London and Paris – Green spaces

Camley Street Natural Park; St Pancreas Parish church and gardens; and Goldington Crescent Gardens, Camden London.

The entrance to Pitzhanger Manor (being restored – it opens in 2018) and an expansive patch of free – Pitzhanger Park, Ealing, London.

As I wander through European cities I find myself attracted time and again to the green spaces. Indeed, a few days ago, I traversed most of Paris from the Bois de Boulogne in the far east, to the Pont Bercy, and what a beautiful walk it was.

Bois de Boulogne
Bois de Boulogne
Bois de Boulogne
Pont Bercy, Paris

Today, I arrived off the Eurostar at St Pancreas London, weary in body and of spirit, but the sun shone, so I googled parks and gardens in the area. I made my way to the St Pancreas gardens, narrowly avoiding being run over by a London taxi due to the lack of pavement, and came across a community garden I had tried to enter twice before, Camley Street Natural Park – this time it was open.

A slice of sylvan pleasure between railway, canal, and high rise buildings, I discovered that this London Wildlife Trust-funded oasis is an ideal place to picnic. Flower beds are constructed from railway sleepers and hunks of stone and bordered pathways are lined with bark pieces.

There is an extensive pond with a green membrane pierced by rushes, and a wild flower meadow with rose bay willow herb. It constitutes a very brief, windy way to the other side if you use it, as many suit-clad workers obviously do, as a thoroughfare; but you may also make a circuit and take in the bug-finding, log-pile place; the ‘fairy glade’ (where if I was not mistaken a counselling session was happening); and pond-dipping where a quiet volunteer was carefully cleaning the sign.

There are rustic benches in private nooks, and, luckily, a few tables in the cafe clearing because it was so densely wooded that there was almost no sun there this September noon.

Bring your little ones and they will have hours of down-to-earth fun – inside if the weather is inclement (there is an activities room and exhibition with nests and pine cones) or out, learning about bats and birds, recycling and natural landscaping. I saw willow, birch, brambles and cherry, and there were tourists in the Visitor Centre being helped by the member of staff.

This old coal yard is located by the waterway which once transported the fuel to Yorkshire, where incidentally the next-door sliver of a bridge was formed before being placed in its current position in 2016. Unlike the uneven Park’s paths which absorb any sound (do not try with buggies, bikes nor suitcases), the bridge’s smooth surface resonates with and amplifies joggers’ footfall and cycle wheels.

Just down the road is the St Pancreas old church and gardens, today shining in the sunlight and showing off its higgledy-piggleddy stones, working mortuary, royal blue water fountain (at least I think that is what it is), and unusual monument “especially dedicated to the memory of those whose graves are now unseen or the records of whose names may be …(could not read this word) obliterated”.

They have done a great job of bringing interesting facts and people to our attention in the wee church: the relationship of Thomas Hardy to the ‘consecrated burial ground’, and memorials to Mary Wollenstonecraft, activist, and John Soane, architect of the Bank of England whose main residence is in the area and whose ‘country’ house in Ealing (Pitzhanger Manor, see above) I coincidentally visited last week.

Under the trees sit study groups, lunching pairs and individuals reading or on their phones. What a contrast with the welcome smell of warm wax which filled the holy interior. I enjoyed the plaque ‘in memory of my dear husband Earnest Wiggins d 1975’ before drifting into my third bout of 60 winks sitting on a proud wooden chair at the back listening to the ponderous ticking of an unseen clock.

Making my way towards Mornington Crescent tube station, with its faint hints of Mary Poppins and WW2 popular songs, I come across Goldington Crescent Gardens. In the Autumn sun, causing the fallen leaves to glow and throwing strong olive green and top-hat grey shadows on the grass, there is a public sculpture. It is in three parts: one resembles a silver pile of unmentionable; the second an ant eater with its snout in the ground; and the third is a mystery. The artwork stands out starkly beside the pink and red brick 1903 Goldington Buildings opposite, which edges elegantly wrap around whatever is in its heart. Interesting fact: in Vienna they have a word for these buildings which conceal a space behind the facade, which is ‘Hof’.

Goldington Crescent, London.
St Vincenz Hof, 18th century, Vienna, Austria
Behind St Pancreas station, London.
Love, Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris.
Beehives, Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris.