Beyond Lovers Walk

I have been stepping out at work as part of a campaign called Get the World Moving. This is a global initiative that targets employee well-being in businesses, getting companies to sign up and submit some employee teams in order to encourage more activity on a day-to-day basis. The short story is the ‘target’ is 10,000 steps each day for 100 days and I am just below that at an average (at day 52) of 9,585, a substantial  improvement on where I started.

Wearing a pedometer and recording the results each day is really fascinating with even the fit freaks amongst us (you know marathon runners, triathletes and the like) uniformly horrified at how sedentary our daily lives are. Whilst my activity is reasonable during the week, walking on my daily commute with one or two swims to top this up (each of my 1,600m dips adds 7,600 steps), it has particularly inspired me to do some sort of walking activity on the weekend whether this is just walking further to do errands, or even a walking tour or two. You see I do like to disappear into Chez Gidday on the weekend and though I might be busy, if I don’t leave the house I am flat out reaching 3,000 steps.

So armed with my Walkit app, I set out in yesterday’s mild sunshine and discovered some more of Finchley’s hidden gems.

I started by turning off the main road into the rather whimsically named Lovers Walk. As I ventured further away from Ballards Lane, the houses seemed to recede until it felt like a woodland path rather than a suburban shortcut.

Lovers Walk

I crossed the railway bridge, made a quick dog leg across Nether Street and continued beneath the leafy canopy to find a trickling stream – Dollis Brook to be exact…

Stream 1

…and a lovely patch of green sprawled under a cotton-cloud sky.

Open Space

Turning left I continued along the Dollis Valley Greenwalk, the path patchworked with summer sunshine and  dappled shade.

Path Montage 1

The brook continued its calm, rhythmic tinkling beneath the trees and I breathed in the lush green loveliness. At the same time I was in state of disbelief – had I really only just discovered this little slice of peace and quiet so close to home?

Path Montage 2

The path emerged on to Dollis Road, just near the viaduct.

Aqueduct 1

The viaduct was completed in 1867 as part of the old Edgware, Highgate and London Railway and today carries Northern Line underground trains between Finchley Central and Mill Hill East.

Aqueduct montage

Crossing beneath the arches, I followed the footpath around and turned left heading back up towards the main road again. After a little over 10 minutes, I found myself standing on Dollis Avenue.

Dollis Avenue houses

Dollis Avenue

The avenue curves around to the right and meets back up with Regents Park Road – I had previously ventured about 150 meters down the avenue from the main drag to the Royal Mail collection office and had never noticed much beyond the grey commercial buildings. So I was open-mouthed with surprise to find such salubrious accommodation no further than a 5 minute walk away.

Dollis Park

Soon I was back amidst the hustle and bustle of Finchley Central but not before I copped myself an eye and nose-full of this delicious lavender…

Lavender

All up I spent just over an hour wandering about 2 miles and it was great way to get out of the house and enjoy the discovery of something new. The funny part is that when Lil Chicky was visiting in January we geocached around the viaduct so it meant I could join up some geographic dots – and found a much prettier route to the viaduct as well.

The Greenwalk is actually 10 miles long and connects Barnet Gate Wood (the Battle of Barnet in 1471 was one of the final battles in the War of the Roses) with the northern extension of Hampstead Heath. I’m not so inspired that you’ll find me covering the entire 10 miles – that’s 16km – in one go but it seems I’ve found a good halfway point and the only decision required is really whether to turn left to the Heath or right towards history.

Who knew that Lovers Walk would yield all of that?

Victorian vista – part two

A quick recap – I went to Seattle to visit my friend, we decided to nip up to Victoria (the one in Canada) on the clipper and spent our first afternoon wandering around Butchart Gardens and eating ice-cream. We then returned to our hotel for a little rest and reconnoitre while contemplating this view…

From the Inn at Laurel Point

We had a great dinner that evening at 10 Acres Bistro, a local bar and bistro where the menu is based on what’s available from the farm, the 10 acres of the name, on the Saanich Peninsula. The portions were huge and delicious and it was just as well we had a 20 minute stagger back to the hotel to help digest it all.

But this was just the beginning.

The morning dawned, cool and blue-skied and it was time to tackle our second culinary milestone: breakfast at Blue Fox Cafe.

Blue Fox Cafe

This had consistent rave reviews wherever we looked and we were not disappointed – it was fresh and scrumptious both in the decor and the dishes. We made our way through a couple of enormous plates (almost), picked at the fattest slab of French toast we’d ever seen (smothered with gorgeous local maple syrup of course) and chatted with a local couple at the next table who had been coming to the Blue Fox for years. (We found ourselves at the effect of many conversations with locals that started with ‘oh I just love your accent’ over the two days.)

This was by far the best meal of the trip (the others were fabulous so this is high praise indeed) and I would absolutely recommend you getting yourself there – apparently it’s crazy busy on the weekend but at 10.30-ish on a Wednesday morning, we only had a ten minute wait.

Absolutely stuffed, we headed back towards the harbour, stopping along the way to a) buy a loaf of the honey, apple and raisin bread to take home (it came with my omelette and we both fell in love with it – disappointingly we were informed that it was only made on Friday’s…sob!) and b) check out some of the local beauty services on offer.

Frilly Lily

Our next stop was the Royal BC Museum (or Royal Museum of British Colombia)…

Museum of BC

…where we spent a couple of hours wandering around the myriad of exhibits on Natural History…

woolly mammoth

…and Human History.

Native fashion

Totem

Human History

To coin a local turn of phrase, this was awesome. The exhibits were really interactive and atmospheric and it seemed that around every corner there was a new way to immerse ourselves/learn something. Since our return, a lot of people I’ve spoken to have a) admitted that they did not visit it and b) recommended the Legislature Building tour but we were both so thrilled with our visit that I haven’t yet felt that we should have spent either less time there or spent it somewhere else.

Next it was time for some general wandering to admire the sights.

Said Legislature Building…

The Empress overlooking the harbour. The most famous hotel in Victoria and advertised purveyor of excellent afternoon teas. We did not stop as we had other foodie pursuits in our sights.

The Empress

There was traditional architecture galore along the harbourside walk to our hotel – this guest house was my favourite.

Victorian architectureAlong the waterfront stands a statue of Captain James Cook – yes the same one that foundered on Endeavour Reef off the NE coast of Australia in 1770. Clearly not put off, Cook continued his explorations and in 1778, was looking for the entry to the North West Passage when he stumbled across Victoria Harbour. (This guy really got around.) It took another 65 years for the Hudson’s Bay Company to build their fort on this site in 1843.

This mini Empire State Building also stands on the waterfront but atop the Tourism Bureau…for the life of me I cannot remember its significance but the photo does confirm that we were blessed with gorgeously sunny almost-t-shirt weather.

A mini Empire State Buiding

We also indulged in a spot of shopping and added shoes, little dude apparel and for Seattle-A, a selection from local chocolatier of note, Rogers.

Chocoholics Heaven at Rogers

With the afternoon advancing, it was time to tackle foodie milestone number three, a spot of fish and chips at Red Fish Blue Fish (a spot of Dr Seuss always adds a little something to a day). At 3pm, the wait was about 25 minutes so Seattle-A held the line…

The lunch line at 3pm

…while yours truly snagged a couple of seats with a view.

Harbour view from lunch stop at Red Fish Blue Fish

Needless to say we made short work of things – falling-apart fish, lightly battered pickles (a Pacific North West specialty), crunchy golden chips – and washed it all down with a craft brewed ginger ale from Sparkmouth.

Post scrummy fish and chips carnage

So with our last supper under our belts, it was time to loosen things a notch, collect our bags from the hotel and head to the clipper terminal for the trip back to Seattle.

Time to go home

We had such a great time together, enjoying both the discovery of somewhere new and blazing a culinary trail together and in pulling together these two trip posts, I was reminded – somewhat appropriately – of this quote from Seuss’ One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish which seemed to sum up our northern adventure…

Dr Seuss Today was fun.And that, my friends, was that!

————————————————————-

Helpful website if you are visiting:  http://www.tourismvictoria.com/

Things to do/restaurant sections were great reference points for us. That it all links through to Tripadvisor also means that you can see what people really thought and it was the Tripadvisor rating that drove us to choose the Royal BC Museum over everything else.

Victorian vista – benvenuto!

When last I posted, I was sitting at Heathrow Airport waiting for my flight to visit Seattle-A in – yes you guessed it – Seattle. A couple of busy weeks have elapsed since my return and I have finally sorted the photos and stories enough to warrant a ‘what I did’ post. Suffice to say that in ten days we did many things – weekend excursions, a girls night out, hanging out with the little dudes and considerably more ice cream consumption than I am used to (just as well I got a swim in!)

We also took a trip up to Canada to celebrate a certain person’s significant birthday last month so on a very rainy Tuesday morning (the only rain of my 10 day trip), we boarded the clipper and cruised north to the harbour city of Victoria.

We had decided to add a trip out to The Butchart Gardens to our clipper and hotel package and before we knew it, we were through immigration and on the bus for the 45 minute drive out to Saanich.  Seattle-A was quite excited…

Seattle-A Butchart-bound

Jennie Butchart created her first project, the Sunken Garden, in the exhausted limestone quarry on the family’s property during the early 1900s. Between 1906 and 1929 she then went on to cultivate the Japanese Garden by the sea, the Italian Garden on the old tennis court and the Rose Garden. Today, the Gardens remain a family enterprise and are visited by more than 1 million people each year – with over 22 hectares of public gardens (on a 54 hectare property), I suspect there is probably plenty to keep them busy.

And so we spent a good couple of hours breathing in the fresh clean air and gaping at the extraordinary beauty that greeted us around every corner.

Red white & yellow tulips

An advertised feature of the gardens are the tulips. They were absolutely everywhere and in every conceivable size and colour – this display was right at the beginning as we walked in.

We headed for the Sunken Garden first…I had a little chuckle to myself at the irony of going up to reach them.

Sunken Garden

The Sunken Garden was spectacular and the going up was definitely worth this view of it. Following the gently curving paths brought us face to face with all sorts of permutations of colourful foilage, fragrant blooms and calm stretches of water.

Red and white

This was such a pretty display and having never seen these red and white striped flowers before, I had to a) take a photo and b) include them in this post. I do not know what they are…do your worst people.

Pale pink

Even though I had seen these before, they were just so pretty I had to take this photo. (I have also forgotten what these are called…green thumb I am not.)

Curly yellow roses

We thought that these were roses but the curly petals lent a more unorthodox prettiness.

White daffs

Daffodils are my favourite flower and while their bright yellow sunshine-iness is a big part of their usual appeal for me, I was struck by the simple delicacy of these pure white ones.

Water feature

This water feature was at the far end of the Sunken Garden and quite spectacular. In posting this photo on Facebook to announce brag about my travelling exploits, I received four different replies in quick succession from people who had been ‘here’ before (obviously a more famous ‘gardens’ than I had given them credit for). One of these was from Dad who posted the ‘same’ photo taken when visiting a few years ago.

Leaving the Sunken Garden, we headed up to the concert lawn…

April on carousel horse

Here’s Seattle-A demonstrating that inside every grown woman, there remains a little girl wanting a pony

Pink & Purple tulips

More tulips…especially for Lil Chicky.

Me and totem pole

This one is to prove that I was there too: the totem pole shows Eagle with Salmon, Orca, Bear with Salmon…and moi.

'Aussie' trees

We were struck by how much these looked like Australian paperbarks. They are not Australian paperbarks – we asked – but for the life of me, I cannot remember what they were. Yet another horticultural #fail.

Rare Mongolian PoppyWe were keen to see these Himalayan blue poppies as they only flower for about 6 weeks each year (and we had missed the ‘rose’ season…more on that next). There was a whoop of discovery upon finding a smattering of these bright blue blossoms.

Rose(less) garden

This is the archway through the rose-less Rose Garden. Timing is everything – if you like roses.

Next it was down into the Japanese Garden…

Japanese garden

Stepping stones

Weird white flower

There was some strange flora in this garden. This one was definitely one of the weirdest flowers I’ve ever seen (and which still remains a mystery)…

Bubble tree

…and clearly there’s nothing like keeping oneself busy with a spot of topiary, tree-shapery, pruning. Because 54 hectares is not enough…

Red Bridge

Of the many amazing photos I managed to take, I think this one is my favourite – it looks so beautiful that it seems not real (but it definitely was!)

Nature's window to the cove beyond

We came upon this in a back corner of the garden. I know. This looks like nothing special but if you look through this little window of nature…

The cove 'beyond'

…you’ll see the cove beyond it that backs onto the Butchart property.

We wandered out of this oriental lushness towards the main buildings again to be greeted by another expanse of tulips…

Pink tulips

Apricot rose…and a raft of sunset-coloured roses.

The Italian GardenWalking through the gap in the hedge, we found ourselves in the Italian Garden, the most formal and the smallest of the gardens we’d seen.

At this stage we’d been meandering in the fresh air for a couple of hours so we were delighted to be met with an opportunity for refreshment…

Ice creamBenvenuto indeed! The Maple Walnut Gelato was delicious.

And with that, it was time to return to the bus for the snooze ride back to Victoria and to our hotel where the view from our balcony turned out to be this…

From the Inn at Laurel Point

And as we relaxed on the balcony at the end of our first day ‘abroad’, we sighed contentedly and wondered at the hardships we had been forced to face together…and planned 24 hours of foodie forays to keep us entertained for the remainder of our visit.

More(ish – see what I did there?) on this soon…but if you are venturing out BC way, make a note-to-self – The Butchart Gardens is a ‘must-see’.

9 minutes of glory

When I first visited London in 2000, I was smitten by all of the things that a tourist to this great city is usually smitten by – the iconic images seen in movies, read about in books and learnt about in high school. That it’s all real is amazing. That it’s all so old is inspiring.

I loved both history and literature at school and so was especially keen to visit Westminster Bridge, having been inspired by William Wordsworth’s Composed upon Westminster Bridge, 3rd September 1802:

...The City now doth, like a garment, wear / The beauty of the morning.

When I stood on the bridge just over 14 years ago, snapping eagerly away at the gilded clock tower of Big Ben, its face smiling benignly over the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, little did I imagine that I would ever walk beneath those historic spires on a daily basis.

For the last 18 months, I have been based in an office less than 500 metres away from these icons of London. Each morning, I emerge from Westminster tube station beneath that resplendent clock tower and walk the 0.4 of a mile to the office (about 9 minutes) with Westminster Palace at my elbow to the left and Westminster Abbey just across the road to my right. And then I get to do it all again – in reverse – on my way home.

I am regularly filled with this feeling of delighted disbelief – when the little voice whispers softly in my head, ‘This is my life. I really did this.’ I can’t help but smile. It seems impossible to be immune to this sense of wonder and I remain astounded that it has not yet paled. Samuel Johnson wrote, ‘The man who is tired of London is tired of life’ – I know what he means.

In those moments of wonder, I find myself pausing for a little longer in an attempt to capture the moment. My Facebook friends know only too well how much I love to snap and share and in doing a little phone gallery spring cleaning the other day, I was so struck by the range of photos I had taken in the last few weeks that I wanted to share them with you too.

So welcome to my commute…

Arriving at the top of the stairs at Westminster tube station, I pop into a nearby coffee shop and emerge with cup – and often camera phone – in hand to this…

underground sign

A short walk takes me to the corner of Bridge Street and Parliament Square giving me this view of the Houses of Parliament (Westminster Palace) as I cross the road…

Westminster Palace from Whitehall

…this view of Whitehall – which leads past Downing Street and up to Trafalgar Square – over my right shoulder…

Looking down Whitehall

…and the clock tower to my left. This particular shot was taken in the afternoon but sometimes I get my timings right and my commute is accompanied by the deep chimes of Big Ben heralding the hour.

Big Ben

I walk right past the Palace – this was taken from the end of the palace building looking back towards the tube station (now hidden behind the walls of Westminster Hall).

Return journey

Looking upwards provides another spectacular view, this time of Victoria Tower which houses the Norman Porch and the Sovereign’s Entrance – this is the only route that the Queen is allowed to use to enter the building (which she most famously does each year at the State Opening of Parliament.)

Norman Porch

Taken from the same place but on a different day and in another direction, this is Westminster Abbey, home to the Coronation Chair (Westminster Abbey has been the church for every coronation since 1066), Poet’s Corner and the Grave of the Unknown Warrior. The two square towers are the ‘back’ of the main entrance.

IMAG2340

Just last week I captured the afternoon light streaming through the stained glass of the Abbey’s windows…

Abbey Windows

…and this 700 year old building doesn’t look too shabby at night either.

Abbey night

And then the glowing clock face marks my return to Westminster station again. This picture was taken by pausing during my normally rapid clip along the concourse that runs back towards Westminster Bridge and the stairs down to the tube.

Big Ben framed

So that is my commute peeps. Well 9 minutes of it anyway and in a total of 40 minutes – that’s an awesome and glorious 22.5%. Every. Single. Day.

(Except Saturdays and Sundays and Bank Holidays and vacation days and…oh well you get the picture.)

Let’s face it, if I’ve got to commute anywhere, I’m rather glad that it is this one.