Episode 328 – A Walk In The Park

We’re feeling really lucky to be living so close to a wonderful green space, even though it’s less green than usual after London’s exceptionally hot dry summer. Nightly rains this past week are helping return it to its normal verdant state, and periods of gentle rain today have kept us mostly inside, so I thought I’d collate some of our park wanderings into a post.

Greenwich Park covers 73 hectares (183 acres), which makes it about 1/2 the size of Toronto’s High Park, and only 1/4 as big as New York City’s Central Park, but it’s still pretty big. We can still get “lost” making our way from one end to the other!

Greenwich has the distinction of being the oldest enclosed Royal Park; the entire perimeter is bordered by a combination of clay brick walls and ornate wrought iron gates.

Our usual entrance to the park on Maze Hill. The archway is closed night,y with a hinged iron gate.

When the park closes at 8 p.m., every gate is locked, and security staff patrol the grounds. We know. We arrived at the St. Mary’s Gate (below, shown open at both sides) one night at 8 p.m., hoping to walk home through the park, and were turned away.

It’s a much longer walk home when you have to go around the park, even if you do it in the correct direction (which we didn’t).

The red marker in the upper left is St. Mary’s Gate. The blue circle on the right at Westcombe Court is where we’re living. After dark, never having walked any route but across the park, we headed left instead of right from St. Mary’s and walked ALL THE WAY AROUND, via the longest route possible.

The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich University, and the Queen’s House border the park, but Greenwich Royal Observatory dominates the hill right inside it.

We’ve walked through part of the park almost every day so far, and keep discovering wonderful new things. The huge trees particularly impress us. Nothing grows this big in Ontario; the size and age of the trees reminds us of Vancouver Island’s magnificent trees.

We specifically looked for the Queen Elizabeth’s Oak, for which there are several signposts in the park. Sadly, the oak, which lived for 7 centuries, is now just a memorial plaque and hollow stump.

What were still alive and impressed the heck out of us were the over 350 year old gigantic chestnut trees, absolutely covered with thousands of chestnuts. Just imagine what these beauties must have looked like in bloom!

I’m in these photos strictly for size perspective. Greenwich Park’s Baroque avenues of Spanish sweet chestnuts were planted around 1660.
Although a few of the sweet chestnuts are succumbing to a root disease called Phytophthora, which is exacerbated by extremely hot dry conditions, most of them looked robustly healthy,

On a later walk we saw more huge chestnuts, but this time they were American Chestnuts, with a more elongated leaf shape.

One of the “American” chestnuts with its gnarly trunk. The nuts from these trees, like the ones from the Spanish chestnut trees, are edible (as opposed to toxic horse chestnuts)

On our way to the Ranger’s House, we walked through the flower garden area, resplendent with some of the largest impatiens blooms I’ve ever seen.

We had hoped also to see the park’s fallow and red deer herds, but those have been temporarily relocated to Richmond Park while their Greenwich habitat is being updated.

What we did see though were lots of very bold grey squirrels (someone is clearly feeding them, despite all the signs asking people not to feed any of the wildlife), lots of feral green parakeets (although they’re really hard to photograph among the thick foliage), and plenty of wild birds.

Ted is nothing if not persistent. This is one of the large flock pf green parakeets that live year-round in the park.
Bold feral pigeons are everywhere, but we can’t say we’ve ever seen a “pigeon tree” before!
Magpies are everywhere too, in great numbers.
One for sorrow, Two for joy,
Three for a girl, Four for a boy,
Five for silver, Six for gold,
Seven for a story yet to be told.
Common moorhens, at the pond and in the gardens.

Some of the largest of the other trees in the park were the several varieties of cedars.

Top: a broad-canopied Lebanon cedar. Bottom: three looks at a deodar cedar, which has a much narrower canopy, but is nonetheless huge.
The huge beehive-shaped cones of the Atlantic cedar – about the size of tennis balls!

In addition to fantastic horticulture, the park is full of bits of history that aren’t always obvious unless you know where to look.

In the 17th century, Montague House was built within the boundaries of Greenwich Park as the country house of the 1st Duke of Montagu. Its last inhabitant was Caroline, Princess of Wales, the estranged wife of the Prince Regent (later George IV). She lived there until the house was demolished in 1813. The only things remaining from the house are a piece of the rear wall, now part of the Park wall, and a plunge bath called “Queen Caroline’s bath”.

The other interesting plaque located where Montague House once stood is the one dedicated to the butler of the 2nd Duke of Montagu.

The path we take most often cutting through the park goes past this stone fountain.

The Motherstone Fountain, built around 1855, was once a spring-fed public drinking fountain.

From signs in the park, I originally thought this fountain was a Roman ruin, but the “Roman ruins” in the park are something completely different: just a grass-covered mound which has covered the excavation site where a building, thought to have been a Romano-Celtic temple, perhaps in use for much of the time of the Roman period in Britain (AD43 – AD c.410), stood. Three floor surfaces were found, but no actual temple walls or pillars … yet. And right now, there’s nothing to see but grass. And a sign.

We had to wonder why the original excavation in 1902 wasn’t followed up until 1999, and why nothing has been done since. There’s something under that hill!

The park has so much more: the Royal Herb Garden, the Queen’s orchard, an old-style hexagonal bandstand, a cricket pitch, a café pavilion, a coffee cabin and a tea hut, and loads of benches for resting or socializing.

Centre left: carnations (edible, of course). Centre right: bean stalks on cone-shaped cages. Lower left: pear trees. Lower right: apple trees are bent over the trellises to form arched pathways through the “orchard”.

Since about 1940, there’s been a large children’s playground in the park, which has been modernized several times. Near the children’s park is a small boating pond with paddle-boats.

Bordering the boating pond is a large sun dial. Greenwich probably has more sun dials per capita than anywhere else we’ve visited.

There are lots of pathways crisscrossing the park for dog walking, strolling with prams, jogging, or just meandering, but bicycles are restricted to just the three main (wider) avenues through the park – and cycling outside designated areas incurs a MINIMUM £60 fine.

As I said at the beginning, we’re feeling really lucky to be living so close to a wonderful green space.

POSTSCRIPT: As I finish writing this, the news of Queen Elizabeth II’s death has just been confirmed. Our Greenwich neighbourhood has become very quiet as families gather around their televisions watching the BBC show highlights of a life of service as the longest ruling monarch ever of the United Kingdom. Ted and I grew up singing God Save the Queen under the Canadian Red Ensign every school day, in the years before Canada got its own anthem and the Maple Leaf. My parents and grandmother became Canadian citizens pledging allegiance to her. Neither Ted nor I have ever known a time when she was not Canada’s Queen. It is truly the end of an era.

13 comments

  1. Sorry to mention Rose but you might want to update the blog. George VI was not the Prince Regent, I believe you mean George IV. Just a typo ….😊

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  2. How timely to be a witness to the state funeral & to experience the preparation for this momentous ceremony for the Queen. Greenwich Park is a perfect location for you !

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I thought of you when I heard the news of the Queen’s passing. It will be a very historic time to be in London. I hope you can take pictures of what is going on in the neighborhoods as to what the locals are doing to remember the Queen. Your perspective would be a great addition to the network coverages. My grandmother was “in the service” in the 1890’s so I have British blood.

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    • Ted is a through-and-through Brit by ancestry, although he was born in Canada. We likely won’t be in central London in the next few days (had planned to be, but may defer until after the state funeral) but will certainly be watching what happens here in Greenwich.

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  4. ROSE:

    Sad day. Since I had heard about Queen Elizabeth’s passing before I read your blog, I thought the plaque and hollow oak tree was an appropriate symbol.

    Al

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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  5. You will be able to witness the pomp and ceremony of the state funeral.
    Also, my father had an American chestnut tree in his yard and when in bloom the stench was awful.

    Liked by 1 person

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