Exploring the Regent’s Canal at its annual festival

Have you ever been for a walk along the Regent’s Canal? Everyone knows about the Thames, and has probably walked across one of its bridges or along the Thames Path, but the Canal is a slightly better-kept secret. During the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, canals were built all over the country as an efficient way of transporting industrial materials and products, while the roads were still in a relatively poor state. By 1790, the Oxford Canal had been built, meaning that goods could be transported to London and beyond using water transport.

However, the Oxford Canal was only wide enough for one narrow barge at a time, and the Thames didn’t suit these narrowboats at all. Either goods had to be transferred onto larger barges, or the boats were at risk. As such, the idea of a new canal from Paddington to Limehouse, and the creation of a new dock at Limehouse, was born, which would prevent the need for transference onto barges or wagons for goods to reach the City and the Thames docks.

The project started to progress when John Nash started to plan the development of Marylebone Park (later to become The Regent’s Park). Initially Nash planned for an attractive waterway through the park, but upon realising that the cargo boats may prove unsightly he routed the canal instead along the northern boundary, hidden in a deep cutting. This section was completed in 1813, and the whole canal was opened in August 1816, on the birthday of the Prince Regent.

Immediately the canal was busy, with cargo ranging from building and industrial materials to hay and vegetables for the markets. These early cargo boats were pulled by horses, walking along the towpath at the side, although ‘legging’ was required in two of the tunnels (a chain-powered tug was introduced in 1826 given how slow this process was). We [well, one of us…] tried legging for ourselves at the Black Country Living Museum – we can highly recommend as a great day out! However, the ‘golden age’ of canals was already on the decline, thanks to Robert Stephenson and the introduction of the powerful steam locomotive. One Midlands route in particular passed across the Regent’s Canal as it came into Euston, the London & York Railway went under the canal by tunnel as it approached Kings Cross, and the Midland Railway went over it into St Pancras. Finally, the North London Railway opened in 1850, carrying goods from Camden to Bow from the Midlands.

Although the waterways continued to be useful for a time in the carrying of coal to power the trains, the carrying of freight in its entirety ended during the 1970s, leaving us with a beautiful path running alongside London Zoo (you can see the giraffes on a good day!) and past the backs of the ridiculously ornate and luxurious, many Nash-designed, houses in Regent’s Park.

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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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Merry Christmas!

Wishing all our readers a very happy festive season, and hoping you have a few days off to relax and enjoy the company of your loved ones, yummy food, and maybe even a few presents! London themed wrapping, anyone…?

With love from the Month of Sundays duo xx [the kisses are from her, not me…]

Merry Christmas

P.S. Festive photography tip: this year we ordered some photographic Christmas cards to send to family and friends from moo.com. We chose five designs (which you will have seen before!) from last year’s wintry fun. They were ready quite quickly and cost around 80p each. Recommended!

Wintering at Winterville

Have you been to Winterville? We couldn’t face the Winter Wonderland crowds so thought we’d see if this was quieter, more interesting and just as festive!

So it was quieter. Almost too much quieter [it was a little bit creepy]. There were a lot of rides, and I’m a bit rubbish with rides [disappointingly], but they were fun to watch… And there were some indoor sections which were pretty amazingly decorated. Our favourite was a bar/café/stalls section (we really wish we’d seen the band playing!):

Stage at Winterville

We did have much mulled wine, which was very good.

Bar at Winterville

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Below London – a trip to the Clapham South deep-level shelter

You know when you book tickets for something and forget you did…? This happened to us, when we looked at our calendars and realised that we had tickets for a Clapham South subterranean shelter tour, run as part of London Transport Museum‘s Hidden London. So, we headed along one night after work and congregated at the entrance to Clapham South Underground. But this wasn’t a tube tour – instead, it took us down to the tube level, 36.5m below street level, but into huge, cavernous tunnels built during World War Two, as a response to heavy civilian bombing during the Blitz.

Our surroundings seemed [remarkably] modern and sleek, with some incredibly well thought-through details considering the rush in which they were built. One of our favourite features was the double helix staircase so that people could descend twice as quickly in the event of a raid.

Clapham South Deep Level Shelter

Although ten of these shelters were planned, ultimately eight were built, by the London Passenger Transport Board and the Ministry for Home Security between 1941 and 1942. They were a response to the inadequacy of tube stations as refuges from bombing raids, after 111 people were killed at Bank station. The tube stations were often not sufficiently deep, and in addition were liable to flooding if a water main was hit. Although not built quickly enough for the Blitz, they were used during all the bombing that followed by V1 and V2 bombs, and were also a temporary solution for those who had lost their homes through Blitz attacks.

Clapham South Deep Level Shelter

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Return to Kenwood House

OK, so we’ve been to Kenwood House before. But with such a beautiful place nearby, it’s difficult not to… While last time was a fleeting visit on the blog, this trip we decided to look at things a little more closely.

Remodelled by Robert Adam in 1770 (you know by now how much we love good old Adam!), Kenwood sits in 74 acres next to Hampstead Heath, with views across to the City of London. The house is run by English Heritage but remains free entry to the public, thanks to the Iveagh Bequest. This was a gift of art from the 1st Earl of Iveagh in 1920, and comprises internationally-significant Old Master and British paintings by artists including Vermeer, Rembrandt, Gainsborough and Reynolds. Indeed, it is the finest collection of Old Master paintings given to the British nation in the 20th century.

Kenwood House

There is also a fine collection of furniture in the house, either designed by Adam or brought in sympathetically. We liked this tiny lion:

Table at Kenwood House

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Blink and it’s gone – the Bloodhound SSC

I was very fortunate last week to be able to see the Bloodhound SSC (Super-Sonic Car) make its world debut in London. By pure chance I had the afternoon off work for something else later in the evening, and happened to hear about the two-day event that was happening in the East Wintergarden venue in Canary Wharf. So, with my last-minute ticket in hand, I headed over to check it out… [I had to work, on the other hand, so couldn’t go. Pity. Fortunately there were about 300 photos of cars for me to look at… However, they actually turned out to be fairly amazing, so do keep reading even if you’re not an engineering fan!]

Canary Wharf tube

For those who haven’t heard of it before, the Bloodhound SSC is a British engineering project to break the land speed record (which is already held by the same team, headed by Richard Noble), with the ultimate aim being to travel at over 1,000mph. The car being unveiled today is the “product of eight years of research, design and manufacturing, involving over 350 companies and universities”. Jaguar are one of the key sponsors, and have provided many vehicles for research: the car below was used to test the use of parachutes as a braking system, a method that was eventually abandoned in favour of air brakes.

Jaguar test car for Bloodhound SSC

But I’m teasing you – it’s time I actually showed you pictures of the beast itself! [I can hardly wait.] And here she is:

Bloodhound SSC

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