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14 May 2018

London days out | the horniman museum

i have lived in the same neighbourhood as the horniman museum and gardens for more than three years, and yet, three is exact amount of times i have been to visit the museum during my residency. london is renowned for its free museums, and this one is no different - except that it is, in the way it's not one of those beautifully expensive galleries full of classical art and millennia-old artefacts and the like; no, this museum is a totally bat shit collection of everything that's interesting in this world, as collected by the wonderfully eccentric frederick john horniman since as far back as the victorian times. 

the museum and its enormous gardens include internationally-important collections of anthropology, musical instruments, an acclaimed aquarium, a tropical butterfly house, and an impressive natural history collection to boot. this past sunny sunday, i headed over for the fourth time in history, to check out a bit more of what makes south london so very special. here were the best bits:

the gardens

i'm almost certain that the three previous times have all been fairly crap weather, hence why i've been at a museum, so before this time, i'd never actually visited the gardens properly. mum has, when she's been along on her own - yes, my mum who lives in australia has been before me, but this time was my time. well, me and four hundred other londoners who also had the same idea as me, because it was sunny and the gardens offer the most amazing (albeit a little hazy) view over london from the top of the lawn.

the gardens are spread out over 16 acres and beautifully looked after - the botanical displays are curated to perfection by a slew of gardeners, who often triumph in hilarity by mirroring their flower displays with those of the inside collections - think musical notes and animal shapes, and you're on the right track. as well as that, there's a grade 2 listed conservatory, a nature walk, a bandstand, a dutch barn (seriously, from holland), a wildlife garden - and so much more! it's really a beautiful bit of london, and a really fantastic green space for relaxing in the sun.

 the natural history

the natural history part of the museum opened to the public way back in 1901, and the design of it was influenced by the art nouveau movement happening around it at the time; it's wildly eccentric. old mr. horniman had a real curiosity about him, for just about everything, and he was probably the world's first hoarder, because everything that remains was part of his personal collection of "stuff". there are taxidermied animals, skeletons, preserved specimens in fluid, and - probably the most famous of all the critters, the horniman walrus; forest hill's most beloved resident.

evolution is the main focus in the great hall, with truly impressive examples of natural selection and adaptation - especially in regards to wolves and domestic dog breeds. you can get right up and close to the exhibitions, unlike many other galleries, as it's a real hands-on type place. my mum works in the science department of a high school, and she was blown away by how thorough the collection of natural history at horniman was. plus: there's a giant walrus. sure, it's no dinosaur (or killer whale), but it's pretty snazzy.

 the butterfly house

this is the first time i've paid for an exhibit at the museum; the grounds and main halls are free, but there are always extra collections and exhibitions that cost a few quid to get into. the butterfly house was only £6, and on a sunny sunday in may, i'd have been a fool to be angry at that. there are allotted times for ticket-holders to enter the house - every 15 mins, so the human-to-butterfly ratio isn't all out of whack, but you can stay in there for as long as you like. on a sunny sunday in may though, that won't be too long, let me assure you. 

that greenhouse is hawwwwwtttt! i walked in and my breath was taken away - not just because of the butterflies flitting all around me, but because of the heeeeat. i'd potentially chosen the worst time of day to go in, too, at just before 2pm the sun was scorching through the glass roof, and although the flutterbys might have thoroughly enjoyed it, i didn't. sweat poured out of my skull and ran into my eyes, ears, and down my neck, and it was an ungodly sitch to be in. i lasted about twenty minutes before tapping out and heading directly back indoors for some air con and marble walls. the butterflies were absolutely intriguing - over six different species to be discovered and learned about, but it was just too uncomfortably hot for me! next time: a cooler temperature for me.

the barn house and animal walk

this was a surprise to me, as i suppose i'd never been that far into the grounds before, but.. there are animals on site! there are alpacas, goats, sheep, bunny wabbits, chickens, guinea pigs and mooooar, and you can walk right by them eating and sleeping and lounging in the sun, and ohhhhh it's good for the soul. unlike a city farm, you're not allowed to pet or feed them, though, so it's strictly eyes only, but still.. what a day to be alive when you can watch alpacas eating and playing with each other!

the grounds are so easy to walk around, and there are numerous cafes and ice cream stops dotted around so you'll never go hungry or thirsty so long as you're there, and there's a sainsbury's on the walk up from forest hill station too, which is perfect if you fancy a picnic on the lawn, or - among the animals, if that's more your thing.

the museum is open most days, but check before you go because there are often extra cool things happening there like a farmers market (every saturday), outdoor exhibitions (in the holidays), and other fun things. whatever the case though, it's a fun day out, and super easy to get to from the overground. so! next time, maybe i'll see you there!