A walk around Mayfair

This afternoon we explored the mews, blue plaques and leafy squares of Mayfair.  Shepherd Market, always a delight with its cafes and old London pubs with history attached gave its name to the area – as it was once the site of the original ‘May Fair’ and was rebuilt by Edward Shepherd in the 18th century.  Around the current American Embassy (it’s moving soon to Vauxhall) we went to look at the various statues of former American Presidents that populate Grosvenor Square. The weather turned in the late afternoon;  the heat of the summer is gone for now at least and we spotted one or two trees with their leaves turning golden in Berkeley Square.

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Lytham St Annes

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Interesting day spent in Lytham St Annes. Two towns merged into one but with quite different identities. Lytham was my favourite, older, prettier gardens and a wonderful green sward of land between the town and the Ribble Estuary where the town windmill is found. This compares to St Annes – a new town created in a grid structure in the late Victorian period. The pier is the highlight though it is shorter than it first was as part of it lies derelict in the sea – we overheard an elegant couple in their mid eighties say that at one time there was a dance hall at the end of the pier.

An interesting curio of Lytham is a story about the family whose money was used to develop much of the town namely the Cliftons. Rich for centuries they lost their fortune in the end through the gambling habits of Harry Clifton. A British film producer in the 1930s – he spent the family’s money on Faberge eggs and financing his films. He was though regarded as a larger than life character and was said to have been the inspiration for Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead Revisited. Harry Clifton knew the author Evelyn Waugh at Oxford. His most famous film was the first talkie version of Edgar Allen Poe’s Tell tale heart. The family seat grade 1 listed Lytham Hall is now privately owned, though the grounds are open to the public on Sundays.

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Elegant houses with pretty front gardens surround the square in central Lytham

Elegant houses with pretty front gardens surround the square in central Lytham.

St Annes pier - the sea goes out for miles leaving vast expanses of sand. When we were there were people with metal detectors looking for treasures amongst the razor shells.

St Annes pier – the sea goes out for miles leaving vast expanses of sand. When we were there were people with metal detectors looking for treasures amongst the razor shells.

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Up to the Sacre Coeur

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Today was a walk through some of the narrow alley ways that wind through the 18th arrondissment from Porte de Clignancourt towards the Sacre Coeur. The highlights were the town hall of the district, the views looking up – and down the staircases, and the pepperpot tower along Rue Duc, as well as one or two more murals to add to our photographic collection. Winner of the curio award was the statue of St Denis, who holds his severed head in his hands, a memorial to the first bishop of Paris.
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Cafe tables along Rue Lepic that winds down from the heights of Montmartre to Blanche.
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The endless tiers of steps make for classic Paris and at times I feel as if it is like being in the centre of San Francisco – the steepest city I’ve ever been to.

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Metropolitan sign at Jules Joffrin.
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Narrow alley way at Place de Clignancourt.
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Village of Ternes in Paris

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Today we went to the former village of Ternes in the north-west of Paris, now incorporated into the 17th arrondissment. The notable highlights are a flower market housed on the site of the former tax office for the village, the entry gateway to what was once a fortified farm and the remnants of a chateau. Lots of nooks and crannies, painted shopfronts, and a linear park that runs along the route of the former Paris railway through Boulevard Pereire. All this just a stones throw from the Arc de Triomphe.
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Courtyard of the studios for marine painters in Paris.
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Mural of a traffic warden – one of the sights to see in Ternes.
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Flower market on the site of the former tax collector’s office of Ternes.
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Gateway to the once fortified farm of Ternes remains intact.
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One of the painted shopfronts in the area.
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Square Olave and Robert Baden-Powell – one of the small neighbourhood parks in the area.
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Another of the murals in Ternes – the birdman with his birds

Saturday in Paris

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Today we went to the Saturday flower market and walked along some of the stretches of the abandoned railway line that encircles the city. At some points the tracks have been converted into linear gardens and along one stretch it’s possible to walk on the track itself. At Porte de Clignancourt – where we almost always seem to end up, allotments and an organic market are now thriving on the abandoned rails. It’s good to see this poor part of the city being rejuvenated.

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Walking along the tracks of the Petite Ceinture along one of the stretches now open to the public. The railway that provided a local transport option for Parisians was decommissioned in the 1950s.
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Mosaic of Nostradamus on Rue Bellaird that runs along part of the old railway track.
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Organic food and Saturday market on the rails at Porte de Clignancourt.

Thai Buddhist Temple in Wimbledon

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I have never visited the Far East yet long to do so, especially to see the different styles of architecture and sample the exotic cuisines.  In an effort to experience the former, a little closer to home, I decided to visit the Thai Temple in Wimbledon, South West London – a place I’ve long known about from friends who have been there.

Wat Buddhapadipa is in fact the first Buddhist Temple built in the United Kingdom, established by the London Buddhist Temple Foundation. Originally located just up the road in Richmond, the Temple was moved to its current leafy spot in 1976 and is looked after by the Thai Government.

A short distance up from Wimbledon Village and on the 93 bus route the Temple can be found at 14 Calonne Road. And quite unexpectedly as most of this street is lined with very British grand houses with four wheel drives parked outside.

The Temple is open every weekend and the grounds every day.  No photos are allowed inside the Temple itself – reached up a short flight of stairs. But inside it consists of a central prayer room with a platform, lit candles, religious artefacts and beautiful bright wall paintings with a predominance of the colour red.

In the Temple grounds the gardeners were busy with wheelbarrows clearing paths and attending to summer planting. There’s an ornamental lake to sit by and various little bridges crossing it.  Overall a lovely peaceful place to visit and an opportunity to step into  a small corner of Thailand during the weekend without leaving London.

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Madingley Hall, Cambridge

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Far from the madding crowd … is Madingley Hall, one of the Cambridge colleges set near the small village of the same name, immortalised in Rupert Brooke’s poignant wartime poem: The old Vicarage, Grantchester, where he nostalgically reflects from the First World War trenches back to 1912 on life in leafy Cambridgeshire … ‘and things are done you’d not believe in Madingley on Christmas Eve’. Brooke who never saw his beloved Cambridge again was from another age, and stepping into Madingley Hall feels very much as if going back in time.

The college specialises in short courses and summer schools for anyone interested in studying something new or improving a skill – and for a weekend it’s possible to experience the traditions of studying at such an iconic university and bastion of tradition without having to have worked feverishly to pass entry qualifications.

Courses at Madingley range from plant hunting, Jane Austen novels in film, to children’s fiction writing – the course I attended last weekend. I’d never heard of Madingley Hall until a friend mentioned she’d like to do the children’s writing course there and wondered if I’d like to join her. Always keen on learning new things, I said yes and was so glad I did, for the college is set in wonderful gardens and has so much history attached to it.

Our class took place in an ancient book-lined library, and the tutor the inspiring Clemantine Beauvais made use of the surroundings; the books were props and we were in Harry Potter’s world for one exercise in Hogwarts. Interspersed with the classes there are gourmet meals served in a wood panelled dining room where there’s an opportunity to chat with people on the other courses. But being a botanist at heart, and the subject of my own university degree many years ago, the gardens provided my greatest pleasure. I hope to return to Madingley at some point both for another course and to visit the gardens.

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Hampstead Garden Suburb

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Now that the summer gardening season has begun in earnest, yesterday we went to seek out ideas for creating cottage garden charm from the front gardens and open spaces that make up Hampstead Garden Suburb. As a fan of the Arts and Crafts movement I love the houses and rustic charm that make up the Suburb, all built on a human scale in the early twentieth century as part of the vision of Dame Henrietta Barnett, who purchased 243 acres in North London to create a place where Londoners could live and still be in touch with the countryside. Disliking the concept of class divide and urban city sprawl, Dame Henrietta wanted to create low density social housing for all classes -with hedges not fences dividing houses to allow neighbours to chat- and separating streets with green squares and parks so that residents would have the view and feel of the countryside around them. Sir Raymond Unwin, successful town planner who had already created Letchworth Garden Suburb near Cambridge was employed to plan the Suburb and houses in Hampstead.

What’s remarkable is that the Suburb remains intact today and looks as charming today as it would have done when first built. Renovations, alterations and indeed any proposed changes to the gardens are tightly controlled by the Hampstead Garden Trust which now oversees the estate.

On our walk as well as admiring the gardens overflowing with foxgloves, alliums, flowering wisterias and hawthorns, we also found the wall plaque commemorating the first two cottages that were built in the scheme and several blue plaques dedicated to the famous people who have lived there. These include 1930’s actor Robert Donat, and Elizabeth Taylor. We also found an apartment block built for chauffeurs and various apartments originally built for war widows.

We left inspired by the gardens all filled with cottage flowering favourites and loved the green spaces that formed village greens, some clipped neatly while others were grown as meadows and strewn with buttercups. The area makes a wonderful place for a walk in the city, though these days it is only the moneyed classes who can afford to live there.
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Dulverton – the gem of Exmoor

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Some years ago I read a book called Time for Somerset by Diana Crichton which is a narrative of the county describing the history of many of the towns and villages and places to visit. We bought the book after a chance encounter with the author on a bus from Dunster to Taunton. Dulverton, she told us then was a real Somerset gem complete with a prehistoric bridge- and I’ve had it in my mind to visit ever since.

Known as the gateway to Exmoor, Dulverton is set on the banks of the river Barle. In the afternoon sunshine there were several dogs chasing sticks in the water while their owners reclined on the banks. By the stone bridges and along the lanes the summer wildflower display was beginning to unfurl. The year seems to be rushing by. It only seems a few weeks ago that the snowdrops were appearing – and now before us in the Exmoor countryside there were the meadow flowers of daisies, buttercups, Queen Anne’s lace and wild poppies.

The timelessness of the town – the stone buildings, farm shops and quaint high street has formed the setting of TV and film dramas. Inside Mortimer’s cafe where we stopped for lunch, there was a large photo of the TV drama The Land Girls, which was most recently filmed here.

At the top of the town is a country church where there is an old wooden sign of Dulverton railway station suspended in a bay. We sat for a while absorbing the tranquility and admired the windows which we read afterwards had been a gift from George Wallace founder of the YMCA and a former resident of Dulverton. The windows were clear and simple in their design – perfect for enabling the light to stream in from this magical hillside town.
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Appledore at wisteria time

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To escape the recent stresses of work I’ve travelled to the West Country to spend a few days revisiting old haunts from seaside holidays from my childhood. First on the list is Appledore, a quintessential fishing village on the North Devon coast that has somehow avoided mass tourism and retains much of its historical charm.

I remember from my childhood the narrow lanes of pastel coloured houses, which seem to tumble down to the estuary like a block of Neopolitan ice cream. At this time of year the houses are doubly beautiful as many are clad in drifts of wisteria racines. The scent from the blooms adds a heady mix accompanied by a dash of salty air from the sea.

From one of the small shops along the front I bought a town guide for a pound and followed the trail to discover Appledore’s past. Under a cloud of ivy hedging I found the plaque to commemorate Appledore’s short-lived railway station. It only ran for ten years as it wasn’t economically viable, going out of business in 1917. Close by is the old Appledore National School where children were taught in two classes – one for boys and the other for girls. In 1969 the school was closed and there’s rather a poignant faded sign that says the school hall is available to hire for dances.

Towards one end of Appledore lies a narrow street of brightly coloured houses, some with cobbled courtyards. This was at one time a separate district – albeit a small one called Irsha Street. And the street still bears the name. In the 19th century Irsha folk were said to be at war with their neighbours in Appledore. Such conflict drove the Irsha residents to form a self contained community. Residents turned their front rooms into to provsion stores, where only their Irsha neighbours could shop. And Irsha street had its own pubs – one of which the Beaver Inn still survives today.

A final stop on a walk around Appledore brings the visitor to the quaint maritime museum with a brightly coloured ship’s Sally over the door. The building we learned was once the home of the father of the writer Jerome K Jerome. Perhaps he was inspired to write about his boat journey down the Thames after seeing the boats in Appledore.

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