The British Museum might have eight million items but that’s just too overwhelming for me. Instead I prefer small museums with a dedicated focus. That’s why the Coffin Works in Birmingham made it on to my UK bucket list. I recently visited the Coffin Works and another heritage attraction, the Back to Backs. Was it worth the bucket list entry?
Aside from the educational value, there are two great benefits to a Roman day out in London. Firstly the attractions are mostly indoors, secondly they’re free. This makes it a perfect option for a rainy half term visit. But where to go to discover Londinium?
I can imagine many of you wondering what on an earth a MOOC is. Simple really. It’s A Massive Online Open Course. Or in other words an online course, often created by a University, open to anyone with an Internet connection. I discovered them recently whilst browsing the web and decided to try one out.
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:
I loved visiting the Yorkshire Dales last year. We stayed in the small market town of Hawes, which is a great base for a Yorkshire Dales holiday. There are several attractions in the town itself and there’s plenty to see in the local area. Read on for our suggestions:
1. Wensleydale Creamery
By far the best known attraction in Hawes is the Wensleydale Creamery, home of Wensleydale cheese. The centre offers cheese making demonstrations, a small museum and viewing gallery, cafe and shops. The creamery has a lot to thank Wallace and Gromit for; the animated duo helped increase production at a time when sales were slowing. Nowadays the creamery sells a cheese named after them, I bet it’s a popular choice for visitors.
The best part, for most visitors, is the cheese shop. It’s full of samples, even for those people who (dare I say this) don’t like Wensleydale cheese.
You can visit the cheese shop for free; a family ticket (2 adults and 2 children) to the museum and cheese making area costs £7.50.
2. Hardraw Force waterfall
Hardraw Force is England’s highest above ground single drop waterfall, with a plunge of 100 foot. It’s a short easy walk to the waterfall through the grounds of the Green Dragon Inn. We visited during a dry spell; I’d imagine it’s even more impressive after heavy rain.
The waterfall is open daily from 10am. A family ticket (2 adults, 2 children) costs £7.50.
3. Hawes Ropemakers (Outhwaites)
Located in the town this traditional ropemaker is worth popping into for 20 minutes or so. It’s mesmerising standing in front of the machines watching rope being made. There are machines making braids of all thicknesses and lengths from church bell ropes to skipping ropes. And if you’ve got a dog, their leads are available to buy and very popular.
Entrance is free.
4. Sheepdog demonstration
Countryfile have resurrected “One man and his dog” over the last couple of years which may account for the popularity of this evening out.
Run by a local farmer, Richard Fawcett holds weekly demonstrations in a field just outside Hawes throughout the summer season.
Visitors are introduced to the dogs and watch them working the sheep. They make it look easy even if the sheep don’t always behave according to plan!
Check Richard’s website for details of upcoming dates and times. Tickets cost £5 for adults, £1 for children.
5. Dales Countryside Museum
The Dales Countryside Museum is a small local museum that focusses on the Yorkshire Dales and its people. Housed in the old railway station you’ll find exhibits ranging from Bronze Age spearheads to a Victorian smithy. Outside there are railway carriages with activities for younger children.
The Dales Countryside Museum is open daily except over the Christmas period and throughout January. Admission is £4.50 for adults, children are free.
6. Red squirrel spotting at Snaizeholme
First, an admission. We didn’t see any red squirrels because we didn’t actually make it to the squirrel viewpoint. Why? We made the mistake of randomly driving to the area shown on the Red Squirrel Trail map without arranging parking first. Don’t make the same mistake as us. Call in to the tourist information at Hawes to arrange parking before you go! Alternatively you can book the on-demand bus service from the Dales Countryside Museum.
Once you’ve conquered the transport there’s a 40 minute walk to the red squirrel viewing area where, hopefully you’ll be able to spot one.
7. Drive up Buttertubs Pass
Buttertubs Pass links Swaledale with Wensleydale and has the rather dubious accolade of being Jeremy Clarkson’s favourite road in the UK. I can understand why petrol heads might enjoy zooming around the twisty turns and bends but I decided on a more careful driving style.
We drove up on a misty and murky day. About halfway along there’s a small lay by to pull in and view the buttertubs; deep limestone potholes once used to store (you can probably guess) butter. Heading back towards Hawes the clouds cleared and we were treated to great views, and a very low flying helicopter!
8. Aysgill Force
We walked from Gayle Mill, along the beck to Aysgill Force. It’s about a mile or so to reach the 40 foot waterfall. Well worth the effort, although be prepared for mud and slippy sections if visiting after rain.
9. Gayle Mill
Gayle Mill is a restored 19th century sawmill with working machinery and water powered turbines.
The mill can only be visited on a guided tour but, if like us, you arrive at the wrong time you can always browse in the craft shop. Gayle Mill also offers heritage craft workshops with some great options such as making your own cartwheel (sadly rather pricey).
10. Explore the village
I’ve seen Hawes mentioned as a tourist honeypot but I think it manages to absorb visitors without harming the character of the town. It’s easy to spend an hour or two browsing the shops and stopping at one of the cafes. Although if you visit on a Bank Holiday weekend be prepared for hordes of motorcyclists, all apparently visiting for fish and chips!
A visit to the Imperial War Museum in London has been on the cards for some time but we wanted to wait until the children were old enough to understand and appreciate it. They’ve both learnt about the Second World War at school now so during half-term we combined the museum with a trip round London to view some of the other war legacies.
If you’re interested in a similar exploration I’ve listed below the places we visited and further suggestions that could be incorporated. I wouldn’t advise following our exact route; I had specific plans for lunch so our itinerary is based as much around our stomachs as World War 2 sites!
Site of the first bomb on the city of London, Fore Street
We started in Moorgate, looking for a plaque which commemorates the first bomb of World War 2 to fall in the City of London. It’s thought that German bombers were heading for an oil refinery along the Thames but dropped them, possibly mistakenly, over the city instead.
Much of the City was rebuilt after the war but it seems to me that it’s being rebuilt again. The whole area around Moorgate Underground station is a building site which made it a little difficult for us to find the plaque. When we finally found Fore Street a construction worker kindly pointed out where to see it (down the end near St Giles Cripplegate Church).
Christ Church Greyfriars
We walked from Moorgate to Christ Church Greyfriars. Almost all churches in the City of London were damaged during the Blitz, including many designed by Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London. Christ Church was one of eight Wren churches hit on the night of 29th December 1940.
The church was almost completely destroyed although the west tower survived and is now a private house; what an amazing place to live! The remains of the church are a public rose garden, perfect for lunchtime breaks.
St Paul’s Cathedral, just a few minutes from Greyfriars, escaped major damage despite almost all of the surrounding buildings being destroyed. This was mainly due to a group of fire fighters who took special care to protect the cathedral.
World War 2 shelter sign – 36 Longmoore Street
Although the Underground stations famously doubled as air raid shelters during the war many other places were also put to use. These were signed to help the public locate them, some of these are still visible today.
One sign can be found at 36 Longmoore Street. Walking along the road you can see that most of the residents have converted their basements to kitchens. Back in World War 2 public shelters were found in vaults in these basements. We could just make out the writing on one of the walls directing people down the stairs to the shelters.
Whilst trying to find out more history of the street I couldn’t resist a peak at property prices. The relatively modest 3 bedroom houses all appear to be worth upwards of £1.8 million, wow!
Tate Britain bomb damage
Few places in London were immune to bombing damage in the Second World War. Even Tate Britain suffered as you can see from the photos below. I wonder how many people notice this when they visit the galleries?
I popped inside briefly to confirm that we were actually looking at bomb damage and spoke with a helpful assistant. He told us that the gallery was damaged by bombs several times in the war but most of the art was moved to Picadilly Underground tunnels for safe storage (the door key is on display in the gallery).
Imperial War Museum
Our main destination was the Imperial War Museum which covers conflicts from World War I onward. Although we were primarily there for World War 2 we also visited the Great War exhibits and had a brief look around at the more recent collections.
I thought the World War I rooms were by far the best, although busy due to school holidays. In comparison the World War II rooms didn’t seem as comprehensive although there was still plenty to see.
Whilst the children liked the big and obvious military exhibits I preferred the personal aspect of war stories. For this reason I focussed on the Family in Wartime exhibition which explored the life of the Allpress family during the Second World War. As well as reading and listening to audio clips about how their lives were affected there was a model of their home and an Anderson shelter.
I enjoyed seeing this letter from an evacuee, particularly the postscripts. I could imagine writing them myself as a child!
We missed the Holocaust exhibiton out as it’s only recommended for children aged 14 and older. I’ve read that it’s incredibly moving and sobering; definitely worth a visit on a future trip.
Our last stop of the day was the Admiralty Citadel. I loved seeing this! The Citadel is one of the ugliest and most out of place buildings you can imagine. It’s ‘hidden’ in full view of the public just off of Horse Guards Parade. Can you imagine this getting planning permission nowadays?
The bomb proof citadel was built as the Admiralty communications centre in 1940 and is linked by tunnels to government buidings. It has a 6 metre thick concrete roof which was laid with a grass lawn to help camouflage it. Take a look at this British Pathé film of the roof grass being cut and raked back in 1950.
The building is still in use today; I’d love to pop in for a nose around!
More World War 2 sites in London
We only scratched the surface during our trip. Other World War 2 sites in central London which I came across during my research are shown below.
Cabinet War Rooms, King Charles Street: the secret underground bunker used by Winston Churchill during Word War II. We had planned to visit this but ran out of time. Entrance charge applies.
HMS Belfast: highly recommended. This floating museum ship shows how life was on board during and after the second world war. Lots of stairs and ladders so not for those with mobility issues. Entrance charge applies.
Churches: All Hallows-by-the-Tower survived the Great Fire of London but was almost destroyed in the Blitz; you can still see lead from the roof which melted during the bombing. St Dunstan-in-the-East was destroyed in the war but the ruins have also been turned into a public garden.
Air raid shelter signs: can be found in Queen Anne’s Gate, Brook Street and Lord North Street
Memorials: The Cenotaph and Monument to the Women of World War II are both on Whitehall. The Animals in War memorial can be found in Brook Gate, Park Lane.
Have I missed any? Let me know if you can suggest other central London World War 2 sites.