16. Dezember 2018

Runsightseeing: Thirteen London parks in a day

London has so many parks. Today, I managed to run and visit thirteen of them on an extended sightseeing trip, discovering various artwork while doing so, and passing through many different neighbourhoods. I failed to complete the XNRG Santa Virtual Ultra Challenge, but I regret nothing.

One thing I have come to like about London is the large number of parks and green spaces. Some of the parks are more well-known and popular than others. But they rarely disappoint, even on a rather dull Sunday in December.

Today, I tried to complete the XNRG Santa Virtual Ultra Challenge: run 50 km in one day in December and upload the activity on Strava. Many others had signed up, and today was probably my only opportunity in December to complete the challenge. I ultimately failed because my phone ran out of battery at kilometer 32, so I decided to call it a day.

But this article isn’t about the challenge, but about what I discovered along the way. I am going to post some pictures, I took: some pictures I took with care, some rather crappy shots, and some that would have been nice with blue sky, but which I included anyway to also capture the dull winter atmosphere when there is no snow to brighten things up.

New development behind Regent’s Canal and Mile End Park.

Let me take you on a virtual journey through thirteen of London’s parks. I had plotted a coarse route on Google Maps the day before, taking me in a big circle through London’s parks, starting towards the north, then west, then south, and then turning east again.

Canary Wharf as seen from Globe Tavern Gardens within Mile End Park.

I start off in Mile End Park. This is my local park. Mile End Park was created after World War II in an industrial area devastated from bombing. It was fully opened in 2004 after more than half a century of planning and building. It is a narrow & longish park, but one of the main benefits─as with many other parks─is that I don’t have to cross any roads.

A small lake in Victoria Park.

Mile End Park is connected to Victoria Park. Nicknamed “Vicky Park”, this is one of the sizeable parks in London that originally was not a royal hunting ground. Victoria Park opened in 1845, so has been around for a bit longer. I leave Victoria Park through St. Mark’s Gate, which means I don’t get to run past the stone alcoves from the old London Bridge. I almost regret that immediately, because when do you get a chance today to see random bits and pieces of a bridge that was demolished in 1831. Another time! Instead, I run a kilometer eastwards along the very short Hertford Union Canal.

Recent graffiti addition to the towpath along Hertford Union Canal.

The towpaths on canals are narrow and I prefer running in parks. In winter, the stoves in the boats also make it harder to breathe. This stretch however is neither crowded today, nor are there many boats moored here. At this point I decide it might be worth watching out for some adhoc artwork along the way, starting with a fairly recent graffiti.

Less polite graffiti near Hackney Wick.

At the end of Hertford Union Canal, I am getting to Queen Elisabeth Olympic Park in Stratford. I am hesitating to actually include this as a “park”, because in my book, a park must have lots of green space and hopefully some trees. But the Olympic Park is really just a sports complex with the occasionally green strip next to mostly unused wide concrete pedestrian highways between stadiums. The backdrop of Stratford’s Orbit tower makes it no prettier. On the way out, however, here’s some more graffiti I enjoyed looking at. If you ever come to the Olympic Park, at least that’s something to watch out for.

Not too impressed by the Olympic Park.

Colourful graffiti at Here East.

I continue north along the River Lee Navigation on a towpath stretch which is marked as part of the Capital Ring, which is a signposted walking route in London. I discover more graffiti artwork underneath a major motorway, and also a pillar decorated with various scrap. Towpaths aren’t always boring, after all.

Unreadable graffiti decorating an underpass at the River Lee Navigation.

Concrete artwork at the River Lee Navigation.

After a quick dash through the small Millfields Park ─just in order to increase the number of parks visited─I cross the river on a footbridge. More people wearing Santa hats: there is some event going on, and there are a lot of rowing boats on the canal. I guess only frozen canals can prevent folks from going out rowing.

Rowing no matter the season.

In Springfield Park, walking up towards Stamford Hill, I decide to follow the Capital Ring, and it turns out to be a great choice. I pass Stamford Hill, but then get into even less familiar neighbourhood. I look at the map, and I’m on a road in Stoke Newington. I love runsightseeing.

Signpost of the Capital Ring at Springfield Park.

I follow the Capital Ring sign-posting, and end up in Abney Park. Surprise, it’s a cemetery! But then I’ve been on many footpaths that went straight through cemeteries, so I cannot really be surprised this way any more. Like a lot of the history I am looking at today, I only find out about it in the research I do after the run, but it is nice to discover things first, and then look up the history. It turns out Abney Park belongs to a number cemeteries that are dubbed the Magnificent Seven Cemeteries. Past very old graves and more recent tombstones, past dog-walkers, I am taken in by the combination of nature and tombstones. There seems to be very little work going on to push nature back in order to have a “well-ordered” cemetery─actually, Abney Park is designated a Local Nature Reserve.

Abney Park, one of the Magnificient Seven cemeteries in London.

Once I get out of Abney Park, I arrive in familiar territory, and that is Clissold Park. However, this means that I have turned further south than I expected. Whatever! Before turning into Clissold Park, I lose my stupid Santa hat, but a friendly pedestrian returns the hat to me. Sorry, I have a few more parks to visit, no history on Clissold Park. I continue running towards what is now the Castle Climbing Centre and had formerly been a Victorian water pumping station, albeit one with quite interesting architecture.

The Castle Climbing Centre in Hackney.

I cross the road junction at Manor House tube station. Ugh, the pollution from the cars is surrounding me. That’s the ugly side of London. Once you leave the parks, the air quality gets considerably worse, and the air quality within the parks is still bad although less noticeable. I escape into Finsbury Park, where there aren’t many people today. One group is slacklining. The parks in London see different use by different people: running, walking, cycling, skating, playing football, slacklining, drone flying, photoshooting, to mention a few of the activities I have noticed today.

Moar unreadable graffiti.

Finsbury Park is linked to Highgate through the Parkland Way, a green corridor with a footpath on an abandoned railway line. More graffiti. I can’t read a word but I don’t care. I like bold colors that are applied in a nice way across otherways dull underpasses.

Former railway line turned footpath: Parkland Way.

The bricked-up tunnel entrances of the abandoned railway at Highgate feature a description of the bat project, and a slightly less colourful─that is black and white─graffiti of which I am not sure how it got there given that the wall is beyond locked gates.

Abandoned railway tunnels in Highgate.

Tunnel entrance of abandoned railway tunnel in Highgate.

From Highgate, I use my phone to navigate because there’s too many dead ends that would force me to backtrack up a hill. I run past properties for which you’d have to pay several million pounds─without the benefit for bypassers to admire the colourful artwork on the high walls (there isn’t any), I end up in Hampstead Heath, one of my favourite parks in London. Today, the trails are a bit muddy and because I have road running shoes, I have almost no traction. Thus, I’m taking it easy and walk many sections before taking the mandatory picture at Parliament Hill.

Canonical view from Parliament Hill.

As far as I know, there is no green corridor connecting Hampstead Heath with where I want to go next. I miss a turn. I discover a funny narrow path named Alan Cheales Way to squeeze past a church so I am back on the route to Regent’s Park.

Shortcut! Alan Cheales Way.

I wonder how many million pictures have been taken on Primrose Hill. Anyways, it’s one more picture now. Regent’s Park is certainly much prettier in spring, summer, or autumn. Today, I run through a landscape of empty football pitches, with goals scattered across them.

Canonical view from Primrose Hill.

Winter atmosphere in Regent’s Park.

I leave Regent’s Park towards Baker Street, and then─poor choice─end up on Oxford Street, where no running is possible. I run along the northern perimeter of Hyde Park, and here’s another activity you can find in London’s parks that I should mention: riding horses across obstacle courses. Why not.

Oxford Street, runners’ nemesis.

From Hyde Park, the transition to Kensington Gardens is seamless. To be fair, my visit to Kensington Gardens is rather a “token visit”, meaning that I hardly touch it before heading towards Notting Hill. There is no noteworthy graffiti pictures that I can take in this area, nor do I find any concrete pillars decorated with scrap. Instead, after taking the wrong turn, in one of the backstreets of Notting Hill, I discover a SUV which was bought by its owner probably because he or she was unable to purchase a Humvee in the first place. I call such oversized cars Chelsea tanks. Being in Notting Hill rather than Chelsea makes no difference. I am clearly getting tired, wasting my thoughts on how oversized vehicles waste precious urban space while not in a position right now to do anything about it.

Horse riders in Hyde Park.

After backtracking from imposing Aubrey House, I manage to arrive at Holland Park. There are quite a few corners I am interested to explore in Holland Park, but the approaching nightfall tells me to press on. However, when I look at my phone, I see that it went out of battery. I am torn a bit between continuing anyway but finally decide that the challenge was to run and upload the track and that I won’t have the satisfaction of knowing how far I had gone. That’s an excuse, but then I don’t need to excuse myself, so I take the tube back and enjoy some Lasagne. I can explore the remaining 20 kilometers, and some more of London’s parks another day.