across the grounds by the bandstand. Look closely and you can see the London skyline in the distance…

The museum was founded by Frederick John Horniman, a Victorian tea trader, philanthropist and collector in 1890 to showcase the bits and pieces he’d picked up on his travels around the world. [Side note, if only current job descriptions were as exciting as “tea trader, philanthropist and collector” — I’d be updating the CV as we speak…]

Added to slowly in the centuries that have followed, the museum is a brilliant juxtaposition of the old anthropological exhibitions that you expect from a natural history museum and crazy architectural features like a totem pole, with modern additions such as the beautiful green-roofed library and aquarium in the basement.

Horniman museum totem pole | Wolves in London
Just your average view in South East London

Being something of a fishy family (in the nicest possible way), the aquarium tends to be our first spot to visit, where the sproglet races round pointing out all the fish excitedly to anyone listening and the baby and I tend to spend a little more time staring into the tranquility of the jellyfish tank. So peaceful and beautiful, I’d really love one in my own house.

I try not to bore on too much about the differences between a pipe fish and a seahorse to the sproglet, so once we’ve completed the loop a few times, we head upstairs to the natural history museums.

Here, two floors of glass cases are filled with stuffed animals, where the most famous exhibit is the fat walrus – bought by Horniman for the opening of his museum and originally from Canada. He’s a little chubbier than he should be as the taxidermist who stuffed him who had never before seen a photo of an actual walrus so had no idea they had folds in their skin.

If fish and stuffed animals aren’t your thing though, there’s plenty more to see.

The music room showcases practically every musical instrument you could ever imagine. Though safely behind glass, two tables in the room allow you to select photos of the instruments and listen to what they sound like. An adjacent room has a hands on area where you can play a selection of random instruments (most often populated by dads with their children, I’ve noticed, “just showing them” how to play the instrument correctly)… Outside, by the bandstand, every day objects have been turned into giant instruments – plastic pipes become a huge organ, and metal ones a giant xylophone. The sprog absolutely adores this area.

Outdoor music at the Horniman museum | Wolves in London
He’s a musical genius, I suspect…

The bandstand itself is the setting for weekly story readings as well as a series of concerts over the summer.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the animal walk – a (really pretty tiny) walkway where you can admire chickens, goats, sheep, rabbits and… …two alpacas. Alpacas being pretty much one of my favourite animals in the world right now, I often lose myself, leaning on a gate, dreaming of owning an alpaca farm in the country and making my fortune selling beautiful alpaca yarn. Right until the sprog starts tugging at my sleeve and demanding, “Wot Mummy doin’?”

Horniman museum gardens | Wolves in London
The dye garden: full of wonderfully bright coloured flowers

There’s also a kitchen garden, ten acres of grounds to explore, and the most stunning glass conservatory, in which occasional exhibitions are shown and which is available to rent for events like weddings (we did consider it for ours…)

Conservatory at Horniman museum | Wolves in London
Just one more of the amazing conservatory

The summer events programme is particularly impressive, I think. With an Edwardian theme (to match the newly renovated Edwardian bandstand), they’ve really gone to town on creating events to cater to all whims. Open air cinema, Edwardian “lates” with tea dances and live music (sooooo up my street!) and activities for kids on every day of the week, such as storytelling, art and minibeasts tours of the grounds. I genuinely think this must be one of the most “interactive” museums in the whole of London.

So, if you like a bit of weirdness in your kulcher, definitely somewhere to add to the “to visit” list. It’s in Forest Hill, so fairly easy to get to on the Overground or train line. Just be warned that the hill to get there is pretty steep…

Related articles:

  • Check out all the events, activities and exhibitions on the Horniman museum website. (NB, despite the gushing, I’m not in any way in cahoots with the Horniman on this post; just a genuine fan!)
  • For more Sabrina-reviewed places to visit in London, check out my series Making the most of London

 

A photo a day: August 17th

We went blackberry picking this morning in Camberwell Old Cemetery. The cemetery is a two minute walk from our house and worth a visit as about a third of it is fantastically overgrown, with winding little lanes overhung with trees and a huge amount of brambles.

camberwell old cemetery
Just the perfect spot for a walk with the pram. Ahem

There’s something really romantic about the old graves, just peeping out through the foliage. When I go, I’d like my grave to end up looking like this one:

grave and blackberries
I’d like the snail as well.

Before the blackberry picking in the overgrown lanes, we walked the upkept cement paths first, in an attempt to get the baby off to sleep. I read the inscriptions on the gravestones, noticing especially those who’d died young, or very old, or at the age I am now.

Gravestone
Then again, maybe I’d like a gravestone with a huge statue on…

It’s sobering and yet somehow wonderfully beautiful to see the remains of all those lives, boiled down to one little sentence on a gravestone. I always enjoy the ones that say “To my darling husband” or “To my much loved Mum”… There are huge achievements you could reach in life, of course, writing books, becoming famous, making crucial scientific discoveries. And yet I rather feel that to be remembered as someone’s “beloved mother” or “adored wife” is a pinnacle that can’t be topped.

After these introspective musings, baby well asleep, we set off into the undergrowth and were rewarded for our bravery. We foraged a good kilo of blackberries, returning home an hour later covered in scratches, a few bites and with our hands stained purple.

Weed seeds
I did my bit to help the spread of the local weed population

The plans for these little beauties are some blackberry and apple jam / jelly (it’s used like a jam, but sieved like a jelly) and either some blackberry and apple leather or something similar to that. I’ll show you some pictures tomorrow, if they end up looking appealing.

Trug of blackberries
It’s ridiculously hard to photograph the blackberries together with any definition. Why is that?

This post is a double whammy, joining in with the August break and also being part of my Making the most of London series.

Related articles:

A stroll around Peckham Rye Park

Part of my Making the Most of London series

It’s been dawning on me recently that I’m not so young any more.

It’s not the wrinkles and increasing number of grey hairs that are the biggest giveaway. Nope, it’s the way I choose to spend my spare time that is the real telltale sign.

Not so long ago (okay, quite long ago) (okay, probably a decade ago, in fact) a sunny bank holiday weekend would be the perfect time to sit outside a bar in Brick Lane, music blaring, cider in hand, the afternoon whiled away drinking with friends.

Blossom | Wolves in London
Blossom in the park

Nowadays, however, I can think of nothing more pleasant than taking a good walk through some beautifully maintained gardens, and boring my poor partner with the Latin names of all the nice plants and some “interesting facts” about their sexual reproductive systems (a sentence I say without even the tiniest smirk at the words “sexual” or “reproductive”…)

Luckily, quite one of the loveliest London park gardens is just at the end of my road and – provided your idea of a fun leisure activity is as middle-aged as mine – I heartily recommend a visit.

Peckham Rye is a large, flat, somewhat uninspiring expanse of green in Southeast London. But tucked away at the southern end is Peckham Rye Park; a series of beautifully planted and faultlessly maintained public gardens.

Peckham Rye
Peckham Rye; I say it’s flat and uninspiring, but actually it looks rather pretty when the blossom’s out

At its heart – and my favourite spot – is the Sexby Garden. The layout dating back to 1906, this is the secret garden of my dreams: pergolas dripping in wisteria lead to a central fountain, at each corner arbours provide shaded resting places, benches are tucked away in yew hedges, there’s a gentle buzzing as bees hum from plant to plant, the smell of the air takes me back to childhood in my Granny’s garden (it’s the fragrant Daphnes that are so heavenly) and the flower beds are planted in a formal(ish) way with clusters of vibrant tulips…

Sexby Garden, Peckham Rye Park
The entrance to the Sexby garden, in a month or so, these pergolas will be covered with wisteria, roses and clematis
Arbour, Peckham Rye Park
Well perhaps I might just sit down and rest my weary legs in this arbour…
Pergola, Peckham Rye Park
Wisteria buds just about to open on the pergolas
Tulip
I think I need to grow some of these tulips in my own garden. Beautiful, aren’t they?

Most days, I push the pram over the cobbles and daydream that I’m back in Victorian times, about to come across a boy in a wheelchair… (Okay, if you haven’t read The Secret Garden that sentence might sound a bit wrong.)

The rest of the park is perhaps slightly less impressive to me, but still highly pleasing. I’m planning on frequenting the dog-free picnic area in the arboretum many times over the course of the Summer.

Picnic area, Peckham Rye Park
Doesn’t this look like a heavenly place to have nice long lunch?

The “Japanese garden” looks like the sort of thing that would be described as an “English garden” anywhere else, but the stream through the middle always makes me stop and dawdle, looking for fish.

Japanese garden, Peckham Rye Park
Can you spot what’s so Japanese about this? Nope, me neither…

And the bowling green is as prim and proper as you could wish a bowling green to look.

Bowling green, Peckham Rye Park
I’d almost be scared to bowl on this immaculate green I think. Almost

It’s all looking particularly beautiful at the moment, with all the plants in blossom or close to it. The perfect place to wander and spend a few hours with my co-explorer…

Blossom, Peckham Rye Park
Is there a sight more cheering than a tree dripping with blossom?
Water droplets on leaf
These water droplets on a leaf took my breath away when I first spotted them
Baby feet
My intrepid co-explorer, soaking up a bit of early morning sun

If you’re in the neighbourhood (the SE15 / SE22 borders) then I do recommend popping in…

Related articles:

  • If you’d like to see another city in the sun, take a look at my photos of my recent visit to Brighton.
  • The UK a little too close by and boring? I’ve got a few from Hong Kong as well…

Making the most of London

I’m someone who likes to plan.

Not in a “did we buy enough bread to see us through to the weekend?” kind of way. More in a “ooooh, why don’t we move to Croatia in a year and buy a boat and sail to Greece and learn to make Greek food and then come back to the UK and open a Greek restaurant” kind of way.

(Actually, who am I kidding, I like to plan in the bread way too…)

The more plans I have on the go at any time, the happier I am. The very day I move into a new house, I’ll be checking out the “for sale” signs on houses round the corner, planning where we’ll go to next.

The minute I start to think about how much I like nicely-designed fabrics, I’ll decide it’s a brilliant idea to start a fabric business.

I’ve got three big plans in my life, right now. The fabric business plan. A plan to move to Italy in two years, open some holiday cottages and start to make cheese. And a plan to move out West once we return home from the Italian sojourn.

St Pauls, copyright Wolves in London
Yup, I live in a pretty beautiful city

Most of these plans involve leaving London in the not-too-distant-future and, as is my wont, I started thinking about all the things I’d miss once we do leave London – despite the fact we’ve nothing concrete set in place to do so…

But, then, in perhaps one of my more sentient planning moments, I thought that I should really make the most of London before we do go.

Along with, I suspect, most of the population of London dwellers (at least those out of their 20s with kids), I don’t actually spend that much time exploring all the wonders the capital has to offer.

I’ve been to the theatre once in the last year. Seen perhaps two art exhibitions. Eaten at lots of cafés and restaurants, but most of them right on my doorstep.

So, the latest plan is the simplest one I’ve ever come up with: make the most of London while I’m still living in it.

I’m going to arm myself with one of my favourite London-based books for some inspiration.  Used, so far, mostly just for armchair Londoning.

Tired of London, Tired of Life, gives you one thing a day to do in London. I bought it when I was pregnant, thinking it would give me loads of ideas of things to do with the baby once he arrived. Of course, what I usually do with the baby is wander round the closest shops.

Tired of London, Tired of Life
Presumably not by The Tom Jones

And since I plan to be out doing these things, I thought I might as well write about them here too, in a new series called… ….you guessed it… making the most of London.

My very first trip is a bit of a cheat, since it’s right on my doorstep, but it’s given as a destination for August 5th. So I started out with Peckham Rye Park. Head over to the article: A stroll around Peckham Rye Park.

Sexby Garden
Sexby Garden, Peckham Rye Park. Recommended for August 5th, but it’s looking pretty nice right now too

The next few things I’ve got planned are a trip to Nunhead cemetery (an easy walk from me, but still unvisited after living here for six months) and a repeat trip to the Horniman Museum.

If you’ve got any ideas for some weird, wonderful, cheap or just unmissable places and events, do let me know in the comments.

Places I’ve explored so far: