Gah! It’s already Sunday evening, which means I’ve only got two full days left on this trip! Time certainly does fly when you’re having fun. And I haven’t yet written about my enjoyable Saturday, but that’s what I’m here to do now, so let’s focus on that, shall we? 🙂
So, Saturday. It was another glorious day outside (no rain, lots of sunshine, and plenty of warmth) and I had another fun, new-to-me activity planned. Well, the TYPE of activity, a Hidden London tour of an Underground station, wasn’t new to me as I did one at Piccadilly on my last trip, but the specific experience was new as it was a tour of a completely different station, Clapham South (which is a station I hadn’t even been to before this trip). The whole point of these tours is to explore the history of the Underground network, which may sound a bit dull to some, but I had a lot of fun on my previous tour, so I knew this one would be great as well.
The day started much like the others have on this trip, with a bit of blogging and catching up on my notifications (I always wake up to more when I’m here, since I’m going to bed when everyone back home is still up and about), but with the tour booked for 12:55, Matt and I decided to do a bit of walking towards Clapham South in the bright sunshine (I didn’t have time to do a morning walk before we left, but Matt was happy to walk more than we probably otherwise would have, allowing us to leisurely head towards our destination). There were lots of people out and about (courtesy of the sunshine and the fact that it was Saturday, I’m sure), so we had to dodge through some crowds, but things thinned out a bit by the time we got to Victoria Embankment. Lots of people talking photos though, which I can appreciate, since the weather was so great to snap photos of all the London landmarks! Speaking of which…
We didn’t have any breakfast before setting out on our journey (thanks to intermittent fasting, I don’t really do breakfast anymore anyway), but we did have enough time to stop at a coffee shop once we reached Clapham South, so we sat down for a coffee (Matt) and a brownie (me) before gathering at the station for the tour. Thankfully, the tickets were clear about where to meet (in the station’s ticket hall) and we were only standing there for about a minute before someone from the tour found us (and others who were waiting) and took us over to the entrance point (unlike the Piccadilly tour, this tour does not involve going through the in-use station to reach our destination underneath it). The focus for the Clapham South tour isn’t on the station per se, but rather on the purpose-built shelter found about 70 feet underground. The purpose-built nature of the shelter makes this station a unique one because, while many Underground stations were used during WW2 as shelter during air raids, the majority of them just offered train platforms for shelter. In the case of this station and handful of others, the UK government dug out and built underground shelters that could hold 8,000 people each to ensure as many people as possible could be protected from the many bombs that were dropped on London. Unfortunately, as we learned, these purpose-built shelters weren’t completed until 1942, by which time the German blitzes over London had mostly stopped. Of course, no one could have known that going in, and that doesn’t mean that the shelters didn’t still get used, both during the rest of WW2 and afterwards. Three of the other shelters were put to immediate use upon completion – one as a base for the US military, another as a barracks for the UK military, and another for use by the UK Ministry of Information. And the others (Clapham South, plus four others) were used as air raid shelters, but they (thankfully) never had to be used beyond ~20% capacity. Still, that means a lot of people were able to get protection from bombs, which I’m sure they were very grateful for!
In comparison to the Piccadilly tour, I have to say I enjoyed that one a bit more, maybe because the actual Underground/trains elements played a bigger part in it. It’s not that I’m a train aficionado or anything, but something about the fact that we had to start in the station itself and then spent some time in it with our guides before going to the normally-off-limits stuff made it a little more interesting. At Clapham South, there’s an exterior entrance that takes you directly to the underground shelter, so you completely bypass the station to do the tour (be warned that you must go down 180 steps to start this tour, with no elevator option). That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy this one though because I definitely did! It just didn’t feel quite as “hidden” perhaps. 🙂 Our tour guides were excellent though! They seemed really passionate about the content and had great information to share, which they did in a very engaging way (they tended to switch off from one guide to another as we moved through the different spaces, which kept things more interesting and less monotonous). All told, we spent ~70 minutes with them, which felt right as we were never rushed through anything nor did it ever feel dull at any point.
Check out the photos below, where you can not only see some of neat stuff from the tour, but you can also read more of the details about what we learned.
Some of the wall graffiti from people who used the shelter at various times.
And that was the end of another great Hidden London tour! I really can’t recommend them enough as I find them so interesting and the guides I’ve had for both tours have been great. A really cool way to see parts of London you’d otherwise never get to!
With our desire to see some stuff under the ground satiated, Matt and I circled back to the idea we had the previous day to see something above the ground. That something? Why, Hampton Court Palace, of course! We’d balked at doing it on Friday because we didn’t think we’d have enough time to do it and get back in time for our evening plans (the palace is about an hour by train from the hotel), so we decided to try again on Saturday. I was a bit leery to be honest as I looked into tickets on Friday and there were no available times showing for the window in which we would arrive, but Matt is really familiar with that area as his parents are from there, so he assured me that we would have other options should we not be able to get palace tickets, so we went for it. Since it is so (relatively) far from central London, I didn’t want us to waste the journey, but my worry proved unnecessary as we reached the palace in plenty of time before they closed and we were able to easily get tickets. And as an added bonus, the very nice person at the ticket counter sold us two child tickets (£14 instead of £28, so it was like 2-for-1 – result!) because we wouldn’t have a huge amount of time to see everything. As it turned out, we had plenty of time see (almost) everything we wanted to, so it really did all work out perfectly!
Anyway, onto the palace! It’s not a royal residence these days, but in the 1500s, it was a favorite of Henry VIII and, in the 1600s, it was massively rebuilt by William III (aka William the Orange) and later became home to George II (who ended up being the last monarch to live there). For hundreds of years after that, it housed “grace and favour” residents, who are basically people the reigning monarch likes and wants to give free housing to. Apparently, the very last of these residents wasn’t gone until 2017! Unsurprisingly, being a palace and all, it’s become a big tourist destination, but one I’ve managed to never visit until now. I actually thought I had at some point, but a search of my blog revealed nothing and when I googled a photo of it before we went, it rang zero bells, so I safely concluded I’d never visited before. So, a brand-new experience then! Matt was quite excited for it as he hadn’t visited for many years, but had happy memories of it from his childhood.
As palaces go, this one was quite good. While it didn’t quite strike me as much as some others have, the age and history were certainly interesting, not to mention the fact that it was used by some well-known British monarchs. And being able to walk around it in lovely, sunny weather was a bonus! I hate when weather ruins the experience and/or memories of a site like this, but I know I’ll always think of Hampton Court with sun on my mind.
As with the Hidden London tour, I’ll use the photos below to tell the rest of the story and to highlight some of what I saw.
Some of the monarchs who lived in Hampton Court Palace.
And that brings us to the end of Hampton Court! While we both would like to have seen more of the gardens, as well as the palace’s famous maze, we just didn’t have time on this visit. On the plus side though, that gives me a reason to go back again someday! On this day though, we were certainly ready for the hour-long ride back into central London. We did have to wait a bit for the train at Hampton Court (and, as mentioned above, there was nowhere to sit while we waited -boo!), but once it arrived, it was smooth sailing back into the city.
You’d think we were done for the day at this point, but we weren’t quite yet. We did stop back at the hotel so we could refresh ourselves a bit, but then went right back out into the city, though this time it was just to head to meet up with some friends in their flat to watch the Eurovision finale. Although I’d heard of Eurovision, I’d never watched any of it, but I was up for the experience! In addition to watching (and commenting on) all the performances, we each got to draw random countries, with prizes given out for the top three and bottom one country (poor Germany). And as luck would have it, I drew Spain, so I got some biscuits as a prize to celebrate them getting third place. 🙂
It was around 1 AM when we got back to the hotel, so I was more than ready for bed! Hence why this post about Saturday didn’t get finished until Monday morning. 🙂 And, fun fact – I actually finished the whole second half of this post on my train journey to Glastonbury (which I’ll write about soon). Sunday was an easier day, focused on seeing another show and catching up with my friend Steve. Shorter post about that coming soon!