Category Archives: London

Walking London: Hidden And Not So Hidden Gems

Walking London, there’s something new to see around every corner. I’ve lived here for eight years now and I never cease to be amazed. It may something historic, entertaining, jaw-droppingly gorgeous, sadly neglected, about to disappear, or it may be downright queer. Whatever, it’s all good fun.

Here are a selection of photos I’ve taken on recent walks around the city – some of the sights I’ll be going into in more depth in later posts.

Britain at War Experience

Britain at War – Closed January 2013

The Britain at War Experience in Tooley Street is a London museum I never got to visit. If you haven’t visited you’ve left it too late as well because as of January 2013 it closed for good – the redevelopment of London Bridge station put paid to it. The exhibits however have been bought by an organisation called the Bay Trust, so they may well pop up somewhere else in the near future. One exhibit I hope doesn’t disappear is the V2 rocket strapped to the side of the building and visible from Platform 1 of London Bridge station. It surprised the hell out of me when I first it from the station, I tell you.

v2 rocket London Bridge station

The very surprising V2 Rocket at London Bridge

Here’s a video of the Britain at War Experience.

One of the best things about urban life is spotting new street art and just because Banksy’s art is now more well known for its monetary value than anything else there’s a ton of other stuff waiting to be uncovered. I was touched by this little illustration. (Can’t remember where I saw it, though).

death to traffic lights

Death to Traffic Lights

The George Inn off Borough High Street in Southwark is the only galleried inn left standing in London (fires, bulldozers and  World War Two bombings have put paid to the rest) and was  a major stop-off for the horse-pulled coaches coming to London in the 17th century.

The George Inn, Southwark

The George Inn, Southwark

It’s owned by the National Trust these days, but don’t let that put you off – it operates as a normal pub. The ubiquitous Charles Dickens gave it a short but sweet mention in Little Dorrit “if he [Tip Dorrit] goes into the George and writes a letter”.

Decoration at Cross Bones Graveyard

Decoration at Cross Bones Graveyard

Above is a recent photo of one of the newer decorations added to the gates at Cross Bones Graveyard, where the remains of thousands of prostitutes, children and the destitute lie. A monthly vigil is held at the site in memory of these unfortunates. The International Union of Sex Workers hope the graveyard will be  “…the first World Heritage site dedicated to sex workers… a permanent garden of celebration and remembrance to honour their lives.” Read more about Cross Bones.

Senate House - University of London

Senate House – University of London

The wonderful thing about a good guided walk is the research put into it and even if you only come away with one or two new things it’s been worth it, in my opinion. Yannick Pucci puts a lot of work into his walks and  I think I can say that everyone who was on the Art Deco Bloomsbury tour one blustery Saturday was well satisfied with the tidbits learned.

This photo is of one my favourite buildings, the Senate House, administrative centre of the University of London and I’m sure Yannick won’t mind me saying that this was intended to be part of a much larger site. At 370m in length it would have completely changed the character of this literary part of London. The scale was pulled back when critics like George V said it would look too much like a battleship. Read this article for images of the beautiful detailing on the inside of the building.

Syd's Coffee Stall - Shoreditch

The Oldest Coffee Stall in London – Syd’s

Another tour guide I go out with regularly in London is Ken Titmuss. aka Old Map Man. He introduced me to a couple of local gems on his Shoreditch walk. There’s Syd’s coffee stall that’s still run by the same family (above)…

…and a 500 year old morgue that looks like a garden shed:

Shoreditch morgue

Shoreditch Morgue dating from 1500

Yes, that really is a morgue – and it has a connection with Jack the Ripper.

More on these two anachronisms in a later post.

As long as you’ve got the energy to cope with the crowds, you never do tire of London :o)

Christie’s: An Out of the Ordinary Exhibition

Buffalo horn hat from "Out of the Ordinary" sale at Christies


Christie’s in South Kensington, London will be holding a one-off sale of unusual items in their “Out of the Ordinary” auction on September 5th 2013. As the items are open to the public to view,  I went along yesterday to take a few snaps.

There’s a lot of great stuff in the salesrooms, and here a few of the photos that worked out:

Two-headed calf at Christie's

Two-headed calf

This very Fortean stuffed two-headed calf dates from the second half of the twentieth century and was made to demonstrate polycephaly (having more than one head).


Titanic bell

Titanic bell

Well, it isn’t actually from the real Titanic. This is a copy used in the 1958 film “A Night to Remember”, starring Kenneth More.


Chaise Madame chair - Denis Cospen

Chaise Madame chair

Denis Copen-designed anthropomorphic chair.


Chaise monsieur chair - Denis Copen

Chaise monsieur chair

And here’s the bloke version!


Cygan robot

Cygan robot

Cygan is an Italian humanoid robot made in 1957 by aeromodeller Dr Ing Fiorito from Turin. He made an appearance at the Windmill Theatre in London in 1958 and opened the British Food Fair of that year. In the 1970s he was sold to a Ford car dealership who named him “Moto” and after that stint found his way into a private collection. He used to be able to walk and turn around, but doesn’t have the facility to do that any more.


Bearded Lady painting Helene Detroyat

Bearded Lady painting

Hélène Detroyat painted this intriguing image of a bearded lady.


Vivienne Westwood hats

Vivienne Westwood hats

The incomparable British designer Vivienne Westwood created the buffalo diamante-horned and bicorne hats pictured above, as well as two cowboy hats that are also being auctioned.


Silvered bronze skeleton

Silvered bronze skeleton

Derek the skeleton (that’s what I’ve called him, anyway) probably comes from Germany and was made in the second half of the twentieth century.


Hiroshi Furuyoshi painting

Hiroshi Furuyoshi painting

This extremely realistic and ever so slightly disturbing was painted by Furuyoshi in 2012.


Cave bear skelton

Cave bear skelton

The cave bear died out 27,500 years ago but fortunately we have really well preserved skeletons like this one, simply because the creatures liked to hide out in caves.


Map of Paris, 1739

Map of Paris, 1739

This enormous birds-eye map of Paris shows buildings such as the Tuileries palace and Bastille prison that no longer exist.


Stuffed peacock

Stuffed peacock

The image doesn’t do justice to the colours of this magnificent peacock.


Marijuana poster

Marijuana poster

America’s drug problem in the 1940s was apparently all down to the nazis, according to the film that this poster advertised (Devil’s Harvest). Doh! to that incorrectly placed apostrophe.

There’s a lot more to see at Christie’s saleroom in South Kensington, so get yourself along before September 5th.

Review: The Forge and Foundry in Camden Town

Camden Town is either a dump, an exciting and vibrant area, a madhouse or a great location, depending on who you speak to.

What it is not is quiet and laid back.

Which is why I’m very pleased to tell you there’s a music venue and restaurant in this inner city area of London where you find peace and quiet, excellent music (and the odd comedy gig or two), if you need it. It’s called The Forge and Foundry.

Just off the main drag that is Camden High Street, The Forge is an arts venue that was opened in 2009 by musicians Adam and Charlotte Caird. It’s an environmentally friendly place designed by Camden architects Burd Haward specifically designed for “small ensemble playing” according to their website. The centre specialises in jazz and classical music.

The Foundry Restaurant, Camden

The Foundry Restaurant

The restaurant is a separate entity in the same building, and it’s called The Foundry – tables can be reserved to watch the events in the adjoining Forge with food supplied by The Foundry.

We visited on a Friday night, when most of Camden’s pubs are filled to bursting with punks, hipsters, tourists and 14 year olds and were pleased to find a little cool haven of tranquility (it was a stiflingly hot day outside).

It’s a beautiful space with wood-clad walls and photos of jazz cats that I’m afraid I didn’t recognise, with very listenable-to jazz being played (not that improvisational stuff that drives a person insane after five minutes listening to it.)

We went for the four small plates menu (four for a tenner) and had healthy tid-bits like chicken goujons, feta and watermelon and crab salad (too much cold potato in it for me, but that’s just me and cold potato). Normal sized main courses are available, too. The food was very good and washed down nicely with a very good pint of Meteor white beer.

The Forge Music Venue, Camden

The Forge Music Venue

The event we were here to see was the Kirsty McGee Trio, part of a summer female artists festival, so we moved on into the music venue part of the building (past the only indoor living wall – 6.5 metres high – in the UK, apparently).

Kirsty’s mix of blues, jazz and folk (all written by herself) was beautiful and atmospheric. In fact, she’s such a good song writer than Danny Boyle has featured one of her tunes has featured in his recent film, Trance. (And my husband has now bought two of her CDs!)

It was a quiet audience to suit the venue but we were appreciative, and speaking for my husband and I anyway, we had a great, chilled out evening after a long work week. The cocktails we had after the beer might have helped …

(Disclosure – we were given tickets to the gig, but paid for our own food and drink. And we’ll definitely be back on our own expense account!)

Have you any chilled-out Camden places you can recommend? I’d love to hear about them below.








Alexandra Park and Palace: 150 Years and Still Going Strong


16 days and 120,000 visitors after it opened in 1873, Alexandra Palace in North London burned down.

The newly rebuilt Palace opened again 2 years later. The Palace along with its gardens perched on a hill high above London was an enormous public recreation ground and the place where the first public television transmissions took place.

And then large parts were ruined by fire again in 1980.

The Palace re-opened in 1988 and Alexandra Park and Palace is now a major music and corporate event venue. It also hosts a weekly farmer’s market, it’s home to a very popular ice-rink, has a great pond for duck-watching, and has one of the best views in London. And it’s a wonderful building.

Ally Pally is celebrating its 150th anniversary on Sunday, and I for one will be popping along to see what’s happenin’ Here are the details

Here are some gorgeous photos of this historic but really unlucky building if you can’t make it on Sunday:

Ally Pally from the air

Ally Pally from the air (Wikipedia)

The view from Alexandra Palace

The view from the Palace (

White Stripes at Alexandra Palace

The White Stripes were there! (Flickr)

Happy 150th Ally Pally!

The Legend of the Highgate Vampire

Highgate Cemetery statue

Highgate Cemetery (

(This story first appeared on Quirky Travel a couple of years back but as there have been very recent updates to the story (including a marvellous vampiric squabble) I’ve added to it and republished.)

Stories of vampires at Highgate Cemetery began in 1967 when two schoolgirls allegedly saw corpses rising from their graves. One of the girls went on to have nightly visitations and blood loss à la Bram Stoker. Another couple are said to have seen a horrific ghostly creature not long after, and psychic investigator David Farrant sighted  a ghostly grey figure in the area.

This wasn’t all: many apparitions were being seen in and around the neglected graveyard. Even a ghostly cyclist was seen riding up Swain’s Lane, a road that runs through the eastern and western sections of the cemetery. Fox carcasses supposedly drained of blood and the headless corpse of a woman were also found. Seriously, there was a lot of stuff going on at that time. And there were rumours of a police cover-up.

Seán Manchester

Seán Manchester

Seán Manchester was the vampire hunter who was on the case from 1969 and he brought to the story tales of a psychic sleepwalking girl and a coffin transporting the vampire’s body to England (he’d obviously been reading too much Bram Stoker). A mass vampire hunt was instigated on Friday 13th March 1970. That must have been some sight.

He researched the ghostly and vampiric visitations for 13 years until he eventually found a blood-sucking miscreant in a neo-gothic mansion on the Highgate borders where it seems to have turned into a giant spider, then a beautiful young woman, after which it was staked.

The people who run Highgate Cemetery these days (the Friends of Highgate Cemetery) are squeamish about any mention of the vampire and the films like “Taste the Blood of Dracula” that were filmed here:

Highgate Cemetery in Taste the Blood of Dracula

Highgate Cemetery in Taste the Blood of Dracula (

I’m in two minds as to whether they’re right to feel this way or not. If it’s simply because they want to keep the goths away I certainly disagree, having wanted to be one myself at one time in life (but never quite having the nerve, never mind the wrong-coloured hair). I do understand why they have to restrict numbers, however, as they don’t have a bottomless purse to undo any damage done by marauding Hammer Horror fans.

Update June 2012: There’s to be a film of the Highgate Vampire, written and directed by Asa Bailey and based on his own novel. All I’ve been able to find to date is a Highgate Vampire trailer. Camden is described as being “gothic” in the introduction to it. (Having lived down the road from Camden I would describe it as many things. Gothic isn’t one of them.) And Seán Manchester let it be known that the film had nothing to do with the events that occurred back in the day.

Update July 2012: A news report claims that a ghostly figure is seen by two ghost hunters and a medium in the cemetery. It doesn’t state which bit of Highgate cemetery it was seen in, but it does add in the fact that one of the ghost hunters ran into George Michael on a previous outing in Highgate (how on earth is that relevant to the story?)

Update June 2013: There’s an excellent vampiric bunfight going on in the pages of the KentishTowner blog between various vampire factions, including the fabulously named Vebjørn Hästehufvud (or could that be Seán Manchester himself?) And the film “The Highgate Vampire” doesn’t seem to have surfaced yet. And ghosts are still regularly spotted in the cemetery, but, as in the case of this sighting, occasionally disproved. Just occasionally, mind …

5 Quirky London Restaurants

This is a guest post by Ben Inder.

Once in a while, or perhaps more often for readers of Quirky Travel, something different is called for.

Tired of the same old same old and fancying a change for your dinner in London?

Here’s a list of my favourite quirky London restaurants that offer far more than just good food. I hope you find something that appeals to you and if you find the experience enjoyable, go on a journey of quirky-seeking of your own.

Les Trois Garcons interior

Les Trois Garcons

Les Trois Garcons

Converted from an old pub, this Anglo-French restaurant is quirky from the outset. The interior’s full of oddities, stuffed animals and the occasional A-lister. The food is excellent but not inexpensive, however I feel it’s worth a visit.

It opened in 2000 with an exaggerated chic flourish, but there’s more to it than just the décor: the quality of the eating should get a thumbs up from most foodies.

Address: 1 Club Row, London E1 6JX


Circus Restaurant - acrobatics

Circus Restaurant

Is it a restaurant, a bar or ‘a Cabaret, my friend’?

It’s actually all of the above. Enjoy a very interesting evening of entertainment, good food and have a great time into the bargain.

Relax in the cocktail bar or book a table and dine, while enjoying the cabaret and circus acts. This venue is as vibrant as the rest of Covent Garden.

Address: 27-29 Endell Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2H 9BA


Inamo Restaurant London

Inamo Restaurant

Of interest to techies and geeks as well as lovers of oriental food, this is a fusion restaurant whose USP is the pioneering interactive systems employed in it.

Place your order via a 3D menu projected onto your table, even choose your own virtual tablecloth styling, watch what’s going on in the kitchen via live images and even play games during your meal if that’s the kind of thing you like to do. Once you’ve enjoyed your pan-asian food and a glass of wine or two, you can even order your taxi home.

Great fun.

Address: 4-12 Regent St, London, Greater London SW1Y 4PE


Archipelago Restaurant

Archipelago Restaurant (

Looking for unusual food? Archipelago restaurant has some great choices, but I hope you’re adventurous.

The quirkiness of this place is in the menu, where you can enjoy crocodile, kangaroo, wildebeest and much more.

The décor is in tune with the ambiance of the restaurant: there are golden Buddhas, palm trees and peacock feathers which all add to the quirky nature of this venue.

Address: 110 Whitfield Street, London, W1T 5ED

The Doodle Bar

Are you a doodler? If so, head on down to the Doodle Bar near Battersea Bridge.

It’s an old Victorian space near Vivienne Westwood’s studios that’s been painted white and patrons are encouraged to leave their mark there.

And there’s even a ping pong table.

In future there will be a kitchen on site, but for now you can buy excellent food next door at the Street Kitchen and bring it in.

Address: 33 Parkgate Road, London SW11 4NP.

Ben is an avid foodie and loves finding quirky restaurants when looking for where to eat in London. He loves to travel and try new restaurants and cuisines.