23 July 2012
The Torch Relay is getting ever closer to its final destination, the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, and we are following it right to the end, pointing out the best of the history, heritage, landscapes and sites that it passes by. We have travelled with the Olympic Flame around the UK, from the most southerly tip to the furthest north and it has finally arrive in London with just four more days to go. We are following the Torch during its last few days through London, picking out the best of the sights and sounds for you to discover.
Starting Day 66 in Lewisham, in south London, there is a plethora of places to visit as the Torch moves through this diverse borough, but we have highlighted Eltham Palace and Gardens as an outstanding site to drop in on after lining the streets. Millionaires Stephen and Virginia Courtauld built their 1930s Art Deco mansion adjoining the Great Hall of medieval Eltham Palace, which was built for Edward IV in the 1470s. Their 20th-century mansion is a masterpiece of design, the exterior being sympathetic with the Great Hall, but the interior being a glamorous 1930s showpiece. It has an electric mix of Art Deco, ocean-liner style and cutting-edge Swedish design.
In contrast to the high-end design of Eltham Palace, near the next Torch Relay stop is Croydon Bramley Bank Nature Reserve. The nature reserve includes oak and ash woodland with a clearing of acidic grassland that supports a range of bird, butterfly and flower species. The nature reserve also has the largest woodland pond in Croydon, which has special wildlife value. This is an excellent way to experience the countryside in Greater London.
The last stop of the day is in Wandsworth, where there will be an evening celebration. If you still have the energy after a long day following the Torch around London the Wandsworth Museum is definitely worth a visit. The museum tells the story of the Wandsworth region spanning 25,000 years through three distinct ‘threads’: the natural landscape, the cultural landscape and the human story. This is a great way to learn more about London’s history, a capital that the whole world will be watching during the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
One day closer to its final stop, the Torch Relay sets off in Kingston this morning, close to Hampton Court Palace. After following the Torch a short distance to Richmond, why not escape the cheering crowds with a stroll around Richmond Park. Richmond Park is the largest of the eight Royal parks in London, covering an area of 2,500 acres. The royal connection to this park probably goes back further than any of the others, beginning with King Edward I. The park hasn’t changed much over the centuries and has a varied landscape of hills, woodland gardens and grasslands set among ancient trees. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a deer or two in the morning mist. Another place to take a break from the Torch Relay in Richmond is to explore the glasshouses, landscapes and history of Kew Gardens. There is a lot of see, including formal gardens, museum, historic buildings, landscaped features and wildlife.
After rejoining the Torch Relay as it travels west to Hounslow, it is worth exploring one of London’s lesser-known gems, Boston Manor House, a fine Jacobean manor built in 1623. It was originally built for Lady Mary Reade, a young widow, but was expanded in 1670 when it passed into new ownership. The parkland around the manor contains a lake and ancient cedar tress and inside the house are magnificent 17th century State Rooms and Dining room. The day ends in Ealing and if you still haven’t had your fill of culture why not head to the Pitzhanger Manor Gallery and House, now a major cultural venue in West London. The historic house is now the largest public gallery space in West London exhibiting contemporary art. Exhibitions in the manor often respond to the history and architecture of the house.
Day 68 begins in Harrow, West London. As the Torch Relay continues on its route, it stops in Brent, the home of the ‘Neasden Temple’, the largest Hindu temple of its kind outside India. A masterpiece of Indian stonework and craftsmanship, replete with towering white pinnacles, smooth domes and intricate marble pillars, all based on ancient Vedic principles, it is said to have required 1,500 craftsmen and cost £12 million to build. As well as being a place of worship the temple houses a cultural centre and permanent exhibition on understanding Hinduism.
As you follow the meandering Torch Relay route from Brent to Barnet you may be wondering how much faster the relay would have been if someone had just flown the torch around the UK on a plane. The Barnet RAF museum may have some answers for you. This is Britain’s only national museum dedicated wholly to aviation. The museum is situated on the site of the original London Aerodrome, used for the great Hendon Air shows between the two World Wars. Five mammoth buildings contain over a hundred aircraft, artefacts, aviation memorabilia, fine art and photographs covering the history of aviation from early balloon flights to the latest jet fighters.
However, despite flying being the fastest way to travel, some of us still like a good walk. If you have been watching the Olympic Torch go past in Haringey, you could have a stroll along the Parkland Walk, a 4.5 mile linear walkway which follows the course of the old railway line which used to run between Finsbury Park and Alexandra Palace. The walk is a Local Nature Reserve and a Site of Metropolitan Importance. It follows the bridges and cuttings of the line, and is almost all in Haringey.
With only a few days to go before the Torch reaches the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, excitement is high. However, this means only one more day to tell you about the heritage, nature and hidden gems of London that you can discover along the relay route. We will be back tomorrow with Day 69 of Torch Relay as it travels through central London, uncovering what the capital has to offer the curious traveller.
Post by Hannah, Discovering Place team
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