My dad is 83 and walks 1,000 miles a year. Impressive, hey? So when he asked me if I’d like to join him on a walk in London, I was a little apprehensive whether I’d be able to keep up! It turned out I could and we did a fantastic 16k walk through some of the Royal Parks in October 2017. I thought I’d share our route as it made a lovely change from some of my usual West End (shopping)! haunts.
We left Charing Cross mid morning on a blustery Autumn day and headed straight under Admiralty Arch to Horse Guards Parade along a traffic free Mall, thanks to the Changing of The Guard and into St James Park.
We headed past Duck Island Cottage, on the south side, which was build as a Swiss chalet, the home of the bird-keeper in St James Park back in 1841. This pretty cottage was surrounded by the most well-stocked vegetable gardens I’ve seen, even more surprising given its central London location.
We followed the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Walk through the park up to Buckingham Palace where the crowds had gathered to watch the Guards. There’s some beautiful views as you walk up to the Palace, and walking in the Autumn is extra special as the leaves are turning into rich red and orange colours.
Whilst there were tourists out enjoying the sights around Buckingham Palace, when we were in the parks we felt as if we had the whole place to ourselves, leaving us to discover interesting monuments, cottages, sculptures, memorials and gardens. This really is the walk to do if you want to get away from the busyness of the city. A peaceful tranquillity seems to lie over the parks, not even disturbed by the distant American Football players out for their daily practice, or the soft sound of the horses hooves as they come back from the Parade ground. I loved it.
Crossing in front of the Palace, we headed into The Green Park. This is the smallest of the eight Royal Parks, at only 40 acres. It’s a delightful refuge where visitors can enjoy the precious green space in one of the the busiest parts of central London. The attractive landscape of grassland, meadow areas and mature trees supports a surprising range of plans and animals and is a designated Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation.
In 2012 the Bomber Command Memorial was built to commemorate the sacrifice of the 55,573 airmen who lost their lives serving in Bomber Command during World War Two. The sculpture, featuring seven Bomber Command aircrew was created by Philip Jackson and is very poignant.
The expressions on the airmen’s faces are so life-like and I felt the young lad on the far right was looking straight through me. It was incredibly moving.
The whole memorial is significant; parts of the metal used on some of the planes has been used to make the roof and the Latin motto ‘through diversity to the stars’ is engraved above the airmen.
I think that this memorial had special significance for Dad as he lived through the the Blitz in London and used to watch the dog-fights over Biggin Hill as a boy.
We continued up Green Park on the Diana Memorial walk, past several small gardens which were still in full colour. The parks are like a journey of discovery with lots of interesting and quirky features. Here’s one of my favourites that I know our children would love playing in.
Crossing under Wellington Arch into Hyde Park, I enviously looked at The Lanesborough Hotel, a famous London hotel, renowned for its impeccable service and luxurious suites. do they really provide personalised stationery in your rooms, hand delivered by your very own butler? I’ll never know!
Hyde Park is vast. It’s comprised of 625 acres which includes both the 350 acres of the park as well as 275 acres of Kensington Gardens. There are over 4,000 trees in the park. Originally, King Henry VIII acquired the grounds of Hyde Park in 1536 by confiscating them from the monks of Westminster Abbey after forming the Church of England. He used them primarily as a hunting ground and it remained closed to the public until King Charles I opened it in 1637.
There are quite a few places to stop en route for hot food, drinks and snacks throughout Hyde Park beside the Serpentine Lake, which was constructed by Queen Caroline in 1830
We chose to have a coffee a little further along the Serpentine and stopped at a Kiosk selling Colicci Coffee. Undoubtedly, the best coffee I have ever had. I’m a bit fussy when it comes to my coffee, and I’m happy to have discovered this brand. Thank you @Colicciscoffee and to the lovely barista who served us.
Colicci Coffee in Hyde Park
Leaving the Serpentine behind us we continued up past the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, over the bridge and back down to the footpath by the water, along to the Peter Pan statue and the Speke Monument. Dad told me all about Speke and his expedition with Richard Burton to East Aftrica in 1858, to discover Lake Victoria, They were looking for the source of the Nile and it was only on a subsequent journey with James Grant in 1862, he confirmed the lake’s northern outlet as the source of the Nile.
The memorial was sponsored by the Royal Geographic Society but 2 years before it was errected, Speke died, as a result of an accident with his own gun, as he was out walking, just hours before he was due to meet Burton for a debate on the source of the Nile. I love the way Dad brings to life historic events – he’s so knowledgeable, it’s like going for a walk with Google personified!
We then headed towards Kensington Palace, along a beautiful colonade of trees, stopping off at the recently renovated sunken garden, created to remember Diana, Princess of Wales. Diana lived at Kensington Palace for fifteen years and this year the garden team have created a White Garden to mark twenty years since her tragic death. Designed to be viewed from the walkway, the chosen planting is ‘simple, joyful and elegant, recreating a reflective space’.
I remember coming to these infamous gates soon after Diana died, and today’s walk reminded me how the air on that evening was filled with the fragrance of thousands of flowers piled waist height in the days following her death which still makes me sad today.
The final leg of our walk was back towards the southern side of Hyde Park to the Albert Memorial, which is located in Kensington Gardens on Albert Memorial Road opposite the Royal Albert Hall. It is one of London’s most ornate monuments, designed by George Gilbert Scott.
Unveiled in 1872, The Albert Memorial commemorates the death of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, who died of typhoid fever at the age of 42.
The memorial shows Prince Albert holding the catalogue of the Great Exhibition, held in Hyde Park in 1851, which he inspired and helped to organise.
Marble figures representing Europe, Asia, Africa and America stand at each corner of the memorial, and higher up are further figures representing manufacture, commerce, agriculture and engineering.
So a total of 16 kilometres, round trip from Waterloo. I have a new respect for my long distance moon-walking friends; my toes were tingly by the end, and my ankle did ache a bit, and if I thought about it, my knee ached too, but overall a thoroughly enjoyable walk. Thank you Dad!
If you’ve planned some London walks, I’d love to hear from you. I think I’m walking again with Dad around Islington next, so I’ll keep you posted!