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.
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 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!
On a later walk we saw more huge chestnuts, but this time they were American Chestnuts, with a more elongated leaf shape.
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.
Some of the largest of the other trees in the park were the several varieties of cedars.
In addition to fantastic horticulture, the park is full of bits of history that aren’t always obvious unless you know where to look.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.