Since I couldn’t convince the Queen to let me shack up in a room in Buckingham Palace, I’m back home from London. That means my only way of pretend I’m back in the big city is to share my trip with you. Even though I have SOOO much to show and tell, I’ll try to keep this from running on like Grandpa’s slide show of his trip to the big ball of twine in Iowa.
One of the things I love about London is its oodles of green spaces and free gardens. This is in stark contrast to, say Italian cities, where a green escape is hard to find. So, for this first of three (maybe four) London Trip Reports, get your walking shoes on and let’s stroll through a park or four.
In the Neighborhood: Holland Park
Our temporary home in London was in a lovely flat in the Kensington area just west of Holland Park. This wasn’t the most central of locations, but the street was nice and quiet and it only took a little extra time to get to a Tube station that would whisk us away to all the sites.
Finn especially liked that the owner of the flat was considerate enough to have planted a window box that was perfectly color-coordinated to his attire.
Since we were so close to it, on the day of our arrival Mr. Husband and I meandered our way over to Holland Park on our way to the grocery store (I have a slight addiction to grocery stores in Europe!).
Holland Park used to be the grounds of Cope Castle which was built in 1605. When the castle was inherited by the Earl of Holland’s wife, it got a new name: Holland House. Unfortunately, during the Blitz, much of the castle/house was destroyed and only one wing remains standing. The 54-acre Holland Park is now in a very hoighty-toighty area of London so walking to it inspired many comments along the lines of “Holy crap, look at THAT place!”
There are also some resident peacocks in the park. This guy was putting on quite a show when we arrived, but the only thing he attracted were photographers and a pigeon who thought she’d see what her chances might be with such a flamboyant fellow.
A Wander Through Hyde Park
At 350 acres, Hyde Park is huge and is the biggest royal park in London! There’s an even bigger city-operated park that I’ll get to in a moment, but if you want big and you want royal and you want some easy-to-reach greenery, Hyde Park is the place to go.
To match its size, Hyde Park also has a huge history. You can head to Wikipedia for the full story, but here’s a shortened version. In the Middle Ages this area belonged to Westminster Abbey. When Henry VIII decided being head of the church and marrying Anne Boleyn would be way more fun than sticking with Katherine of Aragon, he acquired the grounds and made them into a hunting park that he called Hyde Park. A hundred years later, Charles I (before he lost his head to Oliver Cromwell), allowed the public to use the park for the first time. Thanks, Chuck!
On the evening we went to Hyde Park, our legs were already tired from the day’s sightseeing, so Mr. Husband and I decided to hop the #9 bus that ran from near the flat up High Kensington Street to the far end of Hyde Park. We then walked back…slowly. It was threatening to rain and getting dark, but it was a refreshing stroll. And of course, we stopped at the grocery store on the way back.
Kensington Palace and Gardens are situated within Hyde Park. Built in 1605 (which must have been a good year for palace building), the first royals who took up residence here were William and Mary in 1689. Other royal residents have included Queen Anne, several King Georges, William and Kate, and Princess Diana. In Diana’s memory, a lovely garden has been planted on the palace grounds.
Since We’re Here: St. James’s Park
On another day when our legs were about to fall off, we had to make a connection at the Green Park Tube station. I figured since we were already there, we might as well hop off and walk through over to my favorite royal park: St. James’s Park.
This park was built on a swampy area purchased by Henry VIII in 1532 and was later landscaped by James I, who also decided to toss in a menagerie of camels, crocodiles, and other exotic creatures. The pond is croc-free now (I hope), but the park is filled with waterfowl, flowers, and an excellent view of Buckingham Palace.
Escaping North: Hampstead Heath
Our flat happened to be just a couple minutes’ walk away from the London Overground that, after careful study of my map, I discovered went straight to Hampstead Heath. Since we didn’t have time to get to the Heath during our last visit to London, it was high on the to-do list for this trip. So, one late afternoon when I think we were meant to be resting our feet, I suggested we escape the heart of town and head north to check out the Heath.
Okay, “zipping” may not be the best description. The Overground is pretty slow compared to the Underground, but within half an hour we were stepping out of the station and chugging our way uphill to explore.
The heath is first mentioned in 986 when the land was given by the king to one of his servants (talk about a nice benefits package!). It’s now a great spot for walking, a refuge for wildlife, and a place for swimming and other sports. At 790 acres, this City of London Corporation-operated (aka “not royal”) park is vast. Since our legs were feeling weary, we barely covered half of it, but I would definitely go back. Like right now!
Whew, my legs are tired just thinking about all these parks we trudged through. I’ll be back next Wednesday with (if all goes to plan) a new piece of art to show off, and next Friday I’ll have more of London to share with you!
What about you? Do you have a favorite green space in your home town? If you’ve been to London, do you have a favorite park?