On Sunday we took the car and headed out, over the river and far beyond Greenwich into the wilds of Kent to visit Eltham Palace. It’s somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for years and never quite managed to get around to. This is mainly because it is one of those places that is quite tricky to get to and involves underground, overground, Wombling free, so I have always put it off until now. I figured that as Jason was up for driving and we had the car, it would be a perfect time to seize the day.
It is, I have to say, well worth a visit if you are interested in historic houses. Apparently there has been a hall/palace on the grounds since the eleventh century. You do get to see some of the fourteenth century ruins in the grounds, but the thing you really visit for is the Art Deco renovations the Courtauld family made to the place in the Thirties.
My word, it is impressive. The circular hall/receiving room with decorated panelled walls is the jewel you enter when you first step inside, and it just takes your breath away. The house has been sympathetically restored to show all the uses it went through in its life, including its time as an army education centre. I was fascinated with thoughts of how the family lived there in the Thirties. The opulence of the place is amazing. And we got to see the lemur’s room. Apparently it was called Mah Jong and was allowed free reign of the whole house and was known for biting people on the ankles.
It’s our first proper visit to an English Heritage site that wasn’t a ruin that was free to get into anyway. We got membership as it was about £85 for all of us for 15 months, rather than £40 per visit. It was interesting to compare it to what you get in relation to National Trust properties. We didn’t rate the tea room at Eltham. In fact, we didn’t even stay for the food. It didn’t look like our thing. Perfectly serviceable, but not for us on that day. I suspect the quality and quantity differ widely from place to place, much as they do with the National Trust properties.
We noted that children’s activities, usually free at National Trust properties, were not free here. Having said that, the bug hunts they were running for the children were only £1 per child, and looked to be excellent value. The bug hunting guide crossed our path several times, and he seemed fantastic and the children were enthralled by him.
After Eltham we drove back into the city and found a parking space near Shad Thames where we were meeting a friend later on. We plumped for lunch at the Butler’s Wharf Chop house, and my word it was magnificent. Tender, melt in the mouth pink roast beef with crisp, bouffant Yorkshires, buttered garden peas, carrots and spring greens and crisp, fluffy roast potatoes. Followed by raspberry trifle and washed down with a glass of champagne.
The Sunday lunch costs £26 for two courses, but the service and food are impeccable and the portions good. There was plenty of choice. You could have had spring lamb, pork or beef, and there was also steak or grouse, and a couple of good vegetarian options if you preferred.
We rolled into Bermondsey to The White Cube to see the Gilbert and George exhibition as it was free and wasn’t very far away. Not my cup of tea, but very powerful and well curated.
We ambled along the river, checking out the wonderfully decorated Books About Town book benches, set up by the National Literacy Trust. Each bench looks like an opened book and is decorated to celebrate a particular author and/or book. We came across a mother and her daughter hunting for them. You can download trails from the website and tick them off as you go. It looked like huge fun.
We headed along Potter’s Field, back to Shad Thames and met our friend MaryAnn in a place called Tea Pod, where we devoured tea and cake, despite not long having finished lunch. It was a treat from our mutual friend Bonnie in New York, who sadly, couldn’t be there with us. She was greatly missed, and we raised cake forks in her honour.
A bit more mooching about Southwark in the vain hope of working off some of the food, before we met our tour guide for the Dr. Who walking tour of London at the Shard. The tours last two and a half hours. You will need an Oyster card for a short bus trip and it costs £12 per adult, £10 per child, which you will need cash for.
The tour guide was an extremely enthusiastic Dr. Who fan from Canada called Caitlin who operates Whovian Tours. She walks at a million miles an hour, so if you’re feeling a bit below par you might want to wait until you’ve got your strength up. The children enjoyed themselves immensely. The tour takes in large swathes of London, and you need to know that it doesn’t finish where it starts. You end up near Waterloo station on the South Bank.
Caitlin was utterly capable of dealing with the three trillion questions my children had, and was also quite amenable to throwing in a few Harry Potter facts/locations for us when she realised that the children were also huge fans of HP. She was also very sensitive to not dropping any spoilers about the new Dr. Who, despite already having seen the first episode of the new season at a special cinema screening. This was very good, as Jason is absolutely paranoid about spoilers and won’t even watch trails for the show. I’m glad I didn’t have to tear them apart.
As we ended the tour near Wagamamas on the South Bank, we decided to go in there for a late dinner and to let our throbbing feet recover before we headed back to pick up the car. We generally try to avoid national chain restaurants on holiday, even if we like them, because we know we could eat the same food at home, but at ten at night when you’re gall footed and refractory, a quickly served bowl of prawn Itame does you the world of good. I did consider taking my shoes and socks off and dipping my feet for a good long soak at one point.