We’ve remarked before that, as London residents, we can often be rather complacent about the interesting sights and sounds that our city provides us. London is full of fascinating places and stimulating attractions, but because we know we can see them any time we want we sometimes tend not to bother.
So, to attempt to redress the balance a teeny little bit, we’re going to explore some of the areas to which we’ve never previously paid much attention, and visit some of the attractions that we’ve not yet experienced (at least based on this Londonista’s experience).
Following our coverage of London-based audio-guided walks a couple of weeks ago, Robert Wright’s hour-long guided walk around Holland Park caught our eye as a suitably non-mainstream and potentially curious area to start exploring. So guided to some degree by Robert’s excellent advice, including the evidently tourist-focussed instructions on how to cross the road safely, we set out to acquaint ourselves with that little green patch half a mile west of Kensington Gardens in our mini London A-Z.
Well, the first thing we noticed was that despite the impression given by our A-Z, Holland Park is not a particularly grassy type of park (damn our simplistic minds for automatically interpreting ‘green’ to mean ‘grass’). Sure, there are a few lawns dotted around, but the park is more wooded than we would have imagined. Today, despite the month’s supposed status of ‘summer’, the wooded areas were distinctly autumnal in feel.
The area of the park was originally the grounds of Holland House, with many of its various gardens created by Lord Holland, a statue of whom sits in a big old chair on the edge of the park’s wooded area (a “good likeness” according to Robert’s audio-guide). Holland House itself was badly damaged by bombing during the Second World War and no longer exists as a single functional entity; instead its remaining buildings have been repurposed into a youth hostel, an expensive restaurant (The Belvedere) and an open-air opera venue amongst other things.
The grounds are well kept and are home to a handful of bored peacocks as well as the more usual birds and squirrels. Some of the lawns are fenced off, presumably to keep Joe Public from disturbing the peacocks’ boredom too much. There are a few impressive gardens in the park, punctuated by sculptures, statues, fountains and ornaments. One such ornament that caught our eye was an ‘armillary sphere’ (pictured), which excited our geekiness enough for us to spend a few minutes trying to work out how it was meant to be used (we failed).
However, regardless of how impressive the park’s ‘conventional’ gardens are, they are completely eclipsed by the park’s Japanese ‘Kyoto Garden’. Designed as a ‘strolling garden’ by a Japanese garden designer in the early nineties, this is a truly beautiful place – its serenity and tranquillity were only slightly disturbed by the screaming kids, whom we assume are not a permanent fixture. A little waterfall cascades into a slightly soapy pond, which is circled by a little path, crossed by a flat stone bridge, and inhabited by some big old carp.
We found the squirrels in the Kyoto Garden to be extremely bold, obviously used to humans in this part of the grounds behaving well and feeding them occasionally. As we were sitting on a bench trying to free up some space on our camera’s full memory card, a squirrel bounced over to us and actually sat on our lap. Seriously. After a few seconds, he realised that we weren’t going to feed him, and buggered off to be friendly to someone else. You’ll have to take our word for this – even though our camera was in our hands for this entire event, it was unusable due to the memory card situation. This is surely the opposite of serendipity.
The grounds also contain some less unusual features such as a café, playing fields, tennis courts and a kiddies’ playground. Bordering Kensington High Street the park also houses The Commonwealth Institute that Robert’s commentary touched on to an extent, but we were too busy trying to interpret a particularly vague part of his directions to pay too much attention to it.
As we wound our way back to the tube station, we could not fail to notice the grandeur of some of the properties in the area. We started to reflect that this must be indicative of how the ‘other half’ (or more realistically the ‘other 1%’) live, before we were shocked out of our reveries by a large Rolls Royce that we had nearly stepped out in front of. Maybe Robert wasn’t being entirely patronising with his advice on how to cross the road safely…
More photos here.