26 June 2014

London icons: double decker red buses

That red double decker bus just shouts 'London' at you!  My visitors are very keen to make sure I build a ride on a bus into their itinerary and once on board we head for the top deck and if we can grab a front seat that's even better. It feels like a proper London experience and is a brilliant way to see the sights for the price of a bus ticket.

Last weekend all of us bus lovers got the chance to see a Bus Cavalcade on Regent Street which was closed to all other trafffic for the day so the buses could take over.  2014 is the Year of the Bus and the London Transport Museum were making sure we all got out and enjoyed a sunny Sunday on the buses. 

The whole length of Regent Street was a ride backwards or forwards through history, depending which end you started from.  I started at Oxford Circus with the new state of the art hybrid revamped Routemaster designed by Thomas Heatherwick, most famous for bringing us the fabulous Olympic Cauldron of flame.  These buses bring back the famous Routemaster feature of the hop-on hop-off back platform - so useful in busy traffic - but in terms of advanced technology we are assured they are one of the best in the world!

The new Routemaster
The hop on hop off back door and stairway
At the southern end of Regent Street was the earliest bus, one of the horse drawn models which were in service from 1829 to 1914 and only withdrawn because the horses were needed for war service in the First World War. The wonderfully restored bus on show with its calm and patient pair of sturdy horses dates from 1898. There was a great poster telling us all about the buses' history and the difficult conditions of the drivers and conductors who often worked a 14 hour day in harsh condition on to of the bus in all weathers.

Good to have your photo with the horses
Rear entrance

Nattily dressed driver and conductor
 Regent Street is normally a really busy thoroughfare but for Bus Cavalcade day they put up seats and a canteen in the middle of the road for weary shoppers and bus fans alike to rest up. 

Far from the usual busy traffic

One up on the usual works canteen

  Lego had got in on the fun with a bus stop made out of Lego bricks - what a great idea!

All along Regent Street you could trace the development of the London buses from horse drawn through to early engine powered through to the modern hybrid and outside each one was a crowd of people waiting to go inside and explore, getting a sense of travel from bygone eras.  Here is a selection of my favourite old buses for you:


Put some muscle into it!

Advertising is nothing new!

 I was surprised to some green buses and discovered that these ran on the country routes and red ones were for inner London. 

After exploring all these buses the only thing to do was to hop on a working bus and ride home to Notting Hill!

Bye for now,

16 June 2014

Even the vegetables have great stories to tell at Hampton Court Palace!

The humble pea came to the rescue of a city under siege! Back in 1644 during the English Civil War the city of Newcastle was under siege and the people were starving to death when a consignment of Carlin peas came through just in time to keep the city's population alive. Vicki Cooke, the wonderfully titled Kitchen Garden Keeper, delighted in telling us this story as we stood next to several rows of Carlin peas,  which are clearly no ordinary pea!

Here are the famous Carlin peas and that's not Vicki!
Hampton Court Palace is well known for its impressive historic buildings, impenetrable maze, annual flower show and enormous gardens. They've now added another good reason to visit as they've just opened their new Royal Kitchen Garden. I say 'new' but it really dates back to the time of Queen Anne when she decided that the land that Henry Vlll had used as a jousting yard, would be much better as a kitchen garden - good decision!  It was the main royal kitchen garden, supplying the other palaces. and was a working garden from 1689 to 1842. The scale is incredible as what we can visit is just one sixth of the garden that operated at that time. 

The walled kitchen garden - imagine it 6 times bigger!
I was invited to view the gardens before they opened to the public and was treated to a tour given by Graham  Dillamore, the Garden & Estates Operations Manager, who you can see standing among the peas in the photo above. He explained that they had 'broken ground' only last August and were amazed at how well the gardens were progressing after such a wet winter. He is clearly an expert gardener and it was encouraging to us amateurs to hear that even the professionals suffer from the unpredictability of nature. The soil was in bad shape when they first looked into it and needed a great deal of feeding and preparing before they could do their first planting, but look at the results! They have used the original plans dating back to 1736 to lay out the paths and passage ways between each section of vegetables.

Fabulous lettuces

Back in the days when Kings and Queens were the centre of society,  a Head Gardener could really make an impression if he produced exotic fruit early in the season. So they introduced raised beds filled with rotting manure which gave off heat during the cold winter months, hence they were known as 'hot beds'. Topped off with soil these beds could produced melons in spring and just imagine the King's delight and the Head Gardener' proud smile!

The gardens are full of unusual varieties, not just the peas, and each plant has a little flower pot to tell you what it is - a lovely touch.

It takes a lot of work to make gardens of this size flourish and I was impressed by the planting, so neat and well tended. There 3 full time staff, a trainee and lots of willing volunteers. Check out these edges, the regular planting and spot the gardeners hard at work:
Wonderful edging for the fruit and herb bed

Lettuces all in a row!

Staff and volunteers hard at work

As we were leaving we could smell the heady aroma of roses in full bloom so we took a little stroll through the gorgeous rose gardens where you can see the palace in the background.
Imagine the perfume from all these roses!
 The river at Hampton Court is truly beautiful, so I must show you just one more photo  before I close.  It's a quintessentially English view and you can see why they built a palace here!

The Thames at Hampton Court
I loved what they have done with this new kitchen garden space and look forward to seeing how the kitchen gardens progress over the seasons to come.

Bye for now,