Christmas is Open

In the season when everything is roller-coasting around shopping it’s easy to forget Christmas is not only about spending. In fact you’d feel much happier to spend some time outdoors, see the city in festive spirit and pick up some gifts on the go. Depending on your budget bring enough to buy warm drinks and street snacks or even take some with you – there’s nothing nicer than a flask of tea and home-made fruitcake or gingerbreads to keep you going while exploring.

Trafalgar Square
Christmas is not the same without the smell of a spruce tree and every year the City of London orders one from Norway to stand in the square centre. It’s a tradition that’s been going on for years and switching on the light ceremony this year is on December 5th at 6 pm (mark your calendars!). There will be speeches and carol singing on the night and every evening through December (singing, not speeches). As the open Christmas venue organised by the city this public tradition will get 10 points out of 10. Bring a hot drink, friends or family and enjoy the holiday spirit.

Southbank Centre
Walking by the Thames is nice all over the year, but during Christmas the area gets a special makeover for the season, with lights and markets popping up everywhere. Atmospheric Southbank Centre winter market is open for two months from November, bringing the buzz and light to the river. No doubt it will be busy and popular with locals and visitors alike, but if you get overwhelmed you can always step aside and enjoy the views over the river with cup of cocoa, either bought from one of the cosy looking cabins or kept warm in the home brought flask.

Borough Market
For the foodies Borough Market is a great destination on weekends all around the year, but in December it opens every day with seasonal food, decorations and it’s own Christmas tree. You can easily spend a fortune there, but you don’t have to. The samples are often free and if you pick up one or two food items you really liked you can either give them as gifts or have them as special treats in Christmas. Even if you really are on a budget (for example working as independent illustrator!) you can still spoil your taste puds with a doughnut or cinnamon bun from one of the vendors.

Somerset House
There are many ice skating spots popping up in London, but the one in Somerset House is the oldest and one of most beautiful. Even if you don’t plan to skate, you can still watch other skaters and take in the holiday vibe of the beautifully decorated square with its Christmas tree and lights. You can even have hot chocolate while’re watching, but it’s not exactly cheap and you may want to pick one up before heading to the Somerset House. If you bring your own sustainable thermo cup, it will last for longer. At the end you may decide to give a go on skates as well.

Carnaby Street
Many streets are lighting up for Christmas, but Carnaby street is special this year as all its decorations are recycled and sustainably produced. It’s called Carnaby x Project Zero and this years theme is ocean diversity. There are plenty of street lights in London, but this one is the first to be produced with zero waste from start to end. Even the energy used was renewable! Fingers crossed next year all the others will follow this initiative. When you’re done with admiring the sea creatures you could head to Chinatown and pick up some authentic street food on the go.

Covent Garden
Although shopping in the area is one of London’s most expensive the market lights and decorations are free to see for everyone and if not exactly the place for shopping spree you can find a small gift or two. I personally would pop by at Stanfords to pick up a specialist travel book either as a present for myself or to a friend. You could even go to the British Museum later, with more than 60 free galleries there is plenty to see any time of the year. The quirky Clocks and Watches room with the display of wooden cuckoo clocks and golden pocket watches sounds especially seasonal.

Greenwich
There’s more in Greenwich than the Christmas market, although walking around the village and admiring decorated shop fronts could be your main activity of the day. There are plenty of priced activities and this year, for the first time, skating opens up in Royal Museums. Either if you’re skating or not you can still take in the magical vibe at the Queen’s House and watch the skaters whizzing by in their colourful hats and scarves. When you get overwhelmed by holiday buzz, find a quiet spot in the park for treats you brought from home or picked up at the market.

Tower Bridge
London’s most magnificent bridge is not less magnificent at Christmas and lighten’s up this part of the city in darker evenings. With Christmas market on one side and Tower of London on the other this area has plenty activities including ice skating next to Tower. But even just a walk along the bank in the dusk is atmospheric to see Christmas tree and seasonal art installations near the City Hall, with views over Tower Bridge in the background. You can also take a stroll over the bridge and admire winter lights from the heights. Dress warm as it can get quite nippy.

Natural History Museum
Another museum that is magical in Christmas. Not only because there’s a skate ring next to it, but in wintery light the cake like museum really looks festive. You may think Natural History Museum is about dusty skeletons and extinct species, but the truth is very far from it. The museum has many different collections and even a huge Mineralogy collection with rocks, gems, ores and even meteorites. As the dark skies are lit up during Christmas, this is an ideal time to explore the stars in close contact and add the sparkle to the day.

Camden Market
If you want to get lost in alternative Christmas reality then Camden Market is just the place for it. You can easily spend half a day exploring the quirky shops and stalls in the depths of Camden and if you get tired, pick up some food from the diverse food outlets to eat on the canal side. Even if you don’t find anything to buy (although there’s plenty of funky and weird stuff), you’ll still have festive time with live music, seasonal food and decorations livening up one of the oldest street markets in London.

With street markets, skating rings and lights there’s plenty to explore this season. And while you are walking keep an eye out for real spruce trees as well, growing in local parks and on the streets. With all the pimped up trees across the city, there is nothing more beautiful than a real thing.
Christmas is open. Get outdoors and enjoy the season! 🌲

Map of Waterfalls in London Parks

After taking a creative break in Edinburgh I’m back in discovering the natural wonders of London. So todays infographic/map is about waterfalls! Waterfalls in London doesn’t really sound likely, but London actually has quite a few waterfalls, although most of them are man-made. Some parks are quite well known for their water cascades such as Regent’s Park and Kyoto Garden in Holland Park, but did you know there’s a beautiful waterfall on the Carshalton Ponds in Sutton or a quirky brutalist style cascade in Barbican Estate?

There is something really tranquil about being near the water and sound of waterfall has a very calming effect. However with the loss of natural environment and man-made structures replacing the nature, the real waterfalls and cascading rivers in cities have become scarce. Artificial structures like ponds and steps may replace the nature, but they are far from being the real thing. If more city parks would have real streams and waterfalls this would help considerably to create quiet pockets, where to relax and enjoy the nature.

I’ve seen many amazing ‘real’ waterfalls around the world and you may argue cities are not a place for waterfalls, but I disagree. I think cities are exactly the right place for anything that would make it more natural/calm/wild/interesting and better for its residents. For example why couldn’t there be a waterfall park in London, where people in all ages could go to relax and hear the water flowing. River Wandle is hardly a Minoo Park, but maybe, with a little help, it could be? 🌊

 

WaterfallMap

Leafy Southwark Walking Map

Southwark district is not the greenest of the neighbourhoods, but it is very walkable and riverside adds a lot to the area. When I lived in the area I used to walk to Borough Market on Saturdays along the riverbank. This was my weekend treat and making this map has a been another stroll down the memory lane.

I base this map on the previous design so I don’t need to make the full sketch again. Instead I start with planning my route and as I know the area well this part of the process is like ‘a walk in the park’!

Working on this this map is not as phased as previous one -I work simultaneously on all layers, roughly sketching in the map. By the end of the day I have solid base map with some landmarks.

Next morning I’m filling in the rest of the map – finishing the grid, adding street names and adjusting the trail. I’m also adding some street trees by the river to make it ‘leafier’.

And it’s finished! Hope some of you will enjoy this walk as much as I enjoyed making it. πŸ€žπŸƒ

Green Clerkenwell Walking Map

Since it’s been a while I made a proper walking map I felt it was about a time to get back into map making! I chose Clerkenwell as it used to be inside my lunch radius and I spent many happy hours exploring the area over my lunch breaks. Some of the breaks got longer than intended, but I like to think I made it up by staying late.. on most days. πŸ˜‰

I am starting the map with a research on internet and making a rough area sketch with some landmarks on my sketch pad. This is a nice task and I’m really enjoying it, spending most of my morning doing this. The area hasn’t changed a lot, but I want to make sure I’m including everything important and my map is up to date.

It’s Saturday so I’m going for a little walk after lunch to a book festival near local park. It’s quite nice and I’m inspired to tackle my next task after I return. I open the Google Maps and roughly sketch out the walking path. It doesn’t have to be accurate at this point as I can always adjust it later.

I continue on Monday. My research done I now need to digitalise the map. After a late start (I’m out of coffee so I need to refuel!) I spend the noon tracing in the base map. I work from Google Maps screenshot and first trace in the green spaces and main streets, then smaller streets. I’m also deciding the colours for the map.

I continue filling in my map on afternoon and it’s going well for couple of hours. I add the walking path and some street names on my base map. I also start adding the landmarks, working on Google maps simultaneously. I decide to expand my path further north and need to work out the extension. At this point I’m also adding the title and it really starts to look like a proper map!

I take a coffee break at four and keep working, adding some icons. At around 8 I compare the map with the earlier version and don’t think it’s going on right direction.. It feels too heavy, so I’m reverting back to 4 o’clock version. I want to keep the map light and airy and to save the day I’m adding lines under landmarks instead. At this point I also decide to add a legend and make the title more prominent. I’m finishing around midnight. πŸŒ™

Next morning I am finalising the map. I’m deciding to add more street names as my map should be actually walkable, not only an illustration. I’m also adjusting the trail and making little fixes here and there.. Finally I’m adding some texture to ‘age’ the map and it’s done! And here’s the final version of the Green Clerkenwell Walking Map.

Timeline of new species in London

Londoners have always been innovative with introducing new species and some of the trees and wildlife now taken granted in London are actually, on the timeline of natural history, quite new. Some introduced species become naturalised and we tend to forget they actually have foreign origins. And then there are new ‘invasive’ species who also have found home in London.

The timeline does not include all non-native species (very far from it!), but a tiny selection to illustrate when different species have arrived and became part of the city. Personally I think they enrich London and make it more interesting and vibrant place, but everyone are welcome to their own opinion. 😊

Non-native species now settled in London

  1. Apple
    Now naturalised fruit tree in UK is actually from Asia and was first cultivated in Britain by Romans. It’s likely apple has been grown in London since its foundation, nearly 2000 years ago!
  2. Fallow Deer
    Fallow Deer are also introduced to Europe from Asia and were first brought to UK around 11 century by Normans. It’s now become a common deer in UK and London parks alongside the red deer.
  3. Rabbit
    Yes, rabbit also travelled to Britain from mainland Europe with Normans. Now widespread in UK and London parks, the rabbit hasn’t been around for longer than 800 years!
  4. Sycamore
    Now naturalised tree from mainland Europe was introduced around middle ages, more than 500 years ago and is now a common tree of London’s urban forest.
  5. Horse Chestnut
    Horse Chestnut is actually from Turkey and was brought to UK on late 16th century. It’s another loved non-native tree that has found a home on London streets and in parks.
  6. London Plane
    One of the most common street trees in London was introduced from Spain in 17th century, but this hardy urbanised tree is actually a hybrid of oriental and American plane.
  7. Great White Pelican
    The pelican has been around in St James’s Park since 1664 when first birds were gifted to London by ambassador from Russia. 40 pelicans have since lived in the park (corrected).
  8. Weeping Willow
    This willow is native in Northern China and was first seen in London in 1700s. It’s often found near ponds, rivers and canals thanks to its dramatic drooping branches.
  9. Canada Goose
    A native in North-America this large goose has been around for around 300 years, spread widely on 20th century and is now the most common goose around London park lakes.
  10. Egyptian Goose
    This African native has been an ornamental bird since 18th century, but made an escape and has now made a permanent home of London parks mainly because of the milder winters.
  11. Grey Squirrel
    The most known London species of non-natives has been running wild in London since 1870s. Originally a guest from North-America the Grey Squirrel has taken over London and most of the country.
  12. Little Owl
    Brought over from Europe in late 1880s little owl is now quite common in England and Wales and can be spotted hunting in leafier parts of London urban forrest.
  13. Mandarin Duck
    This colourful bird from Far East was also part of the ornamental waterfowl before breaking into freedom in 20th century and now living freely on London park lakes.
  14. Ring-Necked Parakeet
    The only resident parrot in UK is originally from Africa and Asia. First spotted in London nearly half a century ago it settled permanently in over last few decades.

And here’s the visual timeline.. Enjoy!

Sources that helped me to make this infographic

https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/common-non-native-trees/
https://www.rsb.org.uk/get-involved/biologyweek/uk-s-favourite-tree-species
https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer
https://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks
https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/
https://www.wikipedia.org