Among the smart suburban homes of Twickenham is a very strange house. Gleaming white walls, battlements, Gothic pinnacles and a round tower stand out against more restrained neighbours. Strawberry Hill House, home of the eccentric man of letters Horace Walpole during the second half of the 18th Century, is arguably the birthplace not only of the Gothic revival, but also of the Gothic novel. I visited Strawberry Hill on a very gloomy Saturday afternoon, which didn’t really do the house’s bright white walls justice, but the house had only reopened a few weeks earlier after an extensive restoration and despite the grey weather the house was clean and jewel-bright – and quite possibly one of the oddest homes I’ve ever visited.
The term “hidden gem” gets bandied around a lot in relation to all sorts of places in London – bars and restaurants, museums, galleries and historic buildings. It’s a bit of an overworn phrase, but the subject of today’s post definitely fits the criteria for a hidden gem: small and off the beaten track, pretty and perfectly formed.
Through a little gateway on Fleet Street lies the Temple, the inner sanctum of Britain’s legal profession. It’s a curious name – one that always intrigued me when I was younger, going through Temple Station whilst on the District Line and wondering if there actually was a temple there. There is no temple, but amid the chambers of barristers is a little old church that has a history going all the way back to the Knights Templar.
As I made my way north on the train from Cambridge to Ely, the Fens seemed to stretch out forever. An entirely flat landscape of fields, waterways and even solar panels spread in all directions. The Fens is an alien place to me; I grew up in Lancashire amongst hills, moors and valleys. Until the Fens began to be drained from the 17th Century onwards, the little city of Ely was an island amid a vast watery landscape of rivers, peat beds and marshes.
Atop the highest hill in the Fens – a mere 26 metres above sea level – is a magnificent cathedral that dominates the landscape.