Wimbledon is more than a bad film starring Kirsten Dunst and it’s more than just a two week Grand Slam tennis tournament. There are three essential parts to this lush little corner of London: the tennis club, the village and the common. It’s a charming little triumvirate which gives visitors a glimpse into ye olde English culture. If you’re in town on a short visit I’d put it on the ‘maybe’ list but if you’re there for a week or longer it is definitely worth a look-in.
Before I tell you why I am so enamoured with Wimbledon I need you to bear with me for a moment…. (If punning makes you want to stab yourself violently with the nearest sharp implement then I recommend skipping the next paragraph. )
Watching Nadal on the big screen from Henman Hill
“The little suburb of Wimbledon is just ace, I mean it’s really got game. The stage is set to have a ball, I mean, what’s not to love about its swinging social scene and smashing restaurants. There are no backhand jokes made about it, on the contrary most visitors make a racquet with their volleys of applause. With the quality it serves up and so few faults it’s not hard to dedeuce why it has the advantage. If you’d like to see where the grass is greener I’ve told you where it’s at, now the ball is in your court.”
OK you can look now, the cringe-fest is over. I apologise but I just had to get that out of my system before continuing.
The All England Lawn Tennis Club
I love a good stereotype and this is where the English make a jolly good show of it (old chap), sipping their Pimms and lemonade whilst trying not to spill strawberries and cream on their pristine white attire. OK, so they don’t wear all white but the rest is true and rather than laughing at it I found myself really enjoying the ceremony of the occasion. It’s like going to the football in Australia, getting a pie and beer and heckling the ref. It’s not often the opportunity arises to fulfil the Aussie cliché but when the opportunity arises I revel in it.
Tickets to the Grand Slam are as scarce as hens’ teeth and the lines are renowned for stretching all the way back to Southfields tube station. If you can’t scrimmage a court ticket but are lucky enough to get a grounds ticket you can join the throngs on Henman Hill and watch the proceedings on the big screen with the same atmosphere.
If you aren’t there during the tournament in June you can still go to the museum which opened in 2006 and by all accounts is very interesting. I never went but am now kicking my self since I read of one of the highlights, a projected recreation where ‘a ghost-like image of John McEnroe takes you on a tour of the normally off-limits area’. It’s almost worth a visit just to see if he throws a massive tantrum at the end.
The Wimbledon Museum is a surprisingly good visit
Not to put too fine a point on it but the village of Wimbledon is posh. If you’re after a gritty, modern version of London then you’re in the wrong borough but I found it equally interesting to see what it’s like at the higher end of the food chain. Apart from the fact that the occasional horse clip-clops down the street, the reason these few intersecting streets are so refreshing is because they are the antithesis of the department store. Village strip-shopping like this may be relegated to the history books if the new 43 acre Westfield in Shepherds Bush is any indicator, so get in quick! Of course any self-respecting backpacker won’t actually be able to afford anything here… but it’s a good place to window-shop and drool.
My favourites for this purpose are:
Bayley & Sage: Even the expletive king Gordon Ramsay would find himself speechless at the array of gourmet food this little deli has on offer… pity you’ll have to be earning his salary to afford it. If you do then I highly recommend the £7 tub of Heavenly Honeycomb Crunch ice-cream sourced from Kent based ‘Simply Ice-cream’.
Cath Kidston: Leave the blokes at the pub for this one. You can find this UK designer’s creations in many chain-stores but this entire shop of feminine accessories, clothing and homeware will have every girly girl going weak at the knees.
Wimbledon Books and Music: An independent bookseller? They still exist? Yep, and you could spend hours browsing here and feel no pressure to buy, plus they support local authors. Two thumbs up.
The warm up court can provide as much atmosphere as the centre court
Café Rouge: You’d never know this place is a chain from the look of it. The French and English may vehemently dislike each other but the Confit de canard here is good enough to unite even the most stubborn feuding nations. Good value Prix Fix menu; £8 for 2 courses, Mon-Fri, 12-5pm.
The Rose and Crown: A traditional 16th century watering hole with a nice courtyard out back. Packed to the rafters during Wimbledon week, other options include the Dog & Fox or the Fox & Grapes. I’ve always wondered why English pubs are always something & something – good thing to think about over a pint and a mean Sunday roast.
You’ll find the best coffee at Le Pain Quotidien. Not good for those lacking pastry willpower though.
The residents may have complained when it set up shop but for those who are fiscally challenged there is a Tescos supermarket at the end of the high street.
The art of the amble can be mastered on the grounds of the Wimbledon common whose most famous residents are the Wombles of Wimbledon. You won’t spot any 70’s children’s TV characters any more but you can experience the refreshingly unkempt English phenomenon that is ‘the common’. These commons are found all over England and involve a series of paths that criss-cross a portion of land with wooded areas, small lakes and stretches of fallow land. Wimbledon has all of these plus horse-riding paths and a golf course.
I’ve lost myself in thought for hours on end here, traversing the paths of the common, listening to the satisfying crunch of the gravel underfoot. If you are in the village you just keep walking along the high street and you can’t miss the barren landscape on the left, plus, you’ll see the sails of the Wimbledon Windmill. I’ve never been in but found this hilarious introduction on the website:
Welcome to the Wimbledon Windmill Museum. Wimbledon Windmill Museum is a museum of windmills housed in the windmill on Wimbledon Common.
Wowsers! I wonder which wily wordsmith wrote that. Holy Dr Suess!
The windmill also houses a café and information centre where you can get a map of the walking paths (though it’s not huge so you don’t really need one). Apart from strolling, horse-riding and golfing the common has also assumed another role in modern English society. If you are out there late enough you’ll be able to witness the ritual gathering of dozens of groups of underage adolescents who congregate in little circles to smoke and drink, safe from the disapproving glares of their parents. Shock, horror!
Getting to Wimbledon
If you are going straight to the tennis courts catch the tube on the district line to Southfields and turn right out of the station past the fish and chip shop – it will be on your right after a ten minute walk. If you want to go to the village and/or common you need to go to Wimbledon station which is happily situated on both the district Tube line and the overland rail line. Turn right out of the station and walk up the hill for about 5 minutes to reach the High Street, if you pass HMV you’ve gone the wrong way. Continue along that same street another 5 minutes to reach the common.