A plan was afoot with Nikki’s family, to visit London.
Nikki’s sister Lyn had bought us a late birthday gift of tickets to go and see Coldplay.
Not a big music fan, but they’re a massively famous band so I was intrigued. I also really like their song “The Scientist” and I’d never been to Wembley.
A weekend in London would be ludicrously expensive (it would have been cheaper to visit Rome or Paris) but since you’re going anyway, you might as well pack as many things into the trip as possible. So that’s what we did.
I’ve often joked, that London should have it’s own currency, instead of £’s, they should use “tenners” and just call them £’s
Travelled down by train and stayed at a nice hotel in Hampstead (I was surprised how big the wardrobes were, then realised one of them contained a small kitchen with a fridge).
We arrived at London Euston at 4:30pm and I split off, to do my own thing.
While everyone else had drinks in Camden, I visited the British Museum, popped into the Rohan shop in Covent Garden (I found out its original name later that weekend) and then walked along the Thames towards the Walkie Talkie.
I grabbed a quick drink in a nearby bar and got changed in the bathroom. For a while now, I’ve had some Rohan clothes which could pass as semi formal evening wear (yet could still be carried in a rucksack and washed in a bucket!).
I decided this was the opportunity to try them out, so suitably dressed I step out for the evening.
The rooftop Sky Garden of the Walkie Talkie is set over 3 floors and features a real garden (like plants and flowers that aren’t made of plastic) and a sort of coffee lounge (which doubles as a nightclub later in the evening).
It’s free to visit, but you had to queue. We had booked a table for dinner, so we were able to fast track (a bit like Holly and Phil). 31 floors in the lift.
It features a viewing platform with spectacular 360-degree vistas of London.
We sit down for dinner at the Darwin Brasserie.
I only had a chicken burger, but it was delicious. We had quite a lot of wine and it cost a fortune, but you don’t get to do stuff like this every day do you?.
Two hours later, we head downstairs. The coffee lounge has transformed into a nightclub, and everyone is doing “shots”.
Back to our hotel in Hampstead. In the morning we find a nice bakery for breakfast (it was like a scene from the film Notting Hill). The days adventure begins.
First off, a tour of the London Underground.
We meet our tour guide Mark outside Baker Street tube station and where better, than next to the Sherlock Holmes statue, paid for by the Sherlock Holmes Society (I didn’t know there was a Sherlock Holmes Society ?).
It was built in 1863 in advance of the mass number of people that were predicted to be living and working in London (an idea that was well ahead of its time).
The original tube was 5 metres deep, and basically involved digging up a major road, digging out a massive trench, then putting a “roof” on it and restoring the road.
The one’s that followed were 20 metres deep. A digging support “pipe” was used, and as the hole dug further, the pipe was picked up and pushed forward. It’s from here that the transport system takes its name, The Tube.
At one point, we passed the abandoned station at Aldwych. I couldn’t see enough of it to take a picture.
The tour finished with this memorial to Frank Pick. After the 1st world war, the underground was expanded massively into the suburbs around London.
We wander further into London (it’s a fantastic day and the weather is 30 centigrade).
Passing Jermyn Street, I pop into Charles Tyrwhitt (why not, I was wearing one of their shirts).
We have lunch at The Ivy. It’s the 3rd time I’ve been to an Ivy restaurant in 2 months and they really are amazing. The food and service are like something from a bygone era.
We head back to get ready with much anticipation.
So now, the main event. I really didn’t know what to expect. We got the tube a few stops (carriage was very busy) and then we’re walking down Wembley way.
I was wondering what chaos would ensue when 90,000 people tried to sit down all at the same time. I shouldn’t have worried; they do this every day and it’s a really slick operation.
People are taking their seats and first up is a performer called Griff (her real name is Sarah Griffiths; Griff is her nickname from school). Only 21 but she was a superb musician.
Her music really connected with me. She was so good, that when I got home I bought her album (first album I’ve bought in about 10 years).
People are starting to arrive in serious numbers. I’d been given a wrist device to put on, which I presumed they used later to check that everyone had left the stadium. A surprise awaited.
And with the stadium packed and an atmosphere like a religious event, here they are.
Coldplay. Incredible performers who looked like 40-year-olds having a good time… And with over 100,000,000 albums sold world-wide, I’ve read they’re the most successful band of the 21st century.
As I said before, I wouldn’t call myself a fan of theirs, but I instantly recognised a lot of their songs.
Without any warning, the thing on my wrist lit up. As did everyone else’s and the entire stadium lit up. Later, it would make massive heart shapes and stuff like that, so the technology was quite advanced.
Craig David was a surprise guest and the evening ended with a tongue in cheek firework display.
Following day, we have to drop off our bags near the station so we can continue our adventures and pick them up next to the station.
The drop off, involved another first. I’d never been on a London bus before.
Wherever I travel, I try to learn a few words of the local language.
In this case, I was chatting to the driver. I enquired if he knew a good “Battle Cruiser” where I could get some “Britney Spears”. He frowned at me and didn’t reply.
The oldest theatre in its original location, the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Burned down and destroyed several times, it was first built in 1663.
We’d arranged a back stage tour, but this being theatre, it was done in an animated fashion by 2 superb actors.
The Theatre had just undergone a £60m upgrade. The whole place was steeped in history.
The longest running theatre show in history Miss Saigon, featured a helicopter landing on the stage.
On another occasion, an actor killed another on stage, the audience didn’t realise and loudly applauded the dying man’s performance
The King and the Prince had a falling out, so the theatre was refitted with 2 doorways. A Kings side and a Princes side, with 2 anti-rooms, 2 bars the whole lot.
They also explained where some theatre tropes come from.
At one time, the wealthy, could sit on the front of the stage and watch the performance. As they left, sometimes they’d pick up memorabilia from the play. To stop this, the theatre started to print “property of theatre” on the items. This was later shortened to prop, and that’s where the name comes from.
Sailors were only paid while out to sea. While in port, they earned extra money hauling ropes and such like at the theatre (the 2 jobs were very similar). That’s why theatre today use words like the crew, rigging and why it’s bad look to whistle on stage (sailors whistle to each other to communicate, if your an actor and your whistling is misunderstood, you may get a sandbag dropped on your head 🙂
The sad part was the picture above. They were showing performances of the Disney Film Frozen. I say sad becase security had sniffer dogs to check for explosives. A tragedy that things like that need to happen at all.
Also found out, that an area nearby used to be a convent. Due to a misspelling, the garden next to the convent was renamed Covent Garden !.
The final adventure of our trip, something I’ve wanted to do for 15 years.
A visit to the re-created Globe Theatre and a chance to see Shakespeare as it was originally performed nearly 500 years ago.
We got to see The Tempest. I’ve always been fascinated by it, ever since watching the scene in Star Trek with Picard and Data and my friend Frank explaining what was going on.
It was a bit uncomfortable, but you could rent cushions for £2.50 (nothing is cheap in London).
Some dinner at the Fishmarket, then off home. A brilliant weekend, pulling together loads of things I’ve not done before and several things I’ve wanted to do for decades.
The following weekend, I embark on a solo adventure.
I’ve accumulated quite a lot of new equipment in the last few months and it’s really important to test this kind of stuff, before you actually need it.
There’s a campsite about an hours ride from my house called Chester Lakes (so it’s basically in the Chester area and contains 3 manmade lakes). It has normal camping, as well as a forest, where I prefer to stay.
So I got there, set up my tent, made some food and tried out various equipment (that all worked really well).
By late afternoon, I decided to have a walk around the site. The campsite pub was closed, and I wondered why.
Turns out, the rest of the campsite had been hired out for a Truckers convention.
Although they had taken over the campsite, they were friendly and helpful.
At 6pm, I headed off to join Nikki for dinner at the Red Lion in Dodleston (I enjoy living wild, but why go without a nice Steak and glass of red wine if you don’t have to).
After a relaxing evening, Nikki heads home (the country roads around there can be treacherous at night, so she set off about 8:30pm).
I head back to my tent, check everything’s prepped for bed and my bikes locked up and I wander back over to the main campsite (my camping fees for the weekend, included access to all the facilities of the campsite).
Turned out, the campsite pub was closed, as a Marquee had been erected with a bar and dj. The atmosphere was superb, and even better, at 9:30pm, a live band playing Irish music took to the stage.
Two hours later, and back to my tent. Hot chocolate on my Jetboil stove and then off to sleep (I slept very well).
Up early the next day, got cleaned up and then cooked breakfast before heading home.
Everything had gone to plan, plus a few extra benefits I hadn’t bargained on.
Weekend following, it’s Nikki’s mum’s birthday.
A bank holiday weekend and were staying at the George hotel (it’s about the 5th time, we love it here).
We arrive on Friday, evening, Fish and Chips in the pub and then off to bed.
The following day we head off for a walk. We’re heading for Kinder Scout from Hayfield and retracing the steps of the Mass Trespass. I’m always contemplative when I do this route. I’m aware that people went to prison for my right to walk up this hill and I’m respectful of that sacrifice.
This wasn’t like an outing with the walking group, and I had concerns about everyone’s fitness (apart from Nikki’s).
But we did fine, it was fantastic to be back in the Peak district with amazing views of open land, like the one above.
The view above Kinder reservoir.
Nikki and I have been here many times on different walks, it’s one of our favourite spots, so the flask comes out and we have coffee and biscuits.
We get too Kinder and walk back. Everyone is tired, but we’re back in one piece, after an amazing day.
But the fun’s not over.
The Saturday is actually Sheila’s (Nikki’s mum) birthday.
Nothing less than a fine dining experience for this evening, so we sit down at the Pack Horse.
The food and wine were superb, and an amazing evening was had by all.
Best part was their attention to details (they made their own bread, and stuff like that). They also had these amazing knives for buttering bread. I found out where they’d been purchased and ordered some when I got home.
Next day, we decide to take it easy on our legs so head out to Matlock.
My old favourite, a steam railway run by enthusiasts.
In the town, there’s some sort of fair going on in the park, so I try some local Gin and buy some locally made sweets.
On the way, I finally get to visit The World of Bushcraft Centre. It’s been open a while, but I’ve never gotten around to going. It’s a different sort of bushcraft shop, as not only can you buy items, but you can book training sessions. So for example you could buy a spoon carving knife then have 2 hours where someone teaches you to make a spoon.
It’s operated by Woodland Ways, which is run by a chap called Jason who I spent time with on a trip to Borneo.
As you can imagine, I bought loads of stuff there (it’s just not the same, buying things online). So much so, that after I left and joined everyone at a nearby cafe, I ended up going back to the shop to pick up a cookery book I’d seen.
To my surprise, there was Jason, loading canoes onto the roof of a 4×4 with the guy who runs the shop helping him. I hadn’t seen him in 14 years it was great to see him again.
That evening, we have dinner in Colloseo a brilliant Italian restaurant in Hayfield.
The last night of our trip, so it’s celebration time, and I wake in the morning with a thick head.
We drive into New Mills and do a 4 hour walk around the forests there.
The walk finished in the town centre. Just looking around, you can see years of heritage from mills and the cotton industry.
They also have a working Archimedean screw, which generates electricity which they sell back to the national grid. They were the first local council to do this. I’ve spent 3 days in amazing countryside, so I’m reminded how fragile and precious the environment is.
So, locally sourced Sunday lunch in a nice local pub and then we head home.