2 In Life in London

Holland Park: A London Nature Walk

Woodchips crunch beneath my feet, damp from this week’s daily rain showers. An intense sweetness of sap from freshly cut trees thickens the air, a feathery stash of pine branches piled on one side of the path, segments of a trunk tossed on the other.

Holland Park by Stephanie Sadler, Little Observationist

Holland Park by Stephanie Sadler, Little Observationist

Holland Park by Stephanie Sadler, Little Observationist

A squirrel pauses in front of me, then scurries off to perch, statue-still, on a rickety wooden fence post.

Holland Park by Stephanie Sadler, Little Observationist

Holland Park by Stephanie Sadler, Little Observationist

Holland Park by Stephanie Sadler, Little Observationist

Holland Park is small, but the wooded trails that run along one side are one of my favourite places in London to re-connect with nature. I think about growing up when I did and the way the world is now with so much technology replacing the great outdoors. It’s great to see kids still running around there.

Holland Park by Stephanie Sadler, Little Observationist

Holland Park by Stephanie Sadler, Little Observationist

Holland Park by Stephanie Sadler, Little Observationist

We spent most of our free time in those days chasing each other across a wide open field, playing hide and seek, climbing trees, catching frogs in the stagnant ponds near the railway tracks, sitting on steps chatting for hours with friends, playing hockey in the streets, going on camping adventures.

Holland Park by Stephanie Sadler, Little Observationist

Holland Park by Stephanie Sadler, Little Observationist

Holland Park by Stephanie Sadler, Little Observationist

We were always feeling long blades of grass between bare toes and brisk wind on our cheeks, smelling the unmistakeable summer scent of a mowed lawn or barbecue, eating juicy pink watermelon in the sun, building snow castles in the long New York winters or roasting marshmallows over a fire on crisp Autumn nights.

Holland Park by Stephanie Sadler, Little Observationist

Holland Park by Stephanie Sadler, Little Observationist

Holland Park by Stephanie Sadler, Little Observationist

Living in the city, I’ve inevitably lost touch with much of that side of my life, but London has a lot of green space. It just means making the effort to go and enjoy it.

And so, I take a long afternoon walk through Holland Park.

Holland Park by Stephanie Sadler, Little Observationist

Holland Park by Stephanie Sadler, Little Observationist

Holland Park by Stephanie Sadler, Little Observationist

I follow the shrill shriek of a peacock to find it strutting in front of a man who is plugged into a phone, standing perfectly still (and continues to do so for the full 20 minutes I stand there and after I leave). The emerald coloured peacock calls out again, its sharp beak hanging open, a visible puff of breath spilling out against the chilly air.

Around me, the surround sound of nature: birds trilling and chirping, squirrels running and rustling, dogs barking and chasing.

Holland Park by Stephanie Sadler, Little Observationist

Holland Park by Stephanie Sadler, Little Observationist

Holland Park by Stephanie Sadler, Little Observationist

I carry on through the symmetrical beds of tulips, past two men performing the slow, fluid movements of tai chi, a woman on a bench devouring a book. Above me, as I walk toward the arboretum, the puffs of grey and white cloud shift slightly to reveal bright blue sky.

Holland Park by Stephanie Sadler, Little Observationist

Holland Park by Stephanie Sadler, Little Observationist

Holland Park by Stephanie Sadler, Little Observationist

Holland Park by Stephanie Sadler, Little Observationist

Muddy pathways are strewn with stray, broken twigs and trampled buds. Leaves, wet and matted, line the bases of weakly constructed fences along the edges.

Holland Park by Stephanie Sadler, Little Observationist

Holland Park by Stephanie Sadler, Little Observationist

Holland Park by Stephanie Sadler, Little Observationist

Some trees still have their brittle winter branches, swaying under the weight of resting birds. Some have delicate new growth with bright green leaves translucent in the afternoon light, others just buds beginning to unfurl.

Holland Park by Stephanie Sadler, Little Observationist

Holland Park by Stephanie Sadler, Little Observationist

Holland Park by Stephanie Sadler, Little Observationist

Purple bluebells stand tall in the centre of their long leaves as I walk through shadier areas toward the woods. The air smells of wet earth. The sun rises higher and cuts through still-bare branches, casting squiggly shadows across the ground. In the corner of my eye, I catch the white flutter of a magpie floating down beneath a tree.

Holland Park by Stephanie Sadler, Little Observationist

Holland Park by Stephanie Sadler, Little Observationist

Holland Park by Stephanie Sadler, Little Observationist

A ragged-looking middle-aged woman in a tattered tartan shawl holds a can of Pringles. She’s tossing handfuls to the birds and squirrels that are following her every move and gobbling up the greasy crumbs. She squeals out loud to herself in delight. Joggers and dogs pass along the trail.

City life rolled into nature.

Holland Park by Stephanie Sadler, Little Observationist

Fulham by Stephanie Sadler, Little Observationist

And then Holland Park spits me back out into the traffic on the other side. I take advantage of three things: Daunt bookshop, Paul for a pistachio croissant and tea, and the shop that sells extremely overpriced, nostalgia-inducing American goodies where I pick up a bag of Parmesan Goldfish.

The sun has vanished and I walk home under a sky threatening rain: the unpredictability of London weather in the spring.

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Brittany from Boston
    April 15, 2016 at 2:48 pm

    Looks really nice! I’ll keep this in mind for next time I’m in London!

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