London – this sprawling city crammed with double-decker buses and high streets and a skyline that’s constantly growing with more than 100 new 20+-storey buildings in the pipeline – is incredibly green. In fact, it’s about 47% green space, which is my favourite thing about living here.
There are 8.6 million people, but also 8.3 million trees, 30,000 allotments, 3,000 parks, 300 farms and 13,000 species of wildlife. There’s 1,000km of walking trails, 850km of streams, rivers and canals, 2 National Nature Reserves, and 142 Local Nature Reserves and plenty more. (source)
Impressive, right? I’m drawn to these places time and again, from the tiny but beautiful St. Luke’s Gardens in Chelsea and Phoenix Gardens in Covent Garden to the massive parks like Richmond and Hampstead Heath, to the quieter corners of the more touristy Hyde Park and Regent’s Park. Even the cemeteries: Kensal Green, Brompton, Highgate. You are never far from a nature-filled escape from city life.
Perhaps because they’re so easy for me to walk to, lately I’ve been enjoying the leafy Bishops Park in Fulham and Battersea Park not too far down the Thames. I wandered down, a slow walk on a sunny day.
As usual, I got distracted and took a detour down through Chelsea Harbour in Imperial Wharf for no other reason than the fact that I’ve walked by so many times but haven’t actually explored much. Long story short, I walked in a few circles, stumbled on a Harris + Hoole coffee shop where I stopped for a raspberry and blackberry smoothie and ended up back on Lots Road where I had cut in in the first place, 20 minutes earlier.
Battersea Park, in my opinion, in best entered by walking over Albert Bridge – the Candy Land bridge, the prettiest in the city with its pastel colours: candy floss pink, Easter egg yellow, sea foam green and pale sky blue. There were kayakers stopped below as I passed by and I watched one of them successfully do a complete front to back flip – impressive.
The park’s most defining feature is probably its Peace Pagoda. It’s looked after by Reverend Gyoro Nagase who walks daily from his temple to the pagoda in his saffron robes, beating his drum, and spends his days in Buddhist meditation, and keeping everything in tip-top shape. A local Caribbean bakery helps him out with some bread, a Chinese grocery shares veggies and he relies fully on donations to live. I’ve always found it fascinating.
Walk toward the centre of the park and you’ll see the remains of the 1951 “Pleasure Gardens” for the Festival of Britain: fountains, the Guinness clock, water features, etc. This was also the year that The Big Dipper rollercoaster was launched in what was then a theme park. 21 years later, it was to be the site of the worse roller coaster accident in history when five people died and 13 more were injured. Grim, but it is now a very peaceful place.
The mirror pools in this area are currently like works of art. They’ve been transformed by Samara Scott to look like liquid, moving paintings made with long rolls of fabric and brightly coloured dyes.
Walk on and you reach the Pump House Gallery, which is an old listed Victorian tower. There’s also a bandstand, a children’s zoo, sporting grounds, a boating lake and places to rent bikes and eat 99 flakes in the sun.
My favourite bits are the garden areas: The hidden herb garden in the staff yard, the old English garden with its trellises of roses, and the sub-tropical gardens which are the perfect place for a summertime picnic while we still have a few weeks of warm weather and sunshine. Plenty of places to make the best of it in London.