All you naughty children sniggering over the Horniman Museum's name at the back there, quieten down now. It's a seriously awesome museum, and one of my favourite spots in London. Best of all, general admission is completely free. I decided to visit on my own a couple of weeks ago, fleeing up the hill to escape pelting, icy rain. I'm no stranger to the HM, but this didn't matter to me at all. I think there's something so special about wandering around a museum alone, unimpeded by other people's opinions or walking paces. Yup - it was time to get my inner museology geek on.
The Horniman is a bit of a crazy place - in a good way. There's several galleries featuring anthropological exhibits - there was an exhibition about Romanian dress and identity when I visited, as well as a room holding pretty much every musical instrument you can think of. But my favourite is a cabinet of curiosities-style gallery in the basement. It's dark and atmospheric, rarely populated by other visitors, and absolutely full to the rafters of random artefacts from all over the world - reminiscent of Cambridge's Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology. There's everything in here from sculptures of avenging Hindu deities to Alpine masks, fishing hooks and torture chairs.
But the real reason to visit the HM is for its amazing natural history gallery. Rivalling the Natural History Museum in the amount of taxidermied and model specimens it possesses, it's definitely a lot quainter and less crowded than the NHM, making it a joy to wander from cabinet to cabinet in peace.
I loved the handwritten caption on the Callides Grandes, top left. It really conjures up the time and place where it was found. I can just imagine how happy Mr. Horniman would have been when he chanced upon it innocently crawling along the leaf of a tea plant on a trip to Kobe at the end of the 19th century.
I remembered this little guy from my last visit - probably because his cheeky grin and tufty spikes remind me of Alex!
Seeing the skeletons of other primates always strikes a chord with me - we really are so closely related.
The most famous animal in here is the majestic walrus, who's lived here for over a century - give or take the odd tour or renovation. He's absolutely gigantic because the taxidermist overstuffed him, not knowing that walruses are meant to be wrinkly...
This gametes chart took me straight back to GCSE Biology.
The Horniman also has an amazing collection of birds from all over the world. My favourite sections include an incredible sequence of pigeons at various stages of flight and, best of all, the exotic birds collection.
The tiny sunbird.
A kingfisher (Malaysia represent!)
The long-tailed, brightly-coloured quetzal from Central America.
I thought the iridescent plumage on the golden-headed trogon was especially fascinating, and very beautiful.
From the top...
...and from the bottom.
After the needle-like rain had eased off I took a stroll around the museum grounds.
At the top of the hill there's the most amazing view stretching all the way to the City.
I sat on the crest of the hill admiring the view from the bandstand for a while and trying not to get blown off my bench by the relentlessly buffeting winds.
The Horniman is absolutely worth the trek down to the southern reaches of Forest Hill! You'll definitely learn a thing or two in the amazing museum, and on a warmer day it's a perfect place to have a picnic. If you spent your childhood delving into Horrible Science and thought that the NHM was heaven on earth, this'll make a perfect day trip for you.