Although my husband grew up in Devon, he did not know the North Devon coast very well. I had heard the surfing culture was strong and of course there was the lure of Exmoor national park. In terms of luxury hotels in North Devon, we were immediately drawn to the Saunton Sands Hotel for its location by the sea, proximity to gorgeous Saunton Sands beach and family-friendly reputation. All of these things were as advertised! We had a fabulous weekend break in the UK and the weather even cooperated for the most part.
Surfing lessons at Saunton Beach for children
Saunton Sands Hotel is a four-star Devon hotel by the sea. The hotel is part of the family-owned chain of Brend Hotels which own 11 hotels in Devon and Cornwall.
Saunton Sands Beach
Saunton Sands Beach is a glorious swathe of white sand beach with waves perfect for playing, surfing and boogie boarding. The beach has as small cafe which serves food as well as a small store with souvenirs and necessities you may have forgotten. There are sand-friendly wheelchairs available for the use of less-abled visitors.
We saw surfers at Saunton Sands beach from the early morning until after sunset. These surfers were hardcore! You can arrange lessons with the schools on the beach through Saunton Sands Hotel. We saw many hotel guests with their surfing gear ready for a day at the beach.
A sign showing the path from the hotel to the beach
You should note that Saunton Sands beach is a dog-friendly Devon beach all-year round. Very popular with dog owners, my kids were in their element with all the adorable dogs playing in the sand and water. I found the dogs well-behaved. The Saunton Sands Hotel though does not allow dogs to stay.
The Saunton Sands Hotel Review
Saunton Sands Hotel is that rare hotel that does everything right – not only were the rooms great, the hotel has an excellent location and load of amenities. It’s a renovated Art Deco hotel in Devon which really looked like it could have come straight out of an Agatha Christie novel.
The beautiful Art Deco hotel was built in the 1930’s.
The Hotel Room
We had an adjoining family room which had a layout that we appreciated. There was a queen bed leading to a hallway with a bathroom and another bedroom with twin beds. Both bedrooms had doors. The hallway had a generous closet so that we could have the clothes near the bathroom.
Many other family rooms in hotels we have stayed at prefer a duplex family room layout. Usually the adults’ room is upstairs and doorless. The kids sleep in the studio part downstairs which is usually where the bathroom is located. If you want to check in on the kids at night or use the toilet, you have to sneak downstairs quietly.
Although the hotel building is art deco, the decor itself is fairly neutral with only the occasional art deco touch.
The rooms themselves are a good size with the usual seating area and tea and coffee facilities. There is a small refrigerator if you wanted to store anything. My kids loved the bluetooth speaker for their music.
I loved that there were flat screen televisions in both rooms so that I didn’t have to watch what they were watching. I could even close the bedroom door so that I didn’t have to hear them arguing on what they were going to watch!
We found the beds very comfortable. I’m a stickler for mattresses and even I was impressed. There were bathrobes provided for the adults but not the kids (such a hard life!).
Saunton Sands Hotel Amenities
We really enjoyed that the hotel had so many amenities. With so much to do to keep them entertained, my kids didn’t even bother with their iPads for the whole weekend. I actually managed to catch up with some reading on my kindle with the great (free) wifi.
Beach hotels in Devon with a pool are a luxury, especially hotels with both an indoor and an outdoor pool. The indoor pool is a Godsend especially when its raining outside and the kids need to let off steam. One end of the indoor pool has a separated shallow kiddie pool which is perfect for babies and toddlers.
Along one end of the pool, there is a small sauna and a ping pong table. We spent a few hours lazing by the pool mixed in with some competitive ping pong.
The Saunton Sands Hotel Spa
Despite my love of spas, I did not have a chance to use the Saunton Sands Hotel Spa. There was so much to do at the hotel and the area, I decided I would rather hang out with the family then indulge in some spa time. Yes, I am a saint. And you know those activities have to be fun!
Saunton Sands Hotel has a small gym and and a room with a large snooker table. My husband loves snooker and he’s been teaching our kids to play. My daughter has taken to it with the enthusiasm of a true pool shark.
The making of a snooker shark (even though she needs a stool to reach the table)
Next to the large lawned area overlooking the beach, there is a small playground and a putting green.
Although it look really cute, Saunton Sands hotel has a children’s creche which my kids did not use. The hotel offers 2 hours free supervised care for children for under 8’s.
The path down to the beach also goes from the front of the hotel. It is wheelchair friendly (and Saunton Sands beach has sand-accessible wheelchairs for disabled guests).
Easy access to the beach is a big plus point.
Saunton Sands Weddings
The hotel is a popular wedding venue and we ogled a charming Saunton Sands wedding on the Saturday. The wedding party went down to the beach for photos and the reception was in the ballroom adjacent to the hotel lounge.
My daughter is at that age where she loves all things wedding for their glam romantic factor.
Unlike other hotels we’ve stayed in where there was a wedding, we were not disturbed by the wedding celebration. The music did not filter up to the rooms and the lounge/bar areas were not overtaken by wedding guests. In addition, the hotel kitchen seemed perfectly capable of running the food at the wedding reception without inconveniencing or delaying dinner guests.
Saunton Sands Food and Drink
The restaurants and bar are along the beachfront side of the hotel. We did see people enjoying drinks on the terrace but it really was too chilly for a meal outside.
After (barely) winning their snooker match, my husband treated my daughter to a Shirley Temple at the bar area. There are comfy couches where you can sit and hang out. The non-alcoholic drinks were a big hit with my kids. We liked having lounge areas where we could sit which wasn’t in the hotel room.
Saunton Sands Restaurant
The restaurant serves a large buffet style breakfast with both cold and hot options. It has the traditional English breakfast options as well as yogurts, fruits and heart-healthier options.
In the evening, the restaurant menu for dinner has a good selection of surf and turf which caters to the tastes of the multi-generational guests. You have old British favourites like fish and chips as well as freshly caught fish and seafood and a selection of steaks. I thought the Lundy lobster bisque with freshly caught lobster on toast was divine.
The fine dining aspect is nice without being snooty. The ingredients are locally sourced and the food excellent.
The lobster bisque made with local Lundy lobster was my favourite dish.
If you have younger children, the Saunton Sands restaurant does a children’s dinner in the late afternoon until 6:30. Our children ate dinner with us and chose off the regular Saunton Sands restaurant menu options. My son had fish and chips and my daughter ate macaroni and cheese.
Why The Saunton Sands Hotel Devon?
For family-friendly weekend breaks in the UK all year round, or a longer holiday in North Devon, the Saunton Sands Hotel is a fabulous hotel which will provide an enjoyable escape for everyone in the family, no matter the age. A couple of things to note:
- This hotel is great for the less-abled members of your family. Not only is the hotel accessible for the less mobile, so is Saunton Sands beach. I would definitely add Saunton Sands hotel to my list of luxury hotels with disabled facilities in Europe (even if you argue that Britain isn’t part of Europe despite its geographical location). This hotel is a wonderful example of the great British seaside holiday of yore.
Isn’t the view of the bay glorious? photo credit: Saunton Sands Hotel
- Saunton Sands is a really good base for a multi-generational holiday in terms of North Devon accommodation. I spoke to one family group that was celebrating the grandparents’ golden wedding anniversary. There are so many activities in the area that everyone will find something to enjoy. Next door to the Saunton Sands Hotel, for example, is the Saunton Sands public golf course. Teenagers and sporty types will enjoy the great surfing at Saunton beach. Children will love playing at the beach.
Colorful beach huts at Saunton Sands Beach
- Saunton Sands Hotel is located near many of the fun things to do in North Devon. The Gnome Reserve (which my children loved) was a 45 minute drive from the hotel. In nearby Appledore, on the other side of the bay, there was a book festival on the weekend we visited. Another great beach by Appledore is Westward Ho! which has a sheltered bay good for beginner surfers. For sheer cutesy charm, the cobble stone streets of the nearby town of Clovelly are hard to beat. Nearby Ilfracombe has boutiques, art galleries and a giant statue in the harbor by British artist, Damien Hirst.
Westward Ho! has an even bigger sand beach than Saunton Beach.
Want a second opinion on the Saunton Sands Hotel Devon? The reviews for Saunton Sands Hotel on TripAdvisor are great as well.
My stay was courtesy of the Saunton Sands Hotel. All words and opinions are my own. This site also generates income via partnerships with carefully-curated travel and lifestyle brands and/or purchases made through links to them. More information may be found on our Disclosure Policy.
What would you do with 4 acres in North Devon? Artist Anne Atkins created a gnome reserve with more than 2000 garden gnomes – a veritable gnome village if you will. And, an adjoining wildflower trail (free space for the gnomes to frolic?). One of the quirkiest places to visit in North Devon, this gnome world makes a great family day out. Sort of like the Elf Garden in Iceland, my kids thoroughly enjoyed their time. We met a few families who were return visitors so clearly this gnome world in Devon is a popular attraction.
Family Days Out in North Devon: A Gnome Reserve Not To Miss
The Gnome reserve and wildflower trail is a quirky quintessentially English experience. For a child, it’s a world of romping in forests and magical mystery adventures that Enid Blyton would recognise. For an adult, the gnome world is English eccentricity in all of its random yet harmless outrageousness.
Founded in 1979 by trained artist Ann Atkins, the Gnome Reserve and wildflower garden is a charming place tucked away in a corner of North Devon. Ann mans the visitor centre and her family operate the gnome village and wildflower centre. She seems to be about 80 years old so she clearly is enjoying her work if she’s still doing it almost 4 decades later.
Gnome Ann painting her gnomes and pixies
The Gnome Reserve has a lot of appearances on television and in books. We’re talking more than 70 times! Ann’s art and prints are located in collections around the world.
Not only does Ann create the gnomes, Ann paints magical scenes of fairies and pixies that are sold in the gift shop. Of course, my daughter got a painting for her room and my son got a gnome with an Arsenal shirt for his favourite football team.
The English gnome football team (and they actually win trophies!)
This visitor attraction will be part of the 25,000 people who visit annually. Like my kids, these are also the same sort of people who have seen Gnomeo and Juliet several times.
The Gnome reserve has a small visitor centre which has a gift store where you can watch Anne Atkins work on her projects in between tending to her visitors.
You can also see displays of some antique gnomes and grab some snacks to tide you over after walking four whole acres. British snacks of course involve cream tea, sandwiches and Ribena.
The royal family gnomes. Is it wrong that they actually look better than the real ones??
Did you know that the world’s most expensive garden gnome is insured for 1 million pounds and is stored in a bank vault? Try and snicker at that if you will.
Be prepared to don a gnome hat to visit the gnomes. It’s only polite to fit in with the locals.
Sheltered among the trees, the 2000+ gnomes are busy going about their business whether it’s fishing or practicing for the London Olympics. Amidst the gnomes, you get other cute creatures such as bunnies.
The gnomes have a case of invading bunnies
Fishing for stones makes for a nice interactive activity. Of course, my kids made it a competition to see who could get the most stones.
When you join the gnome world, you got to learn to fish.
Ann has so many gnomes her collection has entered the Guinness Book of World Records.
A Gnome World Gallery
Who knew gnomes could do everything that a person can do? My daughter decided her favourite gnome was the one practicing yoga and my son’s favourite was the one doing karate.
A game of gnome chess
A friendly game of gnome football
Nothing gnomes like better than fishing
A very British gnome wedding
Just hanging with the gnomies
I have to be honest I expected more flowers in the wildflower trail sort of like a wildflower meadow. It could have been the season, but the wildflowers we saw were more plants that were clearly labelled.
The wildflower field is full of butterflies.
In fact, there were more than 200+ types of British wildflowers which are all labelled. I have heard of many of the plants but had never seen them in real life. Or, if I did I didn’t know what they were!
For example, you hear about spearmint all the time as a chewing gum flavour but it was interesting to see (and to smell) the real plant.
A wildflower quiz kept the kids attention well.
A quiz to fill out on the wildflower walk
Visiting The Gnome Reserve Devon
The Gnome Reserve Devon is located in West Putford, near Bradworthy (a few miles from Closely) and near the border with Cornwall. It is open 7 days a week from March through October. Check out the Gnome Reserve Devon for costs and times.
Dogs are allowed in the reserve on leads. The narrow paths could be difficult with wheelchairs but fine with baby buggies.
We stayed at the Saunton Sands Hotel, a great family-friendly four-star hotel, approximately 45 minutes away by car from the gnome reserve.
What do you think? Would you or your family enjoy a visit to the world’s first Gnome Reserve?
This site generates income via partnerships with carefully-curated travel and lifestyle brands and/or purchases made through links to them. More information may be found on our Disclosure Policy.
You can spot the Magical Lantern Festival held at Chiswick House in London from several roads away. The bright colours in this Chinese light festival mark the inky sky over sleepy Chiswick in a striking gash much like a neon highlighter on paper.
The Chinese lantern festival marked to end of the Chinese New Year celebrations has come to London.
The Magical Lantern Festival
Although the Magical Lantern Festival in Chiswick is in its second year, this Chinese light festival took several years to plan. I could easily see why because the festival is very large and elaborate. It is part of the celebration of the Chinese New Year in 2017 which is the Year of the Rooster.
The Lantern Festival is traditionally held at the end of Chinese of New Year.
The theme this year is the Silk Road which were ancient trade routes that criss-crossed from China to Europe. The Silk Road only got its name in the 19th century because it sounded romantic and the first merchandise traded was silk. For thousand of years, these routes had no name but plenty of trading activity. As a byproduct of trading activity, the Silk Road brought ancient cultures in touch with each other.
Merchants and camels on the silk road.
The Magical Lantern Festival is on in London in January and February. I felt sorry for its neighbours – that’s a long time to have your night sky lit up in day-glo colours. Prior to its arrival in London, the Magical Lantern Festival spent time in other British cities.he Chinese Lantern Festival
History of The Chinese Lantern Festival
Chinese lantern festivals date back a couple of thousands of years. During the Western Han Dynasty (206BC to 25 AD), the festival was being celebrated with lanterns in temples. When the devout Buddhist Emperor Hanmingdi heard that Buddhist monks light lanterns to Buddha on the 15th day of the first month of the Chinese Lunar calendar, he ordered this practice countrywide. Later doing the Tang Dynasty, the use of lanterns spread to the palaces and streets.
The elaborate palaces of the Tang Dynasty.
When is the Chinese Lantern Festival?
The Chinese Lantern Festival starts on the 15th day of the first month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar. In 2017 and 2018, the exact date will be February 11th and March 2nd, respectively. The Chinese Lantern Festival ends the biggest Chinese festival, Chinese New Year (aka China’s Spring Festival).
What do you do at the Chinese Lantern Festival?
Participating in the Chinese Lantern Festival does not require much exertion. Basically, you go around and admire all the lanterns. Lanterns come in many shapes and sizes and themes. Lighting a lantern is a prayer for a smooth future ahead with all the best for the family.
How’s this for an elaborate lantern?
There are other ways to appreciate this Chinese light festival other than just admiring the pretty lanterns. Often the lanterns have riddles which people try to solve. If you solve the riddle, you give your answer to the owner. If your answer is right, then the owner will give you a small prize. Lion dances are another custom done during lantern festivals. The lion dance is a traditional folk dance which is used to ward off evil. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Chinese festival unless there was food involved. The traditional food eaten during the Lantern Festival are little rice dumplings called Yuanxiao.
A celebration of Chinese food
Where are the Major Lantern Festivals in China?
The biggest Lantern Festival in China is held in Quinhai in Nanjing which is supported by the local government who want it to be as big as the Harbin Ice Festival. The Quinhai festival is so famous it even gets a mention in an ancient Chinese novel, [easyazon_link identifier=”0385093799″ locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]The Dream of the Red Chamber[/easyazon_link], considered one of the world’s classic books.
There are other major lantern festivals as well, including the major cities of Beijing and Shanghai. During the Cultural Revolution, lantern festivals were banned.
Red is a lucky color for the Chinese.
Magical Lantern Festival Photo Gallery
We went to the Magical Lantern Festival in Chiswick even though the temperatures were freezing. Although we spent an hour to walk around, we would have taken even longer if we hadn’t been losing sensation in our limbs! Luckily, the festival organisers had vendors selling gourmet marshmallows to toast as well as hot drinks which helped us out. We also munched on hot churros for warmth (or that’s our excuse!).
Toasting gourmet marshmallows over a fire to keep warm.
I know the Magical Lantern Festival touts the ice rink, the food vendors and the fun fair as activities for its visitors. On our visit, many people were foregoing these pleasures because it was just too cold.
What would a Chinese festival be without a cute panda?
A magical walkway of lighted lanterns
Swans are a popular symbol of love worldwide.
We thought this elephant was too cute.
Wonders along the Silk Road included dolphins?
I have no idea what fashion in Paris has to do with anything. Maybe the use of silks in fashion?
Have you been to a Chinese lantern festival? I’d love to hear what you think.
Everywhere you go in Cornwall in England, you can see a sign for the Cornish pasty. So I wasn’t surprised to hear that the Cornish pasty industry adds £65 million into Cornwall’s economy. I am a big fan of anything encased in a pastry (Indian samosas, Jamaican patties, American pie etc) so was really looking forward to trying a Cornish pasty in Cornwall. I was not disappointed! Real Cornish pasties are delicious and an easy, quick dinner for all of us after a long day of travelling. As with any traditional dish, there’s a lot of tradition, culture and stories associated with the Cornish pasty. Here is a quick introduction to this traditional favourite and twelve fun facts about the Cornish pasty.
The Cornish pasty is a fast and delicious meal whose popularity still runs high.
What is a Cornish Pasty?
The traditional Cornish pasty is a pastry filled with chunky vegetables and meat. The standard vegetables used are swede, potato and onion. When cooked together with a light seasoning, the meat and vegetables forms its own gravy. The slow-baking process ensures that the delicately seasoned flavours are maximised.
In the old days, the pasty flour itself would have been tough and made from barley flour. Poor mining families would not have been able to afford wheat flour for the pastry.
The pasty was a good way to use up leftovers in a time when every little bit of food had to be used. Fillings can be as varied as the protein available, such as bacon, rabbit, eggs. There is some question on whether fish can be an appropriate filling. I would think not because these miners needed a solid meat and potatoes meal as fuel for the hard labour they did.
The pastry itself is shaped in the form of the letter “D” with one side crimped. The crimped side is handy for holding the pastry. (The purists will tell you that a Cornish pastry should be crimped on the side and not the top). Some people have said that the crimped side could have served as a handle. I expect the miners eating the pasty would have been so hungry the whole thing would have been eaten.
Nowadays, we saw lots of different types of Cornish pasty. My daughter was a big fan of the cheese and onion vegetarian pasties. The rest of us preferred the traditional steak variety. We saw lots of variations in the fillings of the Cornish pasty in Cornwall. I can just imagine the Cornish miner’s face if his wife had packed him a Thai Chicken pasty!
You can get lots of Cornish pasty you can get today.
The History of the Cornish Pasty
You say the word pasty to sound like the ‘a’ in past not paste. The word comes from an old English word that means made from pastry. The Cornish pasty started off as a convenience food for working men to take for lunch similar to the Bunny Chow in South Africa. Men working in the tin mines or the clay pits needed an easy but filling meal they could take to work.
Wrapped in paper or cloth, the pasty was a self-contained hearty meal complete with vegetables, meat and carbohydrates. These men worked long shifts underground. If the pasty was baked in the morning, thanks to the pastry crust, the filling inside could be kept warm for up to 10 hours.
As we discovered in our tour of the salt mines in Salzburg, getting down to the mines was quite the task and so going back above ground to get lunch would have been a serious waste of time and effort. Keep in mind also that miners were paid for the amount of ground they had broken. Dilly-dallying for lunch would seriously cut into their take-home pay.
In the 18th century, Cornish miners would have produced half the world’s tin supply. The work would have been long and gruelling but better paid than any other work they could have gotten at the time. It is said that 19 out of 20 of Cornwall’s men under 25 would have worked in a mine during the peak of the mining boom. After their shift at the mine (or clay pit) ended, the men would have gone to do a second shift as farm labourers.
There is probably a pasty filling that will suit everyone in the family.
12 Fun Facts About the Cornish Pasty
- The oldest pasty recipe we have is from 1746. It is kept at the Country Records Office in Truro. The pasty though is a much older type of making food. In the Middle Ages, pasties (and meat pies) were the food of the aristocracy.
- There are 120 million Cornish pasties made every year.
- Since 2011, according to European Union regulations, a genuine Cornish pasty needs to have a minimum of 12.5% meat and 25% vegetables. Moreover, the pasty needs to be made in Cornwall.
- Using carrots in a Cornish pasty is considered heresy. The only sweetness allowed is from the swede!
- A pasty may be an easy portable meal but don’t take a pasty on board a ship. It’s considered bad luck! This myth was probably started by the miners who didn’t want the fisherman to take their pasties.
- Some say the traditional Cornish pasty crust should be tough enough to drop down a deep mine shaft and not fall apart. Can you imagine how tough your teeth have to be to chew that?!
- The ‘oggie oggie oggie’ chant heard at rugby games came from the Cornish pasty. According to legend, pasty sellers would yell Oggie, Oggie Oggie at the top of the mine shaft and the miners would yell Oi Oi Oi back to signal they wanted a Cornish pasty thrown down at them.
- Oggie comes from the Cornish word ‘hoggans’ which were an early pasty filled with pork encased in barley bread.
- You can get a ‘rounder’ which is a round pastry filled with the same ingredients but bigger (and round!). You get rounders served for Sunday lunch or on special occasions in Cornwall.
- The largest Cornish pasty ever made was 32 feet long!
- Sometimes the Cornish miner’s wife would put his initials on his pasty so he could tell his pasty apart from that of a co-worker. Moreover, the miner may have left a bit of pasty for the magical sprites who lived in the mines who could be placated with bits of food. If he lefts some of the pasty with his initial on it, the sprites would know who not to trouble.
- The Cornish pasty emigrated worldwide along with Cornish immigrants. For example, pasties are popular in Michigan because they have made it to the mines in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the 1840’s. Thanks to EU regs though these pasties can not be called Cornish pasties because they are not made in Cornwall. I wonder if Brexit will affect the terminology – deregulation of the Cornish pasty could be coming soon.
Where To Buy Cornish Pasties
As I said, every little village in Cornwall seems to have home made (and delicious) Cornish pasties. I was really surprised because the one I had previously tried in London was nothing special.
The famous Chough Bakery in Padstow.
There is a World Pasty Championship held every year at the Eden Project in Cornwall. Just when I thought Rick Stein had taken over all of Padstow, I found out that the Chough Bakery in Padstow is the current reigning champion. Within the United Kingdom, you can mail order their Cornish pasties to your home. Alternatively, you can follow the recipe on the Chough Bakery website.
Primrose Hill is one of my favourite neighbourhoods in London. When we were house-hunting in the area, we were choosing between Primrose Hill and St John’s Wood. In the end, we choose St John’s Wood because the houses were nicer and it was less of a so-trendy-it-hurts scene. A disappointed Primrose Hill real estate agent told us that we were making a big mistake and that we would miss Primrose Hill’s vibrancy. We didn’t. But we did visit often as it was only across the park. If you would like to experience a part of London that the average tourist does not frequent, I would recommend the Primrose Hill neighbourhood. Along those lines, I’ve put together a list of 5 things you need to know about Primrose Hill in London.
Colourful terrace homes in Primrose Hill
Where is Primrose Hill?
Primrose Hill itself is a large hilly park just north of Regents Park Zoo (and a part of the Royal Park of Regents Park). The two parks are intersected by Prince Albert Road which connects crazy cool Camden with sedate upscale St. John’s Wood. The Primrose Hill neighbourhood is in the middle picking up aspects of both of its neighbours.
The popular press always talk about the celebrities that populate Primrose Hill. In my experience it has been overrun with general wealthy City types. The heyday of the celebrities living in Primrose Hill was in the 1990’s. If the Daily Mail is to be believed Kate Moss, Sadie Frost and her husband Jude Law threw crazy house parties. Adding music cred, the Gallagher Brothers also lived nearby (several ex-wives ago). Most of them have moved onto other parts of North London (mostly Highgate) which have more privacy, leafier gardens and better schools. Yes, even the party kids have to grow up.
When the area was developed in the early 19th century, Regents Park and Primrose Hill were considered suburbs because London itself was much smaller. Today it is fairly central and firmly within zone 2 of the Tube.
A Brief History of Primrose Hill
I’ve heard taxi drivers tell me that Primrose Hill was actually a plague pit from the 14th century. Plague pits were where the bodies of people who died from the Bubonic Plague were dumped. Almost 1/3 of the population of the City of London died from the plague and so the bodies were just dumped as quickly as they could be found in large burial pits. This story could potentially be true as there have been plague pits found nearby and the area would have been sufficiently outside of the medieval city to be a countryside dumping ground. No one has actually dug it up so we don’t know if it is. Usually these things are found when you are excavating for a tube line extension or similar.
Not much happened in Primrose Hill from the time of the supposed plague pit until the mid-19th century. The rapidly expanding middle class in London needed somewhere to live. Thanks to the British Empire, London was the most populous city in the world at the time. So, enter the developers.
An attempt to prettify the railroad bridge over the railroad tracks that delineate Primrose Hill.
In the early 19th century, architect John Nash, with the blessing of the king, was building villas for the ‘great and the good’ in Regents Park. That scheme wasn’t as extensive as proposed because Nash was more creative than business-minded. At the same time, St. John’s Wood was being developed as one of the first ‘suburbs’ of London with spacious villas and low-density housing.
The semi-detached villas were built to accommodate a family and their servants.
Primrose Hill was likewise tagged for development but, along the way, it became less villas and more terraced houses. Unlike the other two neighbourhoods, the railroad tracks (and their accompanying industrial elements) were too close for comfort for the aspiring middle-classes who wanted villas. There were some villas built which housed single-families who were comfortably wealthy sufficiently far from the tracks.
An idyllic sunday in the park when life is good.
So, what was a poor developer to do with rest of the land? They crammed in housing. Where there would have been a pair of semi-detached villas on a lot, they put about 5 terraced homes. These terraces became homes for the working class with families taking an entire floor (or if they were really poor, stuck into one room).
The Primrose Hill of Today
Primrose Hill likes to think of itself as a village. (Somewhat pretentious because it never was!). When we were house-hunting, one of the things that put me off were all the AGA cookers. If you live in the English countryside, you have to cook on an AGA cooker/oven. It’s in the contract as soon as you buy a home in middle-codswallop-on-the-river. Along with the subscription to Country Life magazine. You really don’t need one in London other than to pretend you live in a little village in the middle of nowhere.
What are the 5 things you need to know about Primrose Hill?
Regents Park Road is the Epicentre
The main drag in Primrose Hill is Regents Park Road. Although the area does not have chain stores (e.g., Pret a Manger, McDonalds), it does have branches of select stores. Dahling, you have to shop rich to understand the difference. For example, there is a branch of upscale Nicolas (a French wine store), Graham and Greene (boho-chic interior furnishings) and Mary’s Living and Giving (boutiquey thrift shops established by retail expert Mary Portas for Save the Children).
One of the many great pubs in Primrose Hill.
I personally love Primrose Hill Books which is an independent bookseller which has a curated selection of books (written by locals as well as others). Primrose Hill has a long history of leftist/liberal intellectual credentials with numerous famous locals having lived in the neighbourhood, such as Frederich Engels (philosopher), Alan Bennett (playwright) and the Milband Brothers (politicians).
Thin and rich does not mean you have to be stupid.
Be Serious About Food…
Of course, Primrose Hill is home to a lot of foodies. Or, foodies, if only they could bring themselves to eat carbohydrates. Maybe they just smell the fresh aroma of good bread. Anthony Delicatessen has great Italian food. My son loves the parma ham it sells. On Saturdays, there is a farmer’s market held in the neighbourhood.
Do NOT come into this neighbourhood with plastic bags.
In terms of restaurants, Greenberry Cafe is popular with the ladies who lunch crowd with a well-deserved reputation for good food. Lemonia is a local favourite Greek restaurant which has been there for ages. People are always asking us to lunch there – it’s good but not great in my opinion. I much prefer Odette’s which has been around for a really long time as well and is consistently good. My children love Cachao which makes great sweet or savoury crepes. The cafe being part of a charming toy store has nothing to do with their love.
Shepherd’s Foods is a little supermarket along the lines of Partridges in Sloane Square which in turn tries to be the cooler version of Fortnum & Mason. Not surprising since the same family (Shepherd) own both Shepherds and Partridges. Just like Partridges, you will find a selection of American brands at Shepherds.
One of several fabulous wine places in Primrose Hill
But Not So Serious As To Be More than a Size Two
The fashionistas will also be happy in Primrose Hill. I love Anna, a store that has been there for years and has great sales. For children, there is I Love Gorgeous which sells charming (if expensive) girls’ dresses. Elias and Grace is a great store for children’s clothes for both genders. On the less expensive side, you also have Fara Kids (a charity store which sells hardly-used and brand name hand-me-downs from local rich kids).
Must Love Socialising
There are side streets nearby which has more stores, restaurants and pubs. For example, Gloucester Avenue was one of the roads that unluckily backs onto the railroad tracks on one side. On Gloucester Road, we really like The Landsdowne Pub and, just down the road, The Engineer. The Lansdowne Pub has a great restaurant upstairs (with a roof terrace overlooking the railroad tracks).
The Engineer has a great outside courtyard area to hang out in the sunshine.
The Engineer has a charming courtyard in the backyard. In between the two pubs, there’s Primrose Bakery which is a neighbourhood favourite. Across from The Engineer, next door to high-end deli Melrose and Morgan you can take a nice stroll along the canal towpath. One way will take you to funky Camden Town Market and the other way will take you to the genteel prettiness of Little Venice.
In my experience, the pubs in Primrose Hill are always packed. It’s a good thing then that they are great places to hang out!
Must Love Dogs
You have to understand that the people in Primrose Hill love dogs. Not only is the park nearby, having a dog is part of that English country living thing. You can’t take a long bracing walk over the rolling hills of the English countryside with a cat, can you??
One lucky doggie riding in style.
Visiting Primrose Hill
Primrose Hill really is a walk across Prince Albert Road from Regents Park. From the top of the hill, you will get fabulous views across London. It is easily accessible by tube as well (Chalk Farm Tube Station).
I think the nicest way to visit if you are a tourist is to take in the very pretty Regents Park and then have a lunch/dinner/drinks in Primrose Hill. As soon as you leave the Baker Street area, the crowds that characterise tourist-central-London melt away. London’s charms are much easier to appreciate if you are not constantly being jostled by people. You will definitely find yourself hanging out with the London locals (and possibly a celebrity). After Primrose Hill, it’s a short walk to visit Camden Town (maybe via the scenic canal path route near Melrose and Morgan?) and its market mayhem. Be forewarned, you will once again find yourself with the throngs having left idyllic Primrose Hill behind.