Monday, November 30, 2020

Day Trip from London

With the rolling green hills in the Kent countryside, it’s difficult to imagine a more perfect place for naturalist Charles Darwin to have called home.

Autumnal colors in the Kent countryside surrounding Darwin's Home and gardens.

A couple weekends ago, we cycled out to Darwin’s former home, a Georgian manor 15 miles south of London, for 40 years—from 1842 to 1882. Since it was raining in the morning, we cheated a bit and took the train to the town of Orpington and then cycled the 14km roundtrip which includes a steep hill leading up to the house.

Our day out revolved around using our English Heritage membership to gain entry to Charles Darwin’s Home for free, a stroll around the gardens and a pub lunch in the nearby village of Downe.

Darwin was a leading figure in the world of biology and his whose contributions to the science of evolution transformed the way in which we all look at the natural world – well, most of us, I suppose. His home, also known as Down House, was the birthplace of “On the Origin of Species” – which caused quite a stir when the book was published in 1859. You can even see Darwin’s chair where he sat in his study while writing his famous book.

Today’s Down House, owned by the English Heritage, serves as a small museum and homage to the Darwin family and his prolific career as a biologist and naturalist. Darwin and his wife, Emma, lived here with their 10 children. The house was a family home as well as place for Darwin to read, research and explore the natural world.

Our educational visit opened up my eyes to how thorough Darwin was in his studies and theories. Plus, the grounds are lovely to walk around, especially in the autumn.


This is just a short photo post about our day trip from London to Downe and Darwin’s Home.

Village of Downe, UK

The Queen's Head was one of two pubs in the village of Downe, UK.
The pub has a large outdoor beer garden as well as an enclosed tent.
Since we were a bit wet from our rainy bike ride, we opted for a hearty lunch, and
we tried to sit close to the outdoor heater in the beer garden.

George & Dragon is the second village pub in Downe with a small beer tent.
Lovely autumnal vines all the stone walls in Downe, UK,
and some blue skies after the rain.


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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Since London is such a vast city, there are many parts that I haven’t explored yet or rarely visit.

But 2020 – because of Covid-19, being furloughed and then unemployed – has meant that I have a lot of free time on my hands to explore more of London. One area that I returned to recently is Hampstead Heath, an amazing 790 acres of ancient parkland within the capital – only a 15-minute Tube ride from the city center or an hour bike ride if you live in southwest London like I do.

View of Hampstead Pergola in London
Autumnal view of the Hampstead Pergola in North London.

Hampstead Pergola and Hill Garden

One part of the Heath that I wanted to explore was the Hampstead Pergola and Hill Garden, which is located on the far western side of the park. If you cycle here like I did, there is a pretty steady incline starting on Frognal Road and Lower Terrace. I guess I didn’t notice the name of Windmill Hill before I approached the West Heath section.

The Hampstead Pergola – a fabulous 800-foot-long, wisteria-clad pergola – is Instagram famous in the spring but looks just as lovely in the autumn. Long tendrils of wisteria vines reach out as you walk through a tunnel lined with thick wisteria branches. The pergola and its hill-top gardens make you feel as if you are in Tuscany rather than London.

If only there were vineyards as well! But I did find ripe grapes.

Peek through the pergola and you’ll see part of the original Neo-Georgian mansion here, Inverforth House (now privately-owned flats), owned by the Edwardian soap magnate Lord Lever from 1904-1925.

There is plenty to photograph in the gardens in autumn – vibrant, crimson berries, autumn-colored Japanese maple leaves and other golden foliage. In fact, during my afternoon visit in late October, I often had to wait or step aside to take the photos I wanted because there were too many people.

And gorgeous shades of red and pinks in the gardens.


This would be the perfect location for engagement or wedding photos!

Kenwood House and Prospect Hill

At the top of Hampstead Heath is the Kenwood House, a 17th-century manor house operated by the English Heritage. Unfortunately, I didn’t go inside the house because tickets can only be purchased in advance. However, I did enjoy the viewpoint from here at Prospect Hill looking out over the panoramic skyline of London.

If you have time, take a 20-minute stroll through the Heath to enjoy another viewpoint from Parliament Hill.

Highgate Cemetery

Another site on my Hampstead bucket list was the Highgate Cemetery, where Karl Marx, English novelist George Eliot and the Dickens family are all buried. Unfortunately, due to Covid restrictions, the cemetery, dating back to 1839, was closed so all I could do was peak through the gates.

I guess this historic cemetery will have to wait for another visit.

The Highgate area has a long history…the village of Highgate was established at the top of a 426-foot hill on the edge of the Bishop of London’s estate. The Bishop erected a tollgate here around 1354, when the name of Highgate name was first recorded. After 1380, when a new road from the City of London via Holloway was established, many travellers took the new North Road past the “highgate.” 

Ornate entrance for Highgate Cemetery in North London
Another fancy gate for the private community of Holly estate near the Highgate Cemetery.


Waterlow Park

Since the cemetery was closed, I popped in next door to Waterlow Park, a quiet, 12-hectacre park featuring numerous trees and two duck ponds. During the late 1800s, Sir Sydney Waterlow, Mayor of London, purchased this land and surrounding grounds and then gifted them be used as a park to the London County Council in 1889. If you’re up this far north, you might as well stroll through this tranquil park too.

Hopefully, my photos have convinced you to explore another part of London. I think it’s always fun to get off the main tourist path and see what else is out there – even in your own city!

How to reach Hampstead Heath

The closest station to Hampstead Park is the Overground stations of Hampstead Heath or Gospel Oak. The Heath also is easily accessible to Hampstead Tube Station on the Northern Line and you can walk through Hampstead Village on the way to the Heath.

You might even see some of London's mounted police officers at Hampstead Heath.
Also the trails here can get a bit muddy for cycling.

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Friday, November 13, 2020

Day Trip from London

A few weekends ago we had a rental car and went looking for autumnal colors in the Kent countryside.

Our destination was literally picked after perusing a map and hubby selected a large green area called the High Weald, an Area of Natural Beauty. This expansive, wooded area covers land within the counties of Kent, Surrey and Sussex in southeast England. We narrowed our choice down further and decided to explore the trails within the Bedgebury National Pinetum.

If any place was going to have autumnal colors, it had better be an English forest.

Upon arrival, the car park was chock-a-block, but once we got away from the main visitor’s center, we were able to practice better social-distancing away from people.

The Bedgebury National Pinetum contains more than 12,000 trees and has several walking and mountain-biking trails and even a bike rental shop. The pinetum is the name used to describe an arboretum (tree collection) that consists mainly of conifers. Bedgebury is a partnership between the Forestry Commission and the Royal Botanic Kew Gardens, which we’ve visited many times, and is one of a handful of international botanical gardens that focuses specifically on pine trees.

The forest provides a beautiful setting for peaceful walks and a chance to escape the city. But don’t forget to wear your hiking boots because the trails get awfully muddy. We saw several dogs wearing mud up to their bellies that were happily running ahead of their owners on the trails.

The pinetum’s history actually dates back about 400 years when the previous owners, the Beresford family, planted English Oaks in the local forests. The Beresford family also was responsible for a large part of the landscaping, including Marshal’s Lake, and introduced exotic trees such as the Lawson Cypress. Unfortunately, I’m not sure where these oaks or cypress trees were located as the map wasn’t that detailed.

Still, we had a pleasant enough day and spent about two hours walking amongst the trees. Of course, I was busy taking photographs as we went along.

Like most of our UK walks or long bike rides, we ended up at a pub afterwards. We nearly missed the sign advertising a local brewery, Cellar Head Brewing Company, just down the road from the forest. What luck!

This family-owned microbrewery even uses local hops to make their beers. Kent has been growing hops for hundreds of years and you still see remnants of the hop houses as you drive around the countryside. It’s thought that the cultivation of hops was probably first introduced from Flanders (Belguim) to England in the Maidstone area of Kent at the end of the 15th century but production reached its peak during the 19th century.

View of the High Weald from the Cellar Head Brewing Company in Kent.
If you’re out in Kent, definitely check out the local pinetum and the brewery.

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