Thursday, 19 December 2013

#5 Ways to Discover New and Interesting Places

I wrote this with London in mind, but I'm sure you can try these out in any city in the world. More often than not, you'll find the most wonderful places at your very own doorstep, you just need to know how to find them! Here are five techniques I use to discover new places in London. 

#1) Wandering. Perhaps the best way to stumble upon interesting places is to wander aimlessly around streets and areas unknown to you. Put on a pair of good shoes and go for a walk, you'll be surprised what you find when you look, really look. I've discovered some of the most incredible places by just wandering around (mindfully); glorious mosques and temples and churches, oddball markets, pirate ships and derelict hospitals. Brown signs are your friends, follow trails, rivers, canals are esp are great for quirky houseboats and interesting wildlife.

I've found some of my favourite places in London through wondering around aimlessly, some of these include Walthamstow and Tottenham Marshes, Horsenden Hill, Abney Park Cemetery, the Canal Museum and Azizye Mosque. Further, on your wanderings you'll almost always spot weird sign-age, colourful graffiti murals, timeless statues and a whole load of other interesting stuff (and people). If you're not much of a walker, there's a lot you can discover by taking a bus some place far out! You can always press the red button and get off if you spot anything interesting that you might like to explore, a building, a library, a garden, a small cafe or a gallery or even just a mad looking grocery shop.  

#2) Maps. I love maps, all sorts of maps--- from alternative tube maps, to quirky hand drawn maps, to my personal favourite, OS maps. Over the years I've accumulated a lot of OS maps! I could spend hours just looking at them, trying to figure out how to get to some remote barn house, or a beautiful lake. Maps are more accessible now than ever before, what with smart phone apps and Tom-Toms. It's amazing what you find just by zooming in and looking out for sites of interest. I recently discovered a motorcycle museum somewhere in Greenford (which I hope to visit soon). Other places I've discovered through maps are Nutfield Marshes, Chipstead Downs and Bedfont Lakes Country Park. I recently got a very basic smart phone and I have to say (almost begrudgingly) that the map app is incredible! Whereas before I would almost always get lost and spend a very very long time looking for a new place, now it's become so much easier to find what I'm looking for! That being said, there was always a sense of added achievement when I finally did find the place I was looking for. And nothing can substitute OS maps (and your own sense of direction)

#3) Get Involved and Talk to People. Through volunteering and working at the London Wildlife Trust I was introduced to a lot of different people who told me about a lot of interesting places that I would never have discovered on my own. Also by making friends with different staff members I got to tag along on many interesting site visits to hard to reach places, I was also introduced to other organisations such at the Old Surrey Downs Project, through which I discovered even more places, (in an almost ripple like effect). Similarly having worked in a museum, and having a lot of friends who work in heritage/ conservation, we're always sharing information on different places and projects. Over the years, I've also gotten a chance to meet a lot of other London enthusiasts whom to share new places with. One of the best ways of finding out about places is to talk to interested and interesting people, urban explorers, museum enthusiasts, historians, art lovers, anyone who also relishes in discovering new places. 

#4) Good Old Fashioned Research. I have a whole load of London guidebooks, from ancient Green London books that are no longer in print, to books on London's waterways, weird museums, Secret London, Access London and local guides, the list goes on-- second hand bookshops are the best place to find cheap books on London, as are local libraries! The internet is also a fantastic resource, with tons and tons of information. There are limitations to what you may find- with some info being outdated and incorrect- and also with so much information you can find very easily yourself overwhelmed and confused by a lot of it. However that being said, you just need to dig a little deeper to find the good stuff, the stuff that you're looking for!

#5) Be Spontaneous and Take Risks. This kind of goes hand in hand with number #1: wandering. Be spontaneous, take a train down to some random place and just explore! There's always an element in risk in this as you may end up in a really boring place which seemingly has nothing to offer, though if you do explore right, hardly any places will have nothing to offer. All you need is some imagination to make the ordinary, extraordinary and if nothing else, at least you'll have opened your mind to a new space, a space that now means something to you. It won't just be another random tube station name that you know nothing about, apart from the fact that it exists. Also never be afraid to go it alone! I find it much easier to explore when I'm by myself, you don't need to worry that the person you're with is getting bored, or tired or hungry. Though company is also great.

Try it for yourself, get out and explore the place you live! I'm sure you won't be disappointed :-)