Happy Christmas

The 12 Days of Christmas London Style

We've put together some ideas for getting the most out of a London Christmas....


Pick up a Christmas Tree and some mistletoe at Columbia Road Sunday Flower Market.  

Get inspiration for your own Christmas decorations by taking a look at the historic interiors decked out in period style, spanning 400 years, at The Geffrye Museum, Hoxton, one of London's hidden gems. 


Pirouette around one of London's prettiest outdoor ice rinks in the courtyard of the former royal palace at Somerset House.

Boo! Hiss!Shout out out loud at London's most outrageous pantomime
 at The Hackney Empire

Put on your tutu and dance to the tune of the Sugar Plum fairy at the classic Christmas ballet, The Nutcracker at 
The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Pack the teens off to Winter Wonderland  in Hyde Park : it's at its most magical after dark with twinkling lights and German Christmas market.

Hear the choir  sing like angels at St Paul's Cathedral Family Carol Service on Saturday 22nd at 4pm

Step back in time in the magical candlelit home of a 17th century Huguenot silk weaver at Dennis Severs' house in Folgate Street, Spitalfields

Clap your hands, stamp your feet and sing your heart out at a Christmas Singalong at the Royal Albert Hall.

Head out into Hampstead Heath, one of London's great green spaces gathering ivy, fur cones and berries to decorate the house in the style of a Victorian Christmas.

Wonder at the Christmas lights in the West End and press your nose against the glass of the enchanting Christmas windows at
 Fortnum and Mason on Piccadilly, telling the story of London's most famous Lord Mayor, Dick Whittington. 

Bag a Sugar Mouse to hang on the tree from one of London's best old fashioned sweetshops in Spitalfields.

Childish inspiration

Some places that inspired children's stories 

Rudyard Kipling's house where he wrote Puck of Pook's Hill.  He moved to Bateman's the year his Just So Stories were published, 1902

A tiny door in the wall of the Oxford college where Lewis Caroll (really a Mathematics professor called Charles Dodgson) wrote Alice in Wonderland 

Boats at Pin Mill harbour on the banks of the River Orwell where Arthur Ransome set some of his children's sailing adventures  

The woods near Great Missenden where Roald Dahl lived and wrote stories such as Danny the Champion of the World and Fantastic Mr Fox 

The windmill from the children's classic movie, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

The steep slope of the real Watership Down in Hampshire

The River Thames where Mole, Ratty and Toad shared adventures in Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows

 The house from Lucy Boston's classic, The Children of Green Knowe

Best Half Term Adventures

With so much going on in London, it can sometimes be so overwhelming to choose what to do, that we end up staying at home and not going anywhere.  So we've picked out our favourite what's on ideas for this autumn to help sort out what's worth going along to.  

Some of the best holiday workshops in London for kids are at the Geffrye Museum and the John Soane Museum, where the children get to create something really proper. And this half term is no exception: 


Take the shiny new Overground to Hoxton which stops right outside the back door of the Geffrye Museum. It  really couldn't be simpler. 

On Halloween itself you can scare yourself silly making a spooky hat  and a yummy chocolate apple. Get there early to guarantee a place as these cooking workshops are hot favourite. There are two sessions 10.30 - 12.30pm and 2 - 4pm.

 If you miss this one there are scores of other lovely free workshops everyday for children aged 5-15.


Tucked away behind the Inns of Court is the John Soane Museum (nearest tube Holborn) where you can leave your kids to get their hands mucky making a clay Toby jug to take home. This is a fabulous, creative all day workshop for children aged 7+ at a cost of £20. Wednesday 31st October  10.30 - 3pm.  Booking essential 0207 4404263 admin@soane.org.uk.  Children must bring their own lunch. 


Head out west and walk along the Thames river bank to the delectable Petersham Nurseries near Richmond for an afternoon of pumpkins, toffee apples and scary stories.  Treat yourselves to a slice of delicious cake.   
Tuesday 30th October , 3 - 5pm   £5


Give the dinosaurs a miss and pack your backpack for the first ever pop up campsite at the Natural History Museum with free events, Camper vans, movie screens and popcorn, real Arctic tents and music.    27 October to 2 November, 11- 16.30 in the Darwin Centre Courtyard. 


Shake your tambourine with The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment at one of their popular events for the very youngest music-lovers.  Sunday 4 November 2012.  At the Purcell Rooms, South Bank Centre.


Catch the last performances of The Tear Thief, who in the hours between supper and bedtime carries her waterproof, silvery sack as she steals the tears of every child who cries. Find out what she does with these tears at the Little Angel Puppet Theatre. Written by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy. 


Love it or hate it, Madame Tussauds
 near Baker Street is a children's favourite and is curiously perfect for a whistle stop tour of British history, complete with Royals and celebrities. It's also London's oldest waxwork museum and was created back in the early 19th Century by a woman escaping from the French Revolution.   Look out for web deals on ticket prices.


A little further afield, but still close to London is the 
Harry Potter Film Studio Tour Find out the secrets behind how the Dark Arts were brought to life in the Harry Potter films this half term, learn about the make-up techniques, come face to face with the Death Eaters, go a lesson in the Potions classroom and have your picture taken flying on a broomstick.  Book tickets in advance.

And lastly, these are the most popular must-sees in London and are worth taking the time to queue up for:


Random International: Rain Room at the Barbican, is the place to get  wet in this half term. Opens at 11am and the queues are 2 hours long.  So get there at 10am with a coffee and a bun and sit it out.  


Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time at the National Theatre is the hot ticket this season. This GCSE novel by Mark Haddon is fabulously taken to the stage by War Horse Director Marianne Elliott.   Sold out but returns and day tickets available if you get there early.

I Capture the Castle........

Inspired by one of our favourite books, the young adult dreamy classic,  I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, we jumped on a train from Fenchurch Street Station in search of the magnificent but ruined Hadleigh Castle high above the wild marshes of Canvey Island. 

Hopped off the train 40 minutes later at Benfleet station, having avoided the dreaded A13, and stepped through a wooden gate on the start of a footpath along the grassy valley floor towards Leigh-on-Sea and the coast. The path meandered gently passing ponds and flocks of geese, redshanks, herons and avocets out on the marshes. 

We climbed to the top of the short steep hill to Hadleigh Castle and its crumbling towers, famously painted by John Constable in 1829. It was once the official home of the King's wife an impressive list of former tenants include Catherine of Aragon, Anne of Cleves and Catherine Parr. We had the place to ourselves with dramatic views across the Thames Estuary. The perfect place for a castle.

We headed out along the path between the two towers, over the stile at the bottom and after half a mile or so we arrived at Leigh-on-Sea with it charming cockle sheds and boats. Couldn't resist some fish and chips from the Mayflower chippy, so called because this is where the Pilgrim fathers boat originally came from,  and ate them on the beach. Home again before anyone had noticed we had gone. A perfect day.

Free Radicals in the City

On the way home from the cinema, we discovered we'd parked right next to Bunhill Fields Cemetery, burial ground of London's famous radicals and infamous dissenters.  We whiled away a few moments searching for the graves of Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe; William Blake, London poet and artist; Eleanor Coade, inventor of the famous Coade stone and John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim's Progress.  

Bunhill's name derives from 'Bone Hill' and a somewhat grissly story dating back to the sixteenth century when nearby St Paul's Cathedral had regular clear outs of its charnel house.  Great cartloads of bones were brought here every now and then from 1549 onwards and buried, unceremoniously, under a thin layer of soil.  The mound of bones soon rose high enough for the building of several windmills on top to catch the breeze.  

Listed as a plague pit for Londoners, it had a tradition of burial but the land was never consecrated by the Church.  It is unhallowed ground and is said to be the most haunted in London.  

In the 17th Century, the Fields were bought by a Mr Tindal who allowed anyone to be buried here as long as they could pay, no matter what their religion.  Word got out, and it soon became the graveyard of choice for non-conformists, Christians who did not want to be buried in a Church of England graveyard.  

Rapidly becoming a place of pilgrimage for London's radical reformers, and non-conformists, it was nicknamed the 'Campo Santo' of dissenters by the poet Robert Southey in the nineteenth century. In 1854, it was declared full, with over 120,000 people buried beneath its 4 acres.

The graveyard is crowded and crammed with a forest of mossy headstones, just a taste of what all London cemeteries must once have been like.  Most are behind railings, but most of the famous gravestones are not and when we were there, flowers lay at the base of many of them.  The pilgrimage continues.  

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 
And Eternity in an hour.

New London Map!

We've opened up the boxes and launched the website and now are pleased to let you know that the Adventure Walks London Map is now for sale!  Available from www.londonadventurewalks.co.uk and all good bookshops.

Every Little Helps..

We are very excited here at Adventure Walks Books because one our spies has spotted The Bumper Book of London in Tesco Metro in Chiswick.  Apparently they will be in Tesco Metro's all over London on a special London stand for the Olympics.  This is a first for us and a first for our editor, Jo Christian, at Frances Lincoln!  Every little helps...!

The Bumper Book is launched with a Treasure Hunt

Rain nearly stopped play, but at 2.15pm last Sunday afternoon, the clouds parted and the sun came out just as scores of families gathered at the Millennium Bridge to take part in our Treasure Hunt through the City, ending up at Daunt Books on Cheapside for tea and 400 cup cakes, all decorated in London Bus red..

Ghost from the past

Tucked away behind the bustle of building works at St Pancras and King’s Cross is a tiny church, one of the oldest in London, called St Pancras Old Church.  Step inside: it is almost always open.  It is eerily peaceful and quiet.  Not a soul to be seen.  
It’s a church with an amazing history: excavations have found Norman masonry as well as Roman bricks and tiles.  For centuries it was a popular spot for Londoners to walk to, being just a mile from London at the time, and was described as a remote country church surrounded by fields.  It had its ups and downs: Oliver Cromwell used St Pancras Old Church as a stable and barracks for his troops during the Civil War.  The church’s treasures were hurriedly hidden from the soldiers and not refound till the restoration of the tower two hundred years later.  The river Fleet once flowed beside it, channeled away in the 19th century to make way for the railways. 

Before the railways, the area of Somers Town around the church was being developed as a well-to-do neighbourhood, with fine houses at The Polygon (now a housing block).  In the eighteenth century, the pioneer of women’s education and rights Mary Wollstonecraft lived there with her husband William Godwin.  There is a fading tomb to them both in the churchyard.  Mary’s daughter grew up to become Mary Shelley, the author of the Frankenstein story.  It’s said that it was in this churchyard that the poet Shelley first saw and fell in love with young Mary while she was visiting her mother’s grave.  He lived nearby at 5 Chapel Terrace, now subsumed by the railway arches.  

The little church has played a role in London’s literature.  Charles Dickens, a Camden man from time to time, casts the church in the Tale of Two Cities as the place where Jerry Cruncher came to ‘fish’ - another word for bodysnatching.  The novelist Thomas Hardy also knew the graveyard well.  Before writing his novels, he  studied architecture under a man called Arthur Blomfield who was asked to supervise the exhumation of Old St Pancras Church graveyard in 1865.  Hardy was brought in to take on this unsavory task and piled the old headstones together in an artistic circle around an ash tree.  The tree, known as Hardy’s tree, is still there, the headstones now beginning to be engulfed by the trunk as it has grown.  

And there is one other remarkable thing to discover in this churchyard.  In the centre is a grand tomb, the burial place of the London architect Sir John Soane.  He himself designed the Monument at its centre on the death of his wife in 1815.  Its striking shape is said to be the inspiration for Giles Gilbert Scott’s winning entry for the design of the K2 London Telephone box some 110 years later.  It is one of only two Grade 1 listed monuments in London.

Spot the difference

If you ever find yourself at a loose end in King’s Cross, take 5 minutes to wander to the back of the station, away from the Euston Road, and discover this tiny but significant London church.   It’s a treat.

Lovely review on the online magazine Parents in Touch -

The Bumper Book of London by Becky Jones and Clare Lewis

The cover tells us that this book has 'Everything you need to know about London and more...' An ambitious claim, but this book does pack in an enormous amount of information. The best thing is that much of it is unusual - this certainly isn't your ordinary guide book. It's a fascinating read and a great book to dip into and learn some fascinating facts to fascinate your friends and family - it's an excellent book for any lover of trivia. Broadly arranged by history, you will learn about art and architecture, landmarks, hidden places, ghosts, pearly kings and queens, festivals, street names, games, traditions, markets, football teams, and much, much more. On just one two page spread, there is London lingo, Georgian houses, Georgian secrets, a poem and a recipe - I can only give a small flavour of the contents here - but do get yourself a copy of this book!

Nine go wild on a Norwegian fjord

Looking around for a different kind of holiday, we alighted upon the idea of heading North for some winter snow and were delighted to discover that the south fjords of Norway are all geared up for families like ours looking for something else.  We stumbled across a place called Risor Village on the internet.  They offered activities such as ice fishing, boat trips, skiing - cross country as well as downhill and dog sledding.  We decided to do the lot.  

Our first day was spent on a rugged Norwegian fishing boat  chugging round the beautiful islands along the coast from the white painted village of Risor (once visited by the eighteenth century writer Mary Wollstonecraft in pursuit of a sea captain and lost treasure). Everyone was given a rod and we fished off the side of the boat, reeling in startlingly large cod, coal fish and pollock

Lunch was a huge and delicious fish soup cooked on board made partly from the fresh fish we had caught ourselves. To keep the boat steady we moored at
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