whitby: a day on the yorkshire coast

While staying with some Yorkshire relatives this week, we decided to take a day trip out to Whitby, a seaside town famous for Dracula and Captain Cook. I have a real soft spot for this town. I’ve only been here a few times, but whenever I come back I’m filled with nostalgia. I came here as a child with the aforementioned relatives, and I have memories of eating fish and chips and playing with 2p coins in the amusement arcades.

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Bram Stoker took most of his inspiration for Dracula from this striking seaside settlement, and you can easily see why. With its sleepy harbour, moody grey clouds and dramatic cliffs, it’s basically a recipe for a great story. Also, Captain Cook reportedly learnt most of his sea craft here as a youngster before his later voyage to settle New Zealand, so that’s pretty cool.

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I came here once in summer, and Whitby was right in the middle of a Goth Weekend, which meant that the town was absolutely packed! It was quite a cool time to visit, seeing people wearing goth fashion wandered the streets, weaving in between the ordinary tourists dressed like a generic H&M advert. It was a glorious juxtaposition. Today though, the streets were empty.

Let’s set the scene: the sun was beginning to set, and the Christmas lights were starting to switch on. There was a grey and stormy sky, and and the remnants of the wet morning provided a muted reflection of the sunset on the pavements. The streets were just how I like them; all higgledy piggledy, with messy, alternating shopfronts and colours.

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There were so many cute looking shops around here! If I had the time and money, I would have spent all day inside them. Alas, I could only enjoy from the outside. The people in this town certainly know how to coordinate a shop display.

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After wandering through the cobblestones of the town centre, we had lunch inside a lovely cafe called the Monks Haven, because of course it was. I had fish pie, because a trip to the seaside is not complete without some form of fish in a meal! I didn’t take photos inside because our food was distractingly good, but the interior was very nice.

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We climbed the 199 steps to the Abbey, which is situated on a dramatic clifftop perch, overlooking the entire coast. With it’s weathered gravestones and ruined silhouette, you can easily see why Bram Stoker was inspired by this image. The views from the climb were stunning.

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From the bottom of the steps.

Following the climb, we headed off to the beach for a quick wander. I spent my entire childhood living next to the ocean (although ironically, I never went), but I’ve only seen the sea a handful of times since moving to London. I really miss it. To stand there, on that English coast, just for a moment, was amazing.

The sand was getting all over my boots, and the dying pastel hues of the sun were reflected in the waves. Seagulls flew overhead, and the water stretched as far as I could see. I just stood there for a bit, feeling the cool winter wind on my face and gazing out into the Yorkshire sea.

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It was a long drive back to my relative’s place. We were all exhausted from our long day out, and my headphones provided a soundtrack to the drive as I leaned on the window, staring up at the stars over the bleak moors. It was a good day.

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Whitby is of my favourite places in this country, and I don’t think that its just the nostalgia talking. It’s a lovely town, with friendly people who also happen to have excellent taste in decorating. If I had more time I would have delved more into the historical background of this town, but I know I’ll be back at some point! If you ever get a chance to visit Yorkshire, I highly recommend coming over to the east coast and spending some time in Whitby.

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battersea park & riverfront views

Although most people will only know it for the iconic power station of the same name, Battersea is home to a sprawling park with much to offer its patrons. It was actually much bigger than I had previously expected, and despite being only 3 kilometres upstream from the bustle of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, it had a certain serenity that made it seem worlds away.

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Battersea Park certainly had no shortage of points of interest. The first one I came across was a massive boating lake, with lovely reflections of the autumn foliage and lots of dangerous looking swans prowling around the edges. These gangsters.

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There was a photo opportunity at nearly every corner, and I wasted no time in taking advantage of that! This park works best when you’re just mindlessly wandering through it.

I found one area with a beautiful old bandstand, surrounded by a quiet circle of leaves strewn across wooden benches. I took this chance to stop and sit down for a little, and just enjoy the moment. Then I got cold and had to stand up and start moving again, as silly me had not yet allowed herself to believe that summer is over and was not dressed appropriately. Hmmph.

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I even came across a sub-tropical garden, which featured exotic plants from across the world, including some Flax from New Zealand. I remember my family spending ages trying to get rid of flax in our garden back home in New Zealand, so it made me chuckle that someone would willingly plant it somewhere else!

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As I wandered northwards towards the river, I came across some beautiful botanical gardens. A signpost helpfully informed me that these gardens were purpose built in the 1950s for the ‘Festival of Britain’. While most of the attractions of the event didn’t survive the decades, the grand vision of the past still exists in some lovely water features and mid-century architecture. To my delight, the golden hour was upon me, and it made for some beautiful photos.

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To get back home, instead of walking back through the park to where I arrived at, I decided to take the route that took me across the river to Sloane Square station, north of the park. It worked out much better actually, as I got to see an entirely different side to the Thames river!

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Seeing the old townhouses across the river almost made me feel like I was in some other European city or something. Its hard to believe that this peaceful riverside walk eventually gives way to the bustling South Bank of London! This part of the park is also home to the London Peace Pagoda, which cuts a particularly impressive sight.

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The Peace Pagoda.

The stations in its immediate vicinity are not part of London’s tube network, so it can be a bit of a pain getting there, which is a let down for its otherwise potentially high rating. That being said, Sloane Square (which is on the District/Circle line) is only a 10-20 minute walk from the park, which also includes sections walking along the picturesque riverbank, so its not all bad! If you’re ever in the area, Battersea Park is a lovely day out with lots to see and do.

Final rating: 7.5/10

Nearest stations: Battersea Park or Queenstown Road (National Rail). Zone 2. Sloane Square (District/Circle). Zone 1.

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impressions of oxford

It’s hard to describe exactly what makes Oxford, England so great. Perhaps it’s the obvious sense of history and sense of curiosity exuding from the gaps between the well-worn flagstones, or perhaps it’s just the small things. Flowers spilling out over bicycle baskets, books haphazardly piled along window sills, reflections of the past in store windows.  It’s just as much about the little things as it is about the obvious, big historical attractions.

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I have been there on two separate occasions; once in a rainy spring day in May, and another in a mild autumn day a few weeks ago. I don’t think it matters what the weather is when you visit though; Oxford’s appeal is not consigned to one particular climate. Here are some photos I’ve taken during my two visits.

 

 

I’m not a particularly studious person, but it is difficult to avoid the gentle influence that Oxford University has had over this city for so many centuries. I’ll be honest – if I had to describe my ideal student life it would be in Oxford! I almost could have imagined myself trawling through one of the bookstores looking for an obscure volume, curled up in a coffee shop with my laptop, or studying with friends in the wide lawns of the colleges. Or to be more realistic, running through bucketloads of tourists in the cobblestoned streets because I slept in and don’t want to be late to my class. Dreams need a bit of a reality check sometimes as well, don’t they? I’m almost jealous of the students studying there. Academic results aside, you can easily see why Oxford is one of the most prestigious universities in the world!

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Oxford has a certain timeless feel to it. Sometimes it feels like any modern urban centre, and other times you could have stumbled into the mediaeval times. Students tap away at their MacBook keyboards with their headphones in, but then sometimes you will stumble into a deserted street and it will strike you that this street probably hasn’t changed in centuries.

 

 

Oxford is also home to one of my favourite museums, the Pitt Rivers/Oxford Natural History museum. It’s got an amazing collection related to anthropology, and it’s situated in a gorgeous Victorian building. I’ll write a more detailed post about the museum soon!

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Oxford is barely an hour away from London on the train, and a return day fare from London is only £26.00 (or less if you have a railcard!) which isn’t too bad as rail fares go. If you buy in advance you can get return fares for just over £10 too! You can walk literally everywhere in Oxford too, so there’s no need to worry about getting around once you’re there. So, if you are ever in London and feel like taking a day away from the city’s hustle and bustle, maybe you’ll consider Oxford.

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This is something a little different for me, so I hope it turned out okay. Thanks for reading, and I hope you liked my photos.

hampstead hill gardens

The Hampstead Hill Gardens quite easily make my short list of London attractions. Hardly anyone seems to even know about it, and that’s all part of its charm. When you first enter the sanctuary with flowers and vines twisting over marble pillars you could be forgiven for thinking that you’ve stumbled into an enchanted garden from a fairytale.

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SEE WHAT I MEAN ABOUT A SECRET GARDEN?

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The gardens are the public part of a large estate, which is still inhabited today. They date back to the early 1900s, where they were a prime location for evening strolls and showing off to others at Edwardian garden parties. The most interesting thing about these gardens though, is that back when they were constructing them, due to the time period they obviously had no large trucks or heavy machinery to transport the dirt for landscaping, which made things difficult. However, conveniently enough, the Northern line tube extension was underway very close by. They needed somewhere to put all of that dirt from the tunnelling, and guess what it was used for! The contractors were so desperate to get rid of the dirt that they actually paid the the garden builders to take in the dirt. Public transport really shaped this city, even in the most unlikely of ways!IMG_1345

When I purchased my first DSLR I knew this was the place to practice my photography, which is why the photos in this article are so much better than all of my other ones! Honestly, this place is ridiculously photogenic. There’s an endless array of interesting angles, shadows and perspectives to play around with, it’s such fun!DSC_0154DSC_0119

However, it’s otherwise high rating is let down by it being a bit of a walk from the station. Sure, you could take the bus directly there, but that’s such a hassle. I jest. It’s actually a very pleasant and quiet ride/walk through the leafy suburbs/forests of north London, and it’s well worth the extra effort! You can either walk/ride the bus through the leafy and village-like suburbs of north London from Hampstead station, or take the overground to Hampstead Heath and take a lovely stroll through the park of the same name.

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The contrast in colours is beautiful here.
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The view over the trees.

Final rating: 8.5/10

Nearest station: Hampstead (Northern Line) – Zone 2

Thanks to the historical background from: https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/hampstead-heath/heritage/Pages/the-pergola.aspx

abney park cemetery

Just a few minutes off the busy Stoke Newington High Street, you will find yourself in the cavernous Abney Park Cemetery. Melancholy is the word that immediately springs to mind when you walk in here. You can’t help but feel like you’ve stepped into a storybook. This is one of my favourite places to visit when I want to just think in silence.

Every time I’ve visited I’ve been pretty much the only one there, so it’s actually quite eerie in a way. Abney Park has a timeless feel to it; save for the occasional plane flying overhead you could be just about anywhere, or anytime. I don’t know, maybe I’m just being a romantic, but you can’t help but feel that you’re the first person to discover this place.

This cemetery was built during the industrial revolution to deal with the quickly rising city population, but after it reached capacity it was left completely untouched. Decades of neglect have resulted in today’s cemetery/nature reserve, which is totally overgrown with greenery. Branches and leaves snake over the tombstones and many have disappeared into the undergrowth completely. It’s got quite a fascinating history actually, but I won’t get into it here, it’ll take too long! I highly recommend looking it up though.

It’s not too far out, with a location on the edge of Zone 2, and it’s only a short walk from Stoke Newington station. If you don’t have an connection to this particular Overground line you can change at Hackney Central or Seven Sisters, so it’s quite well connected. The rest of Stoke Newington is a quite nice area as well, with a rather village-like atmosphere despite its its close proximity to the A10.

Final rating: 8/10

Nearest Station: Stoke Newington (overground). Zone 2

Limehouse Basin

After admiring the view of the Limehouse Basin and its pretty canalboats for months after passing over it on the DLR, I finally decided to get off a few stops early and check it out. I’ve on occasion cycled through this area on my way to work as well, and it was just as enjoyable this way. I will maintain, aside from the Embankment cycle route which will always take the crown (it’s very hard to compete with the Houses of Parliament), this is my favourite route to cycle in the city. The lovely new East-West cycle superhighway runs right through this area, and it’s fully segregated from the road with separate traffic lights, etc just for cyclists.

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Viewing the basin from on board the DLR.

Bikes can move through congested areas much quicker than cars can, so it’s a smooth, uninterrupted journey. It’s so easy and effortless, that sometimes I can even pretend I’m in the Netherlands or something. Props to TFL for creating this route!

When you approach the Limehouse basin, you get the combined view of the impressive towers of Canary Wharf blocking out the sun, and the peaceful narrowboats in the foreground. Even just being a pedestrian is very nice, as it’s a very peaceful area.IMG_9833

It couldn’t be closer to the DLR station(s), and once you leave the stop you’ll find yourself free to wander the perimeter of the basin and admire the colourful boats. There’s some spots where you can look out onto the Thames as well, and take in the quieter side of the iconic river.

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The bank of the Thames.

This area has a very local feel to it, as unless they’re passing through on their bicycles, it’s mostly just residents enjoying the waterfront. I currently work near Canary Wharf, so sometimes I’ll go for a little walk around here before I start work which is really lovely. Personally I like to walk around to the other side where there is a small adjoining park called Ropemakers Fields, and from there on it’s only a 7 or so minute walk to the next station along, Westferry where I can continue my journey.

A spot of calm off Commercial Road, very well linked with the DLR running parallel to it, or a 15 minute cycle from Tower Hill.

Final rating: 7/10

Nearest Station: Limehouse (DLR, National Rail). Zone 2.

Lloyd Park

I’ll be honest, I mostly came down here because I wanted to ride the mythical London tram system. And that I did. It was a just like a train, except we got caught in traffic jams. Very exciting. There was a stop (or is it station?) right outside the park as well, conveniently enough. The park was lovely too, so it was two birds with one stone! If you don’t take that tram though, it’s a relatively straightforward 20 minute walk from the Croydon centre.

There was this fairground thing when I went, but I’m more of a nature gal’ so I kind of just ignored it and went straight into the woody growth behind it. There was quite a big field which would be useful for a casual game of football I imagine, but there were also quite a lot of wild grasslands that gave you that countryside feel.

It was a bit hilly by London’s standard’s, which means there were mild inclines that made me embarrassingly out of breath. That being said, at this point you’re basically in Surrey anyway so a bit of rolling landscapes is understandable.

It was a lovely park, but probably not worth making the trek all of the way from North London if you aren’t local to the area (unless you, like me, are a fan of the Croydon trams). Of course, if you’re anywhere near South East London and you want a countryside escape that’s not actually in the countryside, it’s a great spot to visit! I didn’t get all of the way in, but it seemed quite big, with plenty of parts to explore.

Final rating: 6.5/10

Nearest station: Lloyd Park, London Trams, or East Croydon, National Rail

Clapham Common

This park was so much bigger than I initially thought it was! At first I just saw a lovely, but not particularly noteworthy green space. It seemed a bit smaller than I was expecting, but lo and behold, I changed direction and crossed a corner, and all of a sudden it was huge! It had all of the usual features of a park, except it was all relatively  spread out because the park was so big. There were children playing football in the fields, and I walked past a lovely pond where some people were fishing. There was a bandstand which was really lovely too, you don’t see too many of these around nowadays!

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I saw lots of people using this park as a cyclist through-fare on their way home from work too, which I always love seeing! It just goes to show how London is becoming greener every day.

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London cyclists in the park.

There’s quite a few busy roads criss-crossing through the park which you have no choice but to cross, which unfortunately can ruin the vibe of the otherwise peaceful urban stroll. Ah well, you can’t have everything! Luckily enough, the park is big enough so that once you’re away from the roads you can forget about them. It’s insanely well-linked transport-wise too, with the northern line serving stations at both the north and south ends of the park. There are plenty of normal shops, pubs and cute cafes at either end as well which can provide a great introduction back into the city life once you’re done!

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Worth mentioning that the tube station here is one of two on the entire tube network that has these tiny island platforms. Presumably they don’t have the space to widen the tunnels, so you’re left with these questionably small platforms…

Mind the gap!

Final rating: 7/10

Nearest Station: Clapham Common (Northern Line). Zone 2.

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Pretty reflections in the water!

Stanmore Country Park

My series will begin with Stanmore Country Park. To many, Stanmore is only known as the place where Jubilee line terminates. However, it is so much more than that!

Walking there from the station, you can’t help but feel like you’ve already left London. Detached houses, wide roads, people driving everywhere? Is this really the city I’m so familiar with? But it is. The walk from the station is barely a few minutes at most, and during that time you can pretend you live in an alternate universe where you’ve actually escaped the money-grabbing jaws of London. Despite this, you’re actually only in Zone 5.

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Is this really London?

When you first enter heading from the station, you’ll find yourself in a woody area, full of a winding maze of paths disappearing into the undergrowth. This is where just exploring the area is the best way to see it, there are plenty of peaceful clearings, meadows, and even cows grazing in a field if you’re there at the right times!

IMG_9925I was very pleasantly surprised when I emerged into this lovely grassland area at the top, and then I turned around and got a smashing view of the city! I was lucky enough to have visited on a clear day, so I could see as far as the radio mast at Crystal Palace, over 20km away. If you are in a rush, basically head uphill in any direction from the entrance of the park and you’ll be there.

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The resolution isn’t great, but you get the idea!

Forests, quaint clearings, meadows, it’s got all of the makings of a great park. It’s close proximity to the Jubilee Line (arguably one of the more pleasant deep-level tube lines too) and lack of people give Stanmore Country Park a final rating of…

Final rating: 8/10

Nearest station: Stanmore (Jubilee Line). Zone 5

London.

Alright, I’ve decided to start a blog post series. It’s coming up to one year that I’ve been in London now, and I’ve seen so much, but I also feel I’ve barely scratched the tip of the iceberg of this city. The beauty of an ancient, sprawling city like London is that after being one of the world capitals of culture for a reason, there is always something to do.

However, considering the short time I’ve been here, I realise that I have seen a lot of places that might be off the beaten path. I thought I’d start a review series of sorts, just to bring the gems of London to people’s awareness. The best part, is that the vast majority of the places I’m going to mention are actually free. You don’t need to pay an entry fare to walk around a park or take in the vibe of a bustling area, all you need is the train fare to get there.

‘But London transportation is so expensive!,’ you might say! But you know  how much a zone 2-6 off peak tube fare costs? £1.50. For £1.50, you can get to so many amazing places. Now where’s your excuse? The problem with London is that it’s very, very easy to get caught up in everyday life and never leave the usual places. My goal with this series is show other people how crazily easy it is to see all of these amazing places, no matter where in London you are (or even if you don’t live here at all)!

Anyway, I hope you all enjoy!