Royal Parks: A Winter Wanderland
The Royal Parks were originally owned by the British Monarchy for the recreation of the royal family. They are part of the hereditary possessions of The Crown. With the introduction of the Crown Lands Act 1851 some of the parks were preserved as freely accessible open space and became public parks.
There are eight which are managed by The Royal Parks agency: Bushy, Green, Greenwich, Hyde, Kensington Gardens, Regent's, Richmond and St. James's, which total almost 2,000 hectares (4,900 acres) of land in Greater London. The agency also manage Victoria Tower Gardens, Brompton Cemetery. Grosvenor Square Gardens and the gardens of 10, 11 and 12 Downing Street.
I plotted a route that links the eight Royal Parks and managed spaces and I plan to do the walk four times this year in order to witness the changing seasons in these beautiful spaces - frosty Winter, fertile Spring, bright Summer and vibrant Autumn. Each walk I will add a bit of information, a few at a time, about the different spaces.
Today's winter wander started with an early alarm call and a train out to Hampton Court. First up was Bushy Park and I managed to get there in time to witness a spectacular winter sunrise. Next I headed through Richmond Park and across the Thames to Brompton Cemetery (beware the Weeping Angels and Zombies!). A wander through Kensington Gardens and up to Primrose Hill for a great view across London.
Down past London Zoo and through Regent's Park the route heads past Grosvenor Square Gardens and into Hyde Park. It was around this time that I realised I was running out of time to get to the end of the walk before sunset, so a change of plan shortened the walk. So through Green Park, St. James's, past Downing Street and to Victoria Tower Gardens where I finished this part of the walk.
With light fading I jumped on a train to Blackheath and headed into Greenwich Park to another great view, this time towards Canary Wharf and the O2, and then down through the park I finished the walk at the Cutty Sark.
Distance: around 26 miles walking + public transport.
Lying north of Hampton Court Palace, the history of the park is inextricably linked to the palace, yet it has always had its own distinct rural character. The famous Arethusa 'Diana' Fountain forms the centrepiece to the equally famous Chestnut Avenue.
The flat site on which Bushy Park lies has been settled for at least 4,000 years. There is clear evidence of the medieval field boundaries, with the finest example just south of the Waterhouse Woodland Gardens, where there are traces of the largest and most complete medieval field system in Middlesex.
More information about the architecture and landscape of Bushy Park can be found on the Royal Parks website.
The Park has changed little over the centuries and, although it is surrounded by human habitation, the varied landscape of hills, woodland gardens and grasslands set among ancient trees abounds in wildlife.
Richmond Park has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a National Nature Reserve. The royal connections to this park probably go back further than any of the others, beginning with Edward (1272-1307), when the area was known as the Manor of Sheen. The name was changed to Richmond during Henry VII's reign.
More information about the architecture and landscape of Richmond Park can be found on the Royal Parks website.
Brompton Cemetery, one of London's Magnificent Seven historic cemeteries, is a magical place, combining historic monuments, trees and wildlife with the stories of the remarkable people buried here. It is designated Grade I on English Heritage's Register of Parks and Gardens.
This beautiful landscape is the only Cemetery in the country owned by the Crown and managed by The Royal Parks on behalf of the nation.
More information about Brompton Cemetery can be found on the Royal Parks website and the Friends of Brompton Cemetery website.