With its massive buildings and bustling thoroughfares, it’s hard to imagine losing yourself in downtown London, but Kensington Gardens offers just such an opportunity.
Originally a king’s hunting ground and part of Hyde Park to its north, Kensington covers 260 acres with Hyde Park stretching another 360 acres as part of the inter-connected Royal Parks system that includes Green Park and St. James Park.
In an area steeped in history, the biggest changes to the park arrived in 1728 when Queen Caroline, the wife of George II, employed Charles Bridgeman to create a new design for Kensington Gardens, of which Kensington Palace is the centerpiece. Bridgeman produced what is now called Round Pond in front of the Palace, complimented with rows of trees radiating outward, each avenue supplying a different view.
The Westbourne Stream was also damned to create an artificial lake called Long Water, or “The Serpentine” as it’s referred to on the Hyde Park side.
For most of the 18th century the gardens were closed to the public, then gradually opened, but only to the well dressed. Queen Victoria continued improvements to the park, commissioning the Italian Gardens and the spectacular Albert Memorial for her husband that sits on the edge of the park a few blocks from the V&A Museum (free and well worth the take).
When Queen Victoria moved the court to Buckingham Palace in 1837, few changes were made to the park in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Italian Gardens were added in 1860 and a sunken garden was added outside Kensington Palace in 1909. Kensington remains a working Royal Palace and was the residence of Diana, Princess of Wales.
A seven-mile Memorial Walk (Run), that extends through Hyde Park, Green Park and St James’s Park, was opened in 2000, along with the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground for children. At the south end of Hyde Park bordering Kensington, you can pick up “Rotten Rowe” a famous bridle path that’s four miles long.
Every day of our stay there were numerous people running through lush Kensington Gardens, morning and evening, blissfully unaware of being in downtown London.
(as seen in the July/August 2008 issue of NER)