Alpacas, Deen City Farm
East End Street Art
London: home to Peruvian alpacas, Japanese water gardens and Thai temples
Coming face to face with an alpaca is not something you expect to do in London, but take a short walk from Colliers Wood tube station in south-west London along the banks of the River Wandle and you can do just that, at Deen City Farm. As well as the alpacas - more commonly found in Peru and Bolivia - there are all manner of traditional British farmyard animals and a riding school. Located on the grounds of Morden Hall Park, a beautiful National Trust property whose extensive grounds are home to a rose garden and an old snuff mill, it's something of a rural oasis and what's more, it's free of charge. Yet judging by the number of visitors on the days I've been there, many Londoners don't even know it exists.
There's a lot of pleasure to be found in discovering hidden gems that are right on your doorstep. As an ardent traveller, I often set off on far-flung adventures to see iconic landmarks and incredible landscapes, to meet new people and to experience cultures that are different to my own. Whether using a guidebook or being escorted by a local tour leader, I actively seek out the varied delights that each place I travel has to offer.
Yet like many people, I can sometimes be guilty of not embracing that same sense of curiosity and wide-eyed wonder when I'm back in my home city of London. It's easy to get caught up in routine and fail to appreciate the amazing things there are to see and experience closer to home.
I'd recently returned from a trip to Thailand when I stumbled upon the stunning Wat Buddhapadipa - the only authentic Thai temple ever built in Europe - in the unassuming backstreets of Wimbledon Park, about a mile from where I then lived. The temple is just a few minutes from the world-renowned All England Lawn Tennis Club, which attracts millions of visitors each year, but it's one of London's best-kept secrets. I'd be willing to stake money that there are Londoners who have travelled to Japan but don't know about the serenely beautiful Kyoto Gardens in Holland Park, or have visited Rome's ancient ruins but not London's Roman Amphitheatre, part of the Guildhall Art Gallery in the heart of the City.
London is a vibrant, multi-cultural city with a richly-layered history, which makes it a fascinating city to explore. If you know where to look you can unearth countless hidden gems, from the hospital operating theatre on the South Bank which lay undiscovered for more than 100 years, to the far more modern wonder of the East End alleyways where street artist Banksy made his name and left his mark. There's a lot to be said for harnessing the sense of curiosity and adventure that you have when travelling the world to discover the wonders of your own home town or city, and there's nowhere better to do that than in London.
Nicola Frame, Intrepid Travel
- Intrepid recently relaunched its range of London Urban Adventures, which take people off the beaten track to discover the capital's hidden gems as well as some of its classic landmarks. For more information about the tours and to book visit www.londonurbanadventures.com
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