The great fire of London walk

Both of my kids enjoyed learning about the great fire of London at school. We visited some of the places below when the kids were younger but as they were both eager to revisit the Monument I devised a themed ‘Great fire of London’ day.

Museum of London

We started with a visit to the Museum of London to see their Plague and Fire gallery. The best place to begin is by watching the 6 minute video which gives an overview of the fire and a day by day account from some of the eye witnesses. You might also like to pick up the War, Plague and Fire family activity sheet from reception (or download in advance from their website).

Afterwards take a walk around the gallery and see some of the objects relating to the fire. Our favourites were smoke blackened tiles unearthed in a cellar in Pudding Lane back in the 1970s. You can also try on a fire fighters leather helmet and compare it with our modern day equivalent.

St Paul’s cathedral

St Paul's cathedral
St Paul’s cathedral

After leaving the museum we walked to the Monument past St Paul’s cathedral. The previous cathedral, known as Old St Paul’s, was one of the casualties of the fire. Many people had put their belongings into the crypt, believing they’d be safe from the fire but sadly it was not to be and the cathedral burnt. The current cathedral was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and rebuilt after the fire once attempts to restore Old St Paul’s were stopped.

We’ve visited St Paul’s Cathedral before so didn’t go in this time but if you’ve never been it’s worth it for the climb up to the Golden Gallery. It’s not cheap but you can get slightly reduced prices by buying tickets online.

Monument to the Great Fire of London

Monument to the Great Fire of London
Monument to the Great Fire of London

On to the Monument, which was designed by Wren and his colleague Dr Hooke, as a memorial to the Great Fire. This stone column is 61.5 metres high which is the exact distance from its location to the start of the fire.  It’s fun to climb the 311 steps to the top and take in the view over London although you may need to queue for a while to get in.

View from the Monument
View from the Monument

The view had changed significantly since I last climbed the Monument as the new Walkie Talkie skyscraper now dominates the area! You can always pretend it’s not there and look out to the Thames and Tower Bridge instead. There is wire fencing all around the viewing area which can make it a little tricky to take photographs (hence no photo of the Walkie Talkie) but at least you’re safe.

Once you’ve squeezed back down the stairs you can pick up  a free certificate to show you’ve climbed the Monument.

Certificates from the Monument
Certificates from the Monument

Pudding Lane

Just down the road from the Monument is Pudding Lane, the source of the great fire. The only reminder nowadays is a small plaque on one of the buildings. The road itself is nothing special, I think a new bakery would be a great addition!

Pudding Lane
Pudding Lane

All Hallows by the Tower

All Hallows by the Tower is the oldest church in London. It’s location next to the Tower of London means that it received plenty of beheaded bodies from the executions.

It’s also the church where Samuel Pepys climbed the tower to view the progress of the great fire. The church survived thanks to surrounding buildings being demolished to create firebreaks. It didn’t fare so well in the second world war though and in the crypt you can see lead which melted from the roof during the bombings. In the under croft you can also find an excavated Roman pavement, dating from the second century.

We finished our tour with a quick trip to Borough Market. This has a tenuous link of existing at the same time as the great fire, but we only really visited for its yummy food!

More info:

  • The Museum of London is free although a donation is appreciated. The museum is open daily from 10am-6pm. It’s a short walk from either Barbican or St Paul’s underground stations.
  • The Monument costs £4 for adults, £2 for children. The stairs are the only way to get up and the staircase is pretty narrow, as is the viewing platform. It can be a bit of a squeeze when trying to pass people. I wouldn’t personally recommend it if you have pre-school children but we did see a few being carried up.
  • All Hallows by the Tower is free to enter. It’s open 7 days a week except during services. The nearest tube station is Tower Hill.
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Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park was home to the unforgettable 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. We visited the Paralympics and had an amazing time watching athletics, wheelchair basketball and wheelchair tennis; that day will stay with me forever!

The park has undergone major redevelopment since then. Some of the Olympic venues have gone and other areas are still being redeveloped. New attractions in the North Park, such as a large playground and cafe, welcomed visitors last summer whilst the South Park reopened in April 2014. I was intrigued to see what changes had been made so we spent a day exploring the Olympic park.

Olympic rings, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Olympic rings, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

Our first stop was the information point to pick up a map and trail leaflets. There’s a great choice of trails covering London 2012, children and art in the park. I was impressed by the quality of the trails, even better that they were all free.

Our route into the park took us past the London Aquatics Centre. The pool is open for public swimming sessions now but it’s best to book in advance. All of the kids sessions were fully booked on the day of our visit so we had to content ourselves with a peep inside (no Tom Daley to be seen).

Aquatics Centre, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Aquatics Centre, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

The Orbit, or ArcelorMittal Orbit as it is now known, has also re-opened. Created by Sir Anish Kapoor for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games it’s the tallest sculpture in the UK. Visitors can take the lift up 80m to a viewing platform for a panoramic view across London. When you’re ready to leave there are 455 steps back down to the ground! We didn’t go up as I couldn’t justify the cost, but it’s an impressive sculpture to walk around.

Orbit, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Orbit, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

From the Orbit we followed the trails to the North Park. These took us past play fountains, a playground for younger children, climbing walls and lots of wooden deck chairs to relax on.

Climbing wall, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Climbing wall, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

We found a listening station and relived the cheers of Super Saturday when Team GB won three gold medals in the stadium.  We also attempted to jump as far as Greg Rutherford’s winning jump. Not surprisingly we couldn’t!

Can you jump as far as Greg Rutherford?
Can you jump as far as Greg Rutherford?

The only disappointment of the day was the Timber Lodge Cafe. We visited on a busy day and the cafe was having problems coping with the numbers. The tables were all dirty, the queues horrendous and the food not great. On a positive note the prices were reasonable for London and I’m sure that on a quieter day it’s probably a decent cafe. But our experience was pretty poor!

Tumbling Bay playground, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Tumbling Bay playground, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

The Tumbling Bay playground was a HUGE hit with the kids. They spent a while playing with water pumps, damming channels and running along a wobbly rope bridge. It was only when I went to leave that I realised there was another much larger section with wooden tree houses, rope nets and loads of climbing opportunities. This part was aimed at older children (I’d suggest 6+), and looked amazing. All of the kids were enjoying themselves, running around and scrambling up and down the tree structures.

Velodrome, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Velodrome, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

After I managed to drag the children away from the playground we walked on to the velodrome. It’s open to the public, and visitors can also book taster sessions on the BMX track and mountain bike route. We sat and watched some cyclists tackling the velodrome, the banks looked pretty scary close up.

Mirror bridge, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Mirror bridge, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

Before leaving there was time for one last photo, my daughter couldn’t resist a Usain Bolt pose on the podium.

Podium, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Podium, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

We had a great day out at the park. I thought I might be disappointed returning to a place that held such great memories but there are different things to see and do now. We’ll certainly visit again to see the bits we missed and perhaps use some of the sporting facilities. Definitely recommended!

More info:

  • The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is free to enter. The nearest tube is Stratford, it’s about a 10 minute walk via Westfield Shopping Centre. The park is open 24 hours a day, whilst the information point is open from 10am-3pm. The website has loads of information and is worth a browse before you visit.
  • Standard swimming sessions at the Aquatics Centre cost £4.50 for adults, £2.50 for children. During the school holidays the pool runs Aqua Splash obstacle courses; these cost slightly more but sound great fun. Book your swimming session in advance here.
  • A family ticket to the Orbit is £40. Alternatively an adult ticket is £15, a child ticket is £7. Kids under 3 are free.  It’s open from 10am-6pm during the summer with slightly reduced hours the rest of the year. The Orbit is fully accessible to wheelchairs. More details can be found on the Orbit website.
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A street art walk around Brick Lane, London

Art galleries and kids tend not to mix that well. Combining priceless art works and contemplative visitors with exuberant kids certainly makes me a little uneasy. Fortunately we found that street art is a great alternative when we enjoyed a great day out spotting it in London.

Street art without permission is illegal, and I wouldn’t condone it in inappropriate places, but in the right context it can enhance an area and attract visitors. One such place where it works really well is in and around Brick Lane, London.

We decided to go on a family street art walk from Aldgate East tube station to Shoreditch Overground station. As well as art on Brick Lane you’ll find plenty on the streets either side of the main thoroughfare and around Shoreditch station. Although some pieces are relatively long lived, the nature of street art is that it changes constantly. We came across some new street art being created in a rather forlorn car park off Brick Lane.

Creating new street art
Creating new street art, just off Brick Lane

Most people will immediately think of Banksy when asked to name a street artist. Once you start your street art hunt you’ll realise just how many other artists there are. Two of our favourites were Jonesy and Stik. Stik paints simple stick like figures, whilst Jonesy creates brass sculptures as well as paintings with an environmental message.

There are various styles of street art, and we saw most types during our walk. This giant hedgehog is by Belgian artist, Roa, and adorns an entire wall. Whilst he is renowned for his large animal murals, other artists may specialise in stencils, wheatpaste or posters. Even yarn bombing is a type of street art and examples adorn lamp posts in our local village. Interestingly, this is technically as illegal as graffiti!

Giant hedgehog, Chance Street (ROA)
Giant hedgehog, Chance Street (ROA)

Brick Lane has an interesting history. As its name suggests it was originally a centre of brick and tile manufacturing. Over the years it has seen successive waves of immigrants, with two of the most notable groups being the French Huguenots in the 17th century and more recently the Bangladeshis. The Huguenots established weaving in the area, whilst the Bangladeshis have led to this area being called the curry capital of the UK.

We didn’t stop for a curry but we did pick up a cheap lunch in another Brick Lane institution, the Beigel Shop. This bakery vies with another a couple of doors down to sell the best salt beef bagel but being a vegetarian I’m not able to comment on who wins. My son certainly enjoyed his smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel though!

Beigel shop, Brick Lane
Beigel shop, Brick Lane

More info:

  • The nearest tube station is Aldgate East. Brick Lane is signposted and about a 5 minute walk from the tube.
  • Brick Lane is probably most famous for its Sunday market. I would suggest visiting on an alternative day if you’re street art spotting as the area gets incredibly crowded.
  • Give your kids a camera so they can snap the art they enjoy. My daughter took loads of photos!
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A walk along Regent’s Canal to Camden Lock, London

We’ve managed to see quite a lot of London over recent years, and now tend to search out places away from the main tourist sites. On our most recent trip we walked along Regent’s Canal from Little Venice to Camden Market, and then visited the London Canal Museum.

Regent’s Canal walk

Regents Canal sign
Regent’s Canal sign

Regent’s Canal links the Grand Union Canal with the River Thames. The towpath along the canal forms part of the Jubilee Greenway walk, a 37 mile route to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

Our walk was just 2 miles long,  but there was still a lot to see in such a short distance. We started from Warwick Avenue tube station and walked to Little Venice, which marks the junction of Regent’s Canal with the Grand Union Canal. The road beside the canal has some expensive looking houses, although we did wonder at the raggedy “For Sale” paper sign in a very posh Bentley. Is this how rich people normally sell their cars?

View along Regent's Canal
View along Regent’s Canal

It was a lovely morning so we stopped for coffee on the terrace at Cafe Laville. The cafe is located directly over the canal, at the entrance to the Maida Hill tunnel. We sat outside and watched life (well, tourist boats) on the canal.

We passed through Lisson Grove where many of the canal boat residents have extended their living areas onto the bank. Tiny garden areas are bursting with flowers, vegetable plots and trees decorated with fairy lights.

Sunflowers alongside Regent's Canal
Sunflowers alongside Regent’s Canal

Macclesfield Bridge has an interesting story attached to it. A barge carrying carrying gunpowder exploded underneath in 1874, resulting in the death of three people. The original bridge was destroyed, and the replacement came to be known as “blow up bridge”.

Blow up bridge, Regents Canal
Blow up bridge, Regent’s Canal

The canal cuts through Regent’s Park, taking you past London Zoo. We were excited to see warthogs lining one bank and an aviary on the left hand side. Snowdon aviary was built in 1962, and from our viewpoint outside we could see ibis, cranes and lots of starlings. Even the police patrolling the canal stopped to have a look at the birds.

Snowdon aviary at London Zoo
Snowdon aviary at London ZOutOur

Our walk finished at Camden Lock. We were hoping to spot a Banksy mural on one of the bridges, but we never managed to see it. Either it had been removed or we weren’t looking in the right place. If you’re interested in spotting street art in London check out my post about our family walk along Brick Lane.

Camden market

Camden Lock sign
Camden Lock sign

This place is pretty touristy, but you also get plenty of young and trendy Londoners too. We started off with lunch from the food stalls. It was like being at a music festival with choices from just about any country you could imagine. Our combined lunch consisted of food from Turkey, Mexico, Poland and Ethiopia!

Food stalls at Camden market
Food stalls at Camden market

After lunch we walked around the market stalls and shops. The market primarily appeals to the young adult market with lots of alternative clothing retailers, interspersed with stalls selling Banksy pictures, London tourist tat and things you didn’t realise you’d ever need. If you’re looking for a new outfit for your dog or some vintage spectacles, you’ll find them here!

Camden market
Camden market

I can imagine my kids loving this place when they’re teenagers although I hope they don’t wear some of the more ‘interesting’ outfits you can buy here. After a while you realise you’ve started to see the same goods on different stalls, including for some reason, wooden iPhone cases. It was time to move on.

Shops in Camden High Street
Shops in Camden High Street

London canal museum

Continuing with the canal theme we visited London Canal Museum to learn more about them. I had originally planned to walk to the museum from Camden but time was short so we took the tube instead. If you do walk it takes about 25 minutes.

London Canal Museum started life as an ice warehouse back in 1863. It is now a small museum dedicated to the twin stories of London canals and the ice business which was made possible due to the canals.

The highlights for us were the narrow boat Coronis and the ice store. The kids loved clambering around the boat, with its traditionally decked out cabin. I read the displays whilst the kids did this; they were quite text heavy which was fine for adults but didn’t appeal so much to the kids.

The ice well, basically a big hole in the ground, was pretty impressive. Ice was imported to London from Norway by ship, and then stored in the huge wells. The exhibition details the story of Carlo Gatti and the ice cream trade he founded. One point that stood out for me was that the workers would tread across the ice in their dirty outdoor boots, and the ice would then be used in desserts for high class families. Yum!

Overall I found the ice related aspect of the museum the most interesting as it was something I knew nothing about before our visit. Whilst the museum has some exhibits aimed at children, I felt it was probably of more interest to adults or older children who have a specific interest in canals.

More info

  • We followed the Jubilee Greenway walk from Little Venice to Camden.  It’s a flat path suitable for buggies and wheelchairs.  Cycling along the towpath is also popular, although I’d imagine the path gets very crowded at weekends. It is not recommended that you walk along the canal towpath after dark.
  • The London Canal museum is recommended for children aged 6+.  During the school holidays they run activity sessions on specific dates giving kids the chance to make ice cream, go on a boat trip or try their hand at canal art.

Costs

  • The canal museum costs £4 per adult, £2 per child or a family ticket for £10.  We had a 2 for 1 Great Western offer which reduced the price for our family to £8.
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