canary wharf // inside a concrete jungle

Canary Wharf is quite a funny area of London. In the eighties it was essentially an abandoned dockyard, yet today it is home to one of the most important financial centres of Europe, if not the world! It’s the textbook example of ‘regeneration’.

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View of Canary Wharf from Greenwich.

I work quite close to it, but I don’t go in very often. Although I’ve never been to New York, Canary Wharf is what I imagine Manhattan looks like. Everything in Canary Wharf is very Fancy and New™. The Canary Wharf underground station looks like a spaceship, with all of its glass panels and long strip lighting. So much like one in fact, that it is featured as such for a small moment in the Rouge One film.

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In this station at rush hour you can view a spectacular case of British queuing at its finest. 

I’ll be honest, I prefer the main City of London, with its mish-mash of old and new architecture and ancient streets. Still, they certainly knew how to impress with their massive towers here. I see them every day, but I’m still in awe. It’s crazy to believe none of it existed a mere 40 years ago!

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Obviously if you aren’t a Londoner this will not be relevant to you at all, but we’re getting a brand new underground railway running straight through the heart of the city, named ‘Crossrail’. I won’t bore anyone with the details, but it’s pretty exciting, and more transport links are definitely needed! It’s not due to open for another year or so, but we already are reaping the benefits in many ways, namely the new Canary Wharf station, otherwise known as ‘Crossrail Place’. It’s not a functioning station yet, but there is a choice roof garden!

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The Garden is located directly on top of the prime meridian stemming from the nearby Greenwich, which in layman’s terms, is the line that divides the world into the eastern and western hemispheres. This directly influences the garden’s design, which intends to play into this division, and is split into two sides; east and west, both showcasing the best of the exotic plants from their respective hemispheres.

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The juxtaposition of the towering glass and steel monoliths and the messy greenery of the garden pack quite a punch. I couldn’t help but feel a little excited at spotting some fauna from my very own New Zealand featuring in the Western side! A slice of nature and bit of nostalgia in surrounded by the tallest towers in the country, what more could you ask for?

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some of my favourite london cáfes

As a young millennial, I am almost contractually obliged to spend half of my income in coffee shops, and I am not ashamed to say so! I rarely eat out a proper restaurants, but I quite enjoy the experience of just chilling for a while in a cosy environment with a hot drink in hand. Bonus points if it’s an independent one! One of my favourite things about London is that there is a coffee shop for everyone, and there is no shortage of unique places to visit!

This list is by no means comprehensive, but it’s just a few of my favourite places that I’ve found around the city, in no particular order.

  • Yumchaa // Shoreditch
    This shop smells delicious. Yumchaa sells a wide selection of unique teas, and the blends give this cafe an amazing, subtle scent as soon as you walk through the door. Home to one of the best hot chocolates I’ve had in the city! The drink is modest, and there are no fancy marshmallows or whipped cream, but by god, is it good. I absolutely love the decor in here as well; as us millennials like to say, the mismatched combination of antique and retro items is very much my ‘aesthetic’.
    137 Brick Lane // E1 6SB
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  • Waterstones Cafe // Greenwich
    For all of these book lovers out there! I love to come here and try and snag one of the window seats, where you can just stare straight out onto the brightly painted houses opposite and bustle of the street below. Plus, it’s located in a bookstore, and what’s not to love about that?
    51 Greenwich Church Street // SE10 9BL
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  • Harvest E8 // Dalston
    This place is home to a small organic grocery store as well, and opens late. What’s not to love? There’s always a wide variety of interesting people in here, with some working on their laptops, and some just friends chatting. There are wide windows, so it’s pretty fun to people watch on the busy high street outdoors too. The food selection is amazing too, with most of it being vegetarian or vegan friendly!
    130 Kingsland High Street // E8 2NS
  • Euphorium Bakery // Hampstead Heath
    I discovered this place by accident, after being caught by a sudden downpour in Hampstead Heath park. Soaked wet, but still not quite ready to head home, I decided to retire to the first place I could find. Right outside Hampstead Heath overground station, this place seems unassuming from the outside, but when you go inside, it opens up into a surprisingly large rustic interior. And, as the name suggests, it has an excellent bakery selection. Seriously, the strawberry tart I had was to die for!
    45 South End Road // NW3 2QB
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  • H. J. Aris // Dalston
    Yet another place located in the borough of Hackney (what can I say, Hackney is full of hipsters), this one is special in that it is also home to an antique store.
    11 Dalston Lane // E8 2LX
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So there you have it. A selection of some of my favourite places around the city. I won’t even attempt to claim to be a café connoisseur – that would be a gross exaggeration – but I found a lot of enjoyment of these cosy places, and I hope you will too, if you ever make it to the areas!

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notting hill // antique markets & pastel hues

One of my friend’s was returning home to her home country, and this was basically our final chance to spend some time together before she left. Notting Hill was an easy choice in deciding how to spend our final day together! Notting Hill is a small neighbourhood in West London, adjacent to the rich and impressive streets around Hyde Park and Kensington. Although still rather posh in its own right, it’s got a much cosier vibe, and there’s a bustle and sense of excitement in the area that its more expensive neighbours lack. Even if I can’t afford anything on the shelves, no one minds if a girl in scuffed shoes and an oversized jacket wants to window shop!

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Ask just about anyone, and they’ll tell you Notting Hill is an incredibly pretty area. Looking around at the late Victorian houses in bright colours, and you’ll instantly see why. Window boxes and potted plants are on almost every doorstep, and I can’t help but wish that the rest of London would follow suit! They certainly know how to make their surroundings photogenic.

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IMG_3908 Portobello Road is home to the market of the same name, the biggest antique market in the UK. The weekend is the real time to go, when the entire market is open and the street is clogged up with patrons. However, despite that fact that we visited on a gloomy Tuesday in the middle of winter, we found ourselves plenty occupied by the ordinary shops still open on the street! We had a lot of fun exploring the shops here.

I absolutely love basically anything vintage, and I couldn’t help but wish I could decorate my flat (and wardrobe) with the entire contents of some of the antique shops! They’re the kind of place where you could imagine finding just about anything for sale. Goods of all ages and uses were stacked haphazardly on tables and shelves. My friend and I were a bit terrified of accidentally knocking something over, so we ended up taking off our backpacks and just carrying them!

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Funnily enough, I had just happened to see the film called ‘Notting Hill’ just a few days earlier. For the uninformed, it’s a classic 90s rom-com starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, and makes a strong point of being set in the neighbourhood of Notting Hill. Although cheesy, I enjoyed it very much, and was a little bit excited to look at the area with a new light.

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Spotted the flat with a blue door, but unfortunately there was no Hugh Grant?

The great thing about Notting Hill is that you feel almost like you’re taking a holiday from the city when you’re there! Of course, just around the corner is Shepherd’s Bush and Hyde Park which definitely feel like you’re back in London again. If you want something a bit different from the usual tourist hustle and bustle of the central city, Notting Hill is there waiting for you.

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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chingford // epping forest

Disclaimer: I got a little lost here. That was okay though, because I still had 4G signal, so Google Maps was always comfortably in the back of my mind if worst came to worst.

Actually, I’m not even sure if I’d go as far to say that I was lost, per say. It was more like I knew what direction I came from and where the exit was, I just wasn’t on a Official Path. So this was an organised form of being lost.

Folks, this is the story of an adventure in Epping Forest.

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Epping Forest is a massive, 2,400ha swath of woodland, located on the northern side of London. There’s been evidence to suggest that this area has been continuously wooded since the late stone ages, and it’s uncultivated nature has been a source of local interest for just about as long. The infamous ‘black knight’ scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail was even filmed inside, which I was quite delighted to learn! Epping Forest is so vast that it technically encompasses a few train stops, but for today, I visited the Chingford section.

Chingford is quite a fun word to say, and for a long while I only recognised the name as the northern terminus of one of the several Overground lines. A yet, a mere 5 minutes from the station, you could be forgiven for thinking that you’re in the middle of nowhere quite quickly. It’s autumn now, so I was greeted by orange and red hues in every direction. It was very peaceful. Epping has that almost magical feeling, where you feel like anything could happen. The only reminder of civilisation is the faint chatter of people and dogs barking, and you can go several minutes without seeing a soul. It’s easy to see why centuries worth of creatives have found their muse in these paths.

There’s also an excellent example of Tudor timber-framed architecture in Queen Elizabeth’s hunting lodge, a bespoke building by Henry VIII. It’s quite close to the edge of the forest, and it cuts quite an picturesque image at its hilltop perch. It wasn’t hard to imagine the pompous and frilly nobles of the day enjoying a lavish feast, looking out through the iron windowpanes towards the plains. It’s rare to see this kind of architecture this close to London, so for someone who came with literally no other expectations of the area beyond the fact that ‘Epping Forest is supposed to be quite nice’, seeing some Tudor design was quite exciting!

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Not real deer, of course!

 

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View from the hunting lodge.

 

Epping Forest is absolute massive, and it’s formidable 2,400ha means that there’s several different ways to get there. Obviously today I entered via Chingford, but the Central Line runs along the perimeter as well, which gives you an alternate route if the overground isn’t that accessible.

On a nice day I could easily imagine bringing a picnic here to enjoy, and on a more overcast day like when I went, it was just nice to explore the atmosphere. Epping Forest is well worth seeing if you ever need an escape into nature from the city! There’s a varied enough landscape that you’ll be entertained for hours. I know I’ll definitely be coming back often.

Final rating: 9/10

Nearest station: Chingford (London Overground). Zone 5.

an ode to brutalist beauty

The emergence of Brutalism in the ruins of post-war Britain is one of the most fascinating parts of modern design. The name suits it; brutalist architecture knows what it is and doesn’t care if you like it or not. Done wrongly, it can look rather depressing. Think of 60s era council flats with dirty, water stained concrete. However, done correctly, it can be powerful, unassuming, and beautiful, all at the same time.

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The other day, I had the pleasure of wandering around the Barbican, a massive complex of buildings in central London. I was meeting some friends nearby in Old Street, and the route I found on Citymapper told me to walk from Barbican station. I never really visit this side of the city, so I didn’t really know what to expect.

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It’s impossible for the Barbican to not catch your eye. It’s there, blocking the horizon in its brutal, brutalist way, as soon as you exit the station. I had time to burn before meeting my friends, and my curiosity was piqued. I decided to enter this cavernous sprawl, one so important as to lend its name to its very own train station.

IMG_0362As soon as I walked in, I was greeted by grey; lots of grey. Massive concrete monoliths rose forebodingly into the skyline, and balconies bedecked with small potted plants greeted my eyes in every direction I looked. It was stark, unapologetic and in-your-face. It was beautiful.

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In a way, it’s even more true to the nature of the concept of a building than anything. Brutalism doesn’t pretend to be anything else, to integrate into the environment around it, because that’s impossible. There’s no paint or glossy facades, it just is. It’s simply a building, built for and by humans.

If you were describe an ideal building on paper, it would not be a brutalist one. It’s too easy to enjoy bright, smooth surfaces and big windows, but then again, that’s what we’re conditioned to like in a way.

Bold, unapologetic, and undeniably urban; people are quick to dismiss brutalism, but it’s just another type of beauty.

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?

IMG_1413There’s hardly ever anyone around, and the gardens are big enough that if there are people, you don’t really overlap with them. It’s like a secret! I’m almost reluctant to tell people about it sometimes, because I feel like it should stay hidden! It’s close proximity to Hampstead Heath (it’s just across the road) just tops it off.DSC_0120

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