If you want to experience a really lovely walk on a summer’s day, a wander from Buckingham Palace, through St James’s Park down to The Palace of Westminster and The London Eye is a really good one to take. For me, taking it easy and taking numerous pictures too, it took around three hours at a leisurely stroll. The Victoria Memorial (above), dating from 1911, was shining in the sunlight, newly gilded. Everywhere in London, there’s a sense of freshness and renewal in honour of the Olympics of course but great for us Londoners too.
Cross over the road from the Palace and down into St James’s Park which runs alongside The Mall and which is skirted by three Royal residences: Buckingham Palace, St James’s Palace and The Palace of Westminster, otherwise known as the Houses of Parliament.
Once a marshy water meadow, it was bought by King Henry VIII who enclosed it and used it for hunting, renaming it St James’s Park after the 13th century leper hospital that once stood there. Used by all subsequent monarchs, it was King Charles II who opened up London’s oldest park to the public, re-designing it as a tree lined canal in the French style. He used to swim in the canal in the summer and ice skate in winter.
The far end of the canal was blocked off to build Horse Guards Parade (still part of the park today) and the canal remodelled to a more naturalistic lake and meandering paths by John Nash in the 1820’s. Hire a deckchair to enjoy watching the world go by or to enjoy a picnic.
Birds have always been associated with St James’s Park since James I started to turn the boggy water meadow into formal gardens in 1612. Indeed a tradition of offering pelicans to the reigning monarch by a foreign ambassador started in 1664 when the Russian ambassador presented Charles II with a pair of pelicans – the practice continues to this day. There are five resident pelicans today in the park.
At the far end of the park is a little Swiss-styled dwelling – Duck Island Cottage – presented to the Park by the Ornithological Society of London in 1831. Designed by John Burges Watson, the position of bird keeper is still in existence today.
Coming out of the Park and turning right, you soon see the The Palace of Westminster, better known today as the Houses of Parliament and of course, Big Ben or rather The Clock Tower housing Big Ben, the nickname for the bell itself.
According to Parliament information, it is not to be known as St Stephen’s Tower (as I was always told) which was a fabrication by Victorian journalists. Anyway. You can visit certain areas of the Houses of Parliament every Saturday and you can climb The Clock Tower too!
The Palace of Westminster refers to the medieval complex that once stood there, most of which burned down in two fires in 1512 and in 1834. The current Palace of Westminster (or Houses of Parliament), was built by Charles Barry in the Perpendicular Gothic style and incorporated the remains of the old Palace including the 900-year old Westminster Hall. It was Grade 1 listed in 1970 and named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
One curiosity I was told when I first came up to London and which has always given me the shivers – opposite the Houses of Parliament, if you look closely above a doorway, you will see a statue of the head of King Charles 1, staring in perpetuity at the statue of his executioner, Oliver Cromwell. Rather fitting I have always felt.
Crossing Westminster Bridge, you quickly catch sight of The London Eye, in front of County Hall. It has rightly become one of London’s favourite tourist attractions and one of my favourite landmarks to photograph.
NB – St James’s Park and The Mall will be used during the London 2012 Olympics for the Cycling – Road Race, Olympic Beach Volleyball, Olympic Triathlon – Cycling, Olympic Race Walk, the Olympic Marathon and the Paralympic Marathon. Certain restrictions will be in place.
Contributor: Sue Lowry