5 lovely places to see a London autumn (without the crowds)

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”

L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

The leaves are turning and the shadows are growing longer. It won’t be long until the clocks go back either, which means one thing: the beautiful London autumn is upon us.

Here are 5 quiet places that will show you the best of what the capital has to offer this season.

Sydenham Hill Wood

Sydenham Hill Wood, Dulwich, south London
Image: A Peace of London

Sydenham Hill and Cox’s Walk in south London is the perfect place for long, ambling autumn walks.

Not only are there lots of paths and different routes to explore, there is also a disused railway tunnel — once part of the Nunhead to Crystal Palace railway and now a registered bat roost.

Sydenham Hill Wood, Dulwich, south London
Image: A Peace of London

Explore further and you’ll find the remains of a Victorian folly, which was once part of a hidden garden.

Address: Crescent Wood Road, Sydenham Hill, London, SE26 6LS

Nearest station: Sydenham Hill or Forest Hill

More information: Visit the London Wildlife Trust website here

Grand Union Canal, north-west London

The Grand Union Canal in Alperton, north west London
Image: A Peace of London

Follow the Grand Union Canal up towards Alperton and Sudbury and the Grand Union Canal gets really residential.

In autumn, it comes into its own and you can follow the canal up to Horsenden Hill, where you can get away from civilisation completely, accompanied by brilliant views over Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire.

Nearest Tube: Alperton or Sudbury Town

More information: Visit the Canal & River Trust website

Horniman Museum Gardens

Horniman Museum Gardens, south London
Image: A Peace of London

The gardens of south London’s own natural history museum have some of the best views out to east London and a conservatory to rival the one at Syon Park.

From here you can see St Paul’s Cathedral, the walkie-talkie and the Shard beyond the bandstand and lovely gardens of the museum.

Horniman Museum Gardens, south London
Image: A Peace of London

Once you’re done with all the seeing of things, pop by the cafe for a hot chocolate or pay the famous walrus a visit in the museum itself — admission is free.

Address: 100 London Road, Forest Hill, London SE23 3PQ

Nearest station: Forest Hill

More information: Horniman Museum website

Waterlow Park

Waterlow Park, Hampstead, London
Image: A Peace of London

If Hampstead Heath seems a bit busy on a weekend, then head to Waterlow Park in Highgate instead.

The park’s great views over London are complemented by Lauderdale House — the 16th-century former home of the notorious Duke of Lauderdale. It’s thought that King Charles II stayed here with Nell Gwynn, his long-standing mistress.

Address: Highgate Hill, Highgate, London N6 5HD

Nearest Tube: Archway

More information: Read my review here or visit the Friends of Waterlow Park website

Severndroog Castle

Severndroog Castle, south London
Image: A Peace of London

Buried deep in the Oxleas Woods in Greenwich, on one of the highest points in London, is the capital’s least-known castle.

Built in the 18th century by the widow of Sir William James — and named after Survarnadurg, the pirates’ fortress that he destroyed in 1755 — the castle was saved from private developers in 2002.

It now offers a viewing platform to rival the Shard’s and a lovely tea room to shelter from the autumn winds…

Address: Castle Wood, Shooters Hill, London SE18 3RT.

Nearest station: Eltham

More information: Visit the Severndroog Castle website

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Temple Church: a still and beautiful hideaway from City life

Step off Fleet Street into Inner Temple and the sounds of the city instantly melt away. Beyond you lies Temple Church — a 12th-century masterpiece that’s about as far removed from London’s “beaten track” as you can get.

The church and its adjoining graveyard are protected by the Goldsmith buildings, meaning that it was almost silent when I visited on a busy Wednesday lunchtime.

Exterior of Temple Church, London
Image: A Peace of London

The entrance to the church is on the other side of the graveyard, which means you get a secluded view of the church and its 12th-century round to yourself.

Exterior of Temple Church, London
Image: A Peace of London

Speaking of Goldsmith… Oliver Goldsmith himself is buried in the graveyard, and his gravestone bears a quote from his friend Samuel Johnson, who lived just up the road in Gough Square: “…who left scarcely any style of writing untouched, and touched nothing that he did not adorn.”

Grave of Oliver Goldsmith in Temple Church yard, London
Image: A Peace of London

To add to the charm of the place, there are vegetables growing in a patch in the middle of the graveyard…

Vegetables growing in Temple Church yard, London
Image: A Peace of London

The church itself is about as far from a tourist trap as you can get — you could hear a pin drop inside, and the light streaming in through the huge windows makes it seem like the church is glowing.

Interior of Temple Church, London
Image: A Peace of London

Behind you is the church round, which was built by the Knights Templar to recreate the circular Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem — the holiest place in the world.

Temple Church, London
Image: A Peace of London

The current Magna Carta exhibition in the round is very fitting, since this building served as King John’s headquarters from 1214-1215, and it was here that the barons first confronted him about a charter.

Interior of Temple Church, London
Image: A Peace of London
Figure at Temple Church, London
Image: A Peace of London

Two of the men who mediated when John eventually signed Magna Carta — including William the Marshal, Earl of Pembroke who was an adviser to King John and regent to Henry III — were also buried here.

Climb to the upper level to get a good view of their effigies, as well as a birds-eye view of the round.

Interior of Temple Church, London
Image: A Peace of London

When you’ve soaked it all in, make sure you turn left as you leave the church and cross the square, to stop for a few minutes to admire the vista.

Exterior of Temple Church, London
Image: A Peace of London

Temple Church: the essentials

Opening times: Monday to Friday, 10am-4pm

Address: Temple, London EC4Y 7BB

Nearest Tube: Temple

More information: Visit the Temple Church website here

The Calthorpe Project, King’s Cross: one of London’s most treasured green spaces

One of the benefits of working within central London is the number of quiet urban spaces that can add colour, tranquillity and community to your lunch break.

And if you live or work anywhere near King’s Cross, Euston or Bloomsbury, then you’re in luck — The Calthorpe Project is one of the best urban spaces in the centre of the capital.

The Calthorpe Project, King's Cross, London
Image: A Peace of London

The Calthorpe Project was set-up to improve the physical and emotional well-being of those who live, work or study in Camden and surrounding areas.

Calthorpe Project Cafe, King's Cross
Image: A Peace of London

When the land went up for sale in 1980, Camden council busily prepared it for 70,000 square feet of office space. That was until local people caught wind of the plans and then campaigned successfully for the space to be turned into a community garden.

The Calthorpe Project, King's Cross, London
Image: A Peace of London

As well as training and offering volunteering opportunities to people with learning disabilities and mental health issues, the project also supports sustainable food growing.

A big part of this eco-friendly effort is the vegetarian cafe, which serves organic veg right from the garden and they even use the remains to fuel the cookers and indoor heaters.

The Calthorpe Project, King's Cross, London
Image: A Peace of London

The Calthorpe Project: the essentials

Opening times: Monday to Friday, 10am-6pm; Saturday and Sunday, 12pm-6pm

Nearest Tube: King’s Cross

More information: Visit The Calthorpe Project website

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The great and good of Hampstead Cemetery: a mini video tour

As well as being a very peaceful place to while away a couple of hours, Hampstead Cemetery also has its fair share of extraordinary people buried within its walls.

Who saved the life of a king? How is HMV connected to Hampstead Cemetery? And who electrified the Tube? Sheldon from the Cemetery Club blog explains in this YouTube video.

You can also read what Sheldon says below. If you like what you see/read, then I highly recommend you check out the next Cemetery Club tour.

Charles Spagnoletti

So, if you’ve ever used the London Underground, there’s one thing you’re probably very thankful for and that’s the fact it’s run by electricity.

When the Metropolitan line was opened in 1860 it was a very different premise entirely.  Yes, OK it was an Underground system and the first in the world however, it was powered by steam engines.

Every time a steam engine would come into the Underground station you were probably choked by noxious fumes of sulphur and smoke and so on. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant thing to encounter, especially if you’re trying to do a commute.

One man changed that – Charles Spagnoletti.

He was an Italian by birth and for 40-odd years he was actually working on the Great Western Railway in charge of many of their gauges and so on – basically that was his life’s work.

When he retired aged 50, he decided to go freelance, and it was in his freelance period that he actually created a lot of his best-known work. For example, the electrification of a London Underground line.

Now, when the Northern Line originally opened — to much fanfare, for example King Edward VIII and the Duke of Clarence were in attendance – they were all powered by steam engines. But [Spagnoletti] had another idea.

He was fascinated by the use of electricity – he saw it as the future of modern travel.

So it was the first line to be completely electrified, not only in terms of the trains but [also] in terms of the lighting, in terms of the signage and so on. He really wanted to clean up the act of the London Underground.

So he basically installed various cables with all of his knowledge from all of his previous work at the Great Western Railway, working alongside engineers such as Sir John Fowler, Benjamin Baker and so on. He basically created London’s first modern Tube line.

And when King Edward descended from Kennington Tube station when it was opened, he saw a gleaming hall of bright shining lights, electric trains, clean air.

To the point where John Fowler — the great engineer of the Metropolitan line — said, ‘Actually, do you know what, there’s going to be health benefits to this, and I think everyone should take an electric trip to benefit their health.’

And it’s simply because of his work. Now, he was a very bombastic and very dedicated Italian gentleman — he was known for wearing white waistcoats and lavender gloves, and he certainly was a cut above the rest in terms of not only in style, but also in talent, too.

But again, he’s buried here in a very plain grave, not off the main avenue, his talent largely forgotten.

Sir Joseph Lister

Imagine the scene: it’s 1912 and it’s Westminster Abbey. The bells are in full peal.

All the great and good of the medical profession, and indeed London’s society,  have turned out for the funeral of one of the greatest men of the Victorian era.

From that spot, they come to this spot in Hampstead Cemetery where the remains of Sir Joseph Lister are lowered into this grave.

Now, if you’re not familiar with the name Sir Joseph Lister you’ll probably familiar with one of his most famous products… not that he invented it. His name was lent to it – Listerine mouthwash.

For Sir Joseph Lister was a pioneer in antiseptic surgery. He started his career in Scotland where he was a surgeon, but he was very closely following the work of a gentleman named Louis Pasteur who was concerned with germ theory.

Now, Lister was a surgeon and at this time surgeons were concerned with how they were perceived. A number of their aprons were crusted and stained with the blood of previous surgeries.

Never mind the fact that this was completely unhygienic — they took this as a badge of honour.

Whether the patients survived or not was neither here nor there. Lister had other ideas.

He thought, if we could sterilise the surgical procedures, perhaps we could improve patient lifespan. So he was looking at the work of a gentleman by the name of Rudge who has invented a product called creosote.

Creosote was used to preserve wood. Obviously, to preserve wood, it creates an environment where no bacteria can get in to eat and dissolve it.

So [Lister] thought, if I make a solution of this, could this be applied an operation scenario? So he patented a spray which could be sprayed over the patient’s wounds and he would use that to ensure that the patient survived —  so that no infection could get in.

This was a breakthrough. [Lister] was the talk of the town of London – many of his patients survived from very
simple procedures like a broken leg or an amputation. Whereas before they would have died, and miraculously they actually started to live.

So he actually changed the face — and indeed the survival rate — of most life-changing surgeries.

His talent didn’t stop there because in the early 1900s, King Edward VII — Victoria’s son who took her throne — complained of stomach pains.

And he [Lister] was brought onto the scene, essentially to treat what was wrong with the King. Now, the King was a workaholic – he didn’t want to believe that anything was wrong.

But, it was the work of Frederick Treves, who was the best friend of the elephant man, and Joseph Lister who diagnosed the fact that he had some sort of abscess on his appendix. Now, this required skill which as a surgeon Frederick Treaves would very happily deliver, but it was Lister who was there to administer the antibiotic properties, and indeed the anaesthetic, to make sure that the King lived.

[Lister] saved the life of the monarch, and even at his funeral, the King was actually profoundly grateful for the work of Joseph Lister.

And again, in this forgotten part of Hampstead Cemetery, we owe so much to this man – the NHS, the world health
service, even – is all because of his sterling work.

Frederick Gaisberg

So, if anyone here has used Spotify or YouTube, or indeed listened to any type of music at any time they wanted to it’s all largely down to the efforts of this man.

The grave is of Frederick Gaisberg who was an American by birth – he was born in Washington DC. And he basically
made music available for the masses.

Now, back in the Victorian era, if you wanted to hear your favourite requiem or any kind of music, you would either have to listen to it in your head, or go to see it being performed live, which probably for most people would be maximum four or five times their entire lifetime.

Fred Gaisberg thought, no this isn’t good enough — we can utilise the power of technology to bring music
to the masses.

Gaisberg opened up a studio in the 1890s and started working for the grammar phone company. And using experimental technology [he] started to record anything and everything, from farmyard noises to the sound of opening doors to even opera singers, because he was fascinated by music and sound.

And indeed, if anyone’s familiar with The Beatles, George Martin – the first A&R man they say – [Gaisberg] was basically the template. They say his powers of diplomacy would have made most diplomats jealous — he could handle the most tricky of artists.

And one of his crowning achievements was when he recorded the Italian opera singer, Enrico Caruso.

Now, Enrico Caruso, if you’re familiar with the Go Compare adverts, he was very much of that type. He was in his mid-20s, kind of rotund, twizzly moustache, very bombastic and very popular.

[Gaisberg] heard his voice and was instantly in love — he heard him in La Scala and thought, this needs to be committed to some sort of record.

So, he went up to Caruso and said “We’re going to record your voice, if that’s OK,” and Caruso said “Yeah, that’s fine, I’m slightly sceptical because this means surely people won’t come to my performances, but I’ll give it a try,” [and] stated his fee.

Gaisberg then went back to the grammar phone company and said this is what Caruso wants in terms of a fee, and they sent back a telegram in bold, capital letters, essentially saying TOO MUCH. FEE EXORBITANT. DO NOT BOTHER.

Gaisberg went, “No. he’s got the voice of an angel. I’m going to pay for him out of my own pocket, and record him and see how it does.” And that’s what he did.

Next day, Caruso turns up at his hotel room and basically starts recording — slightly tentatively at first, but then once he gets into the swing of things, he starts singing beautiful music, to the point where Gaisberg actually did a cartoon of
him singing, which he presented to him afterwards.

Now, the recording equipment at the time was fairly rudimentary. It was basically a square horn that you had to sing into at point-blank range.

The piano accompaniment had to be done at the exact same level as the microphone. So the actual piano had to be hoisted up onto planks so that it could be played at the same level so that the horn could record the sound.

Gaisberg recorded it and everything went well, and he started to sell it. Remarkably, [it was] an amazing best seller.
It sold over 300,000 units, which considering the time that this was recorded – this was done with technology that was incredibly new – was an amazing feat.

And it basically kick-started not only Enrico Caruso’s career — he actually got a gig at Covent Garden Theatre a couple of months afterwards — it also cemented the recording industry and led to the modern music industry as we know it today.

Never mind George Martin, The Beatles or any kind of recording companies — because of him we can listen to things on Spotify, YouTube, Deezer, Tidal — whatever you want to listen to — all because of his efforts. And we owe that man
a great debt.

Francis Barraud

Now, for many of you who used to buy records from a physical shop, let’s say HMV, there’s a particular painting that you might be familiar with — His Master’s Voice.

It’s the one of the little jack terrier listening to a grammar phone while music plays — probably to the sound of his master’s voice, as the painting’s called.

Well, the artist is actually called Francis Barraud, and he’s buried here — he was the one who painted it.

Marie Lloyd

So, here we are at the grave of basically the Edwardian era’s Celine Dion. This is Marie Lloyd, although when she was born she was plain old Matilda Wood.

Now, she had a natural aptitude for being a performer. She was the eldest of nine siblings and many of them would actually help her as an ensemble cast to perform music and stage shows and so on, basically for the benefit of the local

And she was a great performer – just had a natural flair. [She] started at the Eagle Tavern and then worked her way up to other music halls and theatres up and down the land.

Now, Marie Lloyd was known as the nation’s sweetheart and the general public absolutely adored her, simply because of her songs. Many of her songs were very tongue in cheek – many of them had a double meaning.

For example, she’s never had her ticket punched before — yeah! And other such songs — she clearly liked to ramp up the double entendre, which survived long after she passed.

You have shows like Are You Being Served using it, right up to Citizen Khan today. She was very much a purveyor of that kind of humour.

Now, many of the songs that she sung, if you were to play back to your grandparents or your great-grandparents, if they heard them they would have instantly brought a smile because they were instantly recognisable.

And usually when I do a tour, I like to sing one of her songs because she was obviously a lady of the music hall. So I’m gonna sing, When I Take My Morning Promenade.

Now, this was written in 1908 by Mills and Scott, and you could take it two ways. It’s either about changing fashion or about a woman wanting a shag.

Either way you can take it, it doesn’t matter and ambiguous meaning is what made it so popular. So, here we go…

Since Mother Eve in the Garden long ago
Started the fashion, fashion’s been a passion

Eve wore a costume we might describe as brief
Still every season brought a change of leaf.

She’d stare if she could come to town
Oh! what would Mother Eve think of my new Parisian gown? (Chorus…)

When I take my morning promenade
Quite the fashion card, on the Promenade

Oh! I don’t mind nice boys staring hard
If it satisfies their desire

Do you like my dress just a little bit
Just a little bit….. Not too much of it,

If it shows my shape just a little bit
That’s the little bit the boys admire

Fancy the girls in the prehistoric days
Each wore a bearskin covering her fair skin,

Lately Salome has charmed us to be sure
Wearing some rows of beads and not much more

Fancy me dressing like that, too
The ‘Daily Mirror’ man would love an interview

As I take my morning promenade
Quite the fashion card, on the Promenade

Well, I don’t mind nice boys staring hard
If it satisfies their desire

Do you like my dress just a little bit
Just a little bit….. Not too much of it,

If it shows my shape just a little bit
That’s the little bit the boys admire

I’ve heard my Grandmother wore the crinoline
Then came the bussle, Oh! it was a tussle

Women were tied up and loaded up with dress
Now, fashion plates decree we must wear less.

Each year our costume grows more brief
I wonder when we’ll get back to the good old fashioned leaf?

As I take my morning promenade
Quite the fashion card, on the Promenade

Oh! I don’t mind nice boys staring hard
If it satisfies their desire

Do you like my dress just a little bit
Just a little bit….. but not too much of it,

If it shows my shape just a little bit
That’s the little bit the boys admire

And there we are.

More about Cemetery Club tours

Find out more about the Cemetery Club blog and the tours they run at their website.

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Waterlow Park: the peaceful alternative to Hampstead Heath

Since September 1st is the start of autumn and we’ll soon be saying goodbye to the summer, I thought I’d share some photos of an autumnal Waterlow Park to celebrate one of the best parts of my favourite season — long Sunday walks.

These photos were taken last year on an exploration around Highgate, just when the leaves were turning golden orange and before they’d fallen off the trees.

The colours made the view all the more impressive…

View from Waterlow Park, Hampstead, London
Image: A Peace of London

On our way around the park, we happened across the statue of Sydney H. Waterlow, a philanthropist and politician who donated the park to the public as “a garden for the gardenless”.

Statue of Sydney H. Waterlow at Waterlow Park, Hampstead, London
Image: A Peace of London
Waterlow Park, Hampstead, London
Image: A Peace of London

All this colour made the lake (pond?) look quite dramatic.

The lake at Waterlow Park, Hampstead, London
Image: A Peace of London

While you’re there, take a walk around the gardens of Lauderdale House (which was sadly closed when we visited) and take in the equally-dramatic statues:

Statue at Waterlow Park, Hampstead, London
Image: A Peace of London
Statue at at Waterlow Park, Hampstead, London
Image: A Peace of London

Waterlow Park: the essentials

Opening times: 7.30am-8pm, daily

Nearest Tube: Archway

More information: Visit the Friends of Waterlow Park website. For more information about Lauderdale House, visit the house’s website.

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St George’s Square Gardens, Pimlico: my sunny lunchtime spot

Among the private gardens and posh white stucco houses that line Pimlico’s streets sits St George’s Square Gardens. Originally laid out in the 19th century, it offers a welcome break from the chain sandwich shops and office blocks of nearby Victoria.

Now that the sun is shining again, I took my new camera lens on a walk to show you why I’ll take any excuse to be there with a book…

St George's Square Garden, Pimlico, London
Image: A Peace of London

St George’s Square was laid out in 1839 and became residential 15 years later. At the time it was open on one side to the Thames and even had its own pier.

The church at one end is St Saviour’s, which was built in 1864 on land gifted by Thomas Cubitt in his will. The church is the last one to be designed by Thomas Cundy Jnr — son of the famous architect. It thankfully survived war damage and a church hall was added in the 1950s.

St George's Square Garden, Pimlico, London
Image: A Peace of London

The church has some impressive connections: Diana, Princess of Wales, worked in the church hall prior to her marriage to Prince Charles and Laurence Olivier was once a choir boy in the church itself.

Nowadays, the church allows the gardens some shelter from the busy Pimlico streets. Big, beautiful lawns sit between a small flower garden at one end and a dog-friendly area at the other, with a fountain and lots of benches in peaceful spots in the middle. The benches are marked with messages dedicated to locals who have passed on and it’s a bitter-sweet experience to read them.

St George's Square Garden, Pimlico, London
Image: A Peace of London

Visit at lunchtime you’ll see a decent amount of Pimlico’s office workers, as well as yummy mummies and boot camps. Though, thankfully, there are still enough quiet corners to while away the minutes before I’m due back at my desk…

The essentials

Opening times: Opens 8am daily; closing time is dependent on the time of year — see website for full list.

Nearest Tube: Pimlico

More information: Visit the Westminster Council website here

St George's Square Garden, Pimlico, London
Image: A Peace of London

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Meanwhile Gardens, west London

One of my favourite quiet places in London has to be Camley Street Natural Park in King’s Cross and I’m very glad to report that I learned of a potential rival to its (very green) crown in yesterday’s beautiful sunshine.

Meanwhile Gardens sit alongside the Grand Union Canal near Westbourne Park station. They were built on derelict wasteland in 1976 to create some much-needed green space and to use an area that had been recently cleared of crumbling houses. The council gave temporary permission to build the gardens, hence the name ‘Meanwhile’.

Meanwhile Community Garden, west London
Image: A Peace of London

The gardens we see today are the result of a restoration project in 2000 and truly live up to their name as a community project; the gardens are supported by youth offenders carrying out their reparation orders and in turn help support those with mental health problems.

They also encapsulate the diversity of this west London community — at one end is this quiet green space and at the other is a renowned skate park.

Meanwhile Community Garden, west London
Image: A Peace of London

They’re also super-peaceful; even on the hottest day of the year so far, I still managed to find a quiet spot. If it hadn’t been for a meeting back in central London, I could easily have sat here for hours, listening to the world go by on the canal and watching the sunlight slowly drift along the Moroccan tiles.

To find Meanwhile Gardens and enjoy them for yourself, simply exit the Hammersmith & City/Circle line at Westbourne Park and head west along the canal (towards Ladbroke Grove).

Meanwhile Community Garden, west London
Image: A Peace of London

Nearest Tube: Westbourne Park

More information: Visit the Meanwhile Gardens website

HT to Saira at Living London, on whose wandering I discovered these beautiful gardens. If you haven’t made it on one of Saira’s walks yet, do it this summer — you won’t regret it!

Meanwhile Community Garden, west London
Image: A Peace of London