Gandalf the VW is parked at one of our favourite city break campsite- Crystal Palace on the outskirts of London. We made it to the end of term, dodged Covid (touch wood), gone through illness and sudden family bereavement. And that’s just been the last week.
I don’t think I can remember ever needing a break like we needed this one. With constant reminders of life being short, yet the fear of travelling to the capital due to Covid high, we found ourselves at a moral crossroads as to whether we would make the trip that had been planned and booked for months on end, but in the end, we decided we would but with caution. And I’m really glad we did.
I’ll just mention about our journey into Crystal Palace – as a reminder for our future trips more than anything, but this may benefit you too. As some will know, London has expanded its LEZ zone to the ULEZ which impacts on driving older vehicles or those with diesel emissions around Greater and Central London. We were worried about how this would impact our trips to Crystal Palace. Well- we can now say, it didn’t. Our route from M25 (east- Dartford) was this. Come off M25 on the A2- turned left onto the A205 (south circular). This is the boundary of the ULEZ and providing you don’t turn right from it (inside it so to speak) you are fine. We stayed on the A205 until Sydenham Hill and then Westwood Hill towards the site. This has to be the best route we’ve ever taken (granted the traffic was smooth) but we avoided the ULEZ- which was very well sign posted and hard to get muddled up in.
Our first night at Crystal Palace was spent in Crystal Palace. We had tickets for the Lightopia event- an illuminated light trail around the park. It was terrific. A real mix of bright and beautiful shapes and a real comfort to us – we’d both been in a dark place the previous few days due to the sudden death of my step brother which had taken a toll on us.
Keith also took a trip down memory Lane as a Croydon boy, Crystal Palace Park – and it’s listed dinosaurs dating from the Victorian era featured heavily in his childhood. It was the first time I had seen them and I was blown away by their size and beauty- especially considering their age.
We really enjoyed Lightopia and would recommend it for all ages as a great alternative Light trail.
Next morning and the highlight of our trip. Keith, as some of you know, is a huge film fan. He adores the story of A Christmas Carol and lovingly watches every single version, every single year. Earlier this year he dreamt up, with the help of this an “A Christmas Carol “ themed” day.
We started at The Charles Dickens museum, sited in his old house on Doughty Street, and were in awe as we saw artefacts from Charles Dickens’ life. The absolute highlight was his writing desk and chair- which Dickens used whilst writing Oliver Twist amongst others. Just incredible. The house is beautifully decked out for Christmas in a very traditional style. It set the perfect mood for our Dickens inspired afternoon.
From the museum on Doughty Street, Keefy guided us to the Bank Area of town, pointing out landmarks such as workhouses and prisons which may well have inspired Dickens. “Are there no Prisons? Union Workhouses?” He used the map – and his knowledge of the story to guide us the couple of miles to Bank.
The alleyways and side streets in this area are thought to have inspired Dickens- and having spent the day exploring by them we can absolutely get on board with this idea.
We’d pre booked lunch at the chop house, which was likely to have been inspiration for the location of Scrooge’s office due to the description of the church tower from the window. Having never been to a chop house before we had no idea what to expect. It was small, comprising of benches and booths and oozed atmosphere. The menu was small and to the point- meat; Barnsley chops, pork chops, rump steak, gammon and sausages then you pick your side of mash, bubble and squeak etc. We had a great meal- Barnsley chop for me, sausage for Keith served with mash and bubble and squeak. For desert we had Stewed cheese. Oh wow we were in heaven!
After a great dining experience we followed our map around the back alleys of Bank, passing The Jamaica Inn – site of the first coffee shop location in London and also White Lion Yard which was said to be the inspiration behind Scrooge’s house.
We really were enjoying ourselves, and despite walking through this area more times than we can remember, by exploring the nooks and crannies we felt like we were having a real adventure!
We stopped for a couple of refreshment stops, highlights were Leadenhall Market, which is believed to be where Scrooge sent the young boy on Xmas day to purchase the “prized bird”.
We also indulged in a glass of champers at the Fortnum and Masons pop up champagne bar in the Royal Exchange following our dinner of mini pies and mash in The Counting House. In keeping with our “A Christmas Carol” themed walk, The Royal Exchange would have likely been the place in which the fellow bankers were discussing Scrooge’s funeral plans during the ghost of Christmas Future’s outlook.
What an utterly splendid afternoon we’d had- and we still had Kenwood House to look forward too!
We took the tube to Hampstead Heath, and walked about 2 miles to Kenwood House in time for our 7.30pm tickets. Kenwood House is a 17th Century Villa and for the first time this year offered a ticketed Christmas light trail. We really enjoyed how the trail felt inspired by the nature surrounding the grounds, with a lime tree avenue lit up in lights and fire displays, it felt natural and lovely.
Our favourite was the immersive laser display which was just superb. The projections on the rear of the house were just incredible too. It really got us in the Christmas mood and we just had the most lovely of evenings.
By now we had clocked up almost 10 miles on foot, and it was a tricky journey back to Crystal Palace, with bus, tube, bus etc. So we investigated the price of an UBER from door to door- and were surprised it was less than £30, so went for the taxi ride home instead which worked really really well!
The next morning arrived and we hadn’t got to rush off quite so quickly this morning so we had a bit of a chill, reading and snoozing. We set off towards London on the number 3 bus, getting off at Lambeth Palace where we enjoyed a walk along the Thames along the southbank. Big Ben has started to emerged from his scaffolding which has been up for years now, and is looking really shiny and sparkly, despite the grey clouds above.
Our first stop was the Southbank Xmas market, which was noticeably smaller this year, presumably a result of Covid and the uncertainty of restrictions this festive period. We did however eat some lovely food, and actually had show our Covid passport to gain access to a food area.
From here we crossed the Millennium Bridge and wandered towards Covent Garden via Trafalger Square where there was another Xmas Market. Sadly the stalls were absolutely identical to those on the Southbank which I felt was a shame, so we continued to Covent Garden to sniff out some hidden alleys.
We continued on foot from Covent Garden all the way to Knightsbridge and more specifically Harrods, Via Picadilly and a browse in Fortnum and Masons flagship department store.
We brought some posh coffee from F&M and in Harrods stocked up on Cranberry Sauce for the Xmas Dinner.
At Harrods we enjoyed a drink in the basement bar called Baccarats. It’s a lovely art deco space which felt like an oasis compared to the hustle and bustle of Harrods.
From Harrods we made our way back to Trafalger Square via Regent Street to see the Xmas lights which were now sparkling away beautifully before having dinner at Thai Square just off Trafalger Square.
We finished our day of festive fun with a drink on The Tattishall Castle, our favourite London pub with a terrific view over the Thames.
All too soon our adventures were over and it was time to head home to Jazz who had been having fun with my Mum. We were really pleased to have enjoyed a couple of days in London despite Covid taking hold again and the mood in the city being uncertain to say the least. The change of scenery had done us both good and we had tried to enjoy it as much as we could in case its the last time we are away for a while.
Wishing you all a WONDERFUL Christmas and New Year – here’s hoping for happy and healthy 2022 filled to the brim with adventures far and wide.
All being well, although we’re not away for New Year this year, we hope to snatch a trip before the schools go back…
You’ll have to stay tuned to see where to!
Until next time