More Deer, Beer and Tapas – Richmond-upon-Thames

On Saturday a friend suggested going for tapas and there really are not many restaurants that can beat Don Fernandos’s in Richmond. Naturally no visit to Richmond is complete without visiting Richmond Park to see the deer, even if you do find yourself trapped in the midst of  three testosterone charged red deer stags at the height of the rut, like we did last October (more about that trip and Don Fernando’s here). By this time of year things have calmed down a lot and it wasn’t long before we got a sight of some of Britain’s largest land mammals happily noshing away at the grass.

Red Deer Richmond Park

Red Deer Richmond Park, you can just about make out the tower of Canary Wharf far to the east in the background

The deer appeared fairly nervous, which I put down to a number of large dogs being walked in the area, let’s face it they are not that far removed from the wolf. As the light was starting to fade and the park gates are closed at dusk we decided to bid the deer farewell and head back into Richmond for a few beers at The Roebuck as the Sun set. I was feeling a little disappointed that we hadn’t really got very close to the deer when as we approached the gates, a movement to the left caught my eye.

Fallow Deer stags

Fallow Deer bucks

It was a pair of fallow deer bucks, their dappled coats almost perfectly camouflaging them from sight. Fallow deer are smaller than the UK’s indigenous red deer and were probably introduced to Britain by the Romans. I was delighted to get a few shots of these beautiful animals before the light faded. It was the perfect end to our visit to the park.

Light and dark varients of fallow deer bucks, Richmond Park

Light and dark variants of fallow deer bucks, Richmond Park

We Roll up to the Falkirk Wheel

On the final day of our Edinburgh long weekend we took a trip out to Falkirk. Falkirk is located about midway between Edinburgh and Glasgow and it takes about half an hour to get there by train from Edinburgh Waverley.

Falkirk’s most modern attraction is the Falkirk Wheel,

The Falkirk Wheel

a boat lift that reconnects the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal. The canals were originally linked by a series of eight locks, but with the decline of canal traffic in the 1900s they fell into disuse and were filled in during the 1930s. The Wheel, one of the Millenium projects, was completed in 2002 and the gondolas in the wheel’s eyes can move 600 tonnes of narrow boat and water the 34 metres between the two canals.

Rear view of the gondola at the Falkirk Wheel

Unfortunately the visitor centre is closed for much of the winter so we were unable to take one of the boat trips that allow you to ride the wheel. Still it was a lovely, if chilly morning so we set off to explore the countryside and visit the remains of the Antonine Wall that formed to northernmost frontier of Roman Britain.

Earthworks of the Antonine Wall

Not anywhere like as famous as Hadrian’s Wall to the south, the wall built for the Emperor Antoninus Pius stretched from Old Kirkpatrick to the Firth of Clyde. Construction began around AD 142 and took about twelve years to complete. Principally built of turf, what you can see today are the earthworks and ditches. The wall was only fortified for about twenty years before the Romans retreated back to Hadrian’s Wall, had they stayed a bit longer they might have built some more permanent structures. Having had a look around we decided to retreat ourselves and set out back towards the Wheel.

Just as the wheel was coming into sight I noticed it was on the move, so I legged it to a break in the tree cover to get some shots,

Gondola swinging into place on the Falkirk Wheel

as the wheel completed its action.

Almost back in place

Having seen at least part of the action of this engineering marvel, I didn’t feel quite so cheated about not getting a boat ride!

Next stop on our trip was Callendar House, the family seat of the Livingston family since 1345.

Callendar House

the present building’s facade is mostly 19th century,  the central core is a 14th Century Tower house. Over the years it has had some pretty important visitors including Mary Queen of Scots, Oliver Cromwell and Bonnie Prince Charlie. Today it is home to a very interesting local historical timeline display a working 19th century kitchen, temporary art galleries and the local archives. The grounds also have a stretch of the Antonine Wall.

One of the local industries that features prominently in the timeline is the Carron Ironworks, who used to cast the short stubby Royal Navy cannon known as carronades or ‘smashers’. Nelson had two 68 pound Carronades mounted on the Victory‘s forecastle, that cleared the gun-deck of the French Bucentaur with a single salvo through her stern windows. Carrons later went on to make far less deadly pillar boxes for Royal Mail.

With a bit of time to spare before our train we walked back into Falkirk. From what we saw it wasn’t much different from any number of small towns in the UK with branches of chains like Greggs and Phones 4 You and an abandoned bandstand full of furtively smoking hoodies. The only difference I did note was the large number of Turkish barber shops and tattoo parlours. We did find a friendly pub called the Toll Booth for a welcome pint though.

We got a group save return ticket for four, from Edinburgh Waverley to Falkirk High for £23.90 (about half price), by travelling on the 9.15 train. Admission to all sites was free.

Penguins – nature’s dapper gentlemen – Whipsnade Zoo

I am very fond of penguins, they remind me of dancers from 1930’s film musicals decked out in their tailcoats.

Rockhopper Penguin

I think it’s the way that they stand bolt upright that makes it so easy to anthropomorphise the little critters.

Blackfooted Penguin does the breaststroke

We saw two types of penguin at Whipsnade. The handsome rockhoppers, with their bushy yellow eyebrows, come from the sub-Antarctic islands, where they hop around on the rocky coasts.

And now the front crawl

The blackfooted penguins are from the coasts of South Africa and Namibia. I think that Whipsnade’s penguins used to live at the fabulous Art Deco Lubetkin Pool in London Zoo. Despite the Lubetkin being very nice to look at, the penguins much prefer their new home where they can scratch about in the dirt and do the kind of things penguins do, including making more penguins!

Nothing quite like an early morning dip.


London’s Brick Lane Market

It won’t come as any surprise to learn that Brick Lane was once a centre of brick manufacture in London’s east-end, thanks to the local deposits of brick clay. During the 17th century Huguenot weavers seeking refuge from Catholic persecution in France settled in the area. Then successive waves of Irish, Jewish and later Bengali immigrants followed the Huguenots, attracted by cheap rents and unskilled jobs in the ‘rag trade’. Today the area around Brick Lane is known as Banglatown and famed for its street market and many curry houses.

Brick Lane the heart of London’s Banglatown

With the benefit of hindsight I think we may have planned our visit the wrong way around when we arrived at Aldgate East Tube Station (District and Hammersmith and City Line).

Handsome London Transport roundel – Aldgate East Tube station

Taking a left up the Whitechapel High Street we passed the Whitechapel Art Gallery (handy hint its free to get in with nice clean free to pee loos) and these jolly Vampire carrots,

Vampire carrots – London street art

before making another left into Osborn Street. On 4 April 1888 the prostitute Emma Elizabeth Smith was killed in Osborn Street. Some people believe that she was the first victim of Jack the Ripper, although there is no hard evidence to link her death with the Ripper murders. Osborn Street leads into Brick Lane itself and you are soon surrounded by the tempting smells of fragrant spices and Bengali sweets wafting from the many Asian shops and restaurants. It was all too much, and after stocking up on bargain bags of spices (so much cheaper than our local supermarket), a bag of freshly cooked samosas from Madhubon (42 Brick Lane) were being devoured.

Freshly cooked samosas, too delicious to resist.

Almost every restaurant we passed seemed to be the proud owner of a ‘Best Curry in London’ award. Menus were perused, but it was a bit early in the day and the delightfully spiced and quite substantial samosas had taken the edge off our hunger.

Joseph Truman started brewing ale in Brick Lane in 1663, of course at the time beer was safer to drink than water. Truman’s Black Eagle Brewery was swallowed up by the brewing giant Grand Metropolitan in 1971 and ceased brewing in 1988 as the brewing giant attempted to force beer lovers to drink nasty keg beers like Watney’s (AKA Grotney’s) Red Barel. Recently the old brewery has undergone a bit of a renaissance,  as the buildings have been redeveloped into indoor market spaces to rival those of trendy Camden Lock.

Just some of the food on offer at the Old Brewery

Certainly the selection of food stalls offered an even wider choice than Camden, with Bengali, Chinese, Caribbean, Cuban, Ethiopian, Japanese, Mexican, Moroccan, Spanish, Thai,Tibetan, Turkish fast food joints all doing brisk trade. Thankfully I was still full of samosa so avoided having to make a choice. Aside from the food there were stalls selling new and vintage clothing, jewelry, antiques, prints and other craft items to the shabby-chic students, Guardianistas, tourists and sharp dressed young media darlings that make Brick Lane such a trendy place to hang out today.

Passing on through the bustling street market we came to Brick Lane’s legendary bagel bakeries, Although most of Brick Lane’s Jewish immigrants have moved on, Biegal Bake (59 Brick Lane) is still going strong. Open 24 hours a day, it’s London’s oldest bagel bakery and produces over 7000 bagels every day. Biegal Bake is famed for its hot salt beef bagels, they must be pretty good since people were queuing two deep inside the shop and out on to the pavement. We looked at the queue and decided that no matter how good they may be life was too short for standing in line.

By the time we’d reached the Shoreditch end of the market, we were starting to get hungry, however we were now at the wrong end of Brick Lane for the curry houses and my ankle was starting to hurt. Fortunately we were close to a part of London colonised by some later immigrants, the Vietnamese Boat People and it was a short walk,

Spiny Norman perhaps

passing some more great street art, including this imaginative locksmith’s door,

Locksmiths – Shoreditch

to Kingsland Road (AKA Pho Mile). I’d eaten in the Viet Hoa Cafe (70-72 Kingsland Road) before, so I was keen to share the experience with my fiends. They weren’t disappointed. I tried the chicken with pickled vegetables . The chicken was delightfully spicy while the crunchy pickles had just about the right amount of sourness. I also polished off Mab’s tasty Singapore noodles. With beer, tea and egg fried rice the damage only came to £57 for the three of us. A perfect end to a pleasant day out.

I think the next time we visit Brick Lane we might try navigating from the overground station at Shoreditch High Street and walk down Brick Lane to the tube at Aldgate East. Hopefully if we get there early we can have a salt beef bagel and a curry.

He’s Not Very Orange – Whipsnade Zoo

It was perhaps one of the most bizarre complaints I had ever heard.

Tigers – not as orangey as Kia Ora

Passing by Whipsnade’s tiger enclosure someone grumbled “He’s not very orange!” Oddly enough this magnificent Amur tiger wasn’t chowing down on a bowl of Frosties (Frosted Flakes to my American readers) or exclaiming “They’re Grrreat!” either.

Next thing you know monkeys won’t be liking Coco Pops and crows will be pouring Kia-Ora down the sink.

Ducking and (not) Diving on the Thames

Early Sunday morning saw us waiting at a bus stop near the London Eye on the Thames’ south bank. We weren’t waiting for a familiar London bus though.

Our carriage awaits

No what we were waiting for was a DUKW. So what’s a DUKW? Well it’s an amphibious truck built by General Motors in the 1940s and it would have originally have come with a much more demure khaki paint job. During World War Two thousands of DUKWs ferried supplies and ammunition from ships to soldiers on the beaches in Sicily, the Pacific and Normandy.

So what does DUKW mean?

D stands for the first year of production, 1942.

U for Utility.

K for Front Wheel Drive.

W for two rear driving wheels.

It just so happens to be a happy coincidence for a vehicle that is equally at home on the water that DUKW sounds like duck.

Our London Duck Tours adventure began with a pretty conventional bus tour around central London, taking in the Palace of Westminster, Trafalgar Square, the new Bomber Command Memorial and Buckingham Palace. It was only as we crossed Vauxhall Bridge and turned left after the MI6 building that it got a bit more unusual.

Waiting on the slipway

As we waited on the slipway the driver swapped places with a ship’s master,


and we were off on our way to splash down in the Thames.

London’s finest on patrol

You certainly get a different perspective on the river from a DUKW.

Quack, quack

You are much closer to the water than you are in a conventional boat or a Thames Clipper. However it was a light drizzle that was getting us wet rather than Old Father Thames as we cruised downstream towards the Palace of Westminster. When you consider that these vehicles only had a life expectancy of a few months during World War Two, it’s marvelous that there are still eleven of them plying up and down the Thames 70 years later.

The Palace of Westminster

Our guide kept up a stream of interesting facts and terrible jokes as we turned back upstream to Vauxhall. I was intrigued to discover the rather grim-looking tower block next to the MI6 building, was the very same one that disgraced Tory Party Chairman Jeffrey Archer used to host his infamous Krug and Shepherd’s Pie parties from.


Amongst his neighbours were fellow disgraced Tory MP Neil Hamilton and lap dance club owner Peter Stringfellow – classy neighbourhood!

James Bond’s office from the river.

Our voyage ended at MI6 HQ and it was a brief trip by road back to the bus stop in Chicheley Street to disembark. Our Duck Tour cost £21 per adult, plus a one-off £3 booking fee (yes Ryanair that’s one single £3 fee for all of us). When we booked earlier in the week, I did find that there were very few spaces left at the weekend, so book early at

Thanks to Mab for the onshore photography.

Kelmscott Manor – Pre-Raphaelite Scandal and Romance

One of the aspects of the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition at the Tate Britain that I really enjoyed was the room devoted to the furnishings, stained glass, wallpaper and fabric designs produced by Morris and Co. In particular the four-poster bed with its elaborately embroidered coverlet and hangings reminded me of our visit to Kelmscott Manor, the Morris family summer home in the Gloucestershire countryside. Whether that was from the point of view of the design work or the complicated love lives of those involved I can not be certain.

Kelmscott Manor

Kelmscott was built around 1570 with an additional wing tacked on in the 17th century. In 1871 William Morris and his friend Dante Gabriel Rossetti took out the lease on Kelmscott. The Tudor manor house appealed to Morris’ aesthetic principles, it also took his wife Jane’s affair with Rossetti out of London’s public eye. Rossetti wasn’t Jane’s only lover at Kelmscott. The poet and radical Wilfred Scawen Blunt took up with Jane after the painter’s death in 1882. Whether Morris knew about his wife’s affair we will never know for sure, but Blunt recorded in his diary that Jane would leave a pansy in his bedroom as a signal when she wanted him to tiptoe along to her bedroom.

The man himself

Kelmscott is packed to the rafters with objects created by Morris and his friends, including the afore-mentioned bed with its coverlet embroidered by Jane, furniture, ceramics and books produced by Morris’ other business The Kelmscott Press. (for some reason we have no photography of the interior, it may not have been allowed at the time of our visit).

Mangle, laundry room Kelmscott Manor

The gardens with the outhoused laundry room, bakehouse and privy are also worth a visit, as is the nearby St George’s Church.

St George’s Church, Kelmscott

Dating from the 12th century the Church has some interesting medieval wall paintings,

Medieval wall paintings St George’s Church Kelmscott

while in the churchyard you will find the final resting place of Morris, Jane and their daughters, Jenny and May. The memorial was designed by Morris’ friend and colleague Philip Webb.

The Morris family tomb

Being able to see the rooms where Morris, Jane and Rossetti worked, relaxed and romanced really brought everything that I had read about their complicated relationships to life. Naturally it was also a treat to see so much of their creative work, and that of Morris’ other colleagues too.

Kelmscott Manor is close to the village of Lechlade in Gloucestershire and the easiest way to get there is to drive. The nearest railway stations are Oxford or Swindon, but they are quite far away and you will need to continue your journey by bus and a taxi. The house is only open on Wednesdays and Saturdays between April and October. tickets for the house and garden cost £9.

Compare the Meerkat – Whipsnade Zoo

I’m making no apologies for either using the advertising slogan or dishing up another set of photos from our trip to Whipsnade Zoo. We were very fortunate to have such lovely weather and to catch so many of the animals being active.

Meerkats make such great photographic subjects because it is so easy to anthropomorphize them, with their ability to stand upright on their hind legs.

Got any crisps?

There were three meerkats scuttling about when we visited their enclosure. I think some of their visitors must slip them the odd treat, judging from the brazen begging that was going on.

The Whipsnade synchronised begging team prepare to go into action

I think it’s a shame that the poor critters have been encouraged to do this sort of thing as they are no doubt being fed stuff that isn’t that good for them.

Go on give us a bit

Their behaviour does make for some engaging photography and it’s easy to see why the advertisements for price comparison website, that feature the Russian Meerkat Aleksandr Orlov (his Russian accent makes meerkat sound very similar to market, clever huh?) have struck such a resonant chord with viewers. In fact Aleksandr’s recognition has probably outstripped that of the website he advertises, as his ‘autobiography’ outsold those of Tony Blair, Cheryl Cole and Russell Brand when it was released in 2010.

Leave it out with the Seemples please

All Aboard the Jumbo Express – Whipsnade Zoo

I can’t think of a better way to explore Whipsnade Zoo‘s wide open animal paddocks than this.

The Jumbo Express steams up

This is Whipsnade’s own little railway. It has two steam locomotives, Excelsior and Superior, and a couple of diesels.

Excelsior, built in 1908

The railway was built in 1970 to view the white rhino herd that Whipsnade were captive breeding at the time. The two steam locomotives came from Bowater’s Papermill Light Railway near Sittingbourne in Kent, which was the last narrow gauge steam operated railway in the UK.

There is something almost quite organic about a steam locomotive as it gets up the power to lurch out of the station and the billowing steam and smell of coal smoke just transports me back to a time when the process of travel was more of an adventure than an ordeal.

The Diesels are quite cool too

As Excelsior pulled out of the station our first animal encounter was with a Bennet’s wallaby who sensibly hopped it out of the way.

Bennet’s wallaby

Next up were the jumbos themselves, Whipsnade’s are Indian elephants.

Mum and baby

The Indian one-horned rhinos are a real success story and captive breeding at places like Whipsnade have helped to restock the recovering wild population.

Indian one-horned rhino

We also got to see the herds of Bactrian camels from central Asia,

Two humps please

Pere David and fallow deer and yaks.

Yak, yak.yak

To top that I also got to see a wild hare and a lapwing in the enclosures though sadly wasn’t quick enough with the camera to catch them. (Mab says that next time we go anywhere, she’s leaving me in Sainsburys car park to photograph the herring gulls as they scavenge in the recycling, as I’d be just as happy doing that!)

The Jumbo Express is run by enthusiastic volunteers and the fare is £4.50 for grown up travellers on top of the normal zoo admission price . I think that is pretty good value to keep such great little engines on the tracks.

Pre-Raphaelites, Spies and Vin Diesel – Saturday in London

On Saturday we took a trip into London to visit the Pre-Rhaphealites Victorian Avant-Garde exhibition at the Tate Britain. I find the Pre-Raphaelites a very interesting group of artists, who have to my mind been somewhat sidelined by art historians in favour of what was going on over the channel in France during the 19th century. What the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) did was to reject the view that Raphael represented the pinnacle of artistic achievement, they looked back to the bright colours and truth to nature of the Italian art that preceeded him. Mind you the colourful personal lives of Ruskin, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais, Lizzie Siddall, William and Janey Morris were in many ways just as interesting as the PRB’s subversion of the Victorian art establishment.

Having studied the Pre-Raphaelites  for my undergraduate degree I really enjoyed seeing so many of their paintings together. I particularly liked William Holman-Hunt’s The Shadow of Death. This was the first time I had seen this work in person and I was surprised its sheer scale. I suppose being more familiar with Hunt’s smaller paintings like The Awakening conscience or The Light of the World I was expecting something a bit smaller. Yet the thing that struck me most forcefully in this study of Christ in his fathers’ carpentry shop was the detail of the wood shavings on the floor. I was also pleased to see that the decorative arts produced by Morris and Co. got a good showing alongside the paintings. I highly recommend this exhibition.

Having arrived in Pimlico (nearest tube to the Tate) about an hour before our show slot we decided to have a wee drink at the Morpeth Arms first.

The Morpeth Arms

This is a nice traditional boozer selling Young’s Ales right on the Thames riverbank. We carried our drinks upstairs to the Spying Room. I don’t know whether Kim Philby or Anthony Blunt used the Morpeth, (there are pictures of famous spies in the stairwell, including Mata Hari who I know didn’t sink pints of Young’s Special here) but from the upstairs window you do get a great view of the MI5 headquarters on the the opposite side of the Thames.

James Bond’s office London

After leaving the Tate we headed up the Thames embankment for Westminster tube only to discover a whole mess of overturned trucks, smoke and fire engines on Lambeth Bridge,

Mayhem on Lambeth Bridge

‘What all this?’ I wondered, it turned out to be a film set for Fast and Furious 6, not a sign of Vin (the unthinking man’s Jason Statham)  Diesel though.

‘Where’s Vin Diesel?’

Moving on we took a walk through Victoria Tower Gardens where we came upon this rather lovely piece of Victorian Gothic Revival architecture.

Buxton Memorial Fountain, Palace of Westminster in the background

This is the Buxton Memorial Fountain. It was commissioned in 1865 by the MP Charles Buxton to commemorate his father Thomas Fowell Buxton who, along with William Wilberforce and Thomas Babington Macaulay was instrumental in the emancipation of slaves throughout the British Empire in 1834. The fountain was designed by Samuel Sanders Teulon. I’d never seen the fountain before, it’s finding this sort of unexpected thing when you wander around this great city that makes living in it so interesting.

As Big Ben struck five,

Boing (five times)

We descended into the tube station. Our destination was Butler’s Wharf (nearest tube Tower Hill) on the Southbank where we had a table booked at Brown’s. Our good fortune held and we got a table outside overlooking the river as the day drew to a close. I plumped for the Brown’s Burger (about £12) which came with chips and a small dish with gherkins, fried onions and ketchup accompanied by a proper Vespa Martini made with Lillet vermouth and a twist of lime (£7.25). It was the perfect way to end the day as the Sun set over the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf.

Canary Wharf after dak

As we walked back to Tower Gateway Station and beheld Tower Bridge lit up in all its glory, I could not help but reflect on what a fantastic city London is. Despite living here for 50 odd years I am constantly discovering new things about the place.

Tower Bridge