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I remember when I was young I always thought London was a huge urban mass that was completed devoid of green spaces. Perhaps it was something to do with my hometown of Sheffield, which has always claimed to be Britain's greenest city, in terms of parks and open spaces that is, not environmentally speaking. Anyway, I quickly discovered that London was actually also full of large parks.
The majority of London's parks are collectively known as the Royal Parks of London, which were areas of land once owned (or still owned) by the Royal Family but now opened up to the general public for recreational purposes.
Kensington Gardens is one such example of a Royal Park. It is one of ten Royal Parks and strictly speaking the public do not have any legal right to enter it. However public access is granted by the grace and favour of the Crown, and as a result it's usually bustling with people. The gardens were formerly the private gardens of Kensington Palace and it covers an area of 111 hectares (275 acres).
Of all of London's Royal Parks Kensington Gardens has always been one of my favourites and I usually try to visit it whenever I get the chance. I was last there in September 2009. There's something a bit more sophisticated about this place than many the other parks and due to its slightly less central location than some of the other park like Hyde Park it generally isn't quite as crowded. In fact it can be a surprisingly tranquil place where one can easily forget that they are in the heart of the capital and in a city of 8 million residents and almost as many tourists. As you stroll along the footpaths it really is easy to forget that you are in London at all.
Kensington Gardens were originally created from the western end of Hyde Park. Henry Wise and Charles Bridgeman had created The Serpentine by damming part of the River Westbourne and although this feature is usually associated with Hyde Park, part of The Serpentine actually lies within Kensington Gardens where it is referred to as "The Long Water". Wise and Bridgeman also created a sunken Dutch Garden, the Italian Gardens and the Round Pond as additional features for Kensington Gardens.
Within Kensington Gardens there are sign posts located at most of the intersections of the footpaths so it is very easy to get around, but apart from the areas mentioned above most visitors will also want to visit the Palace itself. This stands at the other side of the Round Pond and can be seen from quite a distance away.
There are several other interesting features to be seen within the park, all of which can be seen during a walk or stroll of around 45 minutes to one hour. During my most recent visit I entered the park via the south east entrance opposite the Royal Albert Hall and it is here that the Albert Memorial is to be found. Queen Victoria erected this monument in memory of her husband. Around this area there are some formal gardens that were a burst of vivid colours even in late September. A footpath cuts straight through the middle of these formal gardens, which are enclosed by a fence and have a gate at either end of the footpath. You'll find that all of the footpaths are of very good quality and they are very flat making them suitable for wheelchair users and people with pushchairs.
Kensington Palace was the residence of Diana, the Princess of Wales and the Princes Diana Memorial Playground
Is located within the park in memory of her and the Princes Diana Memorial Fountain lies just outside boundary of the park but is also well sign posted. Other buildings worthy of a mention include the Serpentine Gallery and Speke's Monument.
The Italian Gardens are a particularly picturesque part of the gardens and include four different fountains. There are also several statues in this area too and during my latest visit, a temporary art exhibition as well.
More unusual things to look out for whilst strolling through Kensington Gardens include the Elfin Oak, which is a 900 year old tree stump with carvings on it and the Peter Pan Statue. Kensington Gardens were the setting of J M Barrie's famous book "Peter Pan" and this statue is to honour that fact. Another unusual thing to look out for are also Parakeets. I saw hundreds of these birds flying around and screeching loudly and contrary to popular belief they are completely wild. Ring Necked Parakeets spread from Asia in the second half of the last century and have colonised many areas of Southern Britain, but one of the densest populations can be found here.
Entry into Kensington Gardens is completely free and there are several different entrances. It is usually approached from either Kensington Road to the south or Bayswater Road to the north.
It is only open during daylight hours and is especially popular with dog walkers and joggers.