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Reigate Castle and Barons's Cave

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Last weekend, I went to Reigate to visit the caves. The caves are only open for a few days a year over the summer months, and last weekend was the first day of the year that they were open. You can read my post here: A Visit to Reigate Caves. Reigate is built on sandstone, and it has three caves to visit. Tunnel Caves is in two parts, and it is a former sand mine. Part of the tunnels can be accessed by guided tour only, and another section is kitted out as a museum and was used as air raid shelters. The other cave (Barons's Cave) is the oldest, and it was built at the same time as the castle.

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I went to Tunnel Caves before heading to Barons's Caves via the castle. Tunnels for both caves go underneath the castle. The castle was built in the late 1000s and was captured by the French in the early 1200s and was used in teh Civil War, where it was destroyed.

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Today, all that remains of the castle is the earth mound where it was built and Barons's Caves, which are under the mound where the castle stood. The former entrance to the caves was in the castle grounds, and this is marked by a stone pyramid structure (seen through the doorway in the image below). All of the castle's stones were taken and used for other building. 

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Today, a castle gatehouse was constructed in 1777 as a tribute to the castle that used to occupy the grounds and in memory of those who built it. 

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The castle grounds are now public gardens. In one place, the caves have collapsed and the ground is lowered.

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Footpaths can be used to walk up and around the castle and down to the modern day's entrance to the caves.

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Barons' Cave got its name from the barons who drew up the Magna Carta; it was rumoured to have been drawn up in the caves, but that probably is not true. Tours of this cave are guided only. Unfortunately, the queue was very long, and we were rushed through. Apparently it was the busiest day that the guides have ever seen, and a lot of people had apparently seen the open day on Facebook. This meant that we were rushed through and did not get long in the caves and had to share it with several other groups of about thirty people each.

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The below picture is the best I got to take of the original carved archway tunnels. The other areas have been damaged by people who stole the sand to sell on.

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One of the tunnels is larger and probably used as storage for the castle. At the end of the tunnel is the oldest grafitti, which dates to the 1600s. We were also shown the echo made if throwing a large stone at a sand-filled hole on the floor at the end of the passage.

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The other interesting feature in the caves are carved animals, such as horses and carved faces/heads.

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Have you ever visited Reigate Caves or the castle? The next tour is on June 10, and there are ones every month through to September. The cost to see all the caves is 4.50 per adult, and all caves can be visited easily in a day. Several town centre car parks can be used in order to access the caves. Arrive early in order to get the most of the caves. It is probably wise to do the Tunnel Cave tour first and then walk across to the tour of Barons' Caves before walking the museum tunnels at your own pace. (We wished we had more of an opportunity to see the older Barons' Caves.) For more information, see http://www.reigatecaves.com/index.php

A Visit to Reigate Caves

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One of the items in my calendar for last Saturday was to visit Reigate's caves. The caves are only open a few days each year, and this past Saturday was the first day that they were open for the year. Other dates are in June, July, August, and September. There are three caves to visit. The oldest is Baron's Cave, which was a part of the castle, and which I will be covering in another post. The other is Tunnel Road Caves, and this can be visited in two parts. One part is a visit by guided tour only, and the other part is a museum with uses for the cave and World War II information as the caves were used as shelters. (Read my post about Reigate Castle and Barons' Cave.)

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I arrived early to buy tickets, and I was happy that I did as I was on the first tour of the Tunnel Caves, and when we finished the tour, we saw a very long queue for the tickets. The museum tunnels were a bit busy too, and we had to wait in the queue for Baron's Caves and had a very large and rushed tour, which made it impossible to get any photographs.

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Reigate is built on sandstone, and the sand here is very good quality and fine. Sandstone mines opened up under the town, and the sand was sold to make clear glass bottles (amongst its other uses, such as covering the floor in pubs to clean them). Miners dug the tunnels to escavate as much sand as possible without the caves caving in. 

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To do this, they created large stone pillars, which are angled and arched (with arched ceilings) to take the load. The shapes and size of the pillars can be seen in my photographs.

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The caves stopped being mined when a bit of one tunnel caved in in the castle grounds. As a result, some of the tunnels were filled, and some of them were bricked up. Some access was provided in some areas to fix issues in the caves. Others were bricked up and filled in because of their proximity to a bank's vault. The caves used to have a bar in them, and they were used in World War II as air raid shelters. Concerts have also performed in the caves. They were also used for a cycle club meet-up point as a shop sold bicycles on Tunnel Road outside. The same group then formed the rifle club, which still uses the tunnels today and which has set up targets to shoot at.

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The caves were also used for dumping trash. Several barrels were thrown down into the cave, and only the metal rims survive. Most of the glass bottles were completely smashed, but a couple of intact ones and pots were found. Also, a meat refridgerator was found.

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During the years, people have made carvings on the soft sandstone walls. Others have stolen sand.  

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The caves ceased mining in 1862, and this was carved into the end of one of the tunnels.

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After the guided tour, we walked across the road to the Tunnel Caves Experience (also known as the East Side Caves). These tunnels of the caves were used as the shelters and for storage vaults for shops, and the most notable was used to store alcohol. Information about the stone mined in the caves can also be seen in one room, and there is a Roman tile kiln on display as well.

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One of the rooms holds a Morrison Table and is kitted out to look like the war years. The Morrison Table was used to shelter under. In case your home was hit by an indirect bomb and the building structure collapsed, you could be safe if you hid underneath the table.

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In the next room, we could sit inside an Anderson Shelter, which could survive an indirect hit from a bomb. These shelters were put up by average citizens for a place to hid during the air raids. Over 3.6 million of them were made, and most of them were given back to the council, although some were kept to be used as garden sheds.

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Another room showed the facilities, and both the women's and men's restrooms were available to see as they would have appeared back in the war.

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I will be covering the older cave, Baron's Cave, and the castle in another post. Have you ever visited Reigate caves?

One of my cousins lives in New York City, and he arrived in London this past weekend in order to spend a few days at seminars and an opera for his research on a particular composer. He had some spare time at the weekend, so we caught up on Saturday and then again on Sunday. We decided to have Sunday brunch, and I suggested Mews of Mayfair. London was celebrating Saint George's Day and the London Marathon.

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Mews of Mayfair is tucked away in Lancashire Court in the middle of Mayfair; it's at the southern end of South Molton Street and located in a cobbled alleyway that used to be stables for horses (mews). This is how the restaurant got its name.

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The weather was very nice, so we sat at one of the tables outside. The English flag was placed on a lot of the tables to celebrate St. George's Day, and the restaurant also had a special selection of cocktails to celebrate.

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Instead of the special cocktails, I had the Berry Mews cocktail, which was very fruity.

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For some reason, they did not give us the Sunday brunch menu when we asked, so we decided to just opt for the traditional Sunday roast. I had the roast chicken, and my cousin had the pork belly with applesauce. Both meals came with vegetables (brocolli, parsnip, and swede mash), cauliflower cheese, and roast potatoes. The food was delicious.

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After finishing, we headed off to do some sight-seeing and watched a couple of minutes of the London Marathon near Buckingham Palace. Some additional photographs of Mews of Mayfair are below.

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Have you ever visited Mews of Mayfair? What did you think?

Ruislip Fairy Village

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I spent Easter Sunday visiting the local market and an Easter Egg Hunt in Ruislip, which you can read about on a previous post here. I also went to visit the Ruislip Fairy Village, which is located in The Orchard near Winston Churchill Theatre, the Old Barn, and Ruislip Manor House. Ruislip Fairy Village is a group of tiny doors put onto the bases of tree trunks and stumps, and each one is unique and crafted beautifully by the mother of the fairies, Ellie Travis. 

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Unfortunately, vandals have destroyed the fairy village twice now, and it has re-opened on Easter morning, minus one of the doors that could not be saved. I met Ellie and spoke to her about the village, and she told me that there are 12 doors, but there used to be 13. (The Fairy Village is also now under CCTV surveillance so that anyone who damages it will be caught.) When I learned about Ruislip Fairy Village earlier this year, the village had already been destroyed. I have been waiting for it to be rebuilt. I am glad it has been rebuilt so that others can enjoy it.

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Originally, the Ruislip Fairy Village was installed in the base of one large tree. The door could be opened to reveal gifts left for children behind it. Children would then leave notes, and they could also receive a note and small gift from the fairies in return. This tree was later chopped down, so the door was eventually moved to The Orchard and more doors were created. The new doors started with a theme with homes for the fishermen, woodsman, washer, dress-maker, witch, and fairy dust maker.

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The Ruislip Fairy Village is beautifully-created and a pleasure to walk around to discover the little doors and the little items that have been created around each door. More photographs can be seen below.

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For more information about the Ruislip Fairy Village, visit https://www.facebook.com/ruislipfairies

As you may have read from my previous post, I did not travel far for Easter this year. On Easter Sunday, I walked to Duck Pond Markets north of Ruislip High Street and where the Old Barn and Manor House (Ruislip Castle) is located. I visited Duck Pond Markets for the first time right before Christmas soon after I moved to the area. Duck Pond Markets offers an alternating artisan market and a food market every other Sunday in Ruislip, and vendors for the market can travel to other locations on the other weeks. 

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Before arriving at the market, I have to walk up Ruislip High Street. Most shops were shut, but I did notice that a few coffee shops and cafes were open. One of them, Fields, is new to Ruislip High Street. I decided to pop in and had a hot chocolate and a croissant.

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Duck Pond Markets and the Old Barn/Manor House is located at the top of Ruislip High Street, and the lower end of Ruislip High Street is where the Ruislip tube station (Metropolitan line) is located. The walk to Duck Pond Markets is nearly ten minutes from there. The Manor House is clearly visible once entering the area, and it is a museum and open free to the public. It's worth a visit.

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Information panels are located around the Old Barn and Manor House area to inform about the history of the location and the site of the castle. There's also a panel for the duck pond, which was where the work horses would be washed after a day of working.

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The Old Barn is a listed building and beautiful inside. Part of the market takes place here. As the day was Easter Sunday, the market was less busy with vendors and people, but there were still many gifts and other items on display. 

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Outside were a few vendors selling food items. These ranged from gluten and vegan baked goods, cheese, meat, treats for dogs, pies, honey, chutney and sauces, bread, sweets, cooked food, and coffee.

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Inside the barn, children can play with the large selection of Lego; the table is filled with Lego. The Lego belongs to the son of the organiser of Ruislip's Duck Pond Market. Money can be donated, and he spends it on more Lego.

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After wandering around the market, I headed outdoors to wait for the beginning of the Easter Egg Hunt, which was held in the grounds of the Manor House (called "The Orchard" although many of the trees are not fruit trees). The hunt started at 11:00, and the children were encouraged to dress up like bunnies or with fairy wings. The Easter Egg Hunt was held in conjunction with the organiser of the Ruislip Fairy Village. I will be covering this in another post, but many small doors for the fairies' houses are put up at the bases of the trees, and the fairies leave little gifts for the children. Unfortunately, someone keeps damaging the fairy village, and it was only re-instated on Easter morning. I do hope that the vandals leave it alone now. In addition to the easter egg hunt, the children could participate in a quiz. The Easter Egg Hunt attracted a huge crowd.

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When it was time to begin, the children ran for it. The eggs were hidden very well!

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The weather was quite nice with spells of sunshine, and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. I even helped the children to spot some eggs with my keen eye; some of the smaller eggs had been well-hidden in the grass, and my height was an advantage. A couple of the children I had helped had not found any of the eggs yet, so it was appreciated.

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After the egg hunt, an Easter bonnet contest and parade was due to be held back at the Old Barn. I did not go to see it, but I did see a few of the Easter bonnets, and they looked very creative. My personal favourite one (that I saw) was a tall green one that was decorated like Super Mario Brothers. Okay, it is not as Easter-y as some of them, but I thought that it was creative. 

The tours to see London's abandoned and unused tube stations and other underground areas fully book well in advance. I booked a ticket to Clapham South last spring, and the time finally came for me to go on the tour last week. Clapham South is the site of bunkers and air raid shelters that we constructed for World War II during the Blitz when the German planes were bombing London. A few of these shelters were constructed along the northern line and central line, but many were never completed. Clapham South was built to house 8,000 people (although they wished it to be more at the time). It was built to stand against a direct hit from a 500lb bomb. London Transport Museum have a lease to turn these tunnels into a visitor attraction.

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There are two entrances to the air raid shelters. One entrance to the air raid shelter is in the common park area on the other side of the entrance to present day's Clapham South underground station (between Clapham South and Clapham Common stations). The round concrete and brick wall is immediately visible. The other one is covered in white tiles and located in a parade of shops, and this is the entrance that we used in the tour. 

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After climbing down 180 stairs, we were led to an area where the history of the tunnels was discussed and saw the original signs that detailed the names of the tunnels and locations of medical, post, and canteen facilities. The tunnels for the shelter are directly underneath the northern line train tunnels. (They intended to use these for faster train service after the war, but this never happened.) Each stretch of tunnel had a name of a famous colonel or other militiary mastermind. The names were in alphabetical order so that people could easily find their way around. Each parallel tunnel also had a colour (red or blue).

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The first room we stopped off to see was the medical room. This still had the tap and tiling for the sink, but the sink was missing.

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We were then shown the first stretch of tunnel, which is left virtually empty. The tunnels were dug by hand. The rings in the tunnels here are made of re-inforced concrete because metal was scarace during the war.

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Between some of the tunnels (which run parallel) was a small area with a table, and it was known as the recreation area.

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The tour then went on to another tunnel area filled with beds. The beds are the original ones on the right-hand side of the below image. On the left, the beds were arranged to fold up and placed length-ways down the tunnel.

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People who needed a bed for the night were given a tunnel name and bed number. They had to bring their own bedding. The numbers of the beds can be seen on the frames. Life in the shelters was apparently not too bad because the beds had springs, and loudspeakers in the tunnels meant that music could be played during the day. However, life was regimented and people had to be awake by 7:00am.

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After World War II, the shelters were used for awhile by those who lost their homes and also for youth groups to stay in as well as for accommodation for 1951 Festival of Britain, which was held on South Bank. Some of the grafitti can be seen from those staying. The tunnels were also used by immigrants from Jamaica as accommodation; these immigrants were shipped over to help rebuilding after the war, and this explains why this area of London has a large Afro-Caribbean community. Today, the shelters store archives. Up the road at Clapham Common, the tunnels for the shelters are used to grow salad.

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We walked down more tunnels of rows of beds and shelving created to store archives.

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One of the tunnels had the canteen at the beginning of it. The canteen has been removed, but its location can be seen as well as a fuse board that reads "Buffet Fuse" on it.

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We also were shown the men's toilets, which is just an empty room. We could see where the stalls and urinals were. We were also told how the sewage was pumped out as these tunnels are well below sewage lines. Air would be used blast the sewage up.

In between the tunnels, we were also told were a set of stairs that would go to the northern line platforms. These were used by workers who stayed in the tunnels during the war.

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The last room we saw was the control room, which contained some old phones.

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Have you toured Clapham South shelters?

Lush currently have new products in store for their Mother's Day and Easter ranges. Some of these are new products, and some of them are old favourites. Sadly, I no longer have a Lush store near me, but I popped into one a couple of weeks ago to buy some items and to see what was on offer. In no particular order, my discoveries are below.

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Mum: This is a bath bomb in pastel pink and green with the word 'Mum' on it. It is created with Lemon, orange, and rose.

Baa Bar: This is a bubble bar with lavender, rose, and ylang ylang to offer a soothing bath. It is in the shape of a cute sheep.

Elsie the Giraffe (You're Having a Bath): This reusable bath bubble bar creates bubbles when placed under running water. It has a citrus scent.

Your Mother Should Know: This bath bomb is bright blue, yellow and pink with a floral design. It has a floral scent.

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Golden Egg: This bath bomb melt features a shimmery gold egg, and it's been an Easter product for a couple of years now. 

Which Came First: This bath bomb is a pink and yellow egg with a surprise inside. It has refreshing citrus tones. This is similar to their previous Easter egg products, but the eggs have a different design and colours this year.

Bunch of Carrots: These reusable bubble bar carrots are bright orange, pink, and purple, and they come in a bunch. This Easter product has been on sale for at least three years now; the first year that I encountered them, they were orange only. The last couple of years, they have introduced more colours.

Chick 'n' Mix: This bath bomb comes in three separate parts. The 'egg' shell breaks in two to reveal a bath bomb chick in the middle. This is a new product.

Chocolate Easter Egg: This soap is shaped like a giant Easter egg, painted yellow and green and pink. It has a sweet chocolate scent.

Love You Lots: This soap was launched earlier in the year for Valentine's Day, and it smells like roses.

Ice cream company Milk Train is creating very Instagram-able ice cream creations. The company opened up at the beginning of August in Covent Garden last year, and it is still proving a hit with Londoners who queued early last Sunday in order to get a taste. Milk Train offer three flavours a day; vanilla and matcha are always on offer, and there is a special flavour daily. On the day, it was blueberry. I opted for the matcha because I do like green tea, but I also wanted a pretty photograph.

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The ice cream is soft serve, and it can come in a cone or a cup. Adding the fluffy cotton candy (candy floss) cloud costs extra (1 pound), and additional toppings can be added for 50 pence each. Additional toppings included Oreo crumbs, popcorn, sprinkles, strawberry crunch, salted caramel chips, mixed nuts, puffed rice, red bean, flake, and Hello Panda biscuits. I choose raindrops, Hello Panda biscuits, and rainbow sprinkles.

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I watched the ice cream being made. For those who opted for the cotton candy around the cone, the cone itself was put into the cotton candy (candy floss) machine to create the cloud.

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The venue was very busy and a queue formed with many people coming to see the creations and get photographs of them. I must say that the creations do look really photograph-able. When I have to review the taste, the ice cream creations do not taste as good as they look; however, I don't think cotton candy (candy floss) and ice cream go together well anyway.

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Milk Train is located on Bedford Street in Covent Garden (London). They are closed on Mondays but open from 13:00 every day of the week. They are open until 21:00 until Thursday and then open until 22:00 on Friday and Saturday. Sunday's hours are shorter, and they shut at 20:00. This is a place to go for the photographs and selfies and if you like to keep your Instagram account beautiful.

After our tour of Down Street tube station, we had the second part of our visit to The Athenaeum Hotel for afternoon tea. We met up at the hotel before our tour of Down Street station and were told the history here and had biscuits and tea before being given the tour. An additional trip needed to be made to enjoy the second part of the tour, which was afternoon tea at the hotel. I thought that we'd be having both at once on the day, but it did not end up this way. Afternoon tea is served at Galvin at The Athenaeum, and Galvin have a couple of other restaurants in London. 

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The front and side of the hotel is impresive as it is covered in green plants.

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Inside the hotel is the tea room, located at the front along Picadilly Street with views toward the park.

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We were served a selection of sandwiches and scones with lemon curd, rhubarb jam, and clotted cream. I had darjeeling tea, and the bloke had a jasmine tea. 

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The top plate consisted of the pastries, and they had to inform us of what each was as they were not included on the menu. I'm not sure if this is 100% correct, but the macaroon was an orange macaroon. There was also a pear tart with a dollup of cream on top. 

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The green item above is a pistachio lightly-filled pastry.

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There was a vanilla slice with flaky crust and a rhubarb tart.

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Here comes the difficult bit. I am always honest in my reviews, and they are not sponsored. In my honest opinion, I must say that this was my worst afternoon tea experience to date. And this is a shame, because the Galvin brand is considered to be a strong brand with great food, and the hotel is located in Mayfair with the other expensive hotels. The food was actually not too bad, but where we were let down was the service.

The service was a let-down from the moment we entered the door; we were not welcomed. Also, bear in mind that I had spoken to them over the phone the previous day and stated dietary requirements as well as asked other questions and was given the wrong information; I asked about our voucher and they said I needed to show it and not print it and they wanted me to print it. When we did receive the food, we were not checked back on. I ran out of tea and waited for over twenty minutes before having to call the waitress over and ask for more. She then left and another twenty minutes passed; I still did not receive the tea. I had to go up to the desk and ask after it and waited for another ten minutes before it arrived. Needless to say, I had the tip removed and walked out.

I would not recommend The Galvin for afternoon tea. There are much better venues in London with much better service and food.  

Great Spitalfields Pancake Day Race 2017

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Today is Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day), which marks a special day with religious roots that takes place 47 days before Easter where flour, milk, sugar, and fatty foods were used up before fasting began. It used to be a day of holiday in England, and many villages held races. Pancake Day is also the day of the annual Great Spitalfields Pancake Race, held on Dray's Walk and located off Brick Lane; it is in its 23rd year this year. I've watched the Great Spitalfields Pancake Race before as it takes place outside the office. I always find it good fun during my lunch hour.

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The Great Spitalfields Pancake Race is organised by London Air Ambulance with charity collections taking place during the event. Anyone can sign up to take part in the race or simply turn up on the day with their team and a frying pan. Usually, about ten teams take place in the event, and the first prize is an engraved frying pan. There are also prizes for second and third place and additional prizes for best costume and nicest team.

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The crowds gather to watch the start of the race, but I found the crowd dwindled and was not quite as large as in previous years. Many people stayed to watch the first laps but left and did not stay for the semi-finals or finals. This year, all three "clowns" were in attendance in order to gather support, but they did not engage the crowd as much this time as in the past.

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The major difference that I noticed this year when compared to previous years was that many people with cameras, video cameras, and mobile phones were attending the event. I found the cameras to be a problem this year as it affected the mood when compared to previous years. They engaged the "clowns" in interviews, which prevented the rapport with the crowd. Also, a couple of the camera men were very rude and kept barging/shoving in front of people (such as myself, who was early to grab a spot and stick to it). They also kept running into the areas where the runners were. Idiots. You'll see one of them who kept popping up in some of the shots and prevented me from getting some of the best shots in the semi-final, when the race was in a serious mode. I've always loved photography, but I don't want to ruin the fun for anyone else, so I stay in one place and make sure that I am early to grab a good spot so I do not cause others to suffer.

And, having a camera does not give you an entitlement to run around and be a jerk, when I alerted to you that you in my way, in the way of the runners, and completley blocking the view of a shorter lady who was standing next to me. Your comment "we're photographers; that is what we do" makes you sound like a wanker. 

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This year, the costumes included a group dressed up as the Minions (which won 'best costume'), a group dressed up as Pancake-flipping kittens (third place), a group dressed up as animals/birds (best-behaved), additional charities, a group dressed as PacMan, and a group with members dressed up as Darth Vader and Batman. The winning team was "There's No I in Pancake", which had members dressed as Darth Vader and Batman.

Past Spitalfields Great Pancake Day Races are listed:

Great Spitalfields Pancake Day Race 2015
Great Spitalfields Pancake Day Race 2014
Great Spitalfields Pancake Day Race 2013

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