Monday, October 5, 2015

Let's Go To London... A Tiny, Wonderful List

“Go where we may, rest where we will,
Eternal London haunts us still.”
Thomas Moore 

Let's Go To London... A Tiny, Wonderful List
The first time I visited London I was still a child.  Kensington Gardens seemed vast and mysterious to me then, but I soon learned vital things about it that would forever colour the way I viewed the city in which it rested.  For instance, I was introduced to the fairies who live there, fairies who danced and knew how to make little boats out of thrush’s nests for sailing down the Serpentine. They are frequently too shy to be seen by everyone of course, but for those who met them as children, as I was fortunate to do, they are always present.  As an adult, I have often heard their lyrical greeting as I’ve walked through those gardens in autumn.

I was about six when I first wandered down London’s leafy, residential streets, stopping to gaze in the windows of Number Seventeen Cherry Tree Lane.  There were magical happenings inside that house.  People had tea parties on the ceiling and visitors were sometimes blown in by a strong change of the wind.  These days I still love to meander through these streets at dusk, gazing into all the tall windows where lamplight still illuminates intriguing, inviting, interiors.

As I got older, I came to London on the arm of the brilliantly eccentric Sherlock Holmes.  He taught me that mysteries and secrets reside in every stony corner of the city.  I sat in the drawing room of the Schlegel sisters, listening to them discuss the intricacies of London culture.  I helped Mrs. Dalloway plan her party as we strolled along the lake in St. James’s Park and have often sat by the fire with Lady Slane in her charming little house in Hampstead where there are "arm-chairs and chintz, and the light in the right place" .  I also , quite usefully, learned where to look on Charing Cross Road for the scrubby little sign of The Leaky Cauldron. 

Yes, I first came to London on the magic carpet of books so by the time I physically placed the toe of my oxfords on its grey pavements, I felt as though I knew the old city very well indeed.  Every corner I turned was familiar - I recognized every shop door, every stairway.  Every warm aroma of treacle tart and tea that tickled my nose as I wandered its streets was expected just as much as it was welcomed.  To paraphrase the old saying, I found exactly what I was looking for in London.   It was the London of books and it was precisely what I thought it would be:  pure wonderment.   Chelsea, Covent Garden, Kensington, Seven Dials, Marylebone, Bloomsbury, even Soho... (which has always seemed to me to be a bit like the place where the Donkey Boys took Pinocchio, but is fascinating nonetheless)… even the names alone enchant me.  This most recent trip was no disappointment.  Here are a few highlights for you to enjoy.

1.  The Draycott Hotel
It takes a bit of effort and a bit of time to travel down to London from the wilds of Elgol on the Isle of Skye and when you’ve spent the last week or so hiking the hills of the Inner Hebrides you can be hit - about the exact same time as your EasyJet touches its wheels on the tarmac of Gatwick Airport - incredibly, overwhelmingly, tired.  I was just that tired the night we arrived in London and the only place I wanted to rest my head was The Draycott Hotel.  I’ve written about The Draycott before, I know, ( in fact, some of you have even taken my advice and stayed there as well.  I’ve loved hearing how much you’ve loved it too) but a stay there never fails to please me no end.

While some other notable London hotels have gone sleeker and hipper, The Draycott remains an oasis of delightful English elegance that always brings to mind, for me at least,  the Mitford sisters, Agatha Christie, Kate, Diana and The Queen.  Parts of it are even decorated by that most English of English decorators, Nina Campbell, so you can imagine how gorgeous it is.  I’ve even stayed there by myself a couple of times and felt cosseted and comfortable, all the while reveling in that quintessential English charm that is what I come to find whenever I travel to London.
 Flowers are everywhere here.....

There is always champagne in the afternoons, hot cocoa and biscuits at night.
  Interesting books and magazines are everywhere, and there’s even a beautiful private garden in which to stroll on a sunny afternoon.....

  And there's a perfect little library 
filled with books you really want to read.....

The Draycott sits on a quiet street in Chelsea, just around the corner from Sloane Square.  A few steps will bring me to John Sandoe Books, my favorite bookshop on the planet, while a few steps more and I’m in Partridge’s, a sublime corner grocery where The Songwriter’s favourite chocolate cake, and my favourite yogurt, can always be found for a late night treat.  The delights of London sometimes have to be put on hold when I’m at The Draycott - it’s often just too fabulous there to leave. 
See more of it HERE.


2.  The Chelsea Physic Garden
For years I have heard about the Chelsea Physic Garden.  It’s within easy walking distance from The Draycott, but for some reason I’d never made it there for a visit.  This time I did.  I texted a photo to a doctor friend back home, who texted back..”You’re at the corner drug store!”.  In fact, I was. 

The Chelsea Physic Garden began in 1693 as an Apothecary’s Garden.  Today it’s fascinating to still see plants arranged by ailments; everything that grows in the pharmaceutical garden naturally treats ailments ranging from gout to gastritis.  Who knew a periwinkle from Madagascar contains an alkaloid used in anti-cancer drugs?  But beyond the history, and past the wealth of information free for the picking at every turn, it’s just a lovely, atmospheric little garden just steps from the hustle and bustle of Sloane Square and Kings Road. 

I visited on a cool, slightly cloudy morning, when the imminent arrival of autumn was so clear, the words of Keat’s reverential ode seemed to whisper to me at every turn. 

 "Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness... "

"Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
 Conspiring with him how to load and bless
 With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run...."

Visit this garden if you possibly can.

3.  Loop
All knitters should make a pilgrimage to Loop, London’s best little yarn shop.  Located in Islington, a charming section of town heretofore unvisited by yours truly, Loop sits on a little crooked street that seems to have leapt straight out of this reader’s imagination.
  Inside are all manner of temptations for the knitter or the textile lover.

Buttons and charms, yarns and tiny embellishments.

 Ladies are laughing and knitting in cozy fat chairs dotted here and there. 
  It’s a magical place.  Go if you have the chance.
  You’ll love it, whether you knit or, regrettably, not.  
Find Loop HERE.

4.  The Victoria and Albert Museum
There are so many museums in London, it is impossible to appreciate them all in one trip or even, I would imagine, one lifetime.   I limit myself to a couple of new ones each time so as not to overwhelm my senses and to better appreciate each experience.  The one exception to that, rather flimsy and frequently broken, rule is the V and A.  There are things of such beauty here that I am drawn to its doors every time I'm lucky enough to be in the city.

  This time there was a particularly remarkable exhibit of tiny buildings that caught my imagination not only for its visual appeal and sheer scale, but also for the lamentable cultural change it depicts....

  If you look closely at the bottom of the piece you will see a collection of individual shops.  Bootmakers and bakeries, bookshops and butchers.... 

Farther up, these owner-operated shops transition to more corporate mega-stores,
 finally winnowing down to a tiny few, highly recognizable names the closer your eye gets to the top.  Individuality sacrificed to the commercial and convenient. 

It’s sobering and its message resonates painfully with anyone who resides near a big city.    Try to see it if you’re in London anytime soon.  Then go out on the streets and enjoy the array of small, exquisite shops and restaurants that still exist here.

5.  The Atmosphere
I could write all day about London; it’s simply the greatest city in all the world.  From the tiny Pollock’s Toy Shop in Covent Garden, to the bejeweled halls of Liberty.  The Wolesley for breakfast,  The Orangery for tea, the Rock and Sole Plaice for the best fish and chips.  The yellow daffodils of St. James’s Park in April, the red-orange leaves of Holland Park in fall.  The historic majesty of Westminster Abbey.  The inspiring art at The Tate.  Your eyes will widen at London’s beauty, your ears will bend to every accent on the planet. It is a city that always challenges my view of the world as it brings history full circle right before my eyes.  Amazing things happen every time I’m there and I always leave just a little bit changed - a little bit wiser, a little more curious, and a bit more eccentric, if that’s even possible.  

  Just take a look at this video I shot outside the National Gallery early one evening.  I had stopped to listen to this fellow as he was singing one of my favorite songs, the poignantly beautiful Hard Times by Stephen Foster.  The video is not great quality; I never planned to post it.  But then I discovered I had captured something more than what I'd intended.  The eye-watering marriage of art and reality.
 Put it on full screen if you can, turn up the sound and
 as you watch the video begin, take a look at the man behind the singer. 
Upon seeing this, a good friend of mine said,
 “Art doing what it’s supposed to do”.  So true.

Always travel with open eyes for, like I said, 
amazing things happen all around you in London. 
 Things that make you think.


  1. Thank you for all the wonderful recommendations! Your introduction to your post is charming. Your writing,as always, takes me to places I could never imagine.

  2. Thank you so much Pamela for your wonderful posts. I love the way you interweave literature in many of your posts. This has introduced me to so many new books since I started reading your blog. Everything about your writing is inspiring so thank you for providing this little bit of joy.

  3. Sigh. You are right about London. For me, once just wasn't enough. I remember thinking as I walked through the British Museum...If I lived here, I would come to this museum once a month to absorb another little piece of it. There are so many places to love in the world and one of the reasons I read is because I cannot see them all. Lovely post.

  4. We wish to thank you for sharing your visit to London with us. Having never been there, it is so delightful to see it through your eyes and, reading your words, is the best story ever!

  5. Love, love, love your posts. You are such an interesting, talented individual. I look forward to seeing you in my blog list. I can't seem to access a video? Thanks

  6. What a delicious compliment you have paid to London Pamela.

  7. Pamela, I love London and felt such an affinity and spirit of the past when I was there!
    Love all of the books you have mentioned!!

    The Arts by Karena
    Parish-Hadley Tree of LIfe

  8. London is such a fabulous city; my other favorite is Budapest. I thoroughly enjoy visiting London...your photos bring back such wonderful memories. Loop is a fine knitting shop and, along with Victoria and Albert, always try to visit each time I'm in London. The last time I was in London, after seeing A Daughter's a Daughter at Trafalgar Studios and in the Square, there was a gent playing bagpipes. It was misty raining, dark, people hustling all around and I stood, enthralled, listening. He noticed and, perhaps thinking of a tip, began playing to me.
    I would have tipped him anyway; it was a perfect evening!


  9. Wonderful post, Pamela. It calls for more time than I have right now to investigate and delight in your concept of London and the things to be found there, - I will be back when I have an hour so I can follow all your leads, and your steps...

  10. Hi Pamela, Have you seen the wonderful book about some great, quirky shops in London called: "111 Shops in London You Shouldn't Miss" by Kirsten von Glasow? I think its part of a series on great out of the way shops in major cities as I know there is one for New York as well. You might find yet another hidden gem in London from it. Thanks for your lovely post.

  11. So thrilling you finally got to the Chelsea Physic Garden! Yes, it is bliss and peaceful and gorgeous. I didn't discover it until after we moved to the US.
    You do pick out the best of London to visit. So glad you had a wonderful visit.
    Warm greetings from New York.

  12. I would like taking the same trip you describe. So much literature I read involves London, which currently means Anthony Trollope, with both country estates and London settings. Who is the woman painted in that first photo?

  13. My goodness, honey, You do lead a charmed life. I am grateful to you for sharing it. All the best. ASH

  14. I share your love of London. You wrote so beautifully about how many of us come to it first through literature. It is a wondrous place and each time I go I see something new. But I also go back to my favorite places as well. Thanks for giving me so many good ideas for next time!
    xx Sunday

  15. Oh my goodness Pamela ..... your video is so poignant. Whenever I read your posts about London I have to remind myself how lucky I am that I live 20 minutes away and can visit whenever I want ...... even though I have lived here for 64 years, there are still so many things that I haven't seen. I'm going to hear all about ' The Great Stink ' on Tuesday .... a trip along the Thames telling the history of the London Sewers !!!! XXXX

  16. The V and A never disappoints, in a thousand lifetimes you would never be bored.

  17. The Draycott hotel: absolutely out of my reach...

  18. I can't remember when I have had more fun, Pamela, following you around London like a puppy. Do take some pictures inside these stores as I would love to peruse their wares. Such a beautiful tale of Christmas in London. I will have to put it at the top of my list.


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