A few weeks ago on a Sunday evening I was feeling brave and in the mood to take a few risks, so I posted the following message on this page:
“Londoners, I’m handing my day off over to you!
In a bid to try and get to know the city’s nooks and crannies and places I might not otherwise have visited, I’m crowdsourcing an itinerary for the whole day. Send me to all your favourite places or any interesting spots you might know of. I’ll tweet as I go — probably looking for extra suggestions along the way — as well as writing up the day as a blog post later, giving credit to every kind contributor.
You can send me anywhere – I love nature, architecture, history, art, shops, markets, books and food, so I’ll happily wander, browse, eat, drink or just stand and stare at something (be it sculpture, building or sign) for a bit.
Here are the provisos:
This is just a little experiment to try and learn some new things about this huge and sometimes baffling city, so thanks in advance for your suggestions!”
On Monday morning I wrapped myself up in my parka and trudged out of the house to face one of the coldest days of the year. My first stop was breakfast in Dulwich. I breakfast in Dulwich frequently, and could quite happily eat breakfast in Dulwich for every meal of every day, so finding somewhere I hadn’t been before was tricky. Fortunately help was at hand from @shhh, who pointed me in the direction of Luca’s Bakery.
During the week you can get a full English for a fiver at Luca’s, so it would have been rude not to really, wouldn’t it? While I was licking latte foam from my lips, my phone chimed with a message from @susiweaser, who insisted I try Luca’s cinnamon rolls. I took one to go and tore off sweet, sticky chunks from it at various points throughout in the day to sustain me between attractions.
Next was the Horniman Museum, recommended by @hharrisfilm, who told me to look out for the taxidermy walrus. I’ve been meaning to swing by for a while, so I was glad to finally have the excuse. The Horniman is a marvellously eccentric old building on a south London hill, with fine gardens to enjoy if it’s not too cold (as it was for me). Inside, there are brilliant free collections covering natural history, musical instruments and anthropology.
A quick dash to London Bridge and found myself in the Old Operating Theatre and Herb Garrett — another place I pass almost daily and have been meaning to drop into for a while — thanks to @clive_temple and @nickhide. At £6 it was marginally outside my budget, but as the rest of the day’s museums were free, I reckoned that extra pound wasn’t too much of an extravagance. It’s also one of the quaintest and most peculiar museums in London, located as it is in the rafters of St Thomas’ Church. Definitely one for those who relish tales of guts and gore and bizarre old medicine.
I hopped on the Jubilee line to Green Park and strolled down Piccadilly past the Ritz and the Wolseley and the Royal Academy. It suddenly occurred to me that despite being a sucker for a swanky food hall, I’d never been into Fortnum and Mason. Half an hour and a salted caramel truffle later, I’d righted this wrong, was back on track and heading to Hatchards, the type of establishment every former literature student loves. Trading since 1797, Hatchards is one of London’s most famous old bookshops, which made my itinerary thanks to @mmbennetts. I drank in the glorious musty book smell while reading up on ideas for my next adventure.
Next up was another ancient emporium which delighted my nostrils with the delectably pungent stench of its wares. Paxton and Whitfield is a classy little cheese shop on Jermyn Street. Shopping for cheese has to be one of the most satisfying and rewarding forms of retail, because as any cheese connoisseur knows, a good cheesemonger will let you sample away until the cows, sheep and goats come home. It’s a necessary procedure that means you leave with exactly the right cheese for you, which in this particular circumstance was a strong but creamy Oregon Blue.
Thanks to @duncangeere for the suggestion, as well as for sending me to the Japan Centre for lunch, where I snacked on top-notch sushi and gyoza for only a few pounds.
I dropped by Bolivar Hall, the Venezuelan Embassy, to take a quick peep at the Chavez memorial at the recommendation of @susienewbery, before heading to the Grant Museum, as advised by @philippawarr. The Grant Museum (free) was undoubtedly one of the highlights of my day. It packs specimens in jars and taxidermy and a Micrarium – which is a gorgeous installation glowing with wall-to-wall backlit microscope slides of the museum’s tiniest specimens – all into one wood-panelled room.
Onwards and upwards, the time had come for me to climb Monument at the recommendation of @chillisizzzler and @lyzbacon. As a tourist, you won’t find a better £3 view over the capital anywhere in London, and don’t worry about the climb being too strenuous – if I can do it, I’m sure you can!
Even though the conditions were Arctic and the sun was beginning to fade, I popped into Postman’s Park, at the suggestion of @stella__taylor. This tiny space is actually one of the biggest parks in the City of London, and is built upon an ancient burial ground. You might recognise it as the spot where Jude Law and Natalie Portman introduce themselves to one another in Closer.
By this point, my fingers were about to fall off, so I jumped on the Northern Line down to Tooting, where I was due an appointment at no-nonsense Lahore Karahi, as recommended by @kenpenton. I warmed myself through with sizzling onion bhajis and a delicately spiced fish masala, accompanied by warm and pillowy naans. On the side I had a beautiful mango lassi.
The day was nearly done, but I had time for one last stop, and thanks to @rachaeloc, I didn’t have far to go. Nearby was the Wheatsheaf, a pub with deep armchairs and a log fire, not to mention Blue Moon on tap. A perfect spot to reflect on a superb London day out.
This adventure was brought to you by my excellent Twitter friends and followers, to whom I am indebted for all the wonderful suggestions that were sent my way and made the day a success.