Wednesday, 29 June 2022

A Visit to Rochester Cathedral to see Luke Jerram's Gaia

I adore summer in Kent. The sun comes out, blooms are everywhere and we know its time to explore. On a gorgeous Friday in May, I took my mum to nearby Rochester to see Luke Jerram’s Gaia at Rochester Cathedral.

Rochester is a beautiful town about twenty minutes away from where I live, notable for being Charles Dickens’s favourite town. You can see why – Rochester has a quaint, picturesque quality and I love visiting there.

No mother-daughter day is complete without a bit of lunch and we chose Fish 55 on Rochester High Street. My mum had a salmon pate to start while I chose the mackerel pate. It was divine.

I then chose the lobster gnocchi, bisque and chicory main and my mum had a scallop with garlic sauce main, both off the specials board. You’ll notice my mum strategically chooses items I’m allergic to (salmon and garlic), I guess she doesn’t like to share!

The manager and staff at Fish 55 were wonderful and very helpful in sitting my mum in an accessible spot where we could keep an eye on her mobility scooter outside.

After our meal, we wandered over to Rochester Cathedral where the staff were again wonderful and directed us to the accessible entrance at the side, allowing my mum to take her mobility scooter into the main exhibition area. It's not easy travelling around with mobility issues but some places make it so much easier.

Luke Jerram’s Gaia is spectacular. This was a bitter-sweet visit because visiting Luke Jerram’s Moon in Rochester Cathedral was the last thing we did before lockdown was imposed in March 2020. I was grateful and pensive all at once while I stared at the beautiful Earth and thought about how lucky I am.

Like Moon, Gaia rotates slowly, giving you a chance to see Africa, Australasia and South America. I wish we could have seen Europe and North America but my mum enjoyed seeing her beloved Africa.

After a very long visit with Gaia, we wandered outside into the gardens and then into the crypt to enjoy a cup of coffee. Kent traffic on a Friday afternoon is not to be laughed at so we needed all the energy we could muster before the drive home.

The crypt and café are completely accessible via a wheelchair lift.

I didn't quite manage to take as many photos of Rochester Castle and Cathedral as I normally do but I hope to visit again in July when my in-laws are over.

Accessibility Guide to Rochester

Navigating around with a mobility scooter can be a daunting task and I’m going to start talking more and more about this on future posts in the hope that it will help other readers. Accessibility bloggers have been invaluable to me in recent years and have helped ensure that I can take my mum on weekends away and day trips.

For our trip to Rochester, we landed up parking in the train station parking – which is on RingGo – because the central car parks were full. I was a bit nervous as it was on the other side of a very busy road from the town but there were clear crossing points that helped us on our way.

The only caution I’d give with Rochester is that there are a lot of cobbles so you’d need to judge whether you can navigate those with your wheelchair or mobility scooter.

We use a portable mobility scooter for our trips which folds away into my boot. Again, you need to be cautious with smaller, portable scooters as they have limited battery life and must be charged before each trip and at the end of the day on overnight trips. We learned this when my mum’s scooter couldn’t make it up the hill at Montmartre on our second day in Paris!

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Wednesday, 15 June 2022

An Art Deco Walking Tour of Whitechapel

Way back in 2015, when I was still working in London, the company I was working for moved their offices from the Strand (near Charing Cross) to east London. I was excited to explore a new area but I was pleasantly surprised to see how many Art Deco buildings there were in the area. I immediately mentioned this to Yannick and was delighted when he announced an Art Deco Tour of Whitechapel last year.

Yannick’s tour was incredibly well-researched and we learned all about the characters and changing times of the Whitechapel area, including the rag trade, famous photography studios, Jewish refugees and sweatshops. I definitely don’t want to spoil the tour but I’ll share ten of the Art Deco buildings that we saw on the tour.

One America Square

One America Square was the first 'Art Deco' building that I spotted in the area. I’ve used quote marks there because the building is somewhat of a pretender, as suggested by its ostentatious grandeur and was only completed in 1990. There used to a fabulous bar at the bottom of my photo, which proved very popular for after-work drinks and farewell parties. I suspect it was a victim of the pandemic.

Ibex House

I'm going to try not to proclaim favourites on this post because out of the ten buildings I’ve featured, approximately half of them are favourites of mine. Nevertheless, Ibex House is my third favourite of the buildings featured in this post. It is pictured both here and at the very top of the post. Located at 42-47 Minories, I used to walk past this beautiful building every day on the way to work.

Number One Prescot Street

This imposing building was once known as The Tea House and is now divided into several posh apartments.

Sugar House, 99 Lehman Street

Sugar House fell into disrepair for over 20 years but was restored and divided into more expensive apartments.

Pentex Head Office, 94-100 Christian Street

The Pentex building remains Pentex’s head office.

Myrdle Court, Myrdle Street

Myrdle Court is part of the Myrdle Street conservation area which hopefully means the building will get an injection of cash to update the facades and windows.

Cheviot House

Cheviot House is my second favourite of the buildings featured in this post and is located on Philpot Street.

Cheviot House was built in 1937 for textile merchants Kornberg & Segal and was the subject of a massive fight against demolition. The building was saved from the ill intentions of Tower Hamlets borough and is now (you guessed it) divided into posh apartments.

Comfort House

Comfort House, Gwynne House and New Road Hotel (below) were designed by Hume Victor Kerr.

Gwynne House

I loved this building so much and took an insane amount of photos of it. Gwynne House is located on Turner Street and there is a lift in that central tower. This building brought back so many memories of living in apartments in Johannesburg, which also has a high number of Art Deco properties.

New Road Hotel

As suggested by its name, New Road Hotel is now a hotel after a multi-million pound investment but it was formerly a garment factory until its closure in 2000. It was originally designed by Hume Victor Kerr.


That brings us to the end of the Art Deco walking tour of Whitechapel. Yannick doesn't have any tours planned at the moment but visit London Art Deco Tours and sign up to be notified when the next tours are scheduled. You can also visit my previous posts on Yannick's Art Deco Tours of Bloomsbury and The Strand or check out the interactive map below to plan your own walk.

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Tuesday, 31 May 2022

Walking the Red Trail at the Giant's Causeway

We recently spent the most incredible weekend in Northern Ireland. We were based near Ballycastle and had spent the Saturday in Mussenden Temple and Lissanoure Castle for the wedding of my lovely friend Liz and Stewart. The wedding was a fabulous all-day affair where we ate, drank and ate some more. Suffice to say, we needed to air out the cobwebs on Sunday morning and headed to the Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim.

We chose the Red Trail which promised a 3 mile walk with spectacular views away from the crowds of people heading straight to the Causeway steps. The Red Trail itself is 2 miles but joins up with the Blue Trail which is 0.8 miles.

While we could see people on the Blue Trail below, we were quite alone on the Red Trail and were able to see right around us from the sea to our left, the hills and greenery on the trail, and fields and farms to our right.

The Red Trail is well-signposted which means that I didn’t manage to get us lost and take us on a detour, something which I am becoming quite known for.

We couldn’t have picked a better day for our walk. There was a slight wind which meant we weren’t too warm but we could definitely feel the effects of the vitamin D seeping into our bodies. Spring came late to my corner of England this year so this was a much-appreciated change.

We soon came to the Shepherd’s Steps which is 162 steps leading down the cliff. We met some very tired people near the top of the steps who were walking the route in reverse. They were clearly fit and healthy but also clearly struggling to climb the steps with massive backpacks on their backs!

Note! If you carry on straight at Shepherd’s Steps instead of climbing down them, you can follow the Yellow Trail to get an aerial view of the Amphitheatre. We did not realise this and now I have to go back one day to see it!

We continued our walk along the Red Trail, past the Organ and to the end of the path. It's difficult to describe how massive the Organ is - it is very tall with a narrow path before it and I had to crouch down to get its full height in this photo.

Turning back, we joined the Blue Trail and found ourselves at sea level.

I loved how calm and idyllic the area is. It was quiet too. Stephen and I wondered how many creatures make their home here in an area that clearly takes a battering when the weather turns.

As we approached the Giant's Causeway, we met this imposing wall of rock. It feels so majestic and grand – I can see why people believed the area to have been touched by giants. (This is probably not the time to mention that Stephen had believed the area to be man-made before we visited it).

We finally made it to the famous steps. I found it difficult to take inspiring photos in the glaring midday sunshine and momentarily wished for stormy, imposing weather. Now that I think about it, I’d wish a hundred times over for clear skies, incredible views and a long walk in the sunshine over a moody five minutes on the steps. Indeed, my Northern Irish friend Jude assures me that Giant’s Causeway is far more fun in the sunshine.

We continued along the Blue Trail back to the entrance and then stopped off for a shandy and delicious open face prawn sandwich at the Nook pub. Highly recommended!

Tips for visiting the Giant’s Causeway: it is free to walk along the trails and on the Giant’s Causeway. You do not need to purchase a ticket to the visitors centre but you can make a donation if you’d like to contribute to the upkeep of the area and maintenance of the trails.

Parking at the Giant’s Causeway: you can park at the visitors centre for £5 but it can fill up. We chose to park a short walk down the road at Giant’s Causeway and Bushmills Railway, 6 Runkerry Rd, Bushmills BT57 8SZ. We will definitely be taking a trip on that railway next time we visit!

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Wednesday, 18 May 2022

Street Art Snapshots From An Unseen Tour of Shoreditch

I love street art and the east end of London has some of the best street art in the world. There are many excellent tours, some of which I've written about here under the street art tag, but I'd always wanted to go on an Unseen Tour. The Unseen Tour model is impressive; the guides are formerly homeless individuals who take people on tours of their home neighbourhoods. Unseen Tours are a not-for-profit social enterprise and sixty percent of the ticket price goes to the guide.

We joined Henri on the Unseen Tour of Shoreditch and these are my favourite sights.

The photo above features a fake blue plaque to Ed Seymour, the inventor of the aerosol spray paint can. All hail Ed!

Shoreditch is experiencing heavy gentrification with the area becoming much too expensive for average Londoners to live in. It would absolutely suit developers if all the poor people left quietly.

This stencil really resonated with me (I think it's a stencil). Depression is a huge part of my life but something I'm learning to work alongside and accommodate. Sometimes we simply need to be kind to ourselves and allow ourselves to have off days.

Interesting appropriation of one of the most evil dictators in history.

I loved this piece. I wish I could have gotten up to a higher vantage point to take a better photo of it.

This was a very funky piece and it took up over six metres of a wall.

Cereal killer, a scathing indictment of a place that charges £6 for a bowl of cereal. What utterly needless gimmick marketing.

I have no idea what this was all about but it was very trippy and reminded me of old London texts and legends.

Do not trust robots. Say no more.

I love Phlegm's work and was delighted to discover this piece on the Foundry.

Visit the Unseen Tours website to book a tour.

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Saturday, 5 March 2022

Adventures in Leeds Castle in Spring

Leeds Castle seen through an explosion of cherry blossoms | Leeds Castle in Spring

I'm at the 'will it ever end' stage of winter which is why I tend to count the spring equinox as the official start of spring. While it is cold, wet and grey outside, I know that spring will eventually arrive and it will be glorious when it does. In fact, when spring is late, it often results in an explosion of blooms because flowers that normally bloom weeks apart now bloom all at once. I can't wait!

Leeds Castle and moat | Leeds Castle in Spring

While I'm (im)patiently waiting for spring to arrive, I'm dreaming of the visit I took to Leeds Castle in spring 2019 with my amazing nieces. It was back in the days when I wasn't updating this blog but it's one of the experiences I most wanted to share.

The moat and castle walls of Leeds Castle | Leeds Castle in Spring

We were blessed with warm, sunny weather which of course felt sub-Arctic to my nieces who'd arrived from a South African summer.

Geese at Leeds Castle in Spring

When you arrive at Leeds Castle, you take a long, meandering walk through the grounds before seeing the castle itself. The grounds are immaculately maintained with an abundance of wildlife including swans, geese and ducks.

Leeds Castle in Spring

There are idyllic scenes such as this and I imagine many of England's more shy species come out when the grounds are less busy.

A bedroom at Leeds Castle

While many castles in Britain were never lived in or never quite completed, Leeds Castle has a rich and varied history dating back to 1119 when Robert de Crevecoeur built the first stone castle on the site.

It was fun exploring the inside of Leeds Castle and it should surprise no one that the library was my favourite room! I was thrilled to see real, antique books in the library - nor props - and former residents at Leeds Castle enjoyed Dickens, Oscar Wilde and Shakespeare.

The dining room at Leeds Castle

Did you know that you can get married at Leeds Castle? It's certainly out of many people's budgets but what a dream it must be to get married in such a beautiful location! Many of the packages include a overnight stay for your guests in the castle so that is certainly appealing!

Falconry display at Leeds Castle in Spring

While my nieces found the castle interesting, they loved the falconry display! It was thrilling to see their collection of hawks, eagles and owls in action and we got to learn a lot about these majestic birds of prey.

The maze at Leeds Castle in Spring

We finished off our visit with a circuit around the famous maze. I can confirm that it looks easier than it is and there were a handful of tense, claustrophobic moments when I wondered if I would escape!

Leeds Castle
Broomfield
Maidstone
ME17 1PL

Tickets cost £28 for adults, £27 for seniors and £19.50 for children. Your ticket enables you free entry for a full 12 months so you can come back in summer, autumn and for the Christmas markets too.

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© 2008 - Mandy Southgate | Emm in London

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