Situated on the other side of the North Circular from IKEA, is perhaps London's most bizarre building, the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, whose pinnacles rise above a sea of dismal semi-detached terraces, deep in the heart of Neasden. After removing your shoes, you shuffle along the smooth floors to the main temple building, intricately carved in Bulgarian limestone and white Carrera marble. The largest Hindu temple outside India, it was designed by computer, carved by over 1500 sculptors in India, and put together in a matter of weeks in the summer of 1995.
I had a strange experience in Brompton Cemetery in Earl's Court. Expecting another wild, overgrown Victorian graveyard a la Highgate, I was surprised by how flat and treeless the place was. After paying my respects to Mrs Pankhurst and the spirit of Long Wolf, the Sioux Indian chief (recently returned to the US), I made my way to the cemetery's finest legacy, its colonnaded catacombs. Up until this point, lunching office workers and dog walkers had been my companions in the graveyard; the colonnades, by contrast were peopled by very attractive, slightly louche young men who looked like they were taking part in a Derek Jarman video. It then dawned on me that London's most famous "leather" pub, The Coleherne, was situated just outside the cemetery gates.
Best riverside walk
I discovered one of the prettiest stretches of Thames riverside when researching Richmond. Leaving Quinlan Terry's mock-Georgian riverside pastiche behind, I followed the towpath upstream and soon found myself alongside a large field of cows. Only the steady queue of aeroplanes descending into Heathrow reminded me I was still well within the city limits. Eventually I fell upon Ham House, a Jacobean pile with a top-quality period interior and a very fine 17th century garden. After taking advantage of the tea room in the conservatory, I boarded the tiny passenger-only Hammerton's Ferry and crossed over to the Twickenham side of the river to explore the Palladian pleasures of Marble Hill House and Orleans House art gallery. Afterwards, I fell over eight marble nymphs frolicking in the watery gardens of nearby York House, put there by the last owner, the Indian prince Ratan Tata. Exhausted and exhilarated from all this suburban culture, I finished off my trip in the Barmy Arms, a 15th century converted school house by the river.
The best things in life are free, and London is lucky enough to have more than its fair share of free museums. Among the most intriguing is the little-known Sir John Soane's Museum in Lincoln's Inn Fields. Soane, a bricklayer's son who rose to be architect of the Bank of England, converted the place himself into a labyrinth of interconnecting rooms filled with artworks and the bric-a-brac of antiquity. Along with Hogarth's morality tale The Rake's Progress, there's an Egyptian sarcophagus, and a "monk's parlour", inhabited by a make-believe padre, Giovanni, with a skeleton in his closet.
As everyone knows, one of the most tedious aspects of London is its licensing laws. Just when you're up for it, they call last orders, and unless you pay to go to a club, your evening's pretty much over. The great thing about the ICA bar, apart from its perennial posing potential, is that for the pounds 1.50 day membership, you can see the current art exhibition and then drink until 1am every night bar Sunday and Monday.
As you stagger out of the ICA and realise the second most frustrating thing about London (the fact that the tube also calls last orders early), you can at least pay your respects to one of London's most obscure memorials, situated behind the railings on the left at the top of the steps leading up to the (Grand Old) Duke of York's column. Here, beside what used to be the German Embassy before the Second World War, stands a tiny grave commemorating Giro, the Nazi ambassador's pet Alsatian, who was accidentally electrocuted in February 1934.
The Swaminarayan temple is open daily 9am-6.30pm; admission is free. The nearest tubes are Stonebridge Park and Neasden. (Phone 0181 965 2651.)
Sir John Soane's Museum is at 13 Lincoln's Inn Fields; the nearest tube is Holborn. The museum is open Tues-Sat 10am-5pm; and there is an excellent guided tour every Saturday at 2.30pm; admission: pounds 3.
The ICA is half way down the Mall from Trafalgar Square on the left (nearest tube Charing Cross). The ICA bar opens Mon noon-ll pm, Tues- Sat noon-lam, Sun noon-10.30pm; day membership costs pounds 1.50.
Ham House is open April-Sept Mon-Wed 1-5pm, Sat 1-5.30pm, Sun 11.30am- 5.30pm; admission pounds 5 or free to National Trust members. Marble Hill House is open April-Oct daily 10am-6pm; Nov-March Wed-Sun 10am-4pm; admission free. Orleans House Gallery is open April-Sept Tues-Sun 1-5.30pm, Sun 2.30-4.30pm; Oct-March closes 4.30pm; admission free.
Rob Humphreys wrote 'The Rough Guide to London'. Keep up with the latest developments in travel by subscribing to the free newsletter 'Rough News', published three times yearly. Write to Rough Guides, IoS offer, 1 Mercer Street, London WC2H 9QJ. A free Rough Guide to the first three subscribers each week.Reuse content