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The Unbeaten Path
In London, a New (Age) England

By Sherrie Nachman
The Washington Post
Sunday, May 3, 1998; Page E02

What: Neal's Yard

Where: Near London's theater district, about a five-minute walk from Covent Garden

If the fantabulously reborn, high-octane city of London stresses you out, head for a little known cobblestoned alley near Covent Garden that offers up a bewildering array of possibilities for relief. Neal's Yard is the place to go for a shiatsu massage, a dose of Chinese herbal medicine, a large bottle of soothing lavender essence, a veggie burger and a big hit of clean-cut, English-style New Age hoo-ha.

I first discovered this little enclave five years ago, when I was working in London and staying with my uncle who was living with his mother-in-law, even though he was recently divorced. My aunt was reunited with her high school sweetheart who was at the time teaching the game of bridge to lesser members of the royal family.

Feeling tense nearly all of the time, I ventured to Neal's Yard Therapy Rooms (2 Neal's Yard) for a basic massage and fell in love with this little-known part of town. On my yearly trips to London ever since, I always stop by Neal's Yard for some medicine, treatment and an all-natural frozen yogurt. Everyone in this tiny cul-de-sac is just oozing with mellowness, kindness and a hippie sort of charm.

Neal's Yard Therapy Rooms are low-key and the treatments are pretty good. The place offers various styles of body work, including shiatsu, along with mainstream treatments, like chiropractics. The more adventurous can indulge in past-life therapy and hypnotherapy. Prices run from $42 to $75.

When I came down with a bad cough, I stopped at East West Herbs (3 Neal's Yard), two doors down from the Therapy Rooms, where practitioners dole out advice and bags of Chinese Herbal Medicine, which must be steeped in hot water. After looking at my tongue and taking my pulse, a Chinese woman told me I was too "damp." Although I was certain central heating would have taken care of the problem, I signed up for a series of acupuncture sessions and a bag of medicine containing about 20 ingredients. I can't say this alternative treatment really helped, but I did wind up with some interesting books from the book shop.

It is always fun, however, to stop by Neal's Yard Remedies (15 Neal's Yard), located in the same tiny circular street. There are jars of herbs and oils for absolutely all ailments. Aromatherapy is a favorite cure-all: Orange oil will give you a bit of an energy boost, lavender oil can take you back down and ylang-ylang is recommended as an aphrodisiac. Neal's Yard Remedies also sells a slew of pricey cleansers, moisturizers, soaps and other products, all packaged in really nice blue glass bottles. This is the place to pick up all-natural seaweed bubble bath and a head lice cure involving geranium oil.

After being massaged and stocking up on Elderflower cleanser and other goodies, it's clearly time for some health food. The World Food Cafe (14 Neal's Yard), across the way from East West Herbs, is the perfect place for a light lunch and a cup of herbal tea. The place features whole grain breads, soups and sugar-free desserts. After you order, your food is brought upstairs to a sunny room filled with sometimes communal tables and more of that tranquil, feel-good vibe. Another place for a wholesome treat is Neal's Yard Bakery (6 Neal's Yard), where you can have cheese-free pizzas and other healthy snacks.

No matter what annoys you in London -- or even if nothing annoys you at all -- Neal's Yard is a great place to hide out, calm down and spend some time. And, of course, money.

The nearest subway station to Neal's Yard is Covent Garden. From there, walk down Neal Street (opposite the station) and take a left at Shorts Gardens. Look for the Neal's Yard alley a short way down the street. For information on travel to London, contact the British Tourist Authority, 212-986-2200,

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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