“It came to me that Hyde Park has never belonged to London – that it has always been , in spirit, a stretch of countryside; and that it links the Londons of all periods together most magically – by remaining forever unchanged at the heart of a ever-changing town.” Dodi Smith, ‘I Capture a Castle’
My ‘Litchfield Angel’ is blooming, once again. She is my garden. On my little balcony, in London. To the parks and open gardens I go, to immerse myself in nature, and this morning, en route to somewhere entirely different, I changed direction to Hyde Park. Needed nature.
There are parts of the park that are open and spacious, others planted with roses, with beds of flowers and arches of looping vines. To Kensington Palace I first went, for the proverbial ‘cuppa’ and the sunken garden. I like to think of it as Diana’s garden. The lines were long, holiday vibe, to get into the Palace but I went to the café. Security was tight, a ‘terrorist attack’ earlier in the morning at Westminster which the security guard was careful to inform me of. ‘Please let me know if you see anything suspicious’, he said. In unison we lamented the attack on this city, our home. The shop is touristy, but has some beautiful items for taking home when the trip is done. And I watched him, my security lad, and thought, this job must be tedious to say the least, but there he is, taking it ever so seriously, and I admired him. He is one of the people of the park. They come in so many different forms.
Though it is the park that beguiles, it is the characters that find her, the history, the stories that intrigue me. Like the young lass who asked me to take her photograph beside the stature of Queen Victoria – she is travelling alone, young and unafraid. Obviously I did a second rate job, for walking away, she asked another to repeat the exercise.
Established in 1536 by Henry VIII who seconded it from Westminster to use as a hunting ground, Hyde Park was first opened to the public in 1637. My favourite story is the legend that the very young Victoria, woken from her sleep, was announced Queen at the tender age of 18. She must have looked out of the window, overlooking the park, and wondered at the significance of it all. The Palace is home to many royals now, including William and Harry.
A few weeks ago, those escaping from the heat wave, were swimming in the Serpentine. I remember, standing there, snow all around and watching children throw snow balls on the frozen water. Today, children were feeding the swans. Another lad, in charge of the many deck chairs dotted around the park, was sitting in one himself, and I thought: he may find the job tedious, but he has a job, and he too is one of the characters that makes up the life of the park.
Walking towards the Albert Memorial, all sorts pass me by. The tourists on Santander bikes, cyclists, horse riders, runners, lovers on benches oblivious to the world – nannies and walkers berating the cyclists for not sticking to the path. Tennis players, Instagrammers, sketchers and some who must simply take a thousand pictures of the ducks. What brings them all here I wonder? This oasis in the heart of a pulsating city. Respite, exercise, a must do on the list? Tiny children learning to play soccer, roller skating classes, yoga on the grass. I pass them all.
Most of the tourists still come for the Diana magic. An unbroken spell. Her dresses are on display at the Palace and her presence strong after all these years. Few know of the remarkable love story that is the Albert Memorial. So deeply loved, and so deeply mourned by his Victoria: she never recovered from his death in 1861, and the Memorial, opened in 1872 at great expense, was her declaration of that love. Albert was her everything and it is said she wore black until the day she died.
Would I have been loved so deeply. Perhaps a bench in my honour, in a park somewhere, someday.
One can spend hours in this great park. Restaurants, the Diana Memorial, the lake – sit silently, walked briskly, do nothing, be active. Stare at the skyscrapers and realise how much has changed around her, while she keeps her stories tucked within the borders. Many, many stories.
Such as this:
In 1982, two IRA bombs went off, one in Hyde Park and one in Regent’s Park.
Standing in front of the memorial, the flowers now dead in the Autumn sunshine, I could not help thinking of the loss, on this day when terror is still so prevalent, when life means so little. A little further is another memorial, to the victims of the 2005 bombing in London. Close by, a little old lady was sitting on a hillock, with a suitcase and a Sainsbury packet and I wondered what her story may be?
I love this park. I love the history, the stories and the sanctuary she offers. And I learn a little more, as the seasons change, as nature turns the year, and I am grateful.
Still summer, yet the London Planes are beginning to lose their leaves – another change, another year.
My ‘garden’ in London. And there for all to enjoy.