London By Moonlight.
This past January, The Archer and I took the train from the idyllic town of Godalming, Surrey, to lively London for a weekend exploration of the city. I hadn’t been to London since I was a young child–nearly 20 years ago, and subsequently have few memories of it. Luckily The Archer turned out to be an amazing tour guide and led us around the city to a combination of the traditional tourist sites, as well as the not so touristy sites. Although only there for 2 days and 2 nights this time round, we’d seen and done so much that I could never fit our experience into a single post–so this shall just be focused on our evening excursions around the city. After arriving at London Waterloo late on a Thursday afternoon, we traversed along The River Thames en route to drop off our bags at The Mad Hatter Hotel. Wasting no time, our adventure began as we headed back out to explore the city by night.
No matter when you visit London, it’s sure to be an exciting experience. However, there was something about the time of year that we went that led to a magical experience of the city. It was just after Christmas, but the Christmas lights were still hung; draped across the historic streets and sparkling amidst the illuminated buildings. We occasionally stumbled upon Christmas markets in the squares, but they were desolate compared to what they would have been before the holiday season, when crowds doing last minute Christmas shopping would have surely taken away from the beauty of the nearly barren festive squares. Now it was as if they were set up just for the 2 of us to wander through. Granted, as we walked through places like Covent Garden, Picadilly Circus, Oxford Street and Trafalgar Square, we were then quickly reminded how bustling this city is. The Archer led us to the famous sites of Westminster Abbey and the Elizabeth Tower (Big Ben) which were so beautifully illuminated against the night sky, and I was continuously filled with butterflies as these are places I read about all the time, but never get to see in real life. Maybe it was due to the January cold, or maybe because I was awestruck and blinded to everything other than the sites, but I feel as if we saw these grand monuments and little pieces of history in solitude, in our own little world. London was truly as magical as I’d dreamed.
Heading back to the South Bank, we walked along The Thames seeking out a specific riverside pub with amazing views of the city (p.s it was called The Founders Arms, and the mulled wine was quite good). After warming up in the pub for a bit, we decided to keep walking along the river, where we happened upon Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. We would be seeing a show there the following night, and spoiler alert–it was one of the best shows and entertainment experiences I’ve ever had–read all about it HERE♡. We then unexpectedly discovered the Winchester Palace. This to me, was one of the most beautiful things we’d seen that night. Neither of us knew that it even existed, so to just happen upon the remnants of a mysterious 12th Century palace (albeit much destroyed from a fire in the 1800’s) was pretty incredible, and one can only imagine the former grandeur of the forgotten palace. Today, only the moss covered western wall with a great rose window remains.
Just past the palace ruins we were shocked to run into The Golden Hind, Sir Francis Drake’s ship. For a few moments we were in a great combination of confusion and elation, trying to figure out if it was in fact Sir Francis Drake’s actual ship, or was it a replica? It was night time and difficult to see clearly, and we had just stumbled upon an actual palace, so for a few moments in our minds it was completely plausible that it could indeed be Drake’s actual ship from the 16th century (Fun fact: Drake’s circumnavigation of the globe was secretly commissioned by the great Queen Elizabeth I, and was equally a pirating expedition as it was an exploration. Drake was later knighted aboard the ship by the Queen herself). We then realized that it’s not quite so plausible that a 500 year old famous explorer’s wooden ship would be docked in the Thames at night..just hanging out..completely unprotected. Let’s just blame our thinking on the mulled wine from earlier. However, there is actually a chair made from pieces of the Golden Hind sitting in the Bodleian Library in Oxford (now added to my list of things to see). So as it turns out it is a replica, but it is super impressive nonetheless.
On to The Mad Hatter
After a most incredible evening at The Globe Theatre (which you can read about over HERE♡), we made the walk back to The Mad Hatter Hotel. As the night became darker and more bitter, we scurried through the desolate Blackfriars Bridge tunnel along The Thames, as the lone melancholy voice of an opera balladeer echoed throughout the tunnel’s tile lain walls. Upon arriving at our London address, we were met with friendly faces in a dimly lit pub, where supposedly the pies are renowned. It sounded like the perfect invitation to try them out. A bit of interesting trivia, according to the hotel itself:
“Well, The Mad Hatter was originally a gentlemans hat factory and shop, making hats such as the famous Bowler, Topper and Boater. The Mad Hatter, of course, was a character in Lewis Carol’s “Alice in Wonderland” – which hosts reference to a myth that the glue used in the making of the hat rims contained Mercury. It is said that the Mercury dispersing particles so close to the brain would tamper with the molecules of the mind and therefore send people slightly mad. Thus creating the phrase “mad as a hatter”.”
We ordered the ‘Ale & Pie Tasting Board’, which included 3 varieties of pies paired alongside their best ale matches. We both really enjoyed the Spicy Chicken Madras, but we do suggest ordering the Tasting Board as they were all delicious and it was totally worth it. I was blown away by how good the pies were, but then again we don’t really eat savory pies in the US (besides the occasional chicken pot pie I suppose), so I had to ask The Archer for his more well rounded opinion on the quality, since he is indeed English and has more experience with pie. His response: “Quite nice.” He also mentions that he wouldn’t go out of his way to have the pies here (i.e. don’t plan a trip to London just for pie), however if in the Southwark area and hungry, definitely stop by and you surely won’t regret it. Overall I’d say the Mad Hatter was a pleasant place to stay for the weekend. It was budget friendly with comfortable rooms, welcoming staff and a charming pub. The South Bank is a fantastic area with beautiful views of the city, and the hotel was perfectly located for things we wanted to see during our weekend stay in London.
Taking note from our evening excursions, my number one suggestion would be not to miss the chance to explore London by night on foot. It feels less crowded, and breathtakingly beautiful in a somewhat eerie way. Seeing as we did this in January weather, I’d imagine it’s even more pleasant during warmer months. Although, the cold is worth it as London around Christmas time is adorned in sparkling lights and glittering trimmings.