Birdwatching in London
Credit this, London’s best kept secret is the Thames. Anyone old enough to remember the last time we won at Twickenham will understand why. They knew the river was there alright, you could hardly miss it after all, they were just unsure what to do with it.
Until 2000, the Thames didn’t have a pedestrian bridge. Having waited that long, when they opened the Millennium Bridge four years ago, they can be forgiven for making it a trifle wobbly.
Now the Millennium Bridge has been bolted down and offers a crossing through a new pedestrian walkway from St Paul’s to the world apart on the South Bank.
From the bridge you can walk among the famous river through a handful of clusters of new or newish visitor attractions. Tate Modern, New Old Globe, Vinopolos at one end, are among the newest. But there is much to see as you pass the mile or so upriver to the Barbican and splendidly relocated Saatchi gallery and its sisters at the other.
Blue badge guide, Tony McDonnell, author of a forthcoming book on London’s Irish heritage, will point out further details, such as the place Michael Collins studied at night or where Wolfe Tone lived when he was there. He can hardly believe what has happened to what was a neglected, poorly maintained end of the city a couple of hundred yards from St Paul’s. “These were village communities within yards of the action, and they kept that sense of village community down to this day.”
While high art has rejuvenated the South Bank, there are those who descend on the forgotten East End in search of soap opera. The nearest they will find is the real life soap of the weekend markets, Columbia Road Flower Market, Brick Lane and Spitalfields, with stalls run by real cockneys who could have come straight from Only Fools and Horses.
In little streets around Brick Lane market you will find the home of the Krays, the little streets where Jack the Ripper preyed, and the cultural footprints of waves of immigrants.
In the humble Immigration Museum on Princelet St you will find one of the best presentations on Ireland’s famine anywhere, a short video shot by Bangladeshi children in a local primary school.
www.visitlondon.com has all the information you need to plan your trip, including hotel offers online.
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A wildlife reserve is the most surprising thing you might expect within sight of London’s skyline. In the 1990s when the Peter Scott foundation spotted that a reservoir was being decommissioned, they decided to surprise us.
Ten years later the pools and filter beds have been turned into a natural haven for wildbirds, giving people the chance to see rare and beautiful wetland wildlife just a stone’s throw from central London.
The walking trails belie the size of the project, and bird spotters laden with spotting equipment descend on the place on a daily basis. A display of wing-clipped ducks from round the world is contributing to conservation of endangered species.
London Wetland Centre Barnes London SW13 9WT www.wwt.org.uk/visit/wetlandcentre 004420 84094400.
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OFF BEATEN TRACK
19 Princelet Street, London E1 6QH, An unrestored Huguenot master silk weaver’s home, whose shabby frontage conceals a rare surviving synagogue built over its garden. A permanent exhibition tells the stories of waves of newcomers, Huguenots, Irish, Jews, Bengali and Somali peoples. Restricted opening, but do phone in case they are persuadable, and you could have the place to yourself. Contact www.19princeletstreet.org.uk or Tel 004420-72475352
BRICK Lane, where the famous Brick Lane bakery draws customers at all times of the day or night and serves salt-beef bagels with English mustard. Shops which sell anything and everything and also the ideal venue to find a good curry restaurant in the heart of London’s Bangladeshi quarter.
SAATCHI Gallery at County Hall LONDON SE1 7PB. Currently showing Jake & Dinos Chapman, as well the permanent collection including Richard Wilson’s “20:50”, an oil filled room where one walks out on a pier into a space half-drowned in pure reflection. Admission Stg8.50 adults, Stg25 family ticket. www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk Tel 0044 20 7823 2363
TATE to Tate services from Thames Clippers, Wapping Pier London E1W 2NR offer an amazing service in boats decorated by Damien Hirst. Runs every 40 minutes from well known Tate Modern to the less well known but enticing Tate Britain stopping at London Eye. Stg4.50 adults, Stg10 family ticket. 0044 207 977 6892 www.thamesclippers.com
SPITALFIELDS. Market with stalls by up and coming designers, quality bric-a-brac, an organic food market and a great choice of eateries including the Square Pie eatery offering traditional hand-made pies with mash, peas and gravy. www.oldspitalfieldsmarket.com. Be sure to visit www.squarepiecompany.com.
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