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St. James Park (London)

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St. James's Park is the oldest of the Royal Parks of London in the City of Westminster, London, just east of Buckingham Palace and west of Whitehall and Downing Street. The St James's area, including St. James's Palace, is just to the north. The park is 23 hectares (58 acres) in size. St James's Park is bounded by The Mall to the north, Horse Guards to the east, and Birdcage Walk to the south. The park has a small lake, St James's Park Lake, with two islands, Duck Island (named for the lake's collection of waterfowl), and West Island. A bridge across the lake affords a westward view of Buckingham Palace framed by trees and fountains, and a view of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, similarly framed, to the east.

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      07.01.2009 16:11
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      Tranquil park with plenty to offer

      I am both shocked and immensely pleased that nobody has reviewed this beautiful green space before me and will do my best to describe this wonderful park in the heart of central London. One of eight in London, The Royal Parks are described as 'London's personal space' and St James's more than lives up to this promise.

      St James's Park has a long and interesting history and as with all these things, the gruesome bits are fascinating seldom advertised! The park is named after a hospital for lepers established in the 13th century and was eventually taken into
      the royal estate by Henry VIII. The Royal Parks website neatly points out the supreme power of British monarchs throughout history with the rather amusing line 'In 1532 Henry VIII acquired the site as {yet another} deer park' (emphasis mine).

      The deer are long gone, but St James's is still a wonderful location for wildlife, much of it very tame. In 1837 the Ornithological Society of London built a bird keeper's house in the park and the house and the post still remain. Although much of the bird keeper's work is unseen by the casual observer, members of the public can still catch the 2:30pm daily feed of the pelicans.

      There is a huge range of other birdlife in the park and over the last few visits I've spotted several varieties of resident and visiting geese (including Greylag and Canada geese), chubby little moorhens and coots and majestic moot swans. I have
      also had the unexpected pleasure of seeing some captivating black swans this summer - beautiful birds with black feathers with a faint white outline and blood-red
      beaks. These are common in New Zealand and Australia, but it's taken me 25 years to see one in the UK.

      As well as the birds, the park is normally teeming with squirrels and these are so used to people that I'm more scared of them than they are of me. If you stand still near a tree in summer it's not at all uncommon to have them assume (naturally) that you're an extension of said tree and run unceremoniously up the front of your trouser legs. The tree climbing talent of the squirrels is breathtaking and once you've had their claws in your leg you will understand part of just why they're so good at it. Tourists and locals alike feed the squirrels as well as the birds and the grey squirrels in St James's Park as street performers just as much as the musicians in Covent Garden, or stallholders touting for business in Camden.

      The park is beautiful to walk around and a number of free guided tours are provided periodically. From various vantage points in the park you can see Buckingham Palace, various government buildings and the London Eye to the other side of the park.

      There are a lot of joggers to be aware of (beware of these when walking along Birdcage Walk). For the most part the joggers are considerate of their fellow park users, but common sense would seem to suggest avoiding the muddy trails to the sides of the park. Much as the water belongs to the birds, the periphery is for the get-fit crowd.

      For those of us who aren't quite as virtuous, there are loads of benches to sit on next to the ponds and gardens of the park and plenty of reasonable eateries within easy walking distance in Westminster and particularly in Storey's gate. There are also some choices for catering in the park itself, but I haven't visited them yet (as I suspect that the location might push up prices!) There are also toilet and baby changing facilities and a play park for the kids.

      The park was awarded a green flag in 2008, as were all of the Royal Parks. This means that it has gained official recognition as welcoming, safe and for the links it has established with the local community.

      I really can't recommend it enough and hope that some of my enthusiasm for this hidden treasure of London has rubbed off. Visit it as soon as you can - it's no less beautiful in winter.

      For more information on St James's Park and the other Royal Parks, visit www.royalparks.org.uk

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