My office today is poolside on a balmy 34 degree afternoon at Humpty Doo, on Darwin’s outskirts. The sky is a certain shade of rich blue that only Australia seems to be able to produce and the lightest of breezes occasionally rustles the palm fronds. The sound of the mower interrupts the serenity but it’s followed by that summery smell of freshly cut grass. It’s about as perfect as the weather can get for me — and it’s a far cry from the frosty welcome London gave us just over a month ago.
After the searing temperatures of Siem Reap, exiting Heathrow Airport was a rude awakening. As we stepped through the doors, a gust of wind wrapped us in its icy breath and we knew we were grossly underprepared for the weeks ahead. Thank God for the rellies, who rallied with woolly jumpers, thick parkas and snow jackets. It got us through the worst of it.
It was about 16C the day we arrived, although the sun graced us with its presence, softening the cold blow. But it was short-lived — the next few days were frigid, cloudy and wet, with even a fluttering of snow or sleet, dropping to maximums of 10 and 11C. After 18 months of summer — real hot summer, it was a shock to the system. Fortunately, it eventually thawed out, even reaching a comfortable 27C one day.
Another shock was seeing so much greenery. Everywhere. After months of red dust getting into every pore and every nook and cranny, the green was a refreshing and welcome reprieve. It’s about 25 years since my last visit to England and over the decades I had forgotten how green and lush everything is. I’d especially forgotten how many parks dot the English landscape.
For a country of some 65 million people with about 8.5 million jammed into the capital city of London, England has an amazing amount of green space. Parks and woods are scattered everywhere. And they are not small parks the size of a suburban backyard, like many of the parks you find in Australia’s newfangled estates. England’s parks often span 10s or even 100s of acres. And they’re in the middle of the suburbs. Some are even in the heart of London. It’s pretty impressive for a population this big in a country this small. And April and May are definitely great times to enjoy the beautiful parks and gardens around the country, with flower beds in full bloom, fruit trees boasting pretty blossoms and everything looking bright and colourful. I thought I’d share five parks I enjoyed during my month in England.
Kensington Gardens flanks Kensington Palace, home to Kate and Will, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
The gardens are huge but this beautiful fountain, surrounded by an array of pink, purple and yellow flowers was definitely a stand-out.
But the gardens are not just enjoyed for their colour. The many paths are used by walkers, joggers, cyclists and rollerbladers, the large grassy areas are popular with dog walkers and those with a penchant for outdoor fitness regimes. Others cut through the park on their way to work in the city. And the huge trees provide plenty of shade and a great place for a picnic on a sunny day.
I have to give a huge shout-out to Mel, who, at my cousin’s request, put together a great itinerary for our day out in London, which included Kensington Gardens, walking past the palace and then through to Hyde Park. The Joker had headed back to Australia by this stage so I spent the day with my cousin Clair and her friend Mel.
The girls were very excited when a chopper came into land at Kensington Palace and were convinced it was Will flying in. The Joker and I met Mel, many years ago when she visited Australia, so it was great to catch up. And what a great place to reunite.
If I lived or worked in London, I’d definitely be taking advantage of this beautiful garden.
Getting to Kensington Gardens
The tube stations that surround Kensington Gardens are Lancaster Gate and Queensway (central line), Bayswater (district line) and High Street Kensington (circle and district lines). A number of buses stop at points around the park.
Kensington Gardens is open from 6am to dusk.
You can take a leisurely stroll or a power walk through Kensington Gardens and carry on into Hyde Park. It’s fair to say our pace was definitely leisurely.
And you can see that Mel optimistically dressed for summer, while I cautiously maintained more winterish attire — the temperature was not forecast to hit more than about 23 degrees on this day, so I didn’t take any chances.
Hyde Park spans 140 hectares (350 acres) and includes famous landmarks such as Speakers’ Corner and the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain. It’s also incredibly popular for its range of recreational activities including cycling and tennis. And it is not unusual to see horse riders using the designated riding trail through the park.
We stopped for lunch and took in the beautiful scenery, eating our sangers on a park bench. It really is a lovely spot for a picnic and you can choose water views, overlooking Serpentine Lake, sit under the beautiful big trees or stop on one of the many park benches. I can imagine it gets incredibly busy in school holidays.
You can also stop for ice cream at this cute ice cream van.
And admire this beautiful cottage set in the Hyde Park grounds.
Together, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens cover more than 250 hectares in the heart of London. They are only two of many parks, albeit probably the largest two, providing fresh air and recreational space to residents and visitors. These parks are definitely worth a visit while in London.
Getting to Hyde Park:
You can take the tube and get off at Lancaster Gate or Marble Arch (central line) or go to Hyde Park Corner or Knightsbridge on the Piccadilly line.
The Royal Parks
Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park are both Royal Parks. Here’s some info about the Royal Parks.
- The Royal Parks cover more than 2000 hectares (5000 acres) to form some of London’s biggest green spaces.
- There are eight Royal Parks — Hyde Park; Kensington Gardens; Bushy Park; Greenwich Park; Richmond Park; St James’s Park; The Green Park and The Regent’s Park.
- Most originated as royal hunting grounds, starting with the enclosure of Greenwich Park in 1433.
- Regent’s Park was the first to open to the public in 1845.
- They are popular for relaxation, leisure and entertainment and are utilised by residents, visitors and city workers every day.
- They help cool city temperatures, absorb pollution and flood water and reduce wind speeds.
- About 77.7 million people visit The Royal Parks each year.
- The parks incorporate about 170,000 trees and 100,000 roses. About 28,000 tulips are planted in the Memorial Gardens outside Buckingham Palace.
- They include 34 tennis courts, 21 lakes and ponds and 13 children’s play areas.
Nonsuch — it’s a great name isn’t it? And so very English. This park is situated in Surrey, between Stoneleigh, Cheam, Epsom and Ewell. And it’s got a great history to go with it’s name. It was acquired by Henry VIII in the 1500s as a hunting lodge. The palace he built no longer remains on the estate but the Nonsuch Mansion House dating back a few hundred years is still a key feature of the park.
While it has a beautiful estate with manicured lawns there’s also plenty of woodlands and rambling paths to wander through. And the grounds are huge.
For a park situated in the middle of suburbia, it is spacious. What a gem to have on your doorstep. Children run and play, flying kites, riding bikes, climbing trees. Dogs roll in the mud and chase balls and plenty of people take to the paths and trails for a walk and some daily exercise.
And an added treat — the old Nonsuch Mansion House is open to the public with volunteers on hand to give you information on the building’s history. There’s also a cafe if you feel like stopping off for a coffee and perhaps a cake.
I was staying with relatives in Surrey so the parks and woods in this area feature heavily here.
Spring in England means bluebells. And a popular place to see them is Banstead Woods in north-east Surrey.
The forest floor is lined with a carpet of blue flowers flanked by greenery, adding pops of colour to many corners of the popular woodland. The trails through the woods are well established and easy walking for most. Little paths lead off into the woods, adding to the fairytale feel of the landscape.
The bluebells sit beneath a canopy of hazel, ash and oak trees.
While spring is a beautiful time to visit the woods, it is not just the bluebells that makes them popular. They are used by walkers, runners and cyclists and children can have fun building dens at the base of the big trees.
On the outskirts of the woods you are rewarded with beautiful views of Surrey.
With only days to go until my departure I think my family had finally had enough of me and secretly plotted to try and kill me off. It certainly felt like it, as I fought for breath and heaved my way up the steep incline that is Colley Hill. I hadn’t really noticed how steep the incline was on the way down. I was too busy taking in the views. It might be time to up the fitness regime — or just start one. It didn’t help that it was supposed to be a freezing cold day and I was wrapped up in a thick coat and jumper.
Apparently on clear days you can see the planes landing at Gatwick Airport.
We started at the top of the hill and wound our way down a scrubby track and then through the woods along the bottom of the valley. It’s pretty in the woods and there’s plenty of space for children to run around and explore — and a few trees for them to climb.
The surrounding farmland adds to the green space, making it seem even bigger than it is.
Apparently I wasn’t the only one struggling with the hill. My aunt is getting a helpful push up the slope here. We both survived to tell of our adventures.
Fortunately, it was not too far to the pub and a chance to replenish our energy.
England’s parks and green spaces are fantastic. Great expanses of green fields and woods, they have something for everyone. Head off to one of these places for a bit of exercise, a place to walk the dogs or a picnic on a sunny day. While you’re there, enjoy the wildflowers or the colourful gardens, spot the wildlife, breathe in some fresh air and take in the great views. Many of these parks also have historic buildings and monuments. There’s no excuse not to get out into the great outdoors when you’re visiting England — even while you’re in London. What are your favourite green spaces in England?