Monday, June 19, 2006

The Best Things to do in London in the Heat

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Occasionally, it gets really hot in London. When it does, there is little relief for the summer visitor. Most of the transportation, accommodation and entertainment options are not air conditioned and certainly not to a level a North American visitor would expect. If you find yourself in London on one of our few fine days with temperatures soaring, I have several suggestions for places you can visit which will get you out of the concrete and away from the crowds.

My first suggestion is to do what Londoners do and beat the heat by visiting a National Trust country house, but in this case, instead of renting a car or hiring a driver, take the Underground to Osterley Park, set smack in the middle of west London. From the Underground Station on the Piccadilly Line, the Park is a half mile walk through suburban sprawl but worth the effort when one enters the park, wandering past grazing horses and cattle to arrive at Osterley House, a magnificent example of an 18th century country villa surrounded by 350 acres of parkland and gardens.

The original house at Osterley was built in Tudor times by Queen Elizabeth’s financial advisor, Sir Thomas Gresham. The crumbling Tudor mansion was acquired by the Child’s banking family in 1713 and as the family’s wealth grew, the most fashionable architect of his day, Robert Adams, was commissioned to turn the place into “the palace of palaces”. Even if you have little interest in country house interiors, you can’t help but be excited by the exuberance and elegance of these rooms. And while everyone else is sweltering back in the city centre, you can wander through this grand house essentially by yourself.

The parklands and gardens which surround the house are massive and lovely and perfect for walking. If you don’t mind hauling a picnic along with you, the grounds offer beautiful places to eat “au plein air” with lots of shade. Leftover bread is perfect for feeding the ducks. Alternatively, there is a National Trust Tea Room in the 16th century stables with outdoor tables. Although you are in the centre of a huge estate, if you have a pair of earphones left over from your airplane goody bag, bring them along because the noise from the thundering M4 Motorway, the Great West Road and the nearby Heathrow Airport belies the otherwise bucolic experience. With that said, without the audio, you would swear you were in the middle of the countryside which is not bad considering you are only a 30 minute subway ride from Piccadilly Circus.

N.B. While the grounds are open daily, access to the house is from March 4 to October 29 and the days vary according to the time of year. From March 4 – March 26, the house is open Saturday and Sunday from 1-4:30 and from March 29 – Oct 29, from Wednesday to Sunday.

Osterley Park & House
Jersey road
Isleworth, Middlesex TW74RB
Tel: 020 8232 5050
01494 755566 (Infoline)
Fax: 020 8232 5080
Tube Station: Osterley on the Piccadilly Line

Photo of Osterley State Bedchamber courtesy of National Trust website

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