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The Playground

Updated: Sep 8, 2023

I took this picture a few years ago. It's a path in London's Hyde Park taken from The Marble Arch end of the Bayswater Road. It's a useful path to know if you're visiting London as it leads to some of the highlights of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. It's particularly important to me as it's a path that I remember as a child growing up in Paddington.

We were a small tribe; brothers and sisters ranging in age from eleven to five who had the run of this green, majestic, urban sprawl. The long summer holidays meant we were out from breakfast until tea time; ranging the park with a school bag of picnic food: Rich Tea biscuits, Dairy Lea cheese slices and plastic tubs of airy, fruit-flavoured Birds Eye Supermousse.

We used the Victoria gate to access the path back then as it lead to Buck Hill where, after a brief go on the swings, we would roll down the steep incline and end up at the Italian Gardens at Lancaster Gate.

Do a left off the path and take a walk through this gloriously decadent tribute to Italian architecture. If the wind is in the right direction, you'll get spattered by the foul fountain water that smells of pigeon poo.

Climb over the railings (or take the exit) and turn left. After a brief visit to Peter Pan's statue (which we did our best to climb) turn around and head back towards our path, passing the friendly bronze bears on the drinking fountain.

Walk along the path and eventually, the cooling tree canopy comes to an end. You find yourself at Queensway and the broad sweep of Birdcage Walk. If it's a hot summer's day, you feel the intensity of the sun as you cross the Walk to the Elfin Oak. Behind outrageously prohibitive bars now, the delicate painted figures of elves and goblins fascinated me and I would have to be dragged away by an older brother. It wouldn't do to be separated from the pack.

Next to the Elfin Oak is the complex but entertaining, Princess Diana Memorial Playground with it's emphasis on fun, health and safety.

It replaced our playground which was a simpler affair with different height slides, roundabouts, seesaws and of course swings. We would spend an hour getting dizzy, bloodying our knees and elbows on the concrete and laughing hysterically. That laugh masked the thrilling, terrifying moments when the slide was too slippery or the swings went too high. After, we would sit on a patch of grass under a shady tree to eat our lunch as by this time, the Supermousse had thawed out.

Back then, the Museum of London was housed in Kensington Palace. Walkways covered in climbing roses, jasmine and honeysuckle took us past a secret garden where the soporific smell of the flowers and the buzzing of fat bees made us slow down before heading into the museum.

Picking up our clipboard, pencil and worksheet we spent an hour looking at London's historical treasures, finding clues to the questions on the worksheet and writing down the answers. There were suits of armour and old queen's wedding dresses. I remember having my photograph taken on a wooden rocking horse. But the biggest attraction was the enormous model of the Great Fire of London, 1666. It was a reproduction of London Bridge burnning and it had lights that flickered like real flames.

So when our day at the park had come to an end we would walk back to Lancaster Gate following our path. It was comforting that this long stretch of tarmac would lead us home. Self-assured, straight, Roman in its uniformity, it lead us away from the dark, dense undergrowth and the strange, shadowy figures that lingered around it at dusk.

We could walk down this path another summer's day, maybe take a detour to follow the Serpentine and swim in it's Lido or just keep to the path and revisit old haunts.

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