The working day begins, for most of us, essentially with waking up. If possible, we fit something nice in before hitting the desk — cup of coffee, walk to work, or a morning run. But why limit our horizons? The city offers much more for those curious enough to try. Here are some suggestions to start the day differently.
What better way to shed the inhibitions of the city and get back to nature than taking a dip in one of Hampstead Heath’s marvellous ponds? Highgate Men’s Pond, accessed via Millfield Lane, is a sylvan spot where some bathers allegedly swim naked. The Kenwood Ladies pond is highest up hill and benefits from a natural spring giving it the clearest waters. The Hampstead Mixed pond is probably the most popular, but at 7am (summer opening time in all three ponds) you’ll probably find it relatively empty.
Why not use all those spare pre-work hours to go on your own London safari? Guided bird watching walks are there if you look for them, with societies such as the East London Birders Forum open to new members and able to lead walks if there is enough demand (speak to Mike Dent). The Brent Resevoir Nature Reserve Birdwalk is free to attend on Sunday 18 May and you can try your hand at spotting rare birds, which this spot has a reputation for; London’s first great white egret was seen here. On 7 June at 6am, local expert Keith Martin leads an International Dawn Chrous Day walk through Twickenham’s nature reserve, Crane Park. On 15 June, at a more respectable 9.30am, the RSBP offers a guided walk of Walthamstow marshes where you can spot grey herons, cormorants and little egrets. It’s a good time of year to go. Birds are in full song for the breeding season.
Watching the sun rise in London is there for the taking, and there are several spots with romantic places to do so. We recently profiled London’s highest restaurants and the views from the very highest, Duck and Waffle (open 24 hours) are stupendous. Hilly parks open in time for dawn with eastward views are not too common, but Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath fits the bill. Primrose Hill opens at 5am, which just about gives you time to reach the top during May. You’ll be too late in June. Any of the central London bridges east of Waterloo also offer attractive vantage points if you don’t mind standing on concrete while you wait.
It’s one thing to view the sunrise, quite another to photograph it. Cities at Dawn photography, ran by Anthony Epes, shows you how to get the most out of your camera during the unique dawn lighting conditions when the streets are empty. Courses run over two mornings, beginning at 3.15am and finishing just after 10am, typically at £245.
The Fox & Anchor, situated just off Smithfield Marketplace, is a good place to go if you want to have an unusual morning. It’s a grade II listed pub that serves alcohol (English Kent wines, bloody Marys and six types of cask ale) from 7.30am. On the occasion of our visit, a big table was being laid for City workers, so we had the place to ourselves and settled down in a sweet little wooden panelled snug at the back (one of ‘the foxes lairs’), along with a surprisingly fierce cat. On a different day, with more time on our hands, we would have tried the phenomenally generous breakfasts. Tailored to workers finishing night shifts (hospital workers, police, and workers at nearby Smithfield Market), breakfast is for the hungry only. Try the foxes City boy breakfast: sweet cured bacon, sausages, steak, lamb kidney, black and white pudding, baked beans and a pint of stout to finish. Perhaps the busiest breakfast boozer is Hamilton Hall next to Liverpool Street Station. This grand old Wetherspoon’s pub is buzzing at 8am, with many people getting in a very early pint.
If you want to learn something outside of your usual working commitments, the morning is a good time to do so. Headspace’s Meditation in the Park is a 12 minute free download that somehow combines relaxing and meditation with walking through one of our eight Royal Parks. Downloading one of our Londonist Out Loud podcasts could also teach you something you didn’t know about your work commute. Listen to podcasts about London Bridge’s Dickensian residents or learn about the Jewish history of the East End, depending on where you are.