We are always up for slipping in a decent early season walk during the four-day long easter weekend, and some research found an interesting trail called the London Parks Way, which fitted the criteria of being fairly nearby, and not too long. The route starts in Kingston, South-West of Central London, and works its way across the city, to finish in Greenwich, We particularly liked the fact that, as the name suggested, it took in many of the London parks, including Bushy Park, Richmond Park, Holland Park, Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, Regent's Park, St James's Park, Victoria Park, and Greenwich Park. We downloaded the route instructions from the website, checked that the trains were working OK(ish) over the bank holiday, and we were all set.
Despite it being a bank holiday, a couple of trains got us to Kingston at about half past eight. We had a quick breakfast in a cafe near the station, then went and bought an A-Z street map of London from a newsagents, and finally got moving at quarter past nine. It was a nice sunny day, with lots of blue sky. The route quickly crossed Kingston Bridge to get to the North side of the River Thames and then went through Hampton Court Park, with cracking views down the Long Water to Hampton Court Palace, followed by the remains of a 750 year old oak tree, and another tree full of parakeets.
We left Hampton Court Park at about eleven, and crossed over into Bushy Park through Hampton Court Gate. The route did a big loop taking in most of the park. It started by following a small river through the Pheasantry Plantation, with a series of small ponds and lots of birds hanging around the river. Next was Waterhouse Plantation where we went through an avenue of impressively tall hornbeam trees that towered overhead. Then into the Water Gardens, where two pools were connected by a stepped waterfall, which were only excavated and restored in 2008. That brought us to the North-West corner of the park, and we now turned and headed back East across the park, past lots of ponds, and small groups of deer hanging about or sitting snoozing. We left the park at Church Grove gate, and made it back to Kingston Bridge for half past one.
We crossed back over the bridge to the south side of the Thames, followed the river for a while, then cut across residential streets and entered Richmond park through Richmond Gate. We headed across to Isabella Plantation, which was a delightful spot, small ponds and streams, with lots of colourful rhododendrons and heather. At Pembroke Lodge we stopped for a quick cup of tea, and watched a crow trying to scoop up a dollop of melted ice cream. As it was quite a clear day, there were superb views of the protected view of St Paul's Cathedral from King Henry's mound. We passed by a bench that used to play Ian Dury music if you plugged some headphones into it, but sadly is no longer in operation. We turned South-East, passing between the Pen Ponds, then at Robin Hood Gate we turned North along Beverley Brook to reach Roehampton Gate, and left the park at quarter past six. The route continued following Beverley Brook across Palewell Common, then through suburban streets to get us to Barnes Bridge station at just before seven.
We saved some time by getting takeaway breakfast stuff as we changed at Clapham Junction, so were all ready to go by the time we got back to Barnes Bridge, just before nine. The route crossed back over to the North side of the Thames on the railway bridge, then turned right and headed along the river towards Chiswick, past a metal sculpture of a family of herons high up on a pole. At Hammersmith Bridge we turned away from the river and headed through streets of large expensive-looking terrace houses, to make it to Holland Park at just after ten. It had a good selection of gardens with sculptures and colourful flowers, and occasional squawks from a peacock that we only just spotted, nestled in the hedge. The Kyoto Garden had a pleasant Japanese-style garden, complete with small waterfalls, ponds and little bridges.
We left Holland Park and went through streets of tall expensive looking flats to get to Kensington Gardens just after eleven. There was an impressive path that twisted its way through thick hedge, and the White Garden with an arrangement of different types of white flowers surrounding a small pond. We pushed on past the Round Pond to reach the rather over the top Albert Memorial. The route now headed North past a large sculpture of a person on horseback entitled 'Physical Energy', and on to the very pleasant Italian Gardens which had a set of ornamental ponds with fountains. We pushed on through the neighbouring Hyde Park. Near to where we left the park, at Upper Brook Street Gate, was an 'Animals in War' memorial, that included bronze sculptures of two mules, a massive horse, and a dog.
We headed towards Baker Street tube, via Grosvenor Square, and got to Regent's Park just before three, There was another Japanese-style garden, with little rivers, waterfalls, and bridges, then beside the Broad Walk was an excellent set of colourful flower gardens, laid out in a long linear walk punctuated by various statues and fountains. We left Regent's Park at the north end, and crossed over to Primrose Hill. Right at the top there were excellent views over the London skyline, and lots of people were hanging about to watch an egg rolling contest. As we passed, two policeman were speaking to one of the organisers and seemed concerned that the egg rolling course had been marked out using official 'Police - do not cross' tape! The route dropped off the back of Primrose Hill and took some streets back to Regents Canal, which it then followed to Little Venice. From there it was just a short distance to Paddington station, passing a couple more bronze bloke sculptures, and a strange wall with inset LEDs that displayed random selections of words, before finally getting to Paddington Station for twenty to six.
Kris and Helen were up for the third day, and we met them at Paddington station at half past eight. It was a dry day, although a bit overcast. Only a stones throw from the station the route took us down the very pleasant narrow cobbled street of Bathurst Mews, complete with lots of colourful flowers, shrubs, and small trees in pots and tubs. At the end of the Mews was a working stables. The route took us back to Hyde Park, and headed down the side of Long Water, where we were passed by a rather hardy swimmer who was only wearing a swimming costume and rubber cap. Further along was a large white swan raking through a pile of plant debris that was strewn across the path. We pushed on to Hyde Park Corner, passing through some colourful flower beds in the Rose Garden.
We left Kensington Gardens at half past nine, and crossed over to the Australian War Memorial, which was a large curving wall of granite inscribed with thousands of towns of Australian soldier's birthplaces. Nearby was another memorial, with sculptures of seven bomber aircrew, dedicated to the airmen killed in the Second World War. We pushed on into Green Park where there was a Canadian War Memorial dedicated to the Canadians that served during the First and Second World Wars. There were lots of people milling round Buckingham Palace, and we headed into St James's Park, where there was a good selection of bird life on the lake, including three white pelicans sitting on a rock in the middle.
Leaving St James's Park, the route crossed through Horseguards, along the Strand, and then up Drury Lane, where we found an excellent coffee shop, just in time for elevenses. After the coffee stop, we passed through the smaller parks of Russell Square and St George's Gardens to get to Kings Cross station, where we joined the Regent's Canal. There was a slight detour as we set off in completely the wrong direction along the canal, but we soon realised something was amiss and got turned around. The sun even came out along here and it got quite warm. At Islington the canal disappeared into a tunnel which didn't have a canal path, so we took to the streets through Islington. It was about one o'clock by now, and on the way through Islington we stopped and had lunch sitting outside at a small cafe.
The route rejoined the canal at the far end of the tunnel, it had turned into a pleasant sunny afternoon, and the canal path was very busy in places. Quite a bit more canal got us to Victoria Park at three o'clock, where the entrance was guarded by statues of two snarling hounds. We stopped for mid-afternoon tea next to a lake with a pagoda on an island. The route carried on across the park past an elaborate fountain, and an Old English Garden, although it hadn't come into bloom yet. After leaving the park, we joined the Greenway which took us to the Olympic Park, with increasing views of the massive red twisty sculpture. The route did a tour of the park before ending up at the velodrome, where we stopped for a cup of tea, and watched some people doing training circuits of the track. There was a small circuit of some ponds near the velodrome, before cutting through Westfield shopping centre to get to Stratford station for about six o'clock.
The trains were a bit hit and miss on bank holiday monday, and it was about ten by the time we got back to the Olympic Park. It wasn't helped by the rather stressful experience of getting stuck in the Westfield shopping centre, and having to backtrack quite a bit to find an exit that wasn't locked. After a quick breakfast at a cafe in the park we pushed on along the Lea Navigation, passing by some tidal mills at Three Mills, and a short section where the canal side path disappeared and we took to a wooden walkway floating on the canal itself. A long straight section along Limehouse Cut lead to the Thames, then a short stretch along the river before cutting off into Canary Wharf, and doing a tour of various sculptures and docks. As it was bank holiday, we had a bit of trouble finding a cafe that was open, but eventually came across something in an underground shopping centre.
Leaving the main business area of Canary Wharf, we went through Mudchute Farm, where there were some Llamas and an old Ack Ack gun which used to provide anti-aircraft defences for the docks. Beside one of the stations was a set of boards giving tide times for Kew Bridge, Vancouver and Yokohama. We reached the Thames again, just beside the entrance to the pedestrian tunnel across to Greenwich. We crossed under the tunnel, to come out at a very busy Greenwich, with large crowds who had come to see the tall ships that were moored up. The route headed off to do a tour of Greenwich Park, which fortunately was a lot quieter. It got a bit more busy again at the Royal Observatory, but the superb views down to the Old Royal Naval College. and across to the city, made up for it. We made it back down to Cutty Sark station, the finish point of the London Parkway, at just after four. There were a massive queue outside the station, but it turned out to be for the ticket machines, so luckily as we had travelcards we were able to head straight into the station, and jump on a half empty tube.
Altogether quite an interesting route, taking in a cracking selection of parks, with good tours of the more scenic bits of them, and joined up quite well by various canals, rivers, and streets. And a perfect length for squeezing into a long weekend. The route description from London Parks Way, together with a London A-Z, was enough to get us round without too many mistakes. The total statistics from my smartphone were as follows: