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Becky and Clare

Survival of the Fittest

On such a beautiful sunny day, the first proper one of the year, we thought we'd head off to Charles Darwin's house in Downe, Kent.  It's a very short run, just off junction 4 of the M25. 

It is our 'Survival of the Fittest' walk from the red Adventure Walks for Families book.  Chapter 19.  It's been a while since we've walked it and my youngest has been studying Evolution and Darwin at school so the timing is good. 

This is such a great walk because it has a good centre to it: Darwin's house.  

Not only is Down House grand and glorious, it is a natural history treasure trove of stuffed birds, shell and bone collections, insects and butterflies. Charles Darwin's study is set out just as it would have been; the shelves are lined with books; the dining room is laid for supper; the wooden stair-slide his children used is propped up in the playroom.  And it has a great tearoom.

This is the meadow just below Darwin's house.  It was in this chalky meadow that Darwin set up the first ever scientific study of plant diversity, studying the wild flowers through the seasons.  Later in the summer, this meadow is even more beautiful as the grass is long and full of wild flowers.  

This is the  wooden door into the gardens of Darwin's
house.   The path through the woods takes to you this secret back entrance.  It is just next to the Sandwalk, where Darwin famously walked daily, before lunch and in the afternoon, noting the wildlife around him through the seasons. 

And here are the greenhouses where Darwin conducted his plant experiments. 

Darwin was close to his children and his love of nature was infectious to them.  They would often stride out across the downs together with a picnic and set about collecting moths and butterflies or monitor bees in the meadows.  

Darwin studied the wild orchids in the nearby woods. Some of them were out today.  The best time to see them flower is between May and July. 

We rounded the walk off with a pub lunch at The Old Jail, the drinking hangout of the Battle of Britain pilots during the war.  Perfect.

Paris in the Springtime...

We are producing a new Adventure Walks map on Paris for families travelling with kids. Are there any adventure walkers out there who would be up for test running some of our Paris walks over the Easter holidays?   Do get in touch if you want to be a tester or send in your ideas and suggestions of your favourite Parisian places.

The World in London

This is a BAFTA winning short animation made for the BBC's Learning Zone by Mosaic Films called Seeking Refuge.  It's one of the most moving little films I've seen.  

Lots of people come to London as refugees, and have done throughout history.  One of the chapters in our book The Bumper Book of London is about the ethnic diversity of our great city.  Londoners speak more than 300 different languages, more than in any other city in the world.  

There is a mosque on Brick Lane that encapsulates the story of London immigration.  It began life as La Neuve Eglise, a Hugenot Chapel, in 1742.  By 1809 it was known as the Jew's Chapel, and given the task of promoting Christianity to the Jewish immigrants who arrived after fleeing the Russian pogroms.  By 1898, it had become the Spitalfields Great Synagogue.  Finally, in 1976, it became (and remains) the Brick Lane Jamme Masjid Mosque.  Worth putting on your list of London places to explore.

Love is in the air

We have gathered our favourite ideas to inspire you for a Romantic Valentine's Day, assuming of course that you can squeeze out some moments without the children.  Leave home early for a secret breakfast, have a lunchtime assignation, or a mid afternoon escape.  Believe us, Valentine's Dinner is so not the way to do it...

Meet for tea and delicious cakes at London's oldest and finest patisserie Maison Bertaux at 28 Greek Street in Soho.

Take a Thames Clipper on a moonlit boat trip along the river.

With the sound of Bow Bells to accompany you, take the glass lift to the roof terrace of  One New Change on Cheapside for one the most breathtaking free views of London.   

Baby it's cold outside, but it is never too cold to eat the delicious artisan ice cream at Bocca de Lupo's Gelupo on Archer Street in Soho.  

Arrange a lunchtime rendez-vous underneath Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square and get close up to the glamorous Man Ray photographic portraits of the stars of the twentieth century at the National Portrait Gallery.

Escape early and meet for breakfast at the Rose Bakery in the cool Dover Street Market, Piccadilly.

Take the overground out to Richmond and walk along the river to Petersham Meadows and the delectable Petersham Nurseries Teahouse for a slice of cake or a bowl of warm soup.

Eat chocolate at London's finest Chocolatier, Paul A Young, in Camden Passage, Islington.

Watch an old movie for free at the BFI Mediatheque on the South Bank. Stroll along the lamplit embankment afterwards, like that scene in Four Weddings and a Funeral, but hopefully more articulate.  

Meet at our favourite deli cafe, Verde and Co in the heart of eighteenth century Spitalfields on Brushfield Street.  

But if you can't get away, just watch this clip from Cinema Paradiso to get you in the mood.  Happy Valentine's Day.

10 ways to get a breath of fresh air this half term

1. Run along the South Bank and join in the free fun at the annual Imagine Children's Festival. Things you can do include: writing and performing your very own three minute story, painting a back drop for a real live show, listening to some stories from authors Frank Cotterel Boyce and Michael Rosen, making a din at the Big Bash with Colin Currie or playing poetry hopscotch. The Imagine Festival runs from 11 February - 24th February 2013.

2. Send a message in a bottle to the other side of the world from the beach at Mersea Island in the Blackwater Estuary, Essex.  Collect shells to make a delicate necklace, build a sandcastle and peer through your binoculars to identify swooping sea birds. Take the ferry across the water to Brightlingsea for some crispy fish and chips.  Or eat Oysters at one of the charming oyster shacks along the coast.

3. Discover the story of ice cream in London and follow the towpath of the Regent's Canal from the Canal Museum at King's Cross all the way to Camden Market. Make some lemon ice from the recipe on page 180 in London Adventure Walks when you get home.

4. Hire a pair of binoculars at Rainham Marshes visitor centre and see what birds have gathered over winter to feed and keep warm on this ancient marshland. Only a short skip and a jump from the noisy, hustle and bustle of central London, you can still see Canary Wharf on the horizon, but the air here is only punctuated by birdsong. 

 5. Book your place at The Glasshouse at RHS Garden Wisley and be awed by the exotic butterflies as they feed on plant nectar and engage in romantic flights of courtship.

6.  Get your hands mucky down at one of London's City Farms and get a taste of the country without even leaving town. Hackney City Farm, Mudchute Farm, Hounslow Urban Farm, Freightliners Farm, Crystal Palace Park Farm, Kentish Town City Farm, Stepney City Farm, Surrey Docks Farm, Vauxhall City FarmSpitalfields City Farm and Belmont Children's Farm

7. Go on a scavenger hunt in one of London's Royal parks. Look for: a pigeon's feather, a seed, a pine cone, nuts and berries (don't eat these!), a bird's footprint, a bird's nest, a bird's song, an animal track, a duck and a mushroom or toadstool. 

8. Play Pooh Sticks in the Enchanted Ashdown Forest in East Sussex,  just like Winnie the Pooh and his friends. Gather pine cones and build Eeyore's house, sing some Poohish style songs and eat some delicious honey sandwiches. 

9. Fly over the Thames and grab some great views from in London's newest attraction: the Emirates Cable Car which straddles the river between Greenwich and the Royal Docks. 

10. Take the train to Sydenham Hill and play follow the leader through one of London's wildest ancient woodlands,  Dulwich and Sydenham Hill Woods. Build a shelter, set a trail and lay an ambush. 

Detailed walks can be found in our books, Adventure Walks for Families in and around London and London Adventure Walks

Fancy a Cuppa?

Buy yourself a celebratory cup of tea at one of the thirteen surviving London Cabmen's Shelters - it's their 138th anniversary this February. They were set up in 1875 by newspaper publisher Sir George Armstrong to provide welcome refreshment at a time when London's cabbies rode on top of their horse drawn taxis, exposed to the elements whatever the weather. The shelters were set up on the highway to give cabbies a chance to get something hot to eat and drink without leaving their cabs.  Cabbies' mugs were for them kept at the shelter and looked after by 'shelter boys'. 

If you don't know what to look for, they are the green glorified sheds dotted round some of London's streets, often with lines of taxis outside. They are quite small - the size of a horse and cart - but squeezed inside is a kitchen, books, newspapers and tables and chairs for about ten cabbies.  

There are only thirteen left in London: Chelsea Embankment; Embankment Place; Grosvenor Gardens; Hanover Square; Kensington Park Road; Kensington Road; Pont Street; Russell Square; St George’s Square, Pimlico; Temple Place; Thurloe Place, Kensington (in the middle of the road opposite the Victoria & Albert Museum); Warwick Avenue; and Wellington Place, St John’s Wood.

Irish Charm

This is one of most charming little films we've come across.  A cross between animation and documentary, it is an absolute delight to see.  Enjoy. 

Pride and Prejudice

It is a truth universally acknowledged that today is the 200th anniversary of  the publication of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. The house where Jane Austen lived with her mother and sister for the last years of her life is in Chawton, Hampshire and is now the Jane Austen House Museum. The tiny writing table where she redrafted her manuscripts for Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility and where she wrote Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion has pride of place in the front parlour of this charming 17th century cottage. As you step through the door you are immersed in Jane Austen's world with its family portraits, 18th century style wallpapers, personal effects such as letters and jewellery, and dresses - it is as if she has just left the room.

Look round the house and soak up the atmosphere before stepping out, as she frequently did, and walk down past St Nicholas's church to see the graves of her mother and sister (Jane Austen is buried at Winchester Cathedral). Carry on to the Rose and Crown pub in Upper Farringdon, converted from alms houses in 1810 by Jane's brother, Edward. It's a three mile loop back to Jane Austen's house: a perfect walk for a sunny spring day. The walk is detailed in Adventure Walks for Families In and Around London, chapter  25. 

Let it Snow

We thought we'd put up some of our favourite snowy children's story books to curl up and read by the fire this weekend...

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder 

The sixth in the Little House on the Prairie series, set in the severe winter of 1881 in South Dakota when Laura turns 14 years old.

The Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable

A story of princesses, winter palaces, howling wolves and lost diamonds, set in the deep snows of Russia.

The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde

Where winter comes to haunt a garden owned by a cruel Giant who forbids children from playing in it. 

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

The tragic frontier story of a dog who works on the sleds in the Alaskan Gold Rush of 1897.

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats 

One of the most charming of all children's picture books where a small boy explores his neighbourhood transformed by snow

Shiver by Maggie Steifvater

In the cold of winter, a boy called Sam turns into a black wolf and roams the forests of Minnesota.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Who can forget the world of Narnia, the White Witch, the lamppost, Mr Tumnus and the land where Father Christmas does not come.  

The Snow Spider Trilogy by Jenny Nimmo

The award winning trilogy: a story of Gwyn's battle against evil in a world of ice and snow.

Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson

While the rest of the Moomin family are deep in the slumber of their winter hibernation, Moomintroll finds himself awake and discovers a world where the sun does not rise and the ground is covered in cold, white, wet powder.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

The opening scenes of this classic historical story are set in the snowy woods of Willoughby Chase. 

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