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The Great Outdoors Archives - Page 2 of 2 - Kidding Herself

Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, London

Hyde Park is big. It’s not as big as Richmond ‘the Poo’ Park or, y’know, space, but it is nevertheless big and particularly big for the purposes of this guide as Mama says I should include Kensington Gardens as well. No-one, she insists, really knows where one stops and the other begins anyway, certainly not her. So, Hyde Park (with Kensington Gardens) is very big indeed, a fact which is important for Londoners, most of whom do not have gardens to call their own. At the slightest hint of sun they will therefore head for a park en masse, and since the capital would probably give space a run for its money, it’s good that there is still room to move about in this very central open space despite the very large numbers of people who frequent it, lounging around on the grass; picnicking; playing football; contorting themselves into odd shapes while someone shouts at them; riding bikes; scooting on scooters; rolling on rollerblades; walking on tightropes; walking their dogs; or just wandering aimlessly about. Like us.

Hyde Park/ Kensington Gardens

Mostly our walks begin in the middle of the southern side, hoping for a sight of horses as we cross the sand-covered riding track, which runs right round the park and harks back to its days as the place for the great, the good and the beautiful to display themselves on horseback and in carriages to all and gossips. Horses happen quite often, actually. There are a couple of stables dotted around and, of course, the Horseguard Barracks right next door. We see the mounted soldiers exercising their nags, trotting back from changing the guard or, on really exciting days, practising for some big ceremonial outing. Clearly being in the army must be GREAT! I am thinking of joining, although I don’t see any girls up there. Probably they only bother with the very special occasions. But what with this, the casual trotters and dressage squares on both the north and south sides where you can hang around watching horses dance, all in all, Hyde Park (with Kensington Gardens) is a pretty good hunting ground for small equestrian-obsessed children. Like me!

The Albert Memorial run is the one we do if we are in a hurry. Mama says it was built by a Queen to remember her husband. He must have been very nice because it certainly is a very big sort of statue. I am going to be a Queen when I grow up. I thought about being a Princess because, dresses! Also, pink! Then I realised Kings get to ride more horses. But Queens are clearly the most important, so that’s the best job. The Memorial displays all the restrained taste and subtlety of which the Victorian age is known for (says Mama), and the fact that Albert is covered from head to foot in gold leaf and makes Papa, the Russian, feel right at home.  Public art that stands still for too long in Russia always gets covered by gold leaf. As a result, the Albert Memorial is the only bit of statuary in London Papa approves of.

Gold leaf covered Albert Memorial from behind

Behind the statue is the Flower Walk. It is an excellent route for toddlers, having broad, well-paved pathways, fences to prevent the plant life from getting carried away and savaging us, and a total absence of water features as long as you avoid the giant dog bowl at the bottom end. Also, everybody feeds the squirrels, and often they let us help. Those little guys are really friendly! They’ll come right up and take the nuts out of your hands! It’s a bit confusing because I thought the ‘do not’ on the signs means that it’s not allowed, but I must have been wrong. This language learning business is very hard.

Kensington Gardens

Then there is the Diana Memorial Fountain option. Mama says Diana was a Princess, but that can’t be true because there isn’t any pink. Mama first came across it in its early stages, back when she didn’t have kids and it spent six months cordoned off for not working properly. She was not impressed, and not just because of it being mostly white. Now we are all big fans (except of the colour). Of course, it remains more of a low lying circular cannalette than anything else, and certainly not, in the absence of your actual spurting water, a fountain. But they have fixed whatever the plumbing problems were, and it has become a pretty cool hangout on a nice sunny day. People sit on the wide stone edging, wade round and round the waters, or just picnic on the surrounding grass. There are a lot of kids, most of them wet, but it’s not all families and that is rather nice too. Best of all, up close the stream is interestingly textured with different flow patterns and in places even loud and oddly musical. Mama says that if you absolutely have to have open water for children to fall into in every park in Britain, and it appears to Mama that you do, this is the one she can tolerate, even if it does mean bringing along a spare set of clothes.

She thinks the nearby Serpentine lake, however, is best avoided with two water obsessed offspring. Mama is particularly adamant about this after she had to fish my Incredible Big Brother’s scooter out of the water not once but twice on one particularly tedious trip all the way round. So we generally depart the waterside briskly after hanging over a decently fenced off section admiring the ducklings and goslings and signets, pausing only to see if anyone is braving the waters in the special pool-like area. Mama tells me that you have to be a member of some club to actually get in the water. I think this is just an excuse and plan on testing the theory as soon as I can escape and fling myself in. In the meantime, we usually end up at the playground back up near the east end of the lake, down by the Horseguard baracks. It has a coffee dispensing kiosk right outside, so everyone is happy, at least in the summer months.

At one time, when Mama had all the time in the world and no school runs to do, we used to go up to the Round Pond via one of the Serpentine Gallery buildings. Even through the Gallery sometimes. Everybody likes rooms with large screens showing rather incomprehensible films about a music box.

Back in his dissolute youth, the Round Pond was much beloved of my Incredible Big Brother, who would spend many happy hours herding any water birds which had the temerity to set webbed foot on land back into what he considers to be their only permissible habitat. The tourists who had got lost on their way from Kensington Palace to the Diana Memorial Fountain loved this kind of behaviour and took whole memory sticks full of pictures of a line of grown swans waddling, cowed, in front of a determined small boy. Nowadays, it’s mostly me trying to tree a squirrel they like to film. If anyone reading this has found themselves being shown pictures of extravagantly photogenic children harassing wildlife in Hyde Park (or Kensington Gardens) from a returnee from the Sceptred Isles, Hi from me and my Incredible Big Brother.

If we are up in this North West sort of area now, we would probably be going to the Diana Memorial Playground. In many ways it is an excellent playground, although, again, where is the pink? Don’t they know princess stuff must be smothered in pink? Ditto, frills? Instead there’s a huge sandpit, some really good slides, swings and climbing frames, and best of all a gigantic pirate ship, all divided up into different areas separated by high grassy banks or really big bushes. Of course, Mama likes to be able to keep half an eye on my Incredible Big Brother whilst following me around wherever my whimsy takes me and this is pretty much impossible with the Diana Memorial Playground. Mama is therefore forced to choose between being the helicopter Mama she likes to pretend she isn’t or the momentarily panic of not being able to find one of her children because he is sitting under a bush recruiting the other under tens in a plot to take over the world. Or finding bugs. Whichever you think is more likely. Either way, it’s stressful, and she is almost always forced to fortify herself at the large refreshments booth outside afterwards. I recommend the ice cream. Mama likes the coffee.

Recently we have discovered the Italian gardens, which surprisingly has nothing whatsoever to do with any member of a royal family. As far as Mama knows. They do have square ponds and real fountains with shooty water though. Also, some really big stone cups. This must be where the giants hang. They should take their rubbish with them. I like to scoot round and round and throw leaves in the water, which Mama suspects pleases the people who have to keep the place tidy not at all, so we always end up having a bit of an argument about that. Mama probably feels they have enough to do trying to shift the giant leftovers but I say this is not my problem.

Apparently, there is a famous statue of a small unruly boy around here somewhere. We haven’t found it yet but I think it is unfair. Why are they putting up monuments to my Incredible Big Brother and not me, I would like to know?

Anyway, Hyde Park (with Kensington Gardens). Mama has never actually taken a trip here simply to go to the park, although it is a great park, huge, lots to do, busy but not hopelessly crowded. But it’s near to quite a few of the places your big people might insist on taking you to in London, so if that has all become too much, you can restore yourself by running around and shouting to your hearts content here. If you don’t happen to have a first class park within easy reach, you could easily spend a day here just because. And if it is your local park, lucky old you.

More Information

The Hyde Park website.

The Kensington Gardens website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about Diana, Princess of Wales, and the power of myth.

Address: Hyde Park’s postcode is W2 2UH.

Opening: 5am to midnight.

Price: Free.

By tube: Bayswater (District Line), Lancaster Gate (Central Line), Marble Arch (Central Line), Hyde Park Corner (Piccadilly Line), Knightsbridge (Piccadilly Line), High Street Kensington (Circle and District Lines).

By bus: North London: 6, 7, 10, 16, 52, 73, 82, 390, 414. South London: 2, 36, 137, 436. West London: 9, 10, 14, 19, 22, 52, 74, 148, 414. East London: 8, 15, 30, 38, 274.

By car: Actually, Pay and Display parking is available on West Carriage Drive and in car parks at either end of Serpentine Bridge. It’s not ruinously expensive either. But places are limited, and there’s maximum four hours stay Monday-Saturday. You still have to pay on Sundays, but there is no maximum stay.

Battersea Park, London

Battersea Park is a riverside park in the South West of London, just across a bridge from such attractions as Chelsea, Kings Road, the Royal Hospital and the National Army Museum. It is an excellent place to while away time with a toddler, or a toddler and her Tremendous Big Brother because there are so many different sections to explore – it’s not a large heath-like affair full of grass like many of the other open spaces in the area. Not that I mind that. One footpath is much like another to me, and as long as there are blades of grass to examine, dog poo to pick up, leaves to throw around, sticks to collect, ducks to feed and dogs to greet I am really not that bothered. But the sense of exploration Battersea Park provides seems to make Mama happy, so that’s good enough for me.

The bandstand at Battersea Park

One of Mama’s favourite areas is the Tea Garden, where there is a small kiosk that serves coffee. Mama often tries to arrange it so that should we be alone, I am asleep when we get here and she can relax in whatever sunshine is available in peace. Or at least as much peace is afforded by the numerous dog walkers who frequent the park and who also like to restore their nerves with refreshment here, meaning that there are quite a lot of bouncy animals snuffling, barking and occasionally fighting all around me. I usually only wake up, however, if they come and investigate what we have brought as our picnic lunch, which is unfortunately rather more often than Mama would like. The problem is that Battersea Park is near Battersea Dogs (and Cats) Home, and so in addition to the quite startling numbers of dog owners and professional dog sitters who use the park, there are also hordes of former strays being exercised.

View of Battersea Powerstation from Battersea Park

Not that this bothers me or my Tremendous Big Brother one little bit. Animal obsessed at the best of times, dogs are my Tremendous Big Brother’s absolute favourite and it is impossible for him to walk past a pooch without saying hello. I am much the same, although less prone to running madly towards them with my arms out shrieking my happiness as my Tremendous Big Brother was at my age, for which Mama is duly thankful. Mama’s blood pressure is also improved by the fact that my Tremendous Big Brother has learned to strike up a conversation with dog owners these days before diving in for the touch. Mama is particularly impressed by the social skill he displays in starting off such encounters with ‘What’s your dog’s name?’ rather than ‘Can I stroke your dog?’ (that’s his second question). He rarely listens to the answer but it is astonishing how many people will let him throw the ball as well as hug their pet if he pretends to take an interest in the animal as, like, an individual first.

Still, Mama is torn between being grateful that Battersea Park provides us with an opportunity to indulge our passion and practise our schmoozing skills, and irritation at the sheer inconvenience of having to stop every five yards to pet some mutt. Not to mention that she suspects that every encounter increases the likelihood that she will have to let us get a dog at some point in the future.

Mama is not a dog person.

But back to the Tea Garden. The reason why Mama likes this bit of the park so much is that it reminds her powerfully of parks in Moscow. 1950s design. It grows on you. Lots of sculptures made of metal strips painted in bright colours, including the gazebos over the tea garden tables. There are also fountains, quite spectacular ones, with timed and ever-changing displays of water fireworks. In the summer. We are even allowed to look at them close up when Mama is feeling particularly optimistic that I won’t fling myself into the water like my Tremendous Big Brother did once when he was little. The whole section is overlooked by the Peace Pagoda, which is a Buddhist temple inexplicably plumped in the middle of the riverside walk. Mama says. It certainly has very pointy roofs. The river walk itself is a bit boring – you can’t see the river from down at my eyeline, but the paths are nice and wide there so it is good for letting off a bit of running steam. Many people ride around on bikes in this area. You can hire them, Mama says. I think the ones where you lie down and pedal look like fun, but Mama says, when we are bigger. When we can pedal and she can lie, I think she muttered, but surely that is wrong?

Pavilions at the tea garden at Battersea Park

Another of Mama’s favourite places is the walled English garden, which has been overhauled recently by what appears to be a community gardening project. Mama has a secret yen for a walled garden of her own, and this is a lovely secluded spot to take a sleeping child if you are not as coffee obsessed as Mama. It is a bit overrun by pigeons, because people eat their lunch here and someone has hung bird feeders in the trees, but I don’t mind that one little bit. I like chasing pigeons. In fact, the only reason why we don’t spend more time here is that there is a sunken pond in the middle, which Mama doesn’t really fancy fishing me out of as I fail to skid to a stop in time while after a particularly rascally bird.

Mama is really against open water features in public parks.

So when I am awake, we mostly head out for a walk around the big lake, which might sound even more fraught with peril except that most of it is decently fenced off. There is a café at one end which Mama rather likes, run by genuine Italians. The prices are a bit silly, but the coffee is excellent and they also do pistachio ice cream as well as rather more reasonably priced children’s food which doesn’t just consist of chips with more chips on the side. You can even take it outside to sit by the lake, although beware of the pigeons, who will swoop on your food the moment you leave it alone for a second. Mama says, speaking from bitter experience. I, of course, like the pigeons. Chasing them, at least. You can hire boats here too in the high season, but we never have. Mama feels this would be tempting fate.

At the other end of the lake, Mama has fond memories of spending very happy summer afternoons in the tropical plants enclosure with my Tremendous Big Brother (before he could walk). There’s nothing quite like picnicking under a palm tree. Especially when the man who plays the saxophone all afternoon for, apparently, the sheer hell of it is in residence. Nowadays we mostly go there to feed the ducks, who are gratifyingly excited to see us, as are the swans, the coots, the moorhens, the parrots and, on occasion, the herons and the rats. Mama figures we are mostly static and wholly occupied and therefore less likely to plunge into the water, but nevertheless we usually do it last so she can head briskly for home if a quick change of a sodden child is needed.

Mama is really really against open water features in public parks. Also, a little paranoid.

There is also a playground nearby the playing fields and tennis courts which has different zones for different age groups. We start off in the toddler section, spend an inexplicably long time exploring the pirate ship and work our way round to the new enclosure with the really big slides and walkways. Mama really enjoys standing underneath those with her arms outstretched smiling brightly as I clamber around equipment five times too big for me. Especially when it is busy, which it invariably is at weekends when the sun is out. My Tremendous Big Brother also loves it. He always makes new friends. It is astonishing how quickly a group of five to tens can go cheerfully feral when given sufficient space and something to climb. Mama says. In good weather Mama finds lots of opportunities to spend money here too, which is nice for her. An ice cream van turns up, they lay on a Thomas the Tank Engine ride, and there is a large refreshment van. Which sells coffee. This is also the area they have the fun fair in the school holidays.

Anyway. Battersea Park is a really excellent place whether you want an interesting walk, a pleasant sit down, a game of football, or a long go on a swing and slide set. It is big enough to absorb quite a lot of people without feeling stupidly crowded, and! There is also a zoo in the middle.

But that is a post for another day.

The Festival Gardens at Battersea Park

More Information

The Friends of Battersea Park website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide has to say about teaching dogs basic commands.

Address: Battersea Park, Wandsworth, London, SW11 4NJ

Opening: Officially, 8am to dusk.

Price: The park is free to enter.

By train: Battersea Park Station and Queenstown Road Station are within 300m.

By bus: Routes 19, 44, 49, 137, 156, 239, 319, 344, 345, 452 all go by or near the park.

By car: There are a couple of smallish pay and display carparks within the park, and more on the roads round the park. The pay and display road parking is free on Sundays.

Richmond Park, London

Richmond Park is a large expanse of land on the outskirts of London whose main purpose is to shelter large numbers of deer, and after he had spent an afternoon wading through the resulting spores and also quite a large number of rabbit droppings, Papa named the place the Poo Park. This label has stuck in our family, probably because later visits have just served to confirm the widespread and plentiful nature of crap pellets in the park. Mama now only remembers it isn’t actually called that when other people look at us strangely when my Fantastic Big Brother starts talking about it at the top of his voice.

Deer poo

Unfortunately for Mama, there’s quite a lot to talk about because it’s huge. Mama parks in a different (FREE! Mama would like me to say that again because having a free car park at an attraction in London is almost unheard of. Having a car park is too really, but anyway, FREE!) car park each time and we strike out across unkempt grass, through spinneys and up and down hills, skirting the bracken, playing hide and seek in the rhododendrons and always avoiding the huge lake in the middle. My Fantastic Big Brother would want to chase the ducks and I would try to fling myself into the very accessible water, and Mama cannot be doing with either of these things. And apart from one unfortunate day when we came across it accidentally, Mama has successfully managed to convince my Fantastic Big Brother that the lake was a figment of his imagination. I know differently, of course, but I cannot talk that well yet, so she gets away with it.

We go there because, apart from the FREE car parks, Mama likes walking in the countryside and in Richmond Park, Mama gets to almost pretend she is, if the countryside were full of people, edged by a constant stream of cars and had low flying planes screaming overhead on their way towards Heathrow airport every two minutes.

I, however, am a city child of pavements and shorn grass and find the unmanicured ground here a bit heavy going, so my favourite bit is the Isabella Plantation, which is an enclosed, managed woodland area somewhere in the middle of the park. It’s not so much that the paths are any smoother as that Mama is forced to go very slowly because, oh wonder of marvels, there are streams. Much of my Fantastic Big Brother and my attention is therefore given over to attempting to dip various body parts in the water and so much of Mama’s attention is given over to hovering anxiously. This is a shame, she thinks, as the wood itself is very pretty, with great splashes of colour in spring from flowering bushes in particular.

Isabella Plantation

My Fantastic Big Brother’s favourite thing about the park is the deer and so it is lucky that so far we have never had a visit which didn’t include tripping across a herd of them. They are remarkably tame and thus surrounded at all times by people with serious looking cameras or, in the case of my Fantastic Big Brother, two large sticks he is holding to his forehead in an attempt to simulate antlers.

Richmond Park

The exception to this is the autumn when the park rings to the loud grunting roars of the rutting bucks, and everybody stays the heck away from all of them.

Mama, what does ‘rutting’ actually mean?

There are refreshments to be had from the odd café or hot drinks caravan, but this is picnic central really. We even came here for my first birthday and brought many rugs, home made quiche, buckets of salads and Pimms. The Pimms looked nice. It had lots of fruit in it. Mama said not though. Mama has been known to drag us out here purely for the pleasure of eating in the open air, but I don’t mind. If she and Papa are sitting down, I am not having to hike and also they always take care to park themselves next to some climbable tree trunks or near one of the multitude of wigwam-like dens that have been built repeatedly throughout the park. Mama is a little puzzled by these dens. She wonders if they are for the deer or for the humans, but either way is grateful for the distraction.

A den

Other toddler-friendly areas are the playgrounds. Mama has only stumbled across what she suspects was the Petersham Gate one once, but as she isn’t sure how she did that who knows when we may revisit it. This is a shame as it has the sort of slide that Mama thinks has been condemned elsewhere for being too high and too fast, and also something called a roundabout, which Mama says is now largely extinct in the UK because they are quite easy to fall off of especially when you are playing the leap on and off them at speed game, or get your limbs trapped underneath when you are lying on your tummy playing touch the fast moving ground game, neither of which activities Mama knows anything about at all. On the downside, Mama was a bit dismayed to find that the large sandpit also has a water feature. She managed to keep me out of it because I am extremely distrustful of sand, nasty gritty shifty stuff, but was forced to concede that there was no way that My Fantastic Big Brother was going to get out dry, and so it proved. The Poo Park got to see my Fantastic Big Brother modelling only his pants for the rest of that afternoon. A treat, I can tell you. I don’t know why Mama didn’t just remove his trousers when he first headed towards the wet stuff. Sheer blind panic I expect.

A roundabout

Anyway, Richmond Park comes highly recommended as a outside spot to take the whole family for an outdoor lunch, particularly if they enjoy a stroll over ruggedish terrain with guaranteed sightings of wildlife.

More information

Richmond Park’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide has to say about Richmond Park.

Address: Richmond Park, TW10 5HS

Opening: From 7am (summer) or 7.30am (winter) to dusk.

Price: Admission is free.

Tube/ Train: British Rail or District line to Richmond Park station (and then catch the 371 or 65 buses to the pedestrian gate at Petersham).

Bus: There are a large number of buses that get close to various sides of the park.

Parking: In six (SIX!) ample free (FREE!) car parks.

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