Medieval ruins and bluebell forests? 30 Minutes from Central London? Sign me up!
This year I promised myself I’d really delve into London’s unseen secrets, and that’s how I found myself crossing Abbey Road… but not the one you’d think! It was less 70s album cover and more abbey ruins, woods with bluebells and more dogs than you can shake a stick at.
No, you haven’t been transported to the set of yet another grim medieval fantasy show, this is actually within easy reach of London and you can explore to your heart’s content. What I loved was imagining the monks going about their daily lives. While most of the walls have long ago fallen, the abbey layout remains intact so it’s like starting a Sims game – wondering how you’d decorate and which room went where. Otherwise, the main activities I saw were playing hide and seek, family picnics and dog walking; there’s also a cute cafe selling lovely slices of banana bread.
Here’s the TL:DR take on the history – the abbey was originally built around 1180 and everything was fine and dandy until Henry VIII couldn’t keep it in his pants so all the monks and monasteries had to go.
I can’t believe the place hasn’t been transformed in apartments. At the moment it’s 30 minutes from London Bridge, but once Crossrail opens you’ll make it to Abbey Woods in 12 minutes from central London. That’s basically prime location.
If/when the apartments come I hope the mulberry tree survives – planted by King James I (well, his entourage), it looks so old it makes Pocahontas’s Grandmother Willow look like Baby Groot.
Once you’re all abbey-ed out you should explore the Lesnes Abbey Woods – ancient woodland carpeted with bluebells and other natural wonders – you’ll forget you’re in a huge city until you accidentally walk into someones backgarden.
Do you have any historic city secrets you can share?
Imagine it’s pitch black, loud air sirens are booming and you’re rushing down a endless metal staircase… Having grown up in a war zone bunker – in my case a cellar – this was as normal as your weekly visit your grandparents.
It took me over two years to get tickets for one of London Underground’s Hidden Tours. Tickets go on sale only a few times a year and sell out quicker than a spare tube seat gets taken in the rush hour. I was glad to head down after such a long wait, but it did strike a chord with me and my past back home…
When I booked the tickets I didn’t read into it too much so I thought we’d be seeing a closed off platform at a station, but it turned out this was a massive underground complex specifically built for the Blitz – bombing attacks of the UK by Germany from 1940-1941, there was a LOT to see and you could have easily got lost with the guides.
The tour guides show you around the little underground village that includes a medical station, a canteen that dished out top notch sandwiches and tea, and a recreational area (apparently getting frisky was probably the only sports activity ;). The shelters housed up 10,000 people so you can imagine it wasn’t just a place to stroll in. If your house was destroyed or if you were visiting London you could get a ticket. To get in you needed a pass with a bed number and each bed was allocated to a specific person, plus it was BYOB (Bring Your Own Bedding).
The first time was scary and no one knew what happened, but overtime it got … almost boring. I hated them during the day because it meant we had to stop our hide and seek or tag game, I was scared of them when I was at school or on my way to school as I was away from my mom and brother, but when they came at night it meant I didn’t have to sleep and could play with my friends and cousins
Once you walk down the stairs you step into the tunnels that are full and full of the actual beds that people slept on, some are made up and one had a Ludo game on it, something I had actually played during while killing time in what seemed like another life.
Then, it’s a long walk back up to daylight, I was thinking of my mom, my aunt and other people in town. While they were worried in what state the house or the animals would be I was proably more frustrated about the Ludo game I had lost.
After WW2, the underground tunnels became a kind of youth hostel, then it housed labour migrants from the Caribbean and the military before it was turned into archives – all that top-secret info and what not!
What the future holds for the tunnels is unclear (they want to expand), but similar sites are currently being used for mass hydroponics – growing all sorts of vegetables that turn up in the supermarket! To think your shiny orange carrot may have never seen the natural light of day until you take out outside in your shopping basket!
Now the weather gods are smiling down on us Tea has emerged from hibernation and is actually doing things, here are some favourites you should try – on your next visit to London!
Kikki K – I love Paperchase, but their collections are always a bit hit and miss, which has always been good for my wallet. But then Kikki K landed in London, and I loved the store when I lived in Melbourne. Kikki K has a range of beautiful stationary and organisation items with a minimalist and Scandi vibe. And whether you are looking for a travel journal or wedding guest book, you will find it. They have this Scandi background story, but it’s an Australian brand really. Now can someone bring Typo (another Aussie brand) to the west?
Cereal Killer Café – I know you can make a bowl of cereal at home for 24p, but then again you can make a pizza for £1 at home too (or get it at ALDI!). I recommend you ignore the price and throw a few coins (£3.50) their way to be surrounded by kitsch 80s cereal boxes, a range of special milks in cute bottles and more cereals than you can shake a chocolate coated stick at.
Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising – the refurbished museum in Notting Hill is great place to dive in for a few hours. Whereas most London museums are free, this one charges £7.50, but this isn’t too bad. So don some nostalgia shades and go stare at the 12,000+ items on display- you’ll get to see inappropriate war-themed marketing, toys from your childhood (and your mother’s/grandmothers) and there was even a wall of One Direction merchandise (RIP!). And most importantly – you’ll be able to answer the million dollar question – were chocolate bars way bigger when I was a kid?
SMUG – this quirky concept store hidden in Camden Passage in Islington is the place to find beautiful things for the home. They have stuffed their store with must have homeware, stationary and accessories. Make sure you can hold yourself together because this place will make you want to buy everything.
Shake Shack – the New York burger chain made its way to London 3 years ago which means Londoners don’t have to queue up in New York and waste 4/5 hours for one of their delicious burgers. I’m personally not a big fan of their crinkle-cut fries as they tasted like something you can get at Iceland (the store, not the country) but the juicy patties with the shake shack sauce and their milkshakes make up for that. Although the line (at the Convent Garden location) is almost always long, it does move quickly and is worth the wait, though the queing system (with a special plastic fob) did make it feel a bit like Argos or waiting for a doctor’s appointment.
What was the last thing you queued up for?
So, what’s next in my Hood You’ll Love series? Well, I’ll give you a clue…N5. No, it’s not a coordinates on a board game, but it’s the post code for Kentish Town. It might be close to the tourist-fly-trap that is Camden, but it’s far far from it in style, atmosphere and stuff to do. So next time you want to escape Cyberdog, Stable Markets and the remaining punks all you have to do is head north.
KENTISH TOWN ROAD
The Abbey Tavern is one of my favourite pubs in London and I reckon I spent 1/3 of my time there when I lived in Kentish Town. If that’s not a great selling point, it’s their outside terrace garden that is the ideal spot for enjoying jugs of Pimms/beers, some food and a board game on a long, hot evening with the gang. Who can say no to a drunk game of Operation??
The Oxford is an ok pub and lunch spot, but what makes it worthwhile are its Puz Quizzes with a twist, clothes swaps and other fun events in their upstairs area. Just follow Wonder Woman and you’ll be in for a surprise.
Craving a bottle of craft beer, or possibly a crate? Well the main street, the imaginitively titled Kentish Town Road is home to two places to get your craft on. Of the two I prefer Clapton Craft, mainly because their logo has a bear, yes sometimes life decisions are very easy for me. And they also do two of my favourite beers from Netherlands. Wish that their location was a little more convenient because I would like to live there and look after the bear they must be keeping in the back room.
And because I haven’t mentioned enough places to drink on Kentish Town Road I have to add cocktail bar Ladies & Gentleman you might fall into at the Y Junction (yes it’s underground). And if you thought ‘HA, that sounds like a toilet.’’ You’d be right, it’s housed in a former underground toilet, but don’t worry, it’s been completely redone so no need to wash your hands, but it’s still chock full of cocks though … cocktails that is.
Carrots + Daikon is the perfect lunch (and on weekends) brunch spot and my pick for the best Banh Mi in the city. You can’t go wrong chomping on their lunchboxes and pho with perfect flavour (though I can’t compare it to the real deal) which doesn’t drain the wallet. All in all: Carrots + Daikon pho the win! (Don’t tell me you didn’t see that pun coming).
It’s a bit of an odd location, tucked away in Kentish Town, but that way it feels more like a special secret when you find it. If you haven’t been able to get a table at Pizza East in Shoreditch, why not try the Kentish Town location for a slice of Italy? Fed up of dough? Well, there’s a bunch of antipasta dishes and salads too. Warning – be prepared for food coma.
If you look up as you wander around you’ll likely spot the gorgeous art deco Forum venue, that used to be a cinema in the 1930s and is now a live music venue, sadly the quality of bands there isn’t as reliable as the decor.
Right near the Forum is Dirty Burger, which, you guessed it, serves ‘Murican Style burgers. So if you appreciate a good, quality slice of meat with buns, you won’t be let down if you park yourself here. Their ethos is the patty as headliner and the toppings as a support act- the best combo. I know this sounds like a copy and paste from a press release, but trust me.
SK Vintage is a hidden vintage gem of discovery. It’s not extremely pricey like many other vintage places, and it has a large selection of items, though as with any vintage store, it’s hit or miss. What I’m trying to say that it’s basically that dream closet from your old aunt Mildred, but you don’t feel obliged to listen to her story for 100th time and eat stale biscuits.
Cinnamon Village is an organic bakery slash café that’s a healthy lunch spot…or so they try to make you believe. When in doubt go for the scrambled eggs on toast, trust me … they are hard to beat. The downside? The place is popular with young families, so if you want a bit of quiet to quell that hangover, it’s probably best to be avoided on weekends.
You know when as a kid you and your squad tried to keep up with the way cooler girls, but couldn’t? I’m being a bit dramatic, but that’s my take on Rustique, but like just like then you realise being the cooler girl isn’t everything and your squad is all you need in the end. But do give it a shot, if not just to see a coffee table shaped like two giant books – take note IKEA!