The beauty of London’s parks

London's parks

In a series in Flow Magazine, correspondents write about their experiences in the countries where they live. Here, Suse van Kleef talks about her love for the many parks in London, UK.

My weekends in London often proceed according to a regular pattern: they start with a coffee at an Italian place around the corner, and then I head for the park. If I’m feeling lazy, I head for Mile End Park in Tower Hamlets, East London, because it’s only a three-minute walk from where I live. But usually I go to Victoria Park, which is ten minutes down the road. If I’m feeling really motivated, I’ll even walk the half hour to London Fields in Hackney.

When I moved here three years ago, I expected the opposite of the city I now know. I associated London with huge shopping streets and skyscrapers, with the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. I didn’t think about a city with trees, fields and meadows. And yet, it’s one of the greenest metropoles in the world: London has more green spaces than Germany’s Berlin or France’s Paris, for example. The overstrained housing market has made houses with outdoor space fairly rare in London. The outdoor lives of residents are mostly played out in the city’s 3,000 parks. I am amazed each time at how quiet and spacious they are, and by the nature. It was unusually hot in London this summer, and during the peak of the heat wave, I ventured to Richmond Park in the southwest of London for the first time. It was like I had ended up in a different country: the sounds of the crickets in the huge grasslands made me feel like I was in the Mediterranean. This National Nature Reserve boasts centuries-old trees and wild flowers, and rare animals roam here. The only thing to remind you that you are in a big city are the planes flying low overhead.

I was barely there for ten minutes when I encountered a group of deer. (Deer! In London!) There were around twenty of them quietly grazing as I tried to get closer and closer to take a photo. They paid me no mind. The deer were introduced here by King Charles I, who created Richmond Park in 1625. Fleeing an outbreak of the plague in London, he was looking for a hunting ground close to the capital. He released 2,000 deer here, and had a wall built so they couldn’t escape. It was tough luck for the local population that worked and kept livestock here on farms; Charles staked a claim to the area for himself and his loved ones.

The eight Royal Parks in London are:

  • Bushy Park
  • Richmond Park
  • Hyde Park
  • Kensington Gardens
  • St. James’ Park
  • Green Park
  • Regent’s Park & Primrose Hill
  • Greenwich Park

*Read the full story about the parks of London in Issue 33.

Text Suse van Kleef  Photography Iris van Noord