Lost in Southwark

I went for a walk today to try and find a fabled hardware store that was said to be hiding just off Borough High Street.  I’d already had one failed mission and returned to my office in defeat.  When our security officer then decided to direct me through “the scenic route” I knew I had to take along my trusted Nokia N70 phone and snap some photos!

Little Dorrit Court

Little Dorrit Court

Southwark is steeped in history and the story of the writing of Little Dorrit  is linked to Charles Dickens’ visit to his father in Marshalsea prison.  All that remains of Marshalsea prison is the wall which runs along the park next to my work.  So, my walk took me along Little Dorrit Court and the colourful park there.

Little Dorrit Park Little Dorrit Park

I guess it would have to be colourful given how wonderfully grey London is for most of the year!

When I got to the end of Little Dorrit Court, I came upon the most wonderful little park.

Red Cross Garden

Red Cross Garden

It is amazing what you can discover in London if you just step away from your usual path. 

Red Cross Garden

Even in the depth of winter, the Red Cross Garden is absolutely exquisite.

Red Cross Garden Red Cross Garden

Red Cross Garden Red Cross Garden

The Red Cross Garden was founded in 1887 by Octavia Hill, a co-founder of the National Trust.  According to the Bankside Open Spaces Trust website, Octavia was an ardent social reformer and built the garden as a place for the tired inhabitants of Southwark to sit.  (Yesterday, an overworked Southwark employee simply took photos!)  She also built the houses you can see at the back as a model to how housing conditions could be improved for the working poor.

Red Cross Garden

Not surprisingly, there is a plaque dedicated to Octavia Hill at the back of the garden.

So, I finally found my way to the hardware store and then scooted back to work.

St George the Martyr Church Southwark SE1

I took the opportunity to snap a photo of the St George the Martyr Church.  That is a section of Borough High Street you can see there and it is completely full of road works as they replace the Victorian water mains.  Utter pandemonium! 

An Afternoon at London's Greenwich Observatory

Royal Observatory Greenwich

It was a sunny autumn day in early October when I drove through to Heathrow to pick up my friend Patrick visiting from South Africa.  After settling in at home, we drove off to one of my favourite places in London, the place where I take all of my visitors without fail: Greenwich Park and the Royal Observatory Greenwich.

The View From Greenwich Park

   National Maritime Museum with Canary Wharf in the background  National Maritime Museum with Canary Wharf in the background

The Old Greenwich Power Station with The O2 in the background
The Old Greenwich Power Station with The O2 in the background

I believe that Greenwich Park has some of the best views in London and so we sat for a while taking in the sights.

The Meridian Route

Once inside the Royal Observatory, you have a choice of taking the Meridian or Astronomy routes.  We took the Meridian route first which is all to do with the recording of time, navigation around the world and of course, the Greenwich Meridian where time begins!

Armillary dial William Herschel's telescope
Armillary dial // William Herschel's telescope

The grounds of the Royal Observatory are exquisite, as are most parks and attractions in England.  The Armillary is a sundial in the shape of a globe and it was constructed in 1968.  You may have to be an astronomy geek like me to find the last remaining part of William Herschel’s telescope as exciting as I did.  William Herschel had discovered Uranus in 1781 and this telescope was paid for by King George III and completed in 1789.  Sadly, it was rarely used as it was difficult to set up and maintain.

Gardens in Royal ObservatoryThe Greenwich Meridian
The Gardens in the Royal Observatory // The Greenwich Meridian

Most people step right over the Greenwich Meridian before they realise what it is.  This is the Prime Meridian of the World with a longitude of 0° 0' 0".  I am facing due south there with one foot in the eastern hemisphere and one foot in the western one.  

Camera Obscura 28 inch telescope dome 
Camera Obscura // The 28 Inch Telescope Dome

I would have walked right past the Camera Obscura if Patrick hadn’t dragged me back to look at it.  I have no idea how it works but the Camera Obscura uses a lens to project a real-time moving panorama of Greenwich onto a disk inside a darkened room.  It took my eyes some time to adjust but you could see buses moving and everything!  I was glad to get out though as I am (at the grand old age of 36) still petrified of the dark and felt very suffocated inside there!

The telescope in that dome is over 100 years old and is the largest of its kind in the UK.

The Octagon Room - Royal Observatory
The Octagon Room

We spent quite a long time in the Octagon Room at the top of Flamsteed House.  This is one of the few surviving interiors by Sir Christopher Wren, the architect of St Paul’s Cathedral.  The Octagon room was designed to observe celestial events including eclipses, comets and planetary movements.

Ceiling detail of Sir Christopher Wren's Octagon RoomReplica telescope tube used in Octagon Room, Royal Observatory until 1765 

Astronomical quadrant, Octagon Room, Royal ObservatoryThe Tompion Clock, Octagon Room, Royal Observatory
Ceiling detail // Replica telescope tube // Astronomical quadrant // The Tompion Clock

The Astronomy Route

We then took the Astronomy route where sadly, less photographs were allowed.

Altazimuth, Royal Observatory The bookshop, Royal Observatory

We walked all around the Astronomy Centre as well as the interactive Weller Astronomy Galleries.  I wasn’t too concerned about the ban on photography though as there was so much to do!  I would have loved to have visited the planetarium but as it was Patrick’s first day in the UK, I think we decided to not spend all of his pounds and to let him get some rest!  I took a photo of the books in the bookshop, by the way, because many of the authors featured there were speaking at the TAM Conference Patrick was attending.

What Falling Snow Looks Like

A lot of my South African friends and family have never seen snow falling before (in fact, many have never seen snow) so I thought I’d take a short video.  Snow usually floats down softly and quietly so this was quite a downpour!!  What I love most about snow (apart from not actually having to be in it) it how silent it always is when it falls.

This was taken at 3.34pm, to give you an idea of how early it gets dark.  It is post-Winter solstice now and in fact, it is staying light just a little longer.

I tried so hard to take photos of the snow flakes as some of them were up to an inch in diameter!

The Historical Town of Dartford

Last Tuesday your intrepid Tourist decided to talk a walk in the pouring rain to explore the historical town of Dartford. 

Copperfields Arcade Dartford (2)Copperfields Arcade Dartford
Copperfields Arcade Dartford

I started off right in the centre of town by the Copperfields arcade.  It really was quite an unsuitable day for walking around with a camera!

Spital Street Methodist Church Dartford
Spital Street Methodist Church

This is the Spital Street Methodist Church.  It was built in 1844 at a cost of £2,500.

Courthouse Pub Dartford
The Courthouse Pub

The Courthouse Pub lies across the street from Spital Street Methodist Church.  This building was first erected in 1850 as part of the  church but was converted into a Crown Court within ten years.  Fifteen years ago it became a pub.  The nearest Crown Court is now in Woolwich but Dartford still has a magistrates court and a county court.

Royal Oak Dartford
The Royal Oak

Dartford Heritage posterAccording to the Dartford  Heritage Trail poster, "An inn has occupied this 17th century building since at least the early 1800s. The oak beams and brick fireplaces date from at least 1690 but it first appears as the Royal Oak on a map dated 1807".

Trust the English to ensure that no matter how lost you are, you’ll always find the nearest pub on a map.

If you click on the poster to the left, you can get a clearer idea of how the Royal Oak and the Congregational Church (below) looked over a hundred years ago.

I really love before and after photos and seeing historical sites through the ages!

Church Court Dartford
Church Court

The old Congregational Church was converted into flats in December 2000.

Manor Gatehouse
Manor Gatehouse

Wow.  This building is seriously old!  This is the western gatehouse of what used to be King Henry VIII’s Dartford Manor House and it was built between 1541 and 1544.  Anne of Cleves was given the house in her divorce settlement and stayed there between 1553 and 1557.  [Sources: Dartford Archive and Dartford Tourism].  The building is now used as a venue and offices.  If you click on the above photo to enlarge it, you’ll see that the sig to the left reads: “Births, Death Marriages and Partnerships”.  Surely “hatch, match and dispatch” would be more succinct?

Railway Bridge Dartford
Railway Bridge

This is something I never saw in South Africa. Tiny little railway bridges drawn over the most impossibly narrow streets. It is probable that this was designed with only a horse and carriage in mind.

Dartford housesDartford houses (3)Dartford houses (2)   

Finally, I decided to give you a taste of the types of houses to be found in Dartford.  First, we have Victorian terraced housing which is generally well over one hundred years old.  Next is the boring and unimaginative post war terraced housing and finally, there is a photo of our little lane.  Our houses are only about two years old which is why it is so impossible that there should be such a huge problem with the boiler.  (First the control panel went and then the engineer decided that something was wrong with the flue and so we won’t have central heating until they fix that!!)

Let it snow!

Let it snow!

It’s not often that I’m happy to see snow but I am over the moon tonight!  I’ve been praying all afternoon for the snow to come because for once in my life, I actually have work that I can do from home tomorrow.  It is our financial year end and so I have loads of cross checking that I can do and I emailed all the spreadsheets to myself before I left work today.

Southeastern Railways were being their usual useless selves and had already told us early this afternoon that trains would only be running every half hour tomorrow.  Of course, they neglected to say whereabouts in the hour their ‘half hour’ would start and as trains are generally oversubscribed as it is, I didn’t rate my chances of actually getting on any trains tomorrow.  With the predicted “extreme weather” having arrived, it is doubtful whether they will run at all. 

Snow in Dartford

Wonderful news then… it is a snow day tomorrow!

A Winter Retreat

We decided to get away from London for a couple of days and headed to the Hawkwell House Hotel in Oxford.  We left around 3pm on Christmas Eve and arrived to find chocolates, crackers and Santa hats waiting for us in our room.

I’d really been looking forward to spending Christmas in this hotel as it is so cosy and festive.

Hawkwell House - the fireplace

Hawkwell House - Xmas tree Hawkwell House - decorations

We spent a lot of time sitting by the fireplace just reading newspapers or books.

Hawkwell House - the lounge

And we spent some time in the lounge too where I played with my camera and read while Ste watched football.

We stayed for three nights at a rate of £95 bed and breakfast per night plus Christmas dinner included.  It was nice not to have to worry about cooking on Christmas day but not so nice that the kitchen wasn’t open for room service for the whole weekend!!  We had to go into Oxford for some Nandos on the Saturday night.  Nandos will always be our first choice as they are a South African franchise!

On the morning we left, there was even some sunshine and so I got to take some lovely photos of the buildings and the ground.

Hawkwell House Hotel - Oxford (3) Hawkwell House Hotel - Oxford Hawkwell House Hotel - Oxford (2)

We had a lovely and relaxing time away and it was just the kind of winter retreat that I had in mind.  Mostly, I was just glad to be healthy and happy during this visit as I had been so sick when we visited in 2008!