If you're visiting London and pick up one of the tourist maps, you'll notice immediately that central London has an abundance of parks. Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens and Regent's Park form the largest swathes of green across the city, but there's Holland Park to the west, Victoria Park to the east and right in the heart of Westminster, Green Park and its neighbour that I'm going to mention here ... St James's Park.
I wandered through St James's Park yesterday on my way to meet Cindy and Mercedes who are visiting from Arizona, and as it was a beautiful day, thought I'd take a few photos and also take the opportunity to talk a little bit about it here.
The park is flanked on one side by Buckingham Palace and on the other, Horse Guards Parade (and the intriguing Citadel building) and Whitehall, whilst the Mall runs down the north side. Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben are all just a couple of minutes walk away.
The park takes its name from the nearby St James's Palace, built during Henry VIII's reign in the 1530's and at that time was a deer park, just one of the many surrounding hunting grounds. When James I became King in 1603 he had the rather marshy area drained and landscaped and used it as an exotic animal enclosure, apparently keeping crocodiles, elephants and camels there, so not the kind of place you'd want to take a late night stroll. There was also a large aviary on the south east side, from which the road, Birdcage Walk, that stretches along the south of the park takes its name. During the Restoration period, Charles II had the whole place landscaped in to a formal garden with a canal cutting through the centre and was opened to the public.
Today, you don't need to worry about bumping in to a crocodile, but the park is home to a startling array of wildfowl. The most famous residents are probably the Pelicans, which have been a constant since the arrival of the first Pelicans in 1664; a gift from the Russian Ambassador. St James's Park has just received three new Pelicans from Prague Zoo, but the ones which arrived in the 1980's caused a bit of a stir when they were seen and photographed eating other birds in the park. In fact, periodically, the Pelican's pigeon eating exploits have on occasion become headline news.
It's well worth walking across the bridge that traverses the small lake as you get great views of Buckingham Palace, which make you forget you're in the centre of London and is more like looking at a stately home set in the depths of the countryside. On the east side, the numerous roof tops of Whitehall appear like some sort of fairytale castle and behind them, and the London Eye looks down, now intersected by The Shard.
I often take people through St James's Park when we're walking around Westminster, as we did yesterday, and at this time of year, the flower beds look amazing, but be warned, if the sun is out and you feel inclined to relax on one of the many deck chairs, they're not free ... someone will eventually come along and try to get you to pay. I'd just sit on the grass if I were you.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.