Five ideas to beat the January blues

It’s January, and like many we’re feeling a little worn down by the freezing temperatures, lack of available funds and propensity for interesting places to be closed for refurbishment. However, we’ve got some great plans for summer lining up already, as well as a few weekend distractions, so we thought we’d share with you some of our favourite ideas and tips to break up your week.

1. Booking tickets – a long way in advance

I was clearly feeling uncharacteristically organised in October, so I put the day that the Royal Opera House winter season opened in my diary, and when that day came I logged on at 9am and speedily booked some opera and ballet tickets for January. At £17 each, they didn’t break the bank, but were a welcome treat on the first day back after the Christmas break and then again in mid-January once we were feeling very fed up. Not only were they a spend we couldn’t have justified in January, but all but the most pricey tickets sell out pretty much the same day at the ROH. [You could also check out the Friday Rush at 1pm every Friday, where the ROH sell last-minute tickets for a variety of prices.]

2. Borrow a doggy

This isn’t a sponsored post, but we’re feeling a lot of love for BorrowMyDoggy… You do have to pay to sign up (£10 for borrowers), but you get matched with dogs in your area who might need occasional walking or looking after. Win – you get to hang out with a dog and you’re helping out someone in your community! Disclaimer: we haven’t tried it out ourselves yet, but have friends who love it.

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A day of remembrance

Soldiers are citizens of death’s grey land,
Drawing no dividend from time’s to-morrows.
In the great hour of destiny they stand,
Each with his feuds, and jealousies, and sorrows.
Soldiers are sworn to action; they must win
Some flaming, fatal climax with their lives.
Soldiers are dreamers; when the guns begin
They think of firelit homes, clean beds and wives.

I see them in foul dug-outs, gnawed by rats,
And in the ruined trenches, lashed with rain,
Dreaming of things they did with balls and bats,
And mocked by hopeless longing to regain
Bank-holidays, and picture shows, and spats,
And going to the office in the train.

— Siegfried Sassoon

Poppies against the wall at the Tower of London

(This photo is from the installation at the Tower of London in 2014 – click here to see more pictures from that day)

A Sunday in York

Last weekend we found ourselves in beautiful York for a wedding of two close friends. They had chosen The Hospitium in the York Museum Gardens, an intimate 14th century, two-storey building which was the perfect setting for their ceremony, dinner and dancing.

The next day, we met up with some family for a stroll around the centre of York, which is one of our favourite cities (and, for once, we weren’t there to sing!). The day started as every Sunday should [apparently], with tea – and this time we went all out at Betty’s. Yes, we probably should have gone to Harrogate, but this Southerner had never experienced Betty’s at all and was too excited to wait any longer. It lived up to the hype: silver teapots, cosy corners and very good tea.

Betty's in York

We walked down the cobbled streets to explore some of the less well-known attractions, with the Minster still always in sight around the corner.

York Minster

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Exploring the Hampstead Cemetery

I was on my own this week, so I decided to take a walk around the nearby Hampstead Cemetery and practice a bit of monochrome shooting. There are a huge variety of tombs and gravestones that I thought would provide a good opportunity for some atmospheric photography, and it was a place I’d been keen on exploring for a while.

Cross at Hampstead Cemetery

I really liked how this bright-white stone sat in somewhat splendid isolation amongst the slightly-overgrown grass.

Gravestone at Hampstead Cemetery

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A touristy wander around Central London

Often, we like to bring you beautiful hidden gems, quirky finds or recommend places you might never have thought of to experience. Today, though, we found some photos from a late summer outing which made us so happy, we wanted to share them – it was a lovely Sunday day out, but probably somewhere you already recognise!

We first saw this amazing bakery at the food market next to the Royal Festival Hall:

Shoux Stoppers

And then strolled along the South Bank, past those iconic lamp posts with some familiar sights in the distance – the London Eye defined very nicely against the blue sky.

View from Westminster Bridge

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Hidden treasures in North London – discovering Hampstead Pergola

As you know by now, we love nothing more than a saunter around Hampstead Heath. It’s green, it’s walkable, and most importantly [for some] has a large collection of dogs to swoon over. We love Kenwood House and have a few favourite routes we explore. However, lately we made an exciting new discovery, thanks to a tip off from a podcasting friend (check out her brilliantly-engaging podcast, Uncatalogued, if you love museums and want to know more about the fascinating people who bring them to life). This discovery was Hampstead Pergola, described as “essentially, a raised walkway” near the Golders Hill Park part of the Heath. But what a raised walkway it is…

In 1904, Lord Leverhulme bought a large house in this area, named ‘The Hill’. With an interest in landscape gardening, he bought up the surrounding land and aimed to built his Pergola, for parties, summer evenings, and as a vantage point for enjoyment of the stunning gardens surrounding it. The architect he enlisted was the renowned Thomas Mawson, and he cleverly utilised the leftover materials from the nearby building of the Hampstead extension of the Northern line to cut transport costs. The Pergola was completed in 1906, after just a year in construction, and Lord Leverhulme expanded it twice more, in 1911 and 1925.

Hampstead Pergola

The house, visible to a degree through the Pergola’s framing, is still privately owned and now split into a number of apartments.

Hampstead Pergola

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Lumiere London – the city in a new light

Although one of us is currently incapacitated, having [very annoyingly] broken his foot slipping in a tube station (don’t worry, our love for public transport hasn’t abated too much), we wanted to see what we could catch of the first Lumiere festival to come to London, as I remember them being such a success up in Durham a few years ago. We headed out for the evening, but our first stop was the Benjamin Franklin House near Trafalgar Square, the only house still standing that Franklin lived in. He came to London intending to lodge here for a few short months but stayed for 16 years, even remaining while his wife died at home. The house remains in a fairly faithful state, although it was since used by Charing Cross station as a small hotel, but it has no original furniture. Rather than fill the house with replicas, the team have decided to approach this in an unconventional way, using image projection, recorded speech and an actress to take us through the story. Ultimately, we thought this was very successful (although rarely have I read more divisive opinions on Trip Advisor!). The actress herself was completely engaged and spoke clearly – had she been anything less than perfect the tour would have suffered (on which note, she did rather need a new costume…). The tour was informative, and we learned a great deal about the man himself and his rich and varied life. In the face of presumably limited resource, we thought this was an ingenious way to bring the house to life.

Benjamin Franklin House

We then wandered up to Trafalgar Square itself, to see the Lumiere installations everyone has heard so much about. On which note, first of all, out heartfelt congratulations to the Lumiere PR and marketing team – with so much going on in London, this was the thing everyone was talking about. Unfortunately, though, this did mean that a) we couldn’t see anything, really and b) so popular were some of the installations that they had to be turned off to deal with the crowds. Our first stop was the National Gallery, which itself was looking beautiful as always…

National Portrait Gallery

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