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The Royal Parks of London
An urban area the size of London with around 7.5 million people and almost as many in the surrounding areas is not normally considered a place where you will find a lot of open space. As the most populous city in the European Union, you would think they would use all their available space to house people. London’s Royal Parks, however, are 5,000 acres of historic parkland offering unparalleled entertainment opportunities. While London has many parks and open spaces, the Royal Parks are in prime locations and are on average the largest.
There are five royal parks in central London alone and eight in all. The Royal Parks are lands that once belonged to the monarchy of England. These lands were once used for their enjoyment, primarily as a hunting ground, but as London became more populated the lands were turned into freely accessible public parks. Around 5,500 total acres of Royal Parks are available in London.
Hyde Park is the best known royal park and one of the largest in central London. It covers approximately 350 acres and is divided by Serpentine Lake which is a haven for ducks, geese and swans at its northern end. The lake has a central bridge which marks the division between Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, another of the eight royal parks, slightly smaller than Hyde Park at 275 acres. Many people think Kensington Gardens is part of Hyde Park, but it’s not. This land was originally the private gardens of Kensington Palace.
Serpentine Lake is named for its snake-like curves and has a swimming area known as Landsbury’s Lido which will host the swimming portion of the triathlon for the 2012 Summer Olympics. The swimming area is only open than in the summer, but for the past few decades a New Year’s tradition has been for a group of deranged individuals to break ice and plunge into icy water. Nobody knows why. The lake offers rowboats for hire and also hosted the World Rowing Sprints on a 500 meter course in 2002. No motorized traffic is allowed around the lake, and this area is heavily used by in-line skaters, and there has fields for other sports, formal and informal, around the shores of the lake.
Hyde Park hosts outdoor concerts with some great bands from years gone by, such as The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. A 1976 “Queen” concert holds the attendance record with an official crowd of 150,000, although he estimates the actual total was more like 180,000 to 200,000.
Other royal parks in London include Bushy Park in the borough of Richmond upon Thames. At 1,100 acres, it is the second largest royal park. A little further from downtown, but wildlife like Red Deer makes it feel like you’re further out in the countryside. Bushy Park is home to the National Physical Laboratory, The Royal Paddocks and Bushy House. The D-Day landings were planned here as the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force was housed here during World War II, and field hockey was invented here in the late 1800s.
Green Park, or The Green Park, depending on who you ask, is centrally located near Hyde Park and has no bodies of water. It was originally used as a marshy cemetery for lepers at St. James’s Hospital before the 16th century. Today it forms a strip of green space when combined with Hyde Park and stretches from Whitehall to Notting Hill. It is mostly wooded grassland and is home to wildlife and birds not normally found in this urban environment. The park is an escape from the city with activities like sunbathing and picnicking when the weather permits. Walking and jogging trails are also popular in Green Park.
Greenwich Park is one of the largest continuous green spaces in South West London. One of 830 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Greenwich Park is another royal park once used as a hunting ground. A World Heritage Site is listed by an agency of 21 countries as a place of great natural or cultural significance that needs to be protected. The Royal Observatory is located here, and the hills offer stunning views of the River Thames, Isle of Dogs and the City of London. Stags were introduced by Henry VIII for hunting, and a small herd is there to this day.
Regent’s Park is partly in Westminster and partly in the borough of Camden. The park consists of 487 acres of open space. Regents Canal and another lake are home to waterfowl, including a heronry. Other amenities in the park are London Zoo, the Open Air Theater and the Royal Botanic Society. The park offers a wide range of sports facilities including boating, tennis, cricket, softball, rounders, football, hockey, ultimate Frisbee and rugby. The proximity of this royal park to five of the other royal parks in central London gives the impression that it is one continuous park.
Richmond Park is not included with these and is London’s largest royal park at 2,360 acres. Its wildlife includes red deer, fallow deer, rabbits and squirrels. Richmond Park is protected by its SSSI status (Site of Special Scientific Interest). The park has been the backdrop for at least two films. ‘Anne of The Thousand Days’ was filmed here in 1969. Parts of ‘Billy Elliot’ were also filmed in Richmond Park.
St. James Park is only about 58 acres in size and is London’s oldest royal park. The park is located in the City of Westminster. From the reign of James I in 1603, the park was an open-air zoo. Camels, elephants, crocodiles and exotic birds were stored in the park. However, none of these species thrived and sightings of wild elephants and crocodiles are extremely rare in the park today. Nonexistent is probably more accurate, but you should check to see if readers are paying attention to it from time to time!
The Royal Parks are some of the best open spaces in the UK and for many people they are an oasis in the urban wasteland.
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