10 quirky ways to spend an hour in London

According to my oracle (Trip Advisor) there are over 1600 attractions in London. Enough to fill years of sightseeing. But what if you’ve only got an hour to spare? Maybe you’ve seen the major sights and are looking for something different. Well, look no further; here’s my top ten quirky ways to spend an hour in London:

1. Shop for silver at The London Silver Vaults, Chancery Lane

The place to buy silver in London. Housed in a large underground vault there are silver shops for all occasions and budgets. Access is via a security check and huge steel doors; all I could think about was the Hatton Garden robbery!

London silver vaults, Chancery Lane
London silver vaults, Chancery Lane

There are silver items galore in the shop windows, most leaning towards traditional rather than contemporary design. We didn’t buy anything but it’s definitely the place to come if you’re looking for a special gift.

And I’ve happily ticked this off my UK bucket list.

2. Visit a London film set

From Westbourne Park Road (Notting Hill) to Chalcot Crescent (Paddington) London is packed with film locations. A quick Internet search will help you find your favourite film locations.

My favourite? It has to be the Regency Cafe on Regency Street. A star of the film Layer Cake (and several other TV productions) I primarily love this cafe for its huge fried breakfasts!

3. Spot flamingos at The Roof Gardens, Kensington

Can you believe there are flamingos on a roof top in central London?

Flamingos at The Roof Gardens
Flamingos at The Roof Gardens

Head over to Kensington High St to find them, 100ft above the bustling road. Read my post about London’s roof gardens to find out more.

4. Admire the carvings at BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Neasden Temple

Be transported to India in Neasden. This huge Hindu temple is made from intricately carved marble, granite and limestone. The story of its construction is incredible; more than 26,000 parts were carved in India,  shipped back to the UK and assembled by over 1000 volunteers.

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir
BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir

Neasden temple is open to visitors from Monday to Saturday 9am-6pm. As the temple is a place of worship do read the visitor guidelines beforehand. You can read about our visit here.

5. Play the games at Novelty Automation, Holborn

This strange mix of arcade machines would have been at home in Banksy’s Dismaland.

It’s a hugely imaginative, irreverent and entertaining place to spend an hour or so; our family loved it. There’s no entrance charge, simply pay for the machines you want to use (generally £1-3 per go).

Novelty Automation, Princeton St
Novelty Automation, Princeton St

My daughter braved the Autofrisk machine, whilst I tested my nerve in the dog’s cage. I don’t want to spoil your fun by revealing what happens!

6. Grant Museum of Zoology, Bloomsbury

This University zoological museum is stuffed (literally) full of preserved animal specimens and skeletons. Housed in a single room you’ll find dodo bones, dissected brains and a python skeleton. It’s most popular exhibit appears to be a jar of moles!

The Grant Museum of Zoology is open Monday to Saturday afternoons, admission is free.

7. Buy a neon sign from Gods Own Junkyard, Walthamstow

Tucked away on an industrial estate this is the place to go if you’ve ever wanted to buy a neon sign. Or just to look at someone else’s collection of them. Although housed in a relatively small unit it’s packed with neon lights and retro signs.

Gods Own Junkyard, Shernhall St
Gods Own Junkyard, Shernhall St

Out the back there’s a small cafe; grab a coffee and slice of cake to enjoy in the courtyard garden whilst you contemplate where to put a neon sign in your home.

8. Sir John Soane’s Museum, Lincoln’s Inn Fields

A museum worthy of a longer visit but doable in an hour. This architect’s house is packed full of antiquities, paintings, sculptures and a sarcophagus. It’s eclectic, cramped and definitely quirky.

Sir John Soane’s museum is open 10am-5pm Tuesday to Saturday. Entrance is free, no photography allowed.

9. Ride the Emirates Air Line across the River Thames

A fun way to cross the River Thames. The cable car provides great views of London and it’s much cheaper than many other viewing experiences in the city.

Cable car across the Thames

We combined our visit with a trip on the DLR and a boat ride along the Thames, taking full advantage of our London travelcard.

10. Hunt out street art

We enjoyed searching for street art in the area around Brick Lane. It’s easy to find (sometimes with help from the Internet) but if you’d like to find out more about the artists and their work I’d recommend joining a street art tour.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my list of quirky things to do in London in an hour. What else would you add to the list?

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Tyneham village and Worbarrow Bay walk, Dorset

A couple of years ago we visited the ghost village of Imber which was requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence in the Second World War. Tyneham is a similarly abandoned village, taken over by the military in 1943 and used as a training ground for the D-Day landings. The Army compulsorily purchased the land after the war and its 225 residents were never allowed to return.

Although the Army still own the land the village and range walks are open to the public most weekends and holidays. We combined a visit to Tyneham with a walk to Worbarrow Bay.

Tyneham village

Tyneham village
Tyneham village

Whilst there are obvious similarities between Tyneham and Imber there are differences too. Although the houses have succumbed to nature the school and farm house have been restored at Tyneham. The village is peaceful and no longer used for active training, unlike Imber where Army training continues.

We wandered around the ruined houses, stopping to read the poignant display boards with their stories and photographs of the families who once lived there.

Tyneham school
Tyneham school

The recreated schoolroom harked back to a different era. There’s a nature table and exercise books, filled with records of flower and butterfly sightings. Not a fronted adverbial anywhere, how times have changed.

Gad Cliff

The best part of the day was the walk up to Gad Cliff and along the South West coast path.

Looking towards Worbarrow Bay, Dorset
Looking towards Worbarrow Bay, Dorset

Leaving Tyneham we followed the yellow posts that mark a safe route through the firing ranges. There are plenty of signs telling visitors not to pick things up off the ground; a timely reminder that this is still a live firing area.

Cliff top flowers, near Worbarrow Bay, Dorset
Cliff top flowers, near Worbarrow Bay, Dorset

You almost forget how close you are to the sea. That was until I reached the top of the hill and realised I was standing on the edge of a cliff. The coastal views are incredible but it’s hard to ignore the Danger signs on either side of path. One warning of cliffs, the other of a military firing range!

Worbarrow Tout, Dorset
Worbarrow Tout, Dorset

Pondfield Cove and Worbarrow Trout

The path dropped steeply down to Pondfield Cove, its small stony beach tucked into the promontory of Worbarrow Tout.

We walked onto the beach past several concrete structures. I later found out these were tank barriers, constructed in World War II to make it difficult for invaders to leave the beach.

Pondfield Cove, Dorset
Pondfield Cove, Dorset

I’m not sure why anyone would want to leave it. I could almost imagine I was on a Greek beach. Blue skies, crystal clear waters and sun, it was almost perfect. Pity there wasn’t a taverna!

Worbarrow Bay, Dorset
Worbarrow Bay, Dorset

Worbarrow Bay

We eventually dragged ourselves the short distance from Pondfield  Cove over to the shingle beach of Worbarrow Bay. Sea mist rolled in over the cliffs, an unexpected sight on such a warm and sunny day.

There were a few people sunbathing and picnicking on the beach, but nothing like the numbers we experienced at Durdle Door later that afternoon.

Paddling in Worbarrow Bay, Dorset
Paddling in Worbarrow Bay, Dorset

I couldn’t resist a paddle out to a large rock a few feet offshore. The water was freezing! Yet further down the beach a couple of brave souls were swimming.

I’d originally planned to walk along the beach and up to Flower’s Barrow hill fort before returning to Tyneham. However heat and hunger got the better of us so we cut short our route. Instead we took the direct path back to Tyneham, passing lots of families heading in the opposite direction. From our track we could see the rusty shells of military vehicles littering the hillside, an indicator that it’s not always a peaceful place to visit. Fortunately we’d had a great morning; particularly as I managed to tick off another place on my UK bucket list!

More info:

  • Check the Tyneham website for opening dates before you visit. It’s free to visit the village and beach, car parking costs £2. There are no shops or refreshment facilities.

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Orchid spotting at Homefield Wood, Bucks

My family doesn’t share my love of orchids. Or, more specifically, the walks spent looking for them.

Back in mid-May we visited the BBOWT reserve at Homefield Wood in Buckinghamshire. Although relatively small it’s one of only three sites in the UK where military orchids flower, a good enough reason to drive an hour to reach it. Or at least I thought so!

Military orchids, Homefield Wood
Military orchids, Homefield Wood

The reserve is a short walk through the Forestry Commission’s woodland. As we arrived the military orchids were immediately visible in the meadow, along with other chalk loving plants. Aside from the flowers, the most impressive sight was the number of bees, insects and butterflies flying and buzzing around the grassland. Something that is sadly lacking on my local farmland walks.

However, despite the rarity of military orchids (in the UK), they weren’t my favourite find.

Fly orchid, Homefield Wood
Fly orchid, Homefield Wood

I preferred the fly orchid. Although it was only when another visitor pointed one out to me that I realised I’d already walked past several without realising. It might have been hard to spot but it’s easy to identify. Why? The fly orchid, erm, looks like a fly!

Common twayblade, Homefield Wood
Common twayblade, Homefield Wood

Alongside the fly orchids I found common twayblade. Compared to other orchids it’s nondescript so I didn’t mention it to the family. If they’re not excited by colourful orchids how would I interest them in this one?

Walking through Homefield Wood
Walking through Homefield Wood

The family had skulked off into the woods at this point. My other half looking for birds, my son and daughter taunting each other with sticks. I remained in the meadow, chatting to a couple of visitors laden with expensive looking camera gear.

Military orchids, Homefield Wood
Military orchids, Homefield Wood

They told me most of the military orchids were in another field, a short walk away through the wood. I headed over to find a much larger patch, some roped off to protect them from human feet. Volunteers cleared this area several years ago allowing the orchids to flourish and conservation work looked ongoing. Thanks to these efforts over 700 military orchids were recorded on the reserve in 2016.

Walking back to the entrance I detoured into the woodland to find my last orchid of the day, white helleborine, growing under the beech trees. I strolled happily back to the car to find the family waiting, bored, hot and only placated by the promise of an ice cream.

If you, unlike my family, are interested in orchids you might also enjoy reading my posts about Hartslock and Warburg nature Reserves.

More info

  • Homefield Wood is 2.5 miles from Marlow. It’s not the easiest reserve to find so follow the directions on the BBOWT website.
  • I highly recommend Peter Creed’s ‘Guide to finding orchids in Berkshire,  Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire’.
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A family walk up Yr Eifl, Llŷn Peninsula, Gwynedd

I’d never heard of Yr Eifl before our recent holiday to Anglesey. It was only as I stood on Newborough Beach looking over to the hills on the Llyn Peninsula that I knew I had to visit.

A couple of days later I discovered the range of hills that comprise the three summits of Yr Eifl make a great half day walk. We only climbed two of them, missing out Garnfor (Mynydd Gwaith). I’d been put off by its granite quarry and telecoms tower; of course I regretted this decision part way through the walk.

Yr Eifl

Our walk started from the car park on the road leading to the Welsh Language Centre at Nant Gwrtheyrn.

Looking towards Yr Eifl from the car park
Looking towards Yr Eifl from the car park

The track, initially alongside moorland, to the summit of Yr Eifl was obvious. This was fortunate as I’d taken a cavalier approach to route finding and hadn’t bought a map with me; not something I’d recommend. In my defence the day was clear, the walk straightforward and I had a screenshot of the route on my phone.

At 564m Yr Eifl is the highest of the three hills; technically a few metres short of a mountain. That said, it became progressively rockier as we climbed and that’s always a mountain sign for me.

Looking south from Yr Eifl
Looking south from Yr Eifl

The best thing about Yr Eifl? The solitude. We’d driven through Snowdonia a couple of days previously and it was incredibly busy. Drive a few miles south and you’re alone again.

Ascending Yr Eifl
Ascending Yr Eifl

In fact, we only met four other people on our walk. The first two were descending Yr Eifl. They’d set out to climb Tre’r Ceiri but somehow ended up on Garnfor instead. Not sure how but I’d guess they were also without a map!

Trig point on Yr Eifl
Trig point on Yr Eifl

We had no problems finding our summit. It’s hard to miss the trig point when there’s a large metal number four on top of it. Google doesn’t have an explanation for this but I found a comment suggesting it was a local blacksmith declaring his love for his partner (H 4 A). A sweet story; I wonder if it’s true?

Aside from the trig point there’s plenty to see with Cardigan Bay to the south, Caernarfon Bay to the north and the mountains of Snowdonia just a hop, skip and jump away.

Descending Yr Eifl
Descending Yr Eifl

We descended off the summit in a westerly direction, picking our way across the rocks. The path wasn’t always clear but fortunately our next hill, Tre’r Ceiri, was easy to see.

Descending Yr Eifl towards Mynydd y Ceiri
Descending Yr Eifl towards Mynydd y Ceiri

Tre’r Ceiri

Tre’r Ceiri is one of the best preserved Iron Age hill forts in Britain. An impressive feat given its exposed location. The fort is surrounded by stone ramparts, inside are the ruins of around 150 houses. At its peak, during the Roman occupation, up to 400 people lived here.

There are, evidently, information boards. I looked in vain for them. How did we manage to miss them?

From the summit of Mynydd y Ceiri
From the summit of Mynydd y Ceiri

We ate our lunch perched on the edge of one of the hut circles. Thousands of people had probably sat there before us. Indeed, one of them had left a banana skin. My pet hate.

Descending Mynydd y Ceiri
Descending Mynydd y Ceiri

After lunch, and with added banana skin, we explored the fort before heading back downhill. There was an assortment of paths criss-crossing the heather but with good visibility it was easy to follow one heading in approximately the right direction.

Nant Gwrtheyrn

Back at the car park my eyes alighted on the sign advertising a cafe at the Welsh Language Centre. Only a few minutes away.

Beach path at Nant Gwrtheyrn
Beach path at Nant Gwrtheyrn

A word of warning. Unless you are in dire need of more exercise do not walk from the car park. It’s a steep downhill trek so you know what that means!

Sensibly, we drove and after cake and coffee found some extra energy to walk to the beach. A fine beach with lots of stone skimming opportunities. Followed by a drive in second gear up an incredibly steep road!

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