Urban hiking, London edition

After a lovely Christmas in Malmesbury with the family of our daughter’s partner, we have been back in London for two weeks. That’s given us lots of time to walk in many parts of the city, and from one neighborhood to another.

One of my favourite statues in London: the boy and the dolphin in Hyde Park. This piece makes an appearance in Mary Poppins (the first book).
One of my favourite statues in London: the boy and the dolphin in Hyde Park. This piece makes an appearance in Mary Poppins (the first book).

Among its other advantages – fascinating history, varied historical and modern architecture, human-scale streets – London has wonderful parks that beckon to the urban hiker. On this visit, we’ve walked through Hyde Park and adjoining Kensington Gardens; Southwark Park; West Ham Park; and a multitude of smaller parks and squares throughout the city.

All these parks are filled with huge old trees, beds of varied plants (and some that are flowering now: hellebores, daphne, snowdrops and cyclamens, to name just a few), and wildlife. Yes, wildlife! This morning, we saw a fox in Southwark Park. It was climbing across the top of a vine-filled arbor, trying to get away from the humans staring at it. I wish I had thought to get a photo, but I was too excited to think about grabbing my phone.

Aside from the fox, we’ve seen swans, a variety of different ducks and other water birds, and one day in Kensington Gardens, we saw a flock of bright-green parakeets. There’s an amusing article in Wikipedia about the feral parakeets of southeast England, especially the section about the origin of these urban parakeets.

For your enjoyment, here are a few photos from our walks.

Feral parakeets
Feral rose-ringed parakeets in Kensington Gardens.
Lots of birds
Varied water fowl in Hyde Park.
Swans
Swarming swans on Long Water in Hyde Park.

Another big advantage of urban hiking in London: If it gets too cold or wet, you can pop down into the Underground or get on a bus. Personally, I like the buses better, especially riding on the top level. You can see the progression from one neighborhood to another, especially when you travel along one long road. You proceed from a high street with its own characteristic shops, clinics, town hall and more, on to a section of housing (usually flats, since you’re on a main road). Then you enter a new high street, with its own set of shops, restaurants and historic buildings. Speaking of historic buildings, the perspective you get from the top level of a bus is wonderful: You see the ornamentation up close, in a way you never can from street level.

Another big advantage of London walking: endless cafes where you can get a hot drink and a snack. Central London and the wealthier neighborhoods have all been taken over by chains like Pret A Manger, Costa, Leon, Caffè Nero, Patisserie Valerie and more. And there are lots of small coffee shops and bakeries. My favorites, however, are the smaller, humbler, independently owned cafes – the ones that lack trendy décor and ingredients, and just serve really strong coffee and tea, plus a couple of simple sandwiches and cakes. I particularly enjoyed Coffee Hut in Green Street, near where we lived in 1982. It has truly great coffee, probably the best I’ve had in London, and its toasted sandwiches are good, too. I also like the Southwark Park Café, where we’ve stopped for nice strong tea and a simple cake. It’s not fancy, but it’s pleasant and relaxing to sit and chat with the locals on a wintry morning.

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