Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from goo.gl/Ta4oAX.
Published April 29th 2014
No Wonder Peter Didn't Want to Leave
Home to Princess Victoria, the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge, and Peter Pan, Kensington Gardens is the 'green lung' of London. Open to the public between 6am-8.30pm everyday, it is the chance to get away from the noise of the city, admire the green spaces, and hunt for faeries. This may not be easy, as they only come out after dark. Perhaps you'll just have to settle for a fairy ring.
Horse Chestnut Trees in Bloom.
After a lovely afternoon tea at the Kensington Royal Gardens Hotel, my mum and I decided to spend the rest of the day exploring the park. With two hundred and seventy-five acres to cover, this was going to be challenge; we only managed half the grounds, but our two-hour walk could not have been more perfect that Poppins herself.
Kensington Gardens was once the private grounds of Kensington Palace, which has been a place of residence for the Royal Family since the seventeenth century. Originally called Nottingham House, the Jacobean mansion was built in 1605. The first monarch to own the palace was William III, who ascended to the throne in 1689. As an asthma suffer, you can imagine that London was not the healthiest place for him to live; he therefore commissioned the architect, Sir Christopher Wren to redesign the grounds to suit his needs.
Whenever I have looked at a map of Kensington Gardens on the A-Z, I have asked myself why it is separate from Hyde Park. My visit provided the answer. In 1704, Queen Anne enlarged the palace gardens by snitching thirty acres from Hyde Park to create an English style garden.
The biggest change came in 1728, when Queen Caroline took a massive three hundred acres from Hyde Park to create a more formal landscape. This included the Round Pond, Long Pond, ornamental bastions, and the Ha-Ha Ditch to distinguish the two sites.
Princess Victoria Statue
The most well known member of royalty to live in Kensington Palace is probably Queen Victoria. She was born at the palace, and lived there until her marriage to Prince Albert.
This duck is a bit of a loner.
The park is full of beautiful grassland, and various species of trees, and lots of wildlife. I loved seeing the numerous squirrels springing about, and was also rather surprised to see a lone duck out for a gander, quite some distance from any body of water. Perhaps it just doesn't like company.
Physical Energy Statue
The Physical Energy Statue is located halfway between Round Pond and The Long Water. The bronze sculpture is of a man on horseback, shielding his eyes from the son, and is based on the original statue by George Fredrick Watts in 1902. It was dedicated to men like dedicated to Muhammad, Attila, Tamerlane and Genghis Khan, to show is support of Imperialism, and represents the energetic will to power. While I don't condone the vision behind it, I do like the statue.
The Long Water
In 1730, Queen Caroline ordered on of her royal gardener, Charles Bridgeman, to dam the Westbourne Stream and create a natural looking lake called The Long Water. This is the western half of the Serpentine River, and is borders are defined by the Serpentine Bridge, marking the boundary between Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.
On the opposite side of the lake you can see The Arch. Made from Roman travertine marble, it is a large scale recreation of Henry Moore's bone-made miniature. Born in Yorkshire, Moore was inspired by the natural world around him, The Arch itself being inspired by Stonehenge. It may be a bit sad to admit it, but when I look at this reproduction, I am not reminded of Stonehenge, but the magical portals from the Spyro the Dragon Playstation game.
Gulls all in a line.
The Long Water is significant historical site, with many landmark events taking place there. In 1814 it was the focal point of a re-enactment of the victorious Battle of Trafalgar, then two years later the chosen suicide local of Percy Shelly's pregnant wife, Harriet Westbrook. In 1851 it was the site of the Crystal Palace Exhibition. Over a century later in 1977, it hosted the Celebrations of the Queen's Silver Jubilee, and most recently was a venue for the 2012 Olympics.
The Long Water is a habitat for a variety of birds; these include your common mallard & shoveler ducks, greyling & Canada geese, and I was lucky enough to spot a mute swan nesting on the bank. There are also several rarer species, such as the great crested grebe.
Peter Pan Statue
Birds are not the only ones fond of The Long Water. As anyone who has ever read J.M. Barrie's The Little White Bird will know, that Peter Pan's first home was not Never Land, but Kensington Gardens, where he lived for quite some time with the faeries. A bronze statue of the boy who never grew up was sculpted by George Frampton, and place in front of The Long Water on 1st May 1912.
At the end of The Long Water you will reach the Italian Garden, which was a gift from Prince Albert to Queen Victoria. Just like a smitten teenage carving initials into a tree, the stonework is engraved with a symbolic A&V.
Consisting of four marble basins, five fountains, and five elaborately carved urns, it is an ornamental spectacle fit for any queen.
The garden also has a commemorative statue of Edward Jenner, who discovered vaccine for smallpox.
There are two playgrounds in Kensington Gardens. The main one is the Princess Diana Memorial Playground, which opened on the 30th June 2000. It has a sandwich cafe, and is themed around the stories of Peter Pan's adventure's in Never Land, featuring a large pirate ship. By the Italian Gardens there is the smaller Buckhill playground with more traditional climbing equipment and swings.
Buck Hill Cottage
If you are still embracing your inner child, not moments away is Buckhill cottage, which looks like it has been plucked right out of a Grimm's fairytale.
Mum and I started to head back to the station at this point, but we stayed within the park, circling round on anything we may have missed. This started with the allotment, which is open everyday until 4.30pm. It was about half past five now, so too late to look around.
Our final stop, and probably the grandest, was the awe inspiring Albert Memorial, which, designed by George Gilbert Scott, is one of London's most ornate monuments. Unveiled in 1872, it commemorates the death of Prince Albert. The sheer scale of this structure leaves you in little doubt how much Queen Victoria loved her husband.
On each of the four corners of the monument it features the continents of Africa, Asia, Europe, and America. Higher up are figures representing manufacture, commerce, agriculture, and engineering, while at the very top, are gilded bronze angels. All around the monument is a great frieze featuring a hundred and eighty-seven figures that celebrates painters, poets sculptors, musicians, architects, and reflects Alberts love of the arts. Then high on mighty, at the centre of it all is Prince Albert himself.
Kensington Gardens should be on the list of anyone's list of places to go and visit, and once you have, don't cross it off, because one visit is simply not enough to do it justice. We only got halfway round the park, and there is tons more to explore.