Sunday 26 June 2011

Ahoy there!

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I'm not a big fan of boats.  Especially big ones which disappear out to sea without even a hint of landscape on the horizon. I find that very scary and much prefer my landlubber ways.  Saying that, I do like a boat on a river or a canal, especially if it's docked.  So with summer upon us, I thought I'd collaborate ten of the best boat venues in London, ranging from a floating restaurant to a floating Church.  In no particular order...

1. Feng Shang Princess Floating Chinese Restaurant
An unusual Chinese restaurant located on the Regents Canal. So close to London Zoo, you may very well spot a panda dining there!

Cumberland Basin,
Prince Albert Road,
Regents Park,
London NW1 7SS
020 7485 8137
(open 7 days a week)

2. Tamesis Dock

Tamesis was the ancient name for the River Thames dontcha know! This Tamesis a converted 1930's Dutch barge now used as a floating pub, and offers great views of the Houses of Parliament, and the London Eye.

Albert Embankment
between Vauxhall and Lambeth Bridges  
0207 582 1066

3. Puppet Theatre Barge

A magical floating puppet theatre in Little Venice which will delight children young and old. 

Moored at Little Venice opposite
35 Blomfield Road
W9 2PF
020 7249 6876
(Warwick Avenue tube)

4. Tattershall Castle
A fun, busy pub on a boat on Thames with views of London landmarks including the London Eye. Perfect for sundowners!

Victoria Embankment

(Embankment tube)
Open 11am til late 7 days a week

5. St. Peter's Barge

London's only floating Church, St Peter's Barge is an Anglican evangelical Church situated on the water at Canary Wharf. Sunday service 4pm and 6.30pm and some weekday lunch services 

St Peter's Barge, West India Quay
Off Hertsmere Rd
London E14 4AL
020 7093 1212

6. Thames Clipper

The ideal alternative mode of transport for commuting, sightseeing or just getting from A to B. The Thames Clipper is a speedy catamaran which runs a regular shuttle service up and down the river from the London Eye to the O2 and Woolwich. It's even got a bar! Definitely one of my favourite ways of seeing the Thames.


7.  R S Hispaniola

R S Hispaniola is one of London's only floating restaurants and is something of an institution, serving fine modern European cuisine.

Victoria Embankment
(Embankment tube)
020 7839 3011 

8.  London Waterbus to London Zoo

Take a cruise along Regents Canal from the mayhem of Camden Lock to the tranquility of Little Venice. Stop at London Zoo via the secret canal gate entrance and avoid the queues!  Just turn up and pay on board. One way or round trips.

Service info: 020 7482 2660
Booking line: 020 7482 2550

9.  Couper Collection

A floating art gallery, the Couper Collection exhibits artwork and installations by London artist Max Couper made onboard a fleet of historic Thames barges over the past two decades.

Battersea Beach, Riverside Walk
Hester Road
SW11 4AN
020 7738 1935

Entrance free
Open Tue to Friday 10am - 4pm
(by appointment only)

10. HMS Belfast
HMS Belfast is a legend amongst ships. Originally a Royal Navy light cruiser, it is now a fascinating museum permanently moored on the Thames and is operated by the Imperial War Museum. The new gun turret experience opens 31st July

HMS Belfast 
Morgan's Lane
Tooley Street
London SE1 2JH
(London Bridge station)
I hope some of those will float your boat!  I'm off to find a floating shoe shop...

Monday 20 June 2011

Up, Up and Away!

Ever since I was very young, I have always dreamt of going up in a hot air balloon. Thanks to a generous birthday present from my family, I finally realised that dream a few weeks ago, as I took to the skies over Oxfordshire.

Oxford holds a special place in my heart as I spent a wonderful year there as a student many moons ago, and still revel in happy nostalgia when watching episodes of 'Inspector Morse' and 'Lewis'. So when I booked my Virgin hot air balloon flight, I didn't hesitate to choose Oxford as my launch destination.

As hot air ballooning is totally weather-dependent, I was very fortunate to have chosen a perfect, balmy summer's evening in early June. I made my way to Oxford and joined the Virgin Crew and other passengers on the meadow by the ice rink. The Virgin crew encouraged everyone to get involved with assembling the balloon which was no mean feat as this balloon was absolutely enormous and resembled a huge marquee. It was quite a sight watching it morph from a scrunched up ball of fabric into an impressive, fully-inflated giant red bubble.

Once we got the nod from the Pilot, my fellow passengers and I hastily hurled ourselves into the wicker basket and took our seats. I didn't even notice the balloon 'take off' as it was so gentle and felt as if the land had left the basket rather than vice versa. Within moments we were way off the ground and riding high. Up, up and away!

It was breathtaking.

It felt so magnificent and liberating to be floating majestically above the dreaming spires, rolling landscapes, miniature cows and trees made of broccoli. We spent an hour in the air and travelled for over 20 miles across the beautiful countryside, waving goodbye to the city disappearing into the distance. Apart from the occasional loud roar from the burner as it replenished the balloon with hot air, I was surprised at just how silent, peaceful and tranquil it all was. I could have quite happily stayed up there and floated off to Timbuktu.

As the sun started to set, we began our descent as Mark the Pilot kept a look out for a suitable place to land. We had to be careful not to end up in a crop field, or anywhere inaccessible so the trailer and minibus who were following from the ground, could easily find us. Having heard a few scary tales about hot air balloon landings, I was slightly nervous about coming down to earth with a large bump, but it was absolutely fine and actually quite fun! Mark navigated us expertly onto a grass field and we took our seating positions as the basket scraped the ground, dragged a bit, lifted up again slightly and then gently bumped back down to a final halt. As it fell onto its side, I found myself sitting upside down enjoying the sense of exhilaration and relief that it had landed safely.

By now it was almost 10pm, so after helping deflate the balloon and squash it back into the giant sack, the team toasted one another with a glass of chilled Moet & Chandon, before taking the minibus back to Oxford. I headed back to London, and as I drifted off to sleep that night (into a land where trees are made of broccoli), it was hard to believe that only a few hours earlier, I had been flying high, like Phileas Fogg. I can't wait to do it again!

Sunday 12 June 2011

Petersham Nurseries

I won't deny it, I'm not a very good, or even a very keen gardener.  However, I do appreciate a beautiful garden and have recently become rather infatuated with roses, to the point where I would definitely love to own and nurture my own rose garden someday (whether someone promises me one or not). And I'm a quite a dab hand when it comes to pot plants. So on a recent glorious sunny day, I ventured off in garden-appreciation mode to Petersham Nurseries.

I've heard so many good things about Petersham Nurseries, and not just the fact it's a gardener's heaven.  It is also very much a foodie heaven and has a Michelin star restaurant, as well as a gorgeous old tea house. Even though it's in Richmond, it feels as if it's in the middle of the countryside. I passed a perfect village pub, The Dysart Arms (definitely worth a visit), then followed a sign down a small country lane to Petersham Nurseries. When I got there, it was a welcoming blaze of colour. I strolled up and down the various aisles of lush green plants, vegetable and salad plants, fresh garden herbs, dishevelled terracotta pots, rustic garden furniture and lots of pretty flowers.

As I ambled further, I stumbled upon the wonderful Tea House, a lovely old building made of timber and exposed brickwork. The Tea House serves light snacks, savoury tarts, fresh juices and a whole range of teas. Old wooden shelves were stacked high with homemade jams and pickles, and the blackboard listing the daily specials was practically wiped clean as the dishes were selling like hot cakes - evidence of just how popular this wonderful hideaway is. Thankfully the long wooden table still displayed an appetising supply of cakes and buns, so I opted for a slice of flourless chocolate cake and a small bottle of rose-infused lemonade, then found a pew at a table inside one of the characterful greenhouses.  It was so relaxing and peaceful, I could have quite easily taken up residence there for the afternoon, inhaling the fragrant floral scents and sipping lemonade.

As mentioned, Petersham Nurseries has also become established because of its fantastic, award-winning restaurant, the Petersham Nurseries Cafe. Acclaimed Head Chef, Skye Gyngell, focuses on seasonal produce, and serves such delights as tea-smoked salmon, and loin of lamb with white dandelion and chilli jam. The diners sit inside a beautifully decorated greenhouse, full of flowers and extensive foliage. Due to its Michelin status, the prices are pretty steep, but for a special occasion or a one-off treat, I have no doubt it is worth every penny to enjoy a delicious meal in such an exquisite setting. My budget only went as far as cake and lemonade, but I am determined to make it to the restaurant for my next visit.

After wandering through the restaurant, I found myself in the Petersham Nurseries shop, another perfect place to just roam around and lose yourself. Apart from the expected gardening implements and posh accessories, it also stocks all sorts of wonderful pieces for the home, including handmade ceramics, glassware, books and gifts. It's all rather over-priced, but some things are just so beautiful, you have to have them. I treated myself to a little potted hyacinth, and a delicate miniature white rose plant. Could this be the start of Miss Immy's rose garden...

I absolutely love Petersham Nurseries. It is pure bliss, brimming with charm and is a perfect oasis to indulge in stunning plants, enjoy a fantastic meal, a quiet cuppa or just smell the roses. And on a nice day, you can take the river walk from Richmond directly there through the meadow.

Church Lane
TW10 7AG
Tel: 020 8940 5230

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