Various Pursuits

No doubt those of you not living in England at the moment have heard about our washout of a summer. These reports are not exaggerated; as I write this, it is raining. It rained all day yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that, and the day before that, and the day before that…need I go on? Occasionally there will be a brief respite, and I’ll get excited, only for the rain to pour down again just as I step outside the front door. I will not let wet weather defeat me in my pursuit of happiness, however; thankfully London has a wealth of things to do that involve being underneath a roof, so there’s no need to hibernate at home! Last weekend my flatmate and I woke up on Sunday morning to another day of grey skies and puddles, and had to shelve our proposed walk on Hampstead Heath. Not daunted, however, we decided to go to a museum neither of us have visited in a long while instead – The London Transport Museum.

Most people seem to associate the museum either with screaming children clambering all over model cars or geeky trainspotters, but actually, it’s one of the most interesting museums in London and is about much more than old trains and buses. It explores the way advances in transportation methods have shaped the development of London,  expanding it from a small city ringed by rural villages to the metropolis surrounded by sprawling suburbs that it is today. As boats and horses were phased out, the trains and underground system transformed the way people lived and worked. Rather than living centrally and walking to work, people could now commute from considerable distances, and suburban living became desirable. What used to be countryside became street after street of new houses; semi-rural idylls that could be reached in just half an hour from the centre of town, changing the make up of London forever. Besides this, there is a whole fascinating section that explores the role of the underground during the First and Second World Wars, another fantastic section demonstrating how the transport system has been designed, branded and promoted over the years, and an exhibition hall which is currently displaying a century of evolving underground maps, which I absolutely loved. It’s definitely worth a visit, giving you a different perspective on London history as well as the opportunity to hang out with scary period mannequins on old buses and trains, which is certainly not something you want to miss!

On Tuesday after work, the V&A WI had planned a tour of Chelsea Physic Garden, rain or shine, and despite the rain pouring down, I was not going to miss it! The garden is an absolute gem tucked away just off Chelsea Embankment and a short walk from Sloane Square. Founded in 1673 by the Society of Apothecaries, it was designed as a garden to grow medicinal herbs and was at that time right up against the bank of the river, which was lined with market gardens and great Tudor houses. It has always been a place of pioneering gardening as well as medicinal advances, and was presided over by many a famous person in its heyday, the most prominent of these being Hans Sloane, who owned this whole area of Chelsea in the 18th century and founded the British Museum. It is absolutely amazing inside, and it’s hard to believe that you’re in London. Beds of beautiful and exotic plants lay alongside rockeries and ponds, majestic and rare trees, some hundreds of years old and original to the garden, rise high into the sky, and the air is full of fruity fragrances. All sorts is grown here; from plants that are used to fight cancer and alzheimer’s disease to curiosities such as squirting cucumbers and ornamental pomegranates, useful cotton and linen plants to everyday tomatoes and green beans that are used in the delicious restaurant. It is divided into sections to help you understand what types of plants are used for what purpose, including a massive skull and cross bone littered area filled with plants such as hemlock and belladonna – our guide told us that visitors who didn’t pay attention to the signs have had to be rushed off to hospital over the years!

It rained throughout our visit, but it didn’t matter; the rain brought a richness to the smells and colours, and as the sun shone through at intervals, it seemed like we were surrounded by shimmering curtains of water that added an ethereal atmosphere. I love that this garden is still here and still being used after so many years. It is now several feet from the original water line; the Chelsea Embankment has sprung up since its founding, and from here you can see the chimneys of Battersea Power Station rise on the other side of the riverbank. Beautiful Victorian mansion blocks and terraces line the quiet streets around it and peer over the top of the garden walls, begging to be let in. It could so easily have been sold and developed – the land must be worth millions – but thankfully it has remained protected and treasured, and is now a beautiful and peaceful place to spend an afternoon amongst plants you’d never think would grow in English soil. On a sunny day it must be absolutely lovely to spend hours sitting in here with a cup of tea; I’ll have to go back once summer decides to arrive! This is one of London’s true hidden gems, and you must visit if you’re in this part of town. It’s very near Cheyne Walk, where everyone who is anyone has lived and is positively teeming with blue plaques, plus you can pop into Carlyle’s House for a taste of Chelsea in the Victorian times while you’re at it.

24 comments

    1. I love it too! I started it with a couple of V&A colleagues about three years ago now – I used to be the Secretary but as I don’t work there anymore I don’t have an ‘official’ position – much better as there is a surprising amount of paperwork involved!

  1. Thank you for the wonderful little tour you gave me… I am in hot, sweltering Wisconsin missing the British Isles terribly (I visited for the first time two months ago and want to go back ASAP) and this little jaunt was perfect!

    1. Glad you enjoyed it Jillian – and that you had the chance to visit Britain so recently. I’d feel sorry for you but I’m desperate for the sun right now and would gladly swap places!

  2. If this rain continues I am going to have to start buying umbrellas like I buy shoes or bags, just as it’s a little dull using the same one every day. I love Chelsea Physical Garden – don’t you think it would be a wonderful place to hold a wedding reception?

  3. Good for you, Rachel, and you spirit of adventure in spite of the rain. It seems like everyone around the globe is experiencing extremes in their weather right now, and you folks in London are certainly getting the rain.

    I would love to visit these gardens, especially the Chelsea Physical Garden. It interesting, isn’t it, visiting gardens in the rain? I always feel it brings out the colors and that scent that is only evident in rain. Well done, Rachel.

    1. Thanks Penny – I know – there’s something going on in the ether!

      I’m sure you would love Chelsea Physic Garden, Penny – it really is gorgeous, and the smells were divine!

  4. Beware the squirting cucumbers! The Physic Garden has been on the backburner as a place I must get to during one of my trips but the excuse to head back to Cheyne Walk clinches it. There is so much to see there that you run the danger of falling off of the curb from gawking at so many details!
    Sorry about all of the rain, Rachel, but at least your grass is lush and green. Our parks are crispy and yellow with grass that hurts to kneel on…blech. Off to read your review of The House in Paris🙂

    1. I know you would love it Darlene – you must go next time! I know Cheyne Walk is a dangerous distraction but the garden really shouldn’t be missed!
      I feel bad for you and that heat – I remember it well! I could come and swap with you for a week if you like?!😉

  5. That makes three more places I want to visit when I go home.

    You still managed to make some good photos in the rain.

    We also despair of seeing the sun – except for tiny intervals between clouds. The 14th July was rained off – at least, the lantern walk in our village and the fireworks were.

    1. Thanks Chrissy – yes, it was a bit tricky to get a good shot when the clouds were lowering by the minute!

      All of us seem to be getting a battering – let’s hope sun comes back soon. What a shame about the lantern walk and fireworks – I’d love to see that!

  6. Thank you for always writing such wonderful posts about the hidden gems in London. Your future pupils are in for a treat!

  7. Oooh, I’ve never heard of these places before. I’d especially like to visit the Chelsea Physic Garden – so unique and lovely! I adore plants and there’s nothing more soothing and uplifting than being surrounded by them (well, maybe not the poisonous ones).

    I accepted the offer from Nottingham so as long as I can get my student visa in time, I’ll be arriving in England come September🙂 Hopefully there will be less rain by then, eek!

    1. Hi Lucy, I’m sure you’d love the garden – it’s so lovely and totally out of place in its surroundings – you’d see what I mean if you ever make it.
      How fantastic! Good for you – you’re going to have a wonderful year! If you need any help settling in, please let me know. And if you come down to London and need a tour guide, you know who to call – seriously! Apparently the sun is coming back in September…so you might just get a warm welcome!🙂

  8. I’ve just been re-reading the Browning letters and had reached some letters in which Browning is visiting Carlyle (they were good friends). It was delightful to see pictures of the house he visited!

  9. What beautiful adventures. You are never one to let the weather dampen your spirits. Oh, by the way, I wish those of us in Central Illinois could take some of that rain off of your hands. We really need it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s