As winter moves into spring, daffodils are blooming in London.  Here is an image from Regent’s Park, taken on 29th February in this Leap Year.

Regent's Park daffodil (1)To reach the park from my home, I need to cross the busy Marylebone Road.  I have a few options, above ground and below ground.  One of the subterranean routes became a little brighter this year.  The underpass near Baker Street station is now “The Wonderpass”.

Wonderpass welcome

It’s still just a subway connecting the north side of Marylebone Road with the south side, but it’s cleaner, brighter and safer.  If you’re running for a train at Baker Street station, then a safe crossing is all you need.

Baker Street stationBut if you have time to “Look Around You” as the signs say, you can get a little bit more from this curious cultural crossing.

Wonderpass steps

A miniature stage-set on one wall reminded me to book tickets for this summer’s plays at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre.  Other wall panels give a timeline of Marylebone’s local history.   Did you know that Marylebone was the site of London’s first Indian restaurant, the Hindostanee Coffee House, which opened on George Street in 1810?

Wonderpass Hindostanee signThe Coffee House is long gone, so if you’re looking for a modern version of Indian vegetarian food, I recommend Woodlands Restaurant on Marylebone Lane.

What else is signposted from the Wonderpass?

Wonderpass signs SE

Paddington Street Gardens are not as vast as Regent’s Park, but they are still a precious “breathing space” in our densely-packed urban village.

Primula in Paddington St Gardens

If you want to read more about “The Wonderpass”, click here for the official announcement from the Baker Street Quarter Partnership, and click here for a more sceptical view from The New Statesman.

And wherever you are, Look Around You!

Wonderpass mirror


Christmas Eve in Marylebone

It’s Christmas Eve, and London is quieter than normal, as many people leave town for Christmas.  This may actually be the best time of year to be in Marylebone.

All the lights and decoration add to the special atmosphere.  I was very tempted to go in to Opso on Paddington Street for some Greek food after I took this picture.

OpsoIt’s quiet in the park this week too, with the usual crowds missing from Paddington Street Gardens as offices shut for the holidays.

Paddington Street Gardens Christmas tree

The lights continue at the Marylebone Hotel on Welbeck Street….

Marylebone Hotel

and the  Paul Rothe & Son delicatessen in Marylebone Lane.

Paul Rothe shop

I’ve spent three weeks photographing London’s shop windows, and it turns out that my favourite was the local hardware shop.  If I was bringing young children into central London to see the Christmas lights, I would forget about Hamleys and Selfridges and head for Websters Ironmongers on Chiltern Street.

Websters Ironmongers

I wonder if I’ve got time to go out and buy that snowy owl before everything shuts this afternoon?



At the heart of the Christmas celebrations is the Christian story of the birth of Jesus.  In looking at London’s Christmas decorations, I saw very few religious scenes, so for this post I visited a church.

All Saints, Margaret Street is located north of Oxford Circus, in Fitzrovia.  Turning off the street into the courtyard takes you one step away from the everyday world of central London, but doesn’t quite prepare you for the beautiful interior of the church.  The building was designed by William Butterfield, completed in 1859, and is full of ornate paintings and carvings.

The north wall was originally tiled with geometric patterns, but in 1873 they were replaced by new tiles depicting scenes from the Bible and the Early Church.  Here is a detail from the nativity scene.

All Saints Margaret Street manger

At the east end of the north aisle is the Lady Chapel, with this statue of Jesus with his mother Mary.

All Saints Margaret Street statue

All Saints Margaret Street has services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  It is an English-speaking Church of England congregation, with an Anglo-Catholic style of worship, but if you are looking for a different type of church, I’m confident you can find what you need in London.  Here are just a few of the churches I have walked past this year.

Ethiopian Orthodox Church

London Chinese Lutheran Church

st peters italian church

If you don’t want to go to church, you can still see a Christian nativity scene.  Out in the middle of Trafalgar Square is “Christmas Crib”, a sculpture designed by Tomoaki Suzuki and Jessica Ogden and commissioned by the church of St Martin’s-in-the-Fields.  There are carved representations of Jesus, his parents, the Shepherds, the Magi and an angel – but I focused on the donkey.

Trafalgar Sq crib donkey (1)





Light on the Shortest Day

Today is the shortest day of the year in London, so I’m posting my shiniest, brightest photos.  Here’s a golden bauble from the tree at the Grosvenor House Hotel to act as a substitute for the sun.

goldenballs (2)

The North Pole is tilted furthest away from the sun today, giving the people of the northern hemisphere the fewest hours of sunlight.  Until this year I thought that the shortest day of the year was always 21st December. More often than not, that is true, but it can actually be on 20th, 21st, 22nd or 23rd, because the modern calendar does not correspond exactly to the solar year of 365.2422 days.  This year it falls on 22nd December.

Back to Grosvenor House, and its golden balls, stacked up outside the hotel on Park Lane.  You can just about see the trees of Hyde Park in the reflections.

Grosvenor House ballsThe shortest day of the year is known as the winter solstice, from the Latin word “solstitium”, meaning “Sun standing still”.   Tomorrow, days will start to get longer, leading up to the summer solstice in June.  But the days don’t lengthen in a straightforward way.  You may notice that the earliest sunsets come in the first half of December.  And we have to put up with later sunrises for a few weeks after the winter solstice, with the sun rising latest in early January.

Round the corner from the Grosvenor House, on Mount Street, the Dior shop has even more baubles in their window.  This time the reflections only show the buildings on the other side of the street (and they don’t even catch the Damien Hirst tree at the Connaught).

Dior ballsI hope this blog is cheering you up in the dark days of winter.  But if you need more sunlight, why not take off on a flight to the southern hemisphere, where they are enjoying the longest day of the year?

LHR T5 tree

This tree, in Terminal 5 of Heathrow, is one of many identical trees in the airport.

Heathrow tree and star

I got my information about the winter solstice from an article in the Daily Telegraph.

Christmas Soldiers

Yesterday I shared pictures of London’s festive wreaths.  Today I have photos of another quirky Christmas decoration.   Isn’t it odd that a festival of joy, peace, light and family should have a tradition of using toy soldiers as decorations?

Claridges soldier

We can blame Ernst Hoffmann for writing a novella called “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” in 1816, which inspired a ballet first performed in 1892, with music composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

Both the novella and the ballet are set at Christmas.  They tell the story of a nutcracker shaped like a soldier coming to life and taking a child on an adventure.  In displaying the large-scale soldiers in these photos as Christmas decorations, Claridges Hotel is tapping into the romance and excitement of the ballet, and the idea that staying in a Mayfair hotel could be a magical adventure.

Claridges soldier inside

The  same idea has occurred to the people who run the Langham Hotel.  This soldier is standing guard outside the Palm Court restaurant.

Langham hotel soldier

If you want to see a more British style of toy soldier, go to the Burberry clothes shops on Regent Street or Bond Street.  The Guards have put down their guns and picked up scarves.

Burberry soldier scarves

Burberry soldierAt least the Burberry soldiers are working under the direction of Santa Claus.

Burberry Santa

If you’re interested in the Nutcracker ballet, click on this link to read more on my friend Fran Pickering’s blog “Sequins and Cherry Blossom”:   the Festive Season starts with The Nutcracker.

And for more on the background to nutcrackers as a kitchen tool, or a collectable, or a Christmas decoration, click here for an interesting article on Slate.com

Festive Wreaths

Like brussels sprouts, Christmas wreaths divide opinion.  They can be a creative use of natural materials available in winter, like Christmas tree branches, pine cones or holly, woven together in a circle full of symbolism of evergreen eternity.   But in countries where wreaths are symbols of mourning, it can also seem odd to use them to celebrate Christmas.

Borough Market stall wreaths and candles

These Christmas wreaths were on sale last week in London’s Borough Market.

Borough Market stall wreaths and sticks

I think they can look really attractive hanging on a door, like this one on a house near the Globe Theatre on the south bank of the Thames.

Wreath yellow door

If you use pine cones and stars, like KJ West One in Marylebone, then the colour scheme is a long way from the funeral wreath.

Wreath at KJ West One

Nobody does wreaths better than the Ritz Hotel in London.

Ritz hotel entrance

Their cloisters on Piccadilly are lined with red, green and gold banners and wreaths.

Ritz cloistersTurn round, and the decorations just go on and on.

Ritz cloisters 2

So what do you think? Use them as festive garlands? Or leave them to funerals?

Don’t Panic

Newspapers have dubbed the Saturday before Christmas Panic Saturday“.  They expect shoppers to crowd on to London’s shopping streets today, looking for last-minute Christmas presents.   Distant Drumlin’s mission is to make you smile instead of panic.

Last week I walked from Marylebone to the neighbouring district of Saint John’s Wood.  I had expected the wood to be more impressive than this.

mini trees St John's Wood

Not that Marylebone has much to be proud of.   They’ve gone too far in the direction of minimalism with their Christmas decorations.

Marylebone Lane crane (1)

The most important thing this week is to get your Christmas greetings right.  How could anyone write “Christmas Merry”?  Isn’t that obviously the wrong way round?

Chinatown Christmas Merry (2)

Well, to be fair, I’ve actually got some sympathy for the unknown worker who put up this decoration in a Chinese restaurant in Gerrard Street.  I lived in China for a few years, and learned a little of the language.  All the greetings that I know for special events, including 生日快乐 for birthdays and 圣诞快乐 for Christmas, start with the name of the festival.  So this word order – Christmas Merry – probably seemed right when the stencil went up.

Here’s one final photograph.  It’s physically impossible to panic while looking this image.

baby reindeer slippers (1)

Distant Drumlin’s Fact-Checker

  1.  These trees sculpted from branches are on sale at Dansk Flowers.
  2.  The ducting was being hoisted by crane up to the top of a building under construction on Marylebone Lane.
  3. The reindeer booties are for sale at Mothercare on Oxford Street.

Christmas Inspiration

Would you like some inspiration for your Christmas tree decorations from London’s trend-setters?

Try this unusual combination of colours from the Liberty department store.

Liberty pink tree ballOr add a Chinese element.  This next tree is standing in the welcome lobby of the Shangri-La Hotel at the Shard.  The tree is seven metres tall, but that’s nothing; the Shard building is 309 metres tall.

Shangri-la tree Shard

The Shangri-la’s tree ornaments are based on traditional auspicious Chinese symbols – a fish, and a figure-of-eight shaped gourd.  They were made by the fashion designers Shanghai Tang, founded in Hong Kong by David Tang.

Shangri-la tree Shard ornaments (1)If you can’t afford designer decorations, don’t worry.  Coming back down to ground level, a few streets away from the Shard, I found a simpler approach among the food stalls at Borough Market.

Borough Market tree with orange slices

Click here and here to see my other posts from the Shard.  It’s a spectacular building.  And it even looks a bit like a Christmas tree itself with the top lit up in red at night.