It’s the Chinese New Year this Saturday. And it was my birthday last weekend. What better way for us to celebrate both events than with a trip to the 2017 Magical Lantern Festival in London.
This is the second year of the London festival. From my perspective it’s a much more relaxing way to celebrate the Chinese New Year than getting squished at the festivities in London’s Chinatown. Although a lot of other people have the same idea.
The 2017 festival theme is ‘Explore the Silk Road’. One of those exciting sounding places that I have always wanted to travel along. The marketing blurb promises a journey through Central Asia, India and China. Via Aladdin and the Houses of Parliament.
The trail, through the grounds of Chiswick House, took us about an hour to walk round. It’s flat and accessible for all but there were bottlenecks at some displays. Each lantern is accompanied by a couple of lines of explanatory text in Mandarin (I presume) and English.
It sounds really obvious but remember to dress for the outdoors. It was freezing during our visit, although we’d probably not helped the situation by roaming the Richmond Park tundra until sunset. The upside of the weather was the frozen lake. I love how it blurred the reflections of the lanterns around it.
The lanterns are not the floating fire starters that you imagine. In fact, impressive though they are, I wouldn’t think of them as lanterns. More like giant illuminated sculptures. I’d love to know more about they how they were made.
One of the surprising highlights for me was Chiswick House. I’ve never visited in the daylight but loved the glimpses of statues, architectural details and the villa itself. I’m not usually one for historical houses but I am inspired to return.
The lanterns are very well displayed and make the most of their setting. It’s hard to pick out favourites but I enjoyed these pandas. They weren’t the biggest or most intricate, I just like pandas!
At the end of the trail there’s a group of food and drink stalls, including an ice bar. There’s also an ice rink which looked much smaller than the advertised 600 square metres. As I had no desire to celebrate my birthday with a broken leg we didn’t try it out.
Overall we were really impressed. If you’re looking for something a little different to do in London over the next few weekends I’d definitely suggest checking this festival out.
The Magical Lantern Festival runs in London until 26 February. It’s open Thursday-Sunday evenings, and throughout half-term. Buy your ticket and book a timed entry slot in advance on the festival website. An advance purchase weekend family ticket costs £56.
Chiswick House is a 10 minute walk from Turnham Green underground station.
It’s almost time to say goodbye to 2016. What can I say? It’s been a mixed year. Huge political shake ups, continuing civil wars, the Rio Olympics and Paralympics and Planet Earth II.
Personally, there have been sad times and happy times. I’ve had some great adventures and ticked off a couple of long held ambitions. Focussing on the positives, and in no particular order, here are my top 10 of 2016:
1. Running the London marathon
The first three months of 2016 were spent pounding roads and muddy footpaths in preparation for running the London marathon. My once in a lifetime challenge.
The day itself was incredible and by far the most physically demanding thing I’ve done. There were tough parts (the last six miles), amazing parts (spectator support and running over Tower Bridge) and emotional parts (finishing). Would I do it again? No way! But I’m very glad to have completed it.
2. Walking the Yorkshire Three Peaks
We spent a week in the Yorkshire Dales and were blessed with ideal walking weather. Perfect for tackling the Yorkshire Three Peaks – Pen-y-Ghent, Ingleborough and Whernside. Often walked as a day long charity challenge, we chose the easy option and spread them over three separate days.
3. Family backpacking adventures
I’ve cheated here and combined two trips into one. At the start of the year we decided the kids were old enough for backpacking. We bought a couple of lightweight tents and chose a couple of weekend routes close to home.
It wasn’t all plain sailing. I oversetimated the mileage we could comfortably walk on our Lambourn Valley Way weekend. And the weather was just a tad too warm on our Thames Path walk. But both weekends were fun, we rewarded ourselves with lovely meals out and made some great memories.
4. Going underground at Zip World Caverns, Blaenau Ffestiniog
My scary but exciting birthday present. Zip lining in caves, crawling through tunnels and scaling the side of the caverns. Are you brave enough to tackle Zip World Caverns?
5. Watching a Midsummer’s Night Dream, Creation Theatre, Oxford
“Quick, follow me. Walk in zigzags and blink your eyes really fast. Get in the van, hurry”. Think of Shakespeare and you don’t generally think of being bundled into a van in a public car park. Or taking part in an audition. Or popping into the printers to pick up wedding invites.
Part immersive performance, part treasure trail around Oxford this was an incredibly imaginative version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from Creation Theatre. It was simply the best production I have ever seen.
6. Descending into Gaping Gill
This was an unplanned, but welcome addition, to our Yorkshire Dales holiday. After spotting an advert in a local cafe we siezed the opportunity to descend 100m by winch into Gaping Gill, a large pothole. We had to contend with an early start and a couple of hours queuing but it was worth the wait!
7. Finally finding a bee orchid. And then another. And another.
You know the saying about waiting for buses? Well this year I could have substituted the words ‘bee orchid’. I was so happy to find my first bee orchid at Warburg Nature Reserve, closely followed by several more discoveries. I even found one on a roadside verge whilst out on my lunchtime walk. How could I possibly have missed them in previous years?
8. Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim
I’ve wanted to visit Giant’s Causeway for many years. It has been on my bucket list forever. With expectations so high, thank god it lived up to them!
9. Watching coypu at our campsite in France
Whilst on holiday in Brittany my favourite activity was watching a family of coypu living near our campsite. I’d head down to the river every evening, about half an hour before dusk, and wait patiently for them to appear. I was childishly excited at the first glimpse of the coypu each night, and even more so whenever the young appeared.
10. Starlings and moon rise at Otmoor
Over recent years we’ve made an annual pilgrimage to watch the starling murmuration at RSPB Otmoor. This year, in addition to 40,000 starlings, we were treated to the most amazing moon rise. Two spectacular natural sights in one day!
What are my plans for 2017? We’re keeping things flexible at the moment but I have a very long UK bucket list which I’m hoping to make a dent in. How about you?
There are so many places I’d love to visit around the world but I don’t have the time or money to travel extensively. Fortunately there’s lots to see and do in the UK so I’ve created a bucket list which will keep me busy for the next few years.
My bucket list favours outdoor attractions, walks and great scenery as that’s what I enjoy. It may look like I’ve ignored vast swathes of the country and prime tourist attractions but that’s because I’ve already visited many of them!
What’s on my bucket list?
Wild camp on Dartmoor.
Walk a long distance path.
Cycle the towpath from Bath to Bradford-on-Avon.
Spend a night on Lundy Island, Devon.
Enjoy a weekend break in Lincoln.
Join a tour of Highgate Cemetery, London.
See the Purton Ships graveyard, Gloucestershire.
Brave the Via Ferrata at Honister Slate Mine, Cumbria.
Camp on Bryher, one of the Isles of Scilly.
Climb Up at the O2, London
Watch a Highland Games in Scotland.
Spend a week exploring the Isle of Anglesey.
Attend the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Visit the Italianate village of Portmeirion, Gwynedd.
Stay in a castle.
Enjoy the Gower Peninsula beaches.
Explore the Isle of Harris.
Go wildlife spotting on the Farne Islands, Northumberland.
Explore Neolithic Orkney.
Visit a lavender field.
See Britain’s only desert at Dungeness beach, Kent.
Walk part of Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland.
Enjoy the waterfall at St Nectan’s Glen, Cornwall.
Stay in an Airstream caravan.
Explore the deserted village of Tyneham, Dorset.
Visit a tin mine in Cornwall.
Spot dinosaurs at Crystal Palace, London.
Walk around the Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye.
Discover the Rame Peninsula, Cornwall
Watch the British Firework Championships in Plymouth, Devon
Ride Velocity, the longest zip line in Europe at Bethesda, Gwynedd.
Have you ever watched a court case? I’ve wanted to visit the Old Bailey ever since I realised the general public were allowed to observe trials. When a recent child free day came along I jumped at the opportunity to see the Old Bailey and other law related places in the city.
The Old Bailey (Central Criminal Court)
The Old Bailey deals with major criminal cases, mainly from the Greater London area. There are eighteen courts covering serious cases such as murder, terrorism and drug related crimes.
Despite being on the right side of the law I was a little nervous walking towards the public gallery entrance. I rang the doorbell, hidden down Warwick Passage, and waited to be called up for the security check. After passing through security I asked one of the guards about the best trial to visit.
The courts were relatively quiet on the day of my visit and the only option was a terrorism trial. The case related to four defendants, accused of supporting the funding of terrorism. The case had already been ongoing for several days; I entered the public gallery as the prosecutor was giving his closing speech to the jury.
The court room was smaller than I expected but familiar from TV court dramas. Visitors sit in a small balcony area, opposite the jurors. To my right sat the four defendants, to the left the judge. In the middle sat the Court Clerk and barristers. Their wigs intrigued me. Made from horsehair, evidently the older and grubbier they look the better!
It was really interesting to listen in and watch the workings of the court. I’m not going to write about the trial itself as it impacts real lives. Suffice to say the evidence was compelling and the subsequent outcome wasn’t a surprise.
Once in the courtroom there is a 30 minute minimum stay. However time passed quickly and I stayed for a couple of hours. Leaving as quietly as possible I crept out of the galleries and headed to my next destination, Temple Church.
The Temple Church
It’s hard to imagine that the serene Temple Church is just a couple of minutes walk from Fleet Street. Founded in the 12th Century by the Knights Templar it’s modelled on the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. In 1608 the Temple was granted to two societies of lawyers, the Inner and Middle Temple, who look after it to this day.
The most distinguishing feature of the church is its round nave. Certainly impressive but I enjoyed the interior stonework just as much. On the floor of the nave lies the effigies of nine knights, whilst all around are grotesque gargoyles.
The nave contains a lot of display boards detailing the history which I really should have read. But I was more interested in climbing the winding staircase to the clerestory for views back across the church.
Inns of Court
The area around Temple Church is surrounded by two of the Inns of Court. These are the professional associations for barristers; every barrister needs to belong to one of them. There are four Inns in London; Gray’s Inn, Lincoln’s Inn, Middle Temple and Inner Temple; I explored the lanes and gardens of the latter two.
Wandering down the lanes it was hard to believe I was in central London. Lined with barristers’ chambers and intercepted by gardens and courtyards it feels more like a film set. I half expected Sherlock Holmes to walk down the street. There are maps dotted around the area but it’s more fun just to stroll around.
The buildings themselves are off limits to casual wanderers. Fortunately I didn’t need to be a barrister to enjoy the gardens. The borders were in full bloom, perfectly demonstrating the beauty of high summer. If I ignored the background sound of car horns, I could almost imagine I was enjoying a town garden.
As I reached the front of one garden, bordering Victoria Embankment, I realised the last time I’d been near here was whilst running the London Marathon. I’d struggled the last few miles and this section didn’t hold particularly good memories! It was good to reminisce in less painful times.
Royal Courts of Justice
Close by is one of the other major legal buildings, the Royal Courts of Justice, and my last stop of the day. The Law Courts house the High Court and Court of Appeal and preside over civil, not criminal, trials. It’s a huge Victorian Gothic style building on the Strand, just opposite Temple Inn.
Although there was an airport style scanner to pass through once in you appear to be free to wander. I picked up a self-guided tour leaflet from the entrance desk; it’s also possible to book guided tours. I walked around the Main Hall, past a small costume display to the Painted Room and then along past court rooms.
In a similar way to the Old Bailey it’s possible to watch trials. Although personally I think criminal trials sound much more interesting! I’d definitely like to visit another Old Bailey trial at some point, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the workings of our legal system.
The Old Bailey is for those aged 14+ years only; you may be asked for photo identification. Court generally sits on weekdays from 10am-1pm and from 2-4.30pm but do check before you visit. Security is strict. Cameras, mobile phones, large bags and refreshments are not permitted. You can leave mobiles at the nearby Capable Travel Agent at a cost of £1 per device. Details of the cases are posted on the boards outside.
The Temple Church website details its varied opening times. It’s generally open on weekdays from 10am-4pm. Entry charge is £5 for adults, free for under 16s.
Middle and Inner Temple Gardens are open to the public from 12-3pm on weekdays during the summer. There is no entrance charge.