Thursday 19 August 2021

Paddington and Kensington

Red London buses seen through the trees
looking west from the Marble Arch Mound
A Few Days in London by Train

With the general easing of coronavirus restrictions we and the rest of our family had begun to travel again a bit more, and we were offered the use once again of our son's family's home in London while they were on holiday elsewhere in the UK. There were a couple of exhibitions we wanted to see (nothing very intellectual, I'm afraid!), and this gave us the opportunity to see them in a leisurely manner and to fit in a few other bits and pieces while we were there. Rail tickets and exhibition tickets were duly booked and a very simple itinerary typed out and filed with the ticket print-outs ready for the day. By the time the trip was to take place all the fuss over the Marble Arch Mound had blown up and we thought we really needed to see this, so I booked tickets for that, too; by then there was no cost but tickets were still required for crowd control. So, armed with all this paper we packed our bags and set off. We travelled very light for this trip: no suitcases, just a modest-sized backpack each and no camera bag for me because I decided to use this short trip as a trial of using just my iPhone camera, which has higher resolution than my Olympus DSLR, although less control over the image.

For this sort of trip, and for the holiday a couple of weeks ago for which we travelled via London, the 10:57 departure from our local station in Stamford, Lincs, is ideal. It makes an easy connection with an 11:29 LNER train to London at Peterborough, allowing enough time for moderate late running (which has not happened yet) but not involving a great long wait. Our coffee break is spent on the train to London with the complimentary coffee and biscuits or cake in LNER First Class ... normally, but on this occasion the steward came toting cold drinks (including wine) and crisps and biscuits only, apologising profusely for not having any hot drinks and explaining that he had no kitchen on this train, although not saying why. I took an apple juice, crisps and biscuits but really wanted coffee, so at Kings Cross we bought it from the Caffè Nero kiosk and repaired to the First Class Lounge to enjoy it!

On our way to our temporary London home we visited the aforementioned "mound" at Marble Arch, travelling there by bus from Kings Cross, having bought a picnic lunch from the Little Waitrose there. We ate our lunch beside Marble Arch and although surrounded by watching pigeons we were not bothered by them, nor by the occasional spots of drizzle. We were slightly early for our booked slot at the Mound but it was not a problem: the welcoming staff at the entrance told us we did not need tickets and they did not look at them, inviting us to go straight in: I was not sure how they were expecting to prevent overcrowding, but it turned out not to be a problem and we just walked up, looked around and took photographs (being careful not to lose iPhone over the precipice!) and walked back down again. 

What did I think of this addition to London's tourist attractions? Well, I am glad to have been and I enjoyed seeing the views from the top, although in summer most of what you see is trees (not a bad thing in itself, of course), and the planting on the mound itself was quite interesting (it is NOT fake grass as some have said, but alpines and other small plants). But we did not pay anything: it is free in August. I cannot say what I'd have thought if I had paid because I understand that when people are paying they will come down by a different route through the interior of the Mound where there will be other attractions, a gift shop etc., whereas we come down the way we went up and all these things were closed. I must say I cannot see why it cost the reputed six million pounds; I am not an expert but I'd have thought that one or two million would have been plenty for a fairly small project like this. Yes, it was good fun, but I am not sure it was worth what the council tax payers of Westminster will have paid, nor what the visitors will be paying - but you'll have to judge for yourselves. If you've been, do let me know your views in the comments.

The Regent's Park, Tuesday
We continued our journey on foot from Marble Arch across the northern edge of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, stopping for tea at the little café by the Italian Gardens, and then soon after we joined the street pavement we caught a bus which took us close to our son's road in Shepherd's Bush. After unpacking we walked to the Westfield Shopping Centre where we had a few little jobs to do, including buying food for our dinner! After dinner I was able to join the online meeting of the Market Deeping Model Railway Club just as if I were at home - something only made possible by the pandemic which has forced us to have virtual clubnights. We slept very well after all the walking we had done, although there was much more to come ...

On Tuesday morning we set off by bus back the way we had come, but instead of walking to Marble Arch after morning coffee at the same café where we had taken afternoon tea the day before we turned north and made our way towards Paddington station, from where we walked through to Paddington Basin and Little Venice then turned east to follow the Regent's Canal. We were taking a scenic walk to our next engagement: Paddington, the Story of a Bear, and the British Library. The route took us a way I have been before and a little further, and where the canal turns left towards Camden we turned right and southwards along the Broad Walk of The Regent's Park to Marylebone Road and into Euston Road to the British Library, a total of well over two miles. We arrived at the British Library in good time and made our way to the small but interesting exhibition about Michael Bond's creation of the Paddington Bear stories and the various interpretations of the character in pictures and on TV and film.

La Fromagerie, Marylebone

We bought a snack lunch from M&S at St Pancras station across the road and ate it there while watching people arriving on one of the very few international trains currently operating into London before setting off on another stage of our canalside walk, towards Camden Lock. The stretch from Kings Cross to Camden is totally different from that around Little Venice and The Regent's Park, but just as interesting, and when we emerged into the world of Camden Market we were amazed at how many people were around, quite a lot crowding unmasked into a relatively tight, although largely outdoor space in a viral pandemic. Given that many of them were quite young, the proportion fully-vaccinated will have been very small, and the whole place felt quite unsafe. Back on the canal towpath we were in a very thinly-populated space with more fresh air and walked on until we came to the place where we had left the canal in the morning. There we climbed up to the street once more and followed much the same path as we had in the morning, stopping for tea at a café in The Regent's Park, just before its early closing time - the opening hours are very much shorter than usual this year. Instead of bearing eastwards towards the British Library, this time we continued south and then turned west along Marylebone Road to Marylebone High Street, a very pleasant street to walk and with much more interesting, although much smaller, shops than the famous streets like Oxford Street, to which it leads and where we needed to be for our bus home. In a small side street we found an amazing cheese shop and bought some lovely Swiss cheese for supper on that and the following evenings.

On Wednesday we spent much of the day at Kensington Palace, which has been developed a little since we last visited, and we were particularly interested in the current exhibition Royal Style in the Making which describes the design and making up of the clothes of the royal family, including some well-known outfits which are on display there. The tickets to the Palace includes the exhibition, and timed ticketing ensures that there is little crowding. Our tickets gave us a half-hour "window" in which to arive, but amazingly there were people queueing for half an hour for the start of the half-hour slot: we explored the gardens then arrived twenty minutes into the window and walked straight in with no queue ... Funny old world. We repaired to Côte Bistro just off Kensington High Street for a proper lunch with a view to needing only a snack (finishing up the Swiss cheese!) in the evening. Good move: for a chain Côte does remarkably good French cooking, and sitting on the pavement quaffing chilled wine in a London side street is a brilliant way to pass a summer afternoon - even this summer, which is not exactly a hot one.

We walked back the mile-and-a-half or so to our temporary home via a number of quiet residential street just a block or two away from Kensington High Street. It is staggering how peaceful and green London can be once you are away from the main thoroughfares.

And so to the journey home: we took the bus to Oxford Circus and walked to Kings Cross through Fitzrovia and Bloomsbury, again through quiet streets, though here more commercial, medical and academic - and right past the tower we still call the Post Office Tower, although it long since ceased to have anything to do with the Post Office. We bought salads from M&S at St Pancras and had them as lunch in the First Class Lounge at Kings Cross before boarding the 14:06 LNER train for Lincoln, on which we travelled to Peterborough, continuing lunch with the "Deli Menu" and a glass of wine. At Peterborough it all unravelled as we learnt that a train had collided with a tractor on a level crossing near March and services on our line home to Stamford were suspended. I am not clear why they could not operate as far as Peterborough from Birmingham, but they didn't and the requested buses did not seem to be available but a very hard-working and kind LNER employee drafted in a fleet of taxis and got us on the move. As our booked connection would have involved a bit of a wait anyway we were not very late getting home, as it happens, just a few minutes. I have to say that on the whole this sort of situation is generally dealt with very well, but there was certainly a lot to sort out at Peterborough that day with several significant destinations affected. Meanwhile, at home there was a lot of watering of the garden to do, although the rain that came later did give me a hand with that!

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