It is a sign of the Yule times that this post covers off advent days 3 through 8, most of which is ex post facto. And there’s only one excuse for this: the manic, boozy days of early December.
London is one of the best places on Earth to gear up for the holiday season, but it’s madness. Absolute madness. It’s dark by 4 p.m. Pubs are cozy. Most are also decorated with splendid holiday cheer. Every day, there’s another excuse to go out, whether that’s an official Christmas party or just the old “might be the last time we catch up before the holidays” drink(s). It is the classic death march on cocktails.
But it’s far too early to have a permanent holiday hangover. So, here are a few fresh air opportunities to restore your equilibrium and perhaps give your liver some breathing room.
Kew Gardens – Kew is a restorative place no matter the season, but at Christmas, you can have a bracing winter walk to clear the head by day, or in a far more festive fashion, by night. The illuminations in the evening hours are a great way to get some fresh air and avoid the pub for a few hours. If only they didn’t have stalls serving mulled wine…
Hammersmith to Kew Thames Walk – If you have a bit more spring in your step, you can walk to Kew from Hammersmith along the banks of the mighty Thames. Do not walk on the Chiswick side if you are trying to avoid pubs. The Chiswick side of the river starts with the excellent Blue Anchor and continues onward with a series of fine pubs– The Dove, The Black Lion, City Barge to name just three– from there to Kew Bridge. Abandon hope all ye who walk there.
To avoid the pub temptation, walk along the Barnes side. Oh wait, there are two pretty decent pubs on that side of the river….
Kensington Palace to Buckingham Palace Walk – One of the things that makes London such a great city is that you can cover quite a few miles without ever leaving a park. A stroll through the Royal Parks is always good for the obvious royal attractions, people watching, and cute dog viewing. Start at Kensington Palace (grab a bacon sandwich at the stall right by one of the main gates off Ken High Street if you’re in need of sustenance), then cross into Hyde Park and walk along the Serpentine towards Hyde Park corner. (Do not get tempted by the siren’s song of the oompahpah band in the German beer halls of Winter Wonderland.) Cross the junction at the Wellington Arch into Green Park and then, you’ll arrive at Buckingham Palace. If the junction is frighteningly crowded, you might be tempted to steer clear of Green Park and head into the quiet backstreets of Knightsbridge where the excellent Nag’s Head and The Grenadier are nestled. But as you are trying to avoid pubs, you will not do this. On the other hand, if you are truly hungover, The Grenadier makes a fine Bloody Mary….
Richmond Park Deer Viewing – It feels festive to go check out the deer of Richmond; if you are bleary-eyed, the big ones almost look like reindeer. As long as you avoid the Park’s limited cafe options, you should be able to avoid drinks for a while. However, if you
enter from the Richmond side of things, beware: the Roebuck lies in wait. Having a drink outside on the terrace with a stunning view over the Thames is one of life’s great pleasures. BUT WE ARE NOT DRINKING, ARE WE?
Hampstead Heath – While Hampstead does not have the deer population draw, ambling around the miles of paths is always a joy: fresh air and amazing views of London. Kenwood House is also interesting here– the stately home of one of Britain’s abolitionist judges, and his niece, Dido Elizabeth Belle. (On weekends, there are often classical music performances that can definitely soothe the savage hangover.) But if you walk out to the main road from Kenwood House you will have to steel yourself to avoid going into the Spaniard’s
Inn– a lovely historic pub with a teeny little snug in front. The Spaniard’s is where Keats purportedly wrote “Ode to a Nightingale.” Well, if there’s history involved, why not go in….
Greenwich to Blackheath – You can take a boat to Greenwich, but there’s a bar on board, so the Tube/DLR are safer options. Walk right past the Gipsy Moth– you know you shouldn’t be in a pub again– and head to the park. The Maritime Museum is over here, the Queen’s House, the Royal Observatory– there are plenty of cultural places without pubs to visit in Greenwich if it gets too rainy to be outside. If weather permits, continue out of the park on to Blackheath. It always seems gusty here, so the bracing winds can help knock the hangover right out of you. But wait…what’s that over there off to the side of Blackheath. Is that a pub? Does the sign say “Hare & Billet?” What’s a billet? I cannot live in this ignorance any longer! I’ll just step inside and…