London off the beaten path

pleasure grounds

The funny thing about tourism is that designating certain areas as worthy of the foreigner’s inquisitive gaze immediately calls their authenticity into question, so that a tourist in search of — for example — the Real London must steer clear of the guide books and rely instead upon the idiosyncratic recommendations of Real Londoners.


Because the truth is, to an open-minded tourist, almost any destination can be a tourist destination. Check out how these potholes in the street have been cunningly circled in yellow paint. You’ll never see that in America, will you?


A Victorian-era smokestack rises above a rugby field. Doesn’t get much more English than that, does it?

police station

Or maybe it does. In just a few blocks in this neighborhood, we pass shops and restaurants catering to Somalis, Jamaicans, Filipinos, Poles, Indians, Irish and Iranians. An Islamic college faces a Catholic church across the street. I am reminded that, as far back as history records, this island has been shaped by successive waves of immigrants.

eggless cakes

And my native guide steers me through this profusion of multicultural offerings to what I am given to understand is a pinnacle of culinary achievement, something the locals call an Eccles cake. It is indeed superb.

do not feed the pigeons

Meanwhile, pigeons are deprived of food in three languages.

moorhen nest 2

Birds fare a bit better at a local park, where we find a moorhen sitting on its nest while water rails skulk through the weeds.

moorhen nest

London does not generally advertise itself as a birding destination, but for birders such as my guide who happen to live there, it is of course just that.

lightning-struck oak 1

But birds are a common, almost socially acceptable pursuit, so good tourist information is readily available. What if instead one happens to be obsessed with trees?

Rachel of the plane trees

The trick is to find a guide who shares one’s obsessions.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).


  1. I cannot even explain how much I love that picture of you inside a tree. Looks like you are having a wonderful time!


    1. I sure am. Still quite a bit jet-lagged, but my circadian rhythms will sort themselves out eventually, I’m sure.


  2. Welcome to England!
    You wear that tree like a cloak – wonderful.
    Note to vegans: the Eccles cake is not always an eggless cake …


  3. Perhaps I should explain that I misread “Eggless Cakes” on the window for “Eccles Cakes”. Which accounts for the sudden pressing need to eat one.


  4. The colloquial names are awesome : Squashed Fly Cake, Fly Cake, Fly Pie, Fly’s Graveyard

    Your “tree cloak” is so you ! What a great picture!


  5. Looks like only the prologue to many fine adventures! Thank you for sharing with us, the home-bound and landlocked… :)


  6. so happy to see these photos! I wonder, what’s the dark matter inside the cake? figgy? raisins?? poppyseed paste?


    1. Currants, dark sugar, mixed peel, some sort of citrus zest, cinnamon and nutmeg. In this particular example the filling appeared to have been pulverised to form a paste. More usually the currants are discernible entities, round and plump and sweet.


  7. Thanks, all, for the kind comments. Obviously Rachel deserves credit for the penultimate photo (and also this close-up).

    “Fly’s Graveyard” sounds like a great title for a poem! Or at least a blog post…


    1. Anyone up for a challenge? I will write it into a poem if you do! : ) It is a great title and I have just the right scenario in mind to write about.


  8. Can’t tell you how delighted I am you have discovered the pleasures of Eccles cakes, I miss them. Have a wonderful trip.


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