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.

5 UK Eco Friendly B&Bs: Not just for Hippies

Whenever the term ‘eco friendly’ cropped up in conversation, it used to be hippies, flowers and lentils that sprung to mind. Now people the world over are embracing eco friendly lifestyles and even employing it in their bed and breakfast establishments.

As well as the obvious benefits of reducing your carbon footprint and helping out the environment, choosing to stay at an eco friendly B&B also gives you the chance to give something back to the community by eating the local products on offer at mealtimes, taking part in on-site activities like beekeeping and orphaned lamb feeds and not having to worry about how long you have the lights on for, as much of the energy coursing through these buildings comes straight from the sun.

What’s more, the majority are situated right in the heart of the beautiful British countryside, a holiday destination that’s set to be incredibly popular in 2013 and is sure to relieve the stress that can come from city life. So without further ado, take a look at these five eco friendly retreats that are perfect for more than just the hippies among us…

1) Bliss Cottage B&B, Glastonbury

 Bliss Cottage is a quaint little bed and breakfast a stone’s throw from the Somerset levels and, for the shopaholics among us, Glastonbury town centre.

It’s a true eco friendly retreat, with energy generated from photovoltaic panels and the heating and hot water taken care of by a wood burning stove. And it doesn’t stop there; all breakfasts are either vegetarian or organic, with all produce sourced locally and eggs laid fresh from the B&Bs own hens.

Bliss Cottage
Bliss Cottage in Glastonbury (

Travel tip: Stay in the yurt for a different take on a country break. Situated in the B&B’s pretty garden, it comes complete with a wood burner and camp stove.

Stays at Bliss Cottage B&B cost from £30 per night for single occupancy, while stays in the yurt cost from £60 (flat rate) per night.

2) The True Heart, Frampton-on-Severn

The True Heart, Frampton-on-Severn

The True Heart, Frampton-on-Severn

Formerly a village pub in the swinging 60’s, The True Heart now functions as a comforting bed and breakfast that utilises at least 75% solar powered hot water. In addition, Veronica – the owner – buys in fairtrade, organic and locally sourced produce and beverages, mineral water that’s been locally bottled in a spring in Devon, ecological cleaning products and even organic bed linen.

It helps to be situated in such a glorious area of Gloucstershire, where walking and cycling opportunities are rife and access to the Forest of Dean, Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and historic Bath is easy.

Travel tip: Invest in a jar of delicious organic jam that’s been home made  in Veronica’s own kitchen.

Stays at The True Heart cost from £40 per night for double occupancy.

3) Woodford Organics Vegetarian B&B, Bude

Situated just a mile from the stunning North Cornwall coast, it’s no surprise that the Woodford Organics Vegetarian B&B embraces the notion of environmentally friendly accommodation wherever possible. As well as providing a carbon-free electrical supply, solar heated water and organic bedding, owners Steve and Clare utilise a rainwater WC and recycle constantly.

Perhaps one of the nicest touches at this B&B is the fact that they produce their own organic fruit and vegetables, organic free-range eggs and even honey, while all other supplies are sourced locally.

Travel tip: Take part in one of the B&B’s courses. From bee-keeping and organic gardening to running, walking and music recording, there’s something for everyone.

Stays at Woodford Organics Vegetarian B&B cost from £40 per person, per night.

4) Ashcroft House B&B, Blagdon

Although formerly known as The Cottage B&B and Glampsite, Ashcroft House B&B is still situated in a lovely Victorian cottage surrounded by stunning views and greenery, and provides the option of a caravan stay.

It’s a true eco friendly retreat, with the establishment’s owners sourcing fruit, vegetables and edible flowers from their own garden, growing hay for their horses and ponies and even making their own compost. What’s more, none of the produce is grown using chemicals or non-organic fertilisers.

Travel tip: Let loose your inner Bear Grylls with on-site wild food forays, camp craft and bush craft sessions.

Stays at the Ashcroft House B&B cost from £65 per night for a double room, while stays in the caravan cost from £25 per person, per night.

5) Brighton House, Brighton

Brighton House, Brighton

Brighton House, Brighton

Eco friendly no longer means dank and pokey, as this refurbished regency town house clearly illustrates.

The Brighton House Hotel is located conveniently on the West Pier and goes that extra mile to embrace an environmentally friendly ethos. Owners Christine and Lucho take into account even the smallest detail, utilising energy from renewable sources, buying energy saving bulbs whenever possible, recycling regularly and even upping their insulation during a recent refurbishment. Even the breakfast is almost entirely organic, with exceptions to the rule made known to guests.

Travel tip: Take a relaxing stroll along Brighton Beach before visiting the blossoming Cultural Quarter, home to eclectic shops and exotic eateries.

Stays at the Brighton House Hotel cost from £50 per night for single occupancy.

It’s clear to see that eco friendly B&Bs are about so much more than lentil dinners and “lights out at 8!” They’re now a fantastic place to stay if you want to not just reduce your carbon footprint, but relax in a slow-paced atmosphere that’s kind to both you and the environment, with many owners going that extra mile to pique your enjoyment.

Have you stayed at a fantastic eco friendly B&B that I haven’t mentioned? Leave a comment below!

Michelle Pegg enjoys the finer things in life; namely red wine, dining out and travelling to new places. Aside from being a keen blogger she is also the Assurance & Compliance Manager at suppliers of bed linen to the UK hospitality industry.

Sir John Betjeman’s Metro-land, London

Metro-land documentary logo

Metro-land is a thoughtful, personal and likeable 1973 documentary written and presented by Sir John Betjeman, then Poet Laureate. It features the area of North West London where he grew up and the effect that the Metropolitan line had on it.

It was shown on UK TV last night in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Tube but if you didn’t or weren’t able to watch it, no fear, it’s available on YouTube

Here are a few of the Quirky highlights he featured in the programme:

Highfort Court, Buck Lane (aka Kingsbury Castle)

Highfort Court

This extraordinary 1937 suburban house in the shape of a castle was designed by architect Ernest Trobridge. It apparently demonstrates his “Swedenborgian belief in symbolism, hence chimneys as turrets and entrance as drawbridge” (The Freedoms of Suburbia by Paul Barker).

John Hugh Smyth-Pigott’s house, St John’s Wood

John Hugh Smyth-Pigott's house

John Hugh Smyth-Pigott’s house

Betjeman said this neo-Gothic house had a dark atmosphere where one could imagine someone over your shoulder, staring. Let’s hope Vanessa Feltz, tv and radio presenter and current owner isn’t experiencing the same sensation.

The former resident referenced in Metro-Land is John Hugh Smyth-Pigott, self-proclaimed incarnation of Jesus Christ and leader of an exploitative Christian cult. He lived there along with his “brides”.

Here’s the story of the Agapemone cult

Watkin’s Folly

Watkin's folly, Wembley

Watkin’s stump

Watkin’s Folly, Watkin’s Tower, Wembley Park Tower, the London Stump, call it what you will, but this tower was intended to rival and be taller than the Eiffel Tower. It was to be slap bang in the middle of a pleasure park where Wembley Stadium is these days. And the fact that the football stadium is there now might give you a clue as to the fate of the tower.

It was begun in 1892, and 47 m of the tower was built, however the foundations weren’t the steadiest as the design had been changed to include 4 legs rather than the proposed 8, and the construction company ran out of money. It was completely demolished by 1907.

Many thanks to the BBC for showing this documentary again and Happy 150th Anniversary to the Tube!

St Pancras Railway Station, Hotel and Church

St Pancras Railway Station

St Pancras Railway Station

St Pancras Station and the adjoining hotel are looking at their very best at the moment.

These fabulous examples of Victorian architecture are jewels in the crown of this area of London and were the first buildings in the locality renewed as part of the regeneration of King’s Cross.

St Pancras New Church

Before St Pancras station there was a graveyard. The graveyard was known as St Giles Burial Ground.

The bodies from part of the graveyard had to be moved to make way for the Midland Railway line which would connect London with the East Midlands. 8,000 corpses had to have a new home.

Hardy tree

Hardy tree at St Pancras New Church

You can still see the beautiful St Pancras Old Church and what’s left of the burial ground (one of the largest green spaces in the area) in Somerston, not far from the railway stations of King’s Cross and St Pancras. There’s thought to have been a church on the site since Roman times.

In the churchyard there’s an ancient ash tree against which the gravestones of the displaced have been piled up. It’s called the Hardy Tree, because the novelist Thomas Hardy in his role as architect was an overseer of the move, and the grey stones are now part of the tree itself, as it grows through them.

John Soane’s grave, inspiration for the iconic red telephone box, also lies in this graveyard.

As well as normal church services, gigs are occasionally held there in the evenings, and publicity shots were taken of the Beatles in the grounds to promote Hey Jude and the White Album:

The Beatles St Pancras Old Church

The Beatles at St Pancras Old Church

The Station and Hotel

Built 18 feet above the Regent’s canal, the main train shed (which was an engineering wonder in itself), and the over-the-top Victorian gothic extravaganza that was the Midland Grand Hotel opened in 1873.

The combination of soot, a lack of bathrooms (none of the bedrooms had them) and competition from newer hotels in the West End meant that it was loss-making for years. It was eventually turned into railway offices.

The hotel and station escaped demolition in the 1960s when it was to be replaced by a concrete office block and sports hall, largely down to a last minute campaign led by the poet laureate John Betjeman. (His statue now graces the train shed).

It’s appeared in the films “From Hell”, “Chaplin”, “Richard III”, and “Batman Begins”. And it was famously the location of the Spice Girls’ Wannabe video. (For more London film locations see London Film Locations)

St Pancras Renaissance sign

St Pancras Renaissance sign

60,000,000 bricks were used in the original construction and an additional 16 million have been kilned to build a new extension to the hotel, which has now become a five star en-suite bathroomed Renaissance Hotel. The upper floor, St Pancras Chambers, has been converted into penthouses, providing living spaces for people like supermodel Lily Cole.

St Pancras ironwork

St Pancras ironwork

St Pancras, Then and Now

Eurostar Waiting Lounge

Eurostar Waiting Lounge (

There was much excitement as the Eurostar arrived in 14th November 2007. In the boarding lounge where passengers wait before boarding trains for the continent, beer used to be stored (the station could accommodate up to 23 million barrels of the stuff).

The beer company Bass used this storage area to keep their beverages before its transport round the city and three large beer barrels could occupy the space between pairs of the columns supporting the roof in that area.

Champagne Bar St Pancras

Champagne Bar St Pancras

Above, on the station concourse, there is the world’s longest champagne bar with heated seats as well as a range of restaurants and shops throughout the station.

Whether on a weekend break in the city, or just passing through, there’s usually something going on in the station: a huge Christmas tree made of lego stood here last year, and two pianos were left in the station after a recent music festival.

Any member of the public can now have a go on them and there’s usually someone tinkling the ivories on your way past. And there’s more music to be had: at Christmas, concerts are held on early Thursday evenings.


Whether in the mood for a carol service in the church, a spot of shopping, music-listening in the station or perhaps a cocktail or afternoon tea in the hotel, this area of London is a sweet spot. Architecture, history and culture combine and there’s more to come as the area develops even further. Watch this space.

Secret Garden: The Hill Garden and Pergola, Hampstead

An atmospheric hidden garden in Hampstead, this walkway and gardens are to be found north of Hampstead near Jack Straw’s Castle.

It was originally part of the gardens associated with Inverforth House and built by then resident Viscount Leverhulme, owner of Lever Brothers soap manufacturers – now Unilever. He bought over two adjacent houses to create the extensive gardens (a public right of way bisects them). It was built to hold sumptuous garden parties as well as for the use of Leverhulme’s family.

The most impressive feature in these gardens is a beautifully restored timber pergola, covered with luscious climbing roses and vines. There is also a more manicured part with small paddling pool – a quiet haven accessible from Hampstead Heath itself.

The material used to build the walkways and columns was in fact left over from the excavation of ground for the nearby Northern Line extension at Hampstead.

This is a lovely location for a wander or a quiet read of your book which we came across as part of a London Open Garden Squares weekend and is a Hampstead must-see.


Underground: about 1km walk from Golders Green Station.

Bus: routes 210 and 268 pass by North End Road, a short distance away.

Car: limited parking may be found in adjacent roads, public parking available at Jack Straw’s Castle.

City of London information on Hill Garden

Entrance; Inverforth Close NW3 off North End Way


A James Bond London: The Daring World of 007

Somerset House aka St Petersburg Square

Somerset House aka St Petersburg Square

This is a guest post by Sohaib

“Vodka martini: shaken, not stirred”. Or a guided tour of a James Bond London through the agent’s eyes, perhaps? Why not both? Go exploring the iconic 007 moments and visiting different sets the Bond movies were shot at.

Hang out at the ‘Universal Exports’ Headquarters

The HQs have been the same since GoldenEye in 1995. Head over to the Thames and see the Vauxhall Cross building to witness where it all happens — the home of MI6. Before 1995, the HQ was filmed at a building somewhere near Whitehall. If you’re lucky, you might just see M in time to give Bond his next mission!

Park your car at the Atlantic Garage

No, it isn’t in Hamburg! The famous escape scene with the remote-control BMW 750 is actually filmed in Brent Cross Shopping Centre’s car park. The stunts in the scene ended up producing more smoke than they anticipated — the fire brigades made it to the set in no time!

Note: the final leap in the scene is actually filmed in the real Hamburg.

Take your date to St. Petersburg Square

Bond’s St. Petersburg Square visit in GoldenEye is actually bang in the centre of London. You may not be able to get into a tank like him and destroy everything in sight, but you can still see the marvel of the set — and it’s quite the romantic one, to be honest. The scene was filmed at the Courtyard, Somerset House on the Strand.

Laugh at the traffic wardens who got splashed

Here’s the link if that doesn’t work

Visit Wapping Lane right after the Strand to see where the traffic wardens were splashed just before Bond goes down the canal with the ‘Q’ Boat in The World is Not Enough. The famous boat chase is claimed to be the best action scene from all the Bond movies. Careful, though, there’s no knowing if you’ll be walking away drenched in water or not!

Suit-up like Bond – Savile Row, City of Westminster, London W1S

What better way does a gentleman express himself than with his suit? Savile Row in the City of Westminster has been home to high quality tailoring for hundreds of years now. It creates the highest quality bespoke material — a quintessential element to an elegant English suit. Bespoke tailors are now recreating James Bond’s suits to be excellent in quality. You won’t only be dressed like Bond; you will be dressed better than Bond!

Have a drink at the Reform Club – 104-105 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5EW

The Reform Gentlemen’s Club is where the famous fencing scene in Die Another Day was shot back in 2002. The Reform is the set for the fictional club ‘Blades’. Blades’ elegance makes it one of the most interesting places to spend an evening. In my opinion, the Reform is the perfect way to end an evening of agent work. After visiting each of these places, I’m sure you can, too, call yourself Bond. James Bond.

Author Bio

Sohaib is a travel writer and adventure enthusiast who currently writes for HotelClub, a website for booking London hotels and more. When he isn’t working hard, you’ll find him roaming the streets of London in his suit, battling the villains of the capital with a license to kill.

Interview with Old Map Man, London Explorer Extraordinaire

Ken (in the middle) doing his map thing with Andy and Sally

Ken Titmuss, aka Old Map Man of London Trails specialises in history walks in lesser frequented areas of London town (lesser frequented by London guides, anyway). His walks are accompanied by, as you might have guessed, old maps, which the group compares to more recent versions.

It’s remarkable to see how some areas have changed while other structures and footprints have stayed put over a long period of time. I’ve been on two of his walks so know whereof I speak.

I couldn’t recommend Ken’s walks more, both for their remarkable value (if you go on one, try and persuade him that he should be charging a bit more, especially with a free map thrown in …) and the many surprising insights you’ll get into the back story of this great and fascinating city. And I’m not alone – he’s been recommended by the Guardian, for goodness sake!

QT: Why did you become a tour guide?

Ken: During a long spell of unemployment I began volunteering at Somerset House in London and after some training began doing guided tours, which I continued doing until 16th June 2012. I stumbled across a government scheme called New Deal for self employment. Came up with a business idea of doing guided walks with old maps, which was accepted. I realised early on that my walks are quite different to regular guided tours and so I now think of them as walking explorations with old maps. I approach this as a community development person rather than a guide. I do not throw facts and dates as people but encourage people to pay attention to London and look for clues in the detail, eg coal hole covers.

Coal hole cover

Coal hole cover

QT: How do you go about researching your walks? Have you any new ones planned?
Ken: Research begins by walking round an area, looking at what has survived and working out the story. Finding a way through or round. Then I go to books, the internet and the archives. I try to find the less obvious aspects to an area, often the hidden history. Yes I know there has been a TV series on that theme [a recent BBC2 production].

People come on my walks from all ages and walks of life. The common factor is a fascination with London and its history, which is often a mystery. Old maps provide a way in and a powerful aide memoir, sometimes revealing the secret history of buildings. For instance, what is now the Fire Brigade Museum in Southwark used to be their HQ; but before that, in the 1870’s, it was a hat factory; and orignally it was a workhouse.

People will get lots of wow moments and a sense of how quite ordinary areas of London have contributed to its story. I will readily challenge received wisdom, for example Crossbones which is now a shrine. I challenge the mythology but let people keep the myth if they want, but I do encourage people to at least consider the fact that Borough is covered with burial grounds where prostitutes where buried.

I hope my walks will encourage people to pay more attention to the everyday details and see their own neighbourhoods in a new and enlightened way.

Fake door, London

Fake door. You’d never know.

QT: What have been the quirkiest facts you’ve uncovered when researching your walks? This being Quirky Travel an’ all?

Ken: The quirkiest thing I have found and incorporated is a door that looks like a front door but is a door to a yard behind the row of houses. The saddest thing is the wall and ventilation shafts that are a fragment of St Luke’s workhouse.

QT: What kind of people tend to come on your walks?

Ken: People interested in London and its stories. people who are mad about old maps. I have been someone’s birthday present a few times now. I offer private walking tours.

QT: What are the favourite areas of London you’ve researched and walked so far?

Ken: My favourite tends to be the most recent. I have a strong feeling for St Giles, which is the one that got me thinking about maps and London. The heart shaped outline of the leper hospital that Matilda founded in 1117 is discernible on every map. I am drawn to lost or almost lost neighbourhoods, which I think most of them are. If pushed I would say St Luke’s, North Clerkenwell and of course Bethnal Green!

For a list of  Ken’s forthcoming scheduled walks, have a look at his website London Trails He can also arrange private walks if needed. On Twitter, he’s @oldmapman

Top Ten Quirky Hotels London

This is a guest post by Celina Bledowska

If you’re casting your net looking for quirky hotels London boasts a diverse array of stylish and unusual places. Many of these exotic destinations offer great hotel deals so it’s always a good idea to go online and find that special venue that will attract the quirky side of your personality.

Pavilion Hotel

Pavilion Hotel

Pavilion Hotel

Think exotic debauchery for this hotel’s unique style. The interior design ranges from ‘Honky Tonk Afro’ to ‘Casablanca Nights’ This hotel lives up to its name and recent guests include ‘The Manic Street Preachers and Jarvis Cocker.


Address: 34-36 Sussex Gardens, Hyde Park, London, W2

40 Winks Hotel bathroom picture

40 Winks

 40 Winks Hotel

Just off the Mile End Road, you will find a perfect jewel of a Georgian townhouse that has been converted into a sumptuous two bed roomed hotel. The décor is stunning. Most guests are those who prefer the quirkier things in life and the hotel promises to supply a ‘Home from Home’ experience.


Address: 109 Mile End Road, Stepney Green, London E1 4UJ

Hotel 41

Hotel 41

Hotel 41, London W1

This award-winning hotel offers its guests the ultimate in luxury. The hotel’s décor is similar to those of a gentleman’s club and the staff provides dedicated service. If you want to travel with your pooch, no problem, there’s a pet concierge. The list of services is impressive so just book in, relax and enjoy.


Address: 41 Buckingham Palace Road, London, SW1W 0PS

Zetter Hotel bedroom picture

Zetter Hotel

The Zetter Hotel

Cooler than ice-cream, this modern boutique hotel is situated in an old Victorian warehouse in trendy Clerkenwell. You’ll find all the mod-cons you’ll ever need and all the rooms are stylishly decorated in an all the rage retro style.


Address: St John’s Square 86-88 Clerkenwell Road, London EC1M 5RJ

The Rookery

The Rookery

The Rookery, EC1

Close to bustling Smithfield market this beautiful hotel provides its guests with the ultimate in service as well as allowing them to relax in idyllic and stunningly decorated bedrooms. The décor is quirky/traditional and be prepared to be truly pampered.


Address: Peter’s Lane, Cowcross Street, London, EC1M 6DS

Hazletts Hotel

Hazlitt’s Hotel

Hazlitt’s, London W1

Situated in a converted Georgian Townhouse, right in the heart of fashionable Soho, Hazlitt’s gives its guests a London club ambience right down to its honesty bar and library, complete with log fire.


Address: 6 Frith Street, Soho Square, London W1D 3JA

Hoxton Hotel

Hoxton Hotel

The Hoxton Hotel, London EC2

This budget treasure is situated in achingly fashionable Hoxton close to the City and the East End. The hotel manages to combine budget with luxury: do admire the stylish rooms complete with power showers and classy linen.


Address: 81 Great Eastern St, London, EC2A 3HU

The Sanctum Soho

The Sanctum Soho

The Sanctum Soho, London W1

Based right in the heart of the West End this smart hotel has an underground cinema as well as a rooftop garden and bar. The rooms are immaculately designed and the guests’ needs are always regarded as a priority.


Address: 20 Warwick Street, Soho, London W1B 5NF

Charlotte Street front door

Charlotte Street

 Charlotte Street Hotel, London W1

Set in the heart of Bloomsbury in a converted dental hospital this classic boutique hotel has 52 lusciously designed rooms as well as an on site restaurant ‘ Oscar’. Check out the paintings by Duncan Grant and others from the famous ‘Bloomsbury Set.’


Address: 15-17 Charlotte Street, London, W1T 1RJ

Clink 78 hostel reception

Clink 78

Clink 78, London WC1

Formerly a courthouse, this idiosyncratic hostel offers an eclectic range of delights. Try out the ‘pod beds,’ some of the rooms are known as ‘prison cells’ to continue the legal theme. Great bar and rooftop views of London.


Address: 78 King’s Cross Road, London WC1X 9QG

ByCelina Bledowska who has lived and worked in London for many years.