Hidden behind the noisy Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue, 10 minutes away from Neal’s Yard, Phoenix Garden is another of those London’s secret places – and an Eden for urban wildlife. This tiny community garden, managed by volunteers, is an entanglement of plants, trees and flowers that seem to have grown out of control.
Phoenix Garden is open all year round from 8 to dawn.
Phoenix Garden’s Website
Nearest Tube Station: Tottenham Court Road
Posted in London confidential, London for free, London landscape, parks and nature, really cool stuff, Romantic
Tagged Charing Cross Road, community garden, covent garden, hidden london, park, secret london, Tottenham Court Road
Contrarily to parks, which are supposed to be flowery, ornamented and orderly, a common is an unsupervised place that people can use as they wish. Clapham Common, a 90-hectare area of grassland with scattered trees in South London, is not a beautiful park per say – it can’t compete with, say, Regent’s Park or St James’s Park in terms of horticultural grandeur. But you can join in all sort of activities – football, skite-flying, cycling, walking, reading, tanning, listening to music at London’s largest bandstand bandstand, or even praying at the Holy Trinity Church, which dates back to 1776.
Nearest tube station : Clapham South, Clapham Common
Along the bank of the Long Water (the upper part of the Serpentine)), in the North East corner of Kensington Gardens, stands George Framton’s statue of Peter Pan, with Tinkerbell climbing its base.
Peter Pan’s author, J. M. Barrie, specifically chose this location as it figures in the first novel where Peter Pan appears, 1902’s Little White Bird. Though admittedly twee, it is one of the most popular statues of Kensington Gardens and definitely worth checking out if you’re in the park.
Nearest station: Lancaster Gate
Posted in arts and culture, London for free, monuments, parks and nature, Romantic, With children
Tagged Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Literature, park, Serpentine, statue
If on a weekend you want to escape London’s frenzy and breath some fresh air, you can make for Highgate cemetery in North London, a few miles from Hampstead Heath.
Highgate Eastern cemetery (3 pounds) is home to the tombs of some famous names, including George Eliot, Foyle (the Bookseller), or Adams (author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, his tomb is the one garnished with pens…). Some of them are less known but their stories can be worth hearing, like that of Harry William Thornton, a pianist who held the record of continuous piano playing: 21 hours, 17 minutes and 56 seconds! Note that accordingly, his tomb is piano shaped.
The best-known inhabitant of the cemetery is with no doubt Karl Marx, whose memorial is surmounted by a huge bust of the author of The Capital, and surrounded by the tombs of other communists.
On the other side of the road, Highgate West cemetery is much more expensive (7 pounds) and only accessible by guided tours lasting an hour. In the beginning of February, the combination of half-fallen statues covered up by ivy, the pale light and frozen ground, was creating a breathtaking atmosphere.
If at first sight the place seems peaceful, after an hour spent wandering around the tombs I felt that the cemetery was in fact engaged in a fierce battle against nature. Visitors are not allowed to walk freely around the cemetery, as some of the tombs are unstable: in fact, the cemetery’s ambience is more one of dereliction than one of peacefulness. The cemetery had indeed been abandoned for several decades, until in the 1970s the Friends of Highgate cemetery formed to restore the place, most of their funds coming from the guided tours they organise.
After the out of the time, thick atmosphere of Highgate Cemetery, Waterlow is a refreshing park attended by families and dog walkers.
Nearest Tube: Archway station
St James’s Park is one of the smallest parks in central London, but it’s also one of my favourite. First, standing from the bridge over the lake, there’s a splendid view on both Buckingham Palace on the one side and on the facades of Horse Guard’s Parade and the London Eye on the other.
Second, there’s a great selection of birds. The boards next to the lake remind you that you’re not allowed to feed them, but you can feed the squirrels instead – they come to eat right into your hand.