diamond geezer

 Monday, April 15, 2013

On the first day of spring, after the longest of winters, I paid a visit to each of London's Royal Parks. [map]

Richmond Park (12.45pm): A steady stream of lycra and steel flows through the Richmond Gate. The cyclists whip by, but the cars are going nowhere fast, which at least gives their occupants time to enjoy the view. Up here on the hilltop the trees have yet to burst into leaf, indeed they're barely even budding. But the flower beds in Pembroke Lodge Gardens are ablaze with pinks and yellows and reds, with the Thames Valley spread out in panorama beyond. A few daffodils nod around King Henry's Mound, from which the dome of St Paul's remains perfectly visible through the telescope through the trees. At the foot of Petersham Hill families are buying ice creams from a van, though more out of tradition than out of necessity. [photo]

Bushy Park (1.45pm): From a distance, only the willows by the Leg of Mutton Pond are showing definite signs of leafy life. But the trees along Church Grove Passage have reacted to the weekend's warmth and are finally starting to poke out their buds. No leaves as yet, just sticky bulbous protuberances that will soon droop forth to create shade for summer. The door of the cricket pavilion is open, with last season's "88 to win" still hanging from the board beneath the clock. A small group of hardy cricketers are out practising, avoiding the squishy outfield for a bat-about on the square. Dogwalkers carefully avoid the Skylark Protection Area, allowing the low grass to be populated by crows scavenging for invisible insects. [photo]

Brompton Cemetery (2.45pm): The central promenade is lined by towering trunks and bare branches, as if it were still February. A patch of celandines creates a bit of ground cover, but where flowers intrude they've mostly been left by mourners - a pot of hyacinths, a wreath of poppies, two artificial roses. A motley crowd are out for a stroll between the monuments and gravestones, some dangling designer bags, others braving the sun to reveal ill-advised tattoos on untanned thighs. A man entering from the Fulham Road whips out a smartphone and peruses its screen, then stares around as if searching for contact. At the rear of the chapel a group of four men are drinking, smoking and smiling in the sunshine. [photo]

Kensington Gardens (3.15pm): It's busy here, with dozens pouring through the gate off Kensington High Street to lounge on the grass or stroll through the park. Some sit on the slope overlooking the Palace, while others share picnic goodies out of a long-mothballed basket. Part of the Flower Walk is closed - the amazingly named Snob's Crossing - but people have pushed the barriers aside and are walking through anyway. Squirrels frolic in the shrubbery, while a long-haired beardy bloke has fallen asleep on a bench while soaking up some rays. By the Albert Memorial there are queues for sustenance at the kiosks, and one brave artist sketching bare-chested on a towel. [photo]

Hyde Park (3.30pm): It's busier here, beyond West Carriage Drive. The Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain has drawn in families like a magnet, with parents sat around the granite channel while children paddle in the water - in general without slipping over. The Lido cafe is even busier, with every outside table taken and a waiter trying to deliver flatbread pizzas to the waterside. The Pimms is out, even if the trees aren't yet. And the Boris Bikes are out too, seemingly everywhere, although there's one hell of a queue by the terminal at Hyde Park Corner as today's one-off visitors struggle to manoeuvre through the signing-up process. [photo]

Green Park (3.50pm): Only the grass in the park is green, - the leaves above have yet to catch up. On the slopes leading down to Buckingham Palace the beds of daffodils and narcissi are in their late-season peak. They've looked better, but are still pert enough for couples to wander into and pose for Facebook-bound photos of one another. Many visitors have settled into the green-and-white striped deckchairs, while others prefer to slump on the non-roped-off lawns to save £1.50. Surprisingly few have brought food from home, instead a spontaneous M&S Simply Food picnic is proving the popular option of choice. [photo]

St James's Park (4.00pm): This is the most colourful of the parks I visited, with pink and white blossom dripping from a handful of trees along the lakeside. It's also the busiest, with a variety of Sunday afternoon strollers ambling slowly along its handful of paths. Those on hired bikes are kept at bay by "No Cycling" signs at each entrance - they have The Mall to themselves today instead. One couple have brought a folding table and benches in a wheelie suitcase, such is their dedication to outdoor dining. The litter bins are full, one with some obviously Russian rubbish discarded within, as the Royal Parks van tries to negotiate through the crowds to empty it. [photo]

Regent's Park (4.30pm): As a grey cloud rolls over, those who've been out in short sleeves and sunglasses are starting to look foolish, and those who've previously been carrying their coats have put them back on. One particularly demure lady, probably a very local resident, wanders by wearing a black leather hat and black leather gloves. The grass is a little too thin and damp to be inviting, neither is it especially wise to wander off the footpath. By the waterside the daffodils that remain provide cover for a moorhen, a pigeon and a squirrel, watched over by a Parks official sat resting on a bench. People are leaving in droves, in a hard-to-overtake way, as the outdoor life loses its appeal. [photo]

Greenwich Park (5.30pm): The sun is back out, but the wind is whipping plastic bags across the lower slopes. Much of the grass here remains roped off as the park continues to recover from its Olympic summer. There's nowhere near as much mud as I saw three months ago, but instead a lot of obvious turf that hasn't yet quite bedded in. The ropes don't seem to have stopped dozens of visitors from crossing into the forbidden zones to sit and chat, or kick a football, or play some bat and ball game with a small child... and nobody's around to chuck them off. Again the trees are bare, but there's a splash of flowering colour in the Observatory Gardens, and even a rhododendron in bloom on the hillside down The Avenue. One vaguely mild Sunday doesn't make a spring, but the shoots are there. [photo]


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