I am never quite sure how I will feel about London when I come home from a holiday. As I exit a railway station or descend down the Westway onto the Euston Road, I often feel a familiar, vague sense of unease. I wonder whether this will be the time I’ve been fearing, the moment I realise I’m done with London. Perhaps this will be the homecoming that tells me I’ve fallen out of love with the city that has been my home on and off for twenty eight years.
Last Friday we made our way along the entire length of the M4 from a field in Wales where we had spent the week to our home in North London. As the car reached the first of the innumerate speed bumps of Primrose Hill I held my breath and tried to quieten my heart. This is the moment I always know. It’s instinctive. As the pastel houses began to line up in formation on my right side and I caught my first sight of the green hill with its Narnia lampposts sloping up away to the left, I breathed a sigh of relief. It’s ok, I was home. Exactly where I wanted to be.
It’s easy to take London for granted. It’s too easy. Sometimes, when I’m knee-deep in planning Experiences in far flung parts of the UK, I find a whole week has passed without me venturing any further than the Hampstead Ponds. In the Summer my head and heart are entrenched in the countryside. There are all manner of adventures to be had in London but they pass me by and I’ve not seen hide nor hair of anything cultural for months.
But now the thrilling dalliances of summer are more or less over, I’m ready to become intimate again with my city. To remember the things I love about it, to show it some attention and display remorse for neglecting it so flagrantly.
We had two whole days stretching ahead of us before we would hurtle head first into the industriousness of that first Monday in September. It was an opportunity to take a pause between Summer and Autumn, just enough time to tack a London mini-break onto the end of our Welsh glamping trip. We both managed to ignore the call of our unanswered emails and unwritten todo lists and instead set about filling the next thirty-six hours with some of our very favourite things to do in London.
It started at the pond, of course. Saturday was bookended with glorious weather and in the morning there was not a cloud in the bright blue sky. We cycled up the hill to the Heath to find the water a surprisingly warm 21c. It had clearly been far warmer in London last week than it had been in Wales. When I have been swimming in the sea I find it can take a little while to readjust to the still, silty, opaque waters of the pond. After the insanity of the battering waves of Marloes Sands and the soft sands of Barafundle the pond felt flat, small and uninteresting.
After a few minutes we began to notice how splendid the purple loosestrife was and how much the bullrushes had grown whilst we’d been away. The ducks were going about their business, neither caring that we’d left or that we’d returned. Life at the pond had gone on without us and we are very happy to take up our places back in it again.
We walked with Edward over Primrose Hill for coffee and shopping on Regents Park Road. We noticed the horse chestnuts beginning to turn and the grass that had become brittle and brown during the time we’d been away. Wales last week was green and summery but London is definitely peering over the fence into autumn. We browsed the bookshop and Edward extracted treats from the sales assistants in the pet shop. So much of our lives are here on this pretty street lined with independent shops: the doctor, the optician, the greengrocer, the places Edward and I go for lunch when we are avoiding work, the post office and my favourite London restaurant for celebrations, Odette’s.
In the late afternoon we took the tube to London Bridge and joined the long, orderly queue of hopeful diners at Padella, our favourite pasta restaurant in the world. Once seated we ate all the pasta and drank all the wine and took a post-dinner wander along the river to the Tate Modern, marvelling as we went at the eternal majesty of St Paul’s. The evening was beautiful, it was summery and warm and we were very happy to be by the river. As night fell we made our way home to lie on the sofa and watch some television, a treat after living without electricity for most of last week.
Sunday began as all our Sundays in London have for the last few months with a swim in the pond and bagels and coffee at Roni’s in Belsize Park to warm up afterwards. We stopped briefly at home and got back on our bikes and cycled to Hyde Park and on to Buckingham Palace. Here is a secret, in case you don’t know: Constitution Hill and Pall Mall close to traffic – both stationary and moving – every Sunday which makes it a fantastic place to cycle and to wander. We carried on to Parliament Square and flew along the Embankment on the brilliant cycle superhighway. At the tower we crossed the bridge and found ourselves back in Borough Market where stopped for lunch at Brindisa, sitting outside, enjoying the sunshine and resisting the glass of wine we knew would impede our ride home.
We circled home through Farringdon and stopped for coffee and cake in Coal Drops Yard. We joined the canal and rode all the way home, weaving around the tourists on the towpath.
I thought we were done, that it was time to go in for the evening, but Richard convinced me to end our weekend with another swim. We headed back up to the pond where the water was noticeably colder than it had been that morning and there was a definite sense of autumn being carried in on the early evening breeze. We returned home, chilly and tired and settled in for a cosy evening, almost ready to face the start of the new season. London, I love you. It’s good to be home.
Next week we take possession of a dilapidated, neglected Victorian terraced house in North London and so begins a six month renovation project, during which we will be moving to the country.
Christmas shopping in London can be an enjoyable and fun adventure, far removed from the stressful crowds of Westfield or Oxford Street. You just need to know where to head for. Here are my favourite destinations.