During the pandemic, green spaces have become buzzing with social activity, particularly among young people. We all suddenly have a new profound love for picnics and outdoor activity since the government-imposed lockdown of 2020. 2020 has been a terrible year but discovering new, green spaces has been a delight. Just to be clear that I am not ranking these spaces as that would be too much work. These are areas open for the public and not to be awkwardly confused with the private gardens which make me ever so sad when I mistake them on the map for a stop to relax. The mystery behind these private garden intensified in the recent times and perhaps the only reason I find Notting Hill ever so relatable (sadly no transatlantic romance but a growing envy at Keyholders only!)
6. St James Park/Green Park
One of the royal parks in London if it wasn’t made obvious by the park’s signage docked by the crown’s symbol or the arrows pointing towards the Buckingham Palace. Best visited on the 8th June, when the official birthday of the Queen is celebrated and the trooping the colour parade is held. Otherwise you can watch the rehearsals on the Saturday preceding the main date (see the Major General’s Review and the Colonel’s Review). St James Park is a short walk from Clarence House and Whitehall if you would like to group together your sightseeing. The highlight of the entire show are the pelicans that are found in the park which were originally a gift from the Russian ambassador to King Charles II (400 years ago!)
5. Primose Hill & Regents Park
Situated between Marylebone and St. Pancras and named after King George IV (the prince regent) who replaced his father George III when he became ill. The park was initially suggested by the prince but designed by John Nash and showcased one of the earlier examples of a garden suburb. The garden city movement is when city communities are contained by green belts to introduce some country life benefits to the city. Regents Park beautifully showcases Queen Mary’s (wife of George V) gardens which are filled with thousands of beautiful flowers and are actually London’s largest rose collection. We are told the best to visit in the first two weeks of June when the English roses are blooming.
On the other hand, Primrose Hill is where to catch the best skyline of London at sunset. As William Blake put it “I have conversed with the spiritual sun. I saw him on Primrose Hill” (this can also be found inscribed on a stone at the site). First acquired by Henry VIII in 1841 and later made into a public space in 1842, Primrose hill was named after the British Prime Minister Archibald Primrose. Situated within the borough of Camden, Primrose hill is a short walk from Belsize park, Chalk Farm, St John’s, Swiss Cottage and Camden Town making it an easy stop off on a day of sightseeing. Also notable are the houses of Friedrich Engels, Sylvia Plath and William Butler Yeats which are found closeby.
The woodlands that inspired C.S.Lewis to write the Chronicles of Narnia, one of Karl Marx’s favourite outings and where Constable drew many of his later paintings, Hampstead Heath is another one of London’s most popular parks. Wilkie Collins set woman in white in Hampstead Heath as did Bram Stoker with Dracula. A stroll in the woods is great way to soak up all its cultural past. Legends have overtaken Hampstead Heath, Parliament Hill has been dubbed Traitors Hill as Parliamentary troops rebelling against the king during the English Civil War frequented. Similarly, rumour has it that Robert Catesby and Guy Fawkes planned to watch the destruction of Parliament on this hilltop. Other iconic features are the Hampstead ponds, Keats House and the Kenwood estates; a perfect backdrop for a warm summer’s picnic. Closest lines are either Hampstead Heath or Gospel Oak on the Overground or Hampstead and Golders Green on the Northern Line.
3. Holland Park
RBKC’s largest park and home to the mesmerising Kyoto Garden, Holland park is another favourite of mine (although part of this experience is seeing what’s new at at Daunt books). Historically, the park developed out of what were the grounds of Cope Castle and later passed from Sir Walter Cope to the 1st Baron of Kensington and his wife, the 1st Earl of Holland, hence the name. Unfortunately, Cope Castle was heavily bombed during the second World War and the remaining wing is used for open-air theatre and other productions. Easy stop offs are the Design Museum and Notting Hill.
2. Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens
The stroll between Notting Hill gate and Kensington Gardens is particularly delightful as large, american-styled pavements and even grander embassy situated near the entrance. Hyde Park is probably the most well known green space in London. It’s the biggest, it’s where speakers’ corner happens, it’s where many rock concerts were held (including Pink Floyd) and it’s Winter Wonderland during the colder season. Henry VIII took it from Westminster Abbey in 1536 to use as his hunting ground, and about 100 laters, the James I decided to open it to the public. Hyde park has been central to much of London’s history. During the English Civil War in 1642, forts were along the park built so visitors could be vetted. When the Plague besieged the streets, Hyde Park was used as a military camp. It’s where nobels dueled; where the English military executed soldiers; Samuel Pepys even regularly visited for parades. Closeby is the Marble Arch (designed by the favourite Georgian Architect John Nash) which is our knock-off version of the Arch of Constantine and the Arc de Triomphe for those asking.
Dubbed as the most diverse botanical collection in the world, Kew Park is home to thousands of species, becoming a centre for science and housing the largest wild plant seed bank in the world. The Palm House is one of the most iconic, neoclassical structures in English history, serving as a symbol of Victorian Britain and modernity. There are of course many royals involved in this story. Henry VII built Richmond Palace which then became his permanent royal residence. Kew Palace was the former summer residence of George III who purchased the Dutch House as a nursery for his children. While there are still some nods to the royal family, the gardens are mostly attended by the public (and the Kew Constabulary which are the Garden’s very own police force). Closeby is Richmond Park where you can spot deers.
Be sure to schedule some forest bathing in your schedules this week; it’s definitely worth the hassle or any hoop you have to go through to unplug from the virtual world and tune into the more tangible one.