One of my favorite things to do this year has been walking around Regent’s Park and Primrose Hill. This usually doesn’t include basking in the sunshine, since the skies are perpetually overcast, but there’s still a lot to recommend it. My ten favorite things about this walk:
- If you walk over using the old canal system (the best route), you get to see lots of people engaged in very futile fishing. You also walk by the “Pirate Castle,” a magnificent folly of a building with turrets hanging over the water and a Jolly Roger hoisted high.
- When you climb up to the top of Primrose Hill, you have the best view available of the London cityscape. This review reveals that London is very flat and not really suited to cityscape viewing (cathedrals and the houses of Parliament are dwarfed by the British Telecom tower), but that’s information worth having, and it’s still very pretty. On the pathway up the hill, somebody has spray-painted the answer to the question muttered by weary climbers: ‘COS THE VIEW’S SO NICE.”
- The wide variety of ducks, geese, and terns on the lake in Regent’s Park. There are black swans imported from Australia, and (of course) enormous flocks of pigeons, scavenging off all the bread that people throw at the birds. Jill’s friend Kate has a massive phobia of pigeons, so whenever she walks through a group of them, she mutters to herself, “Won’t… let… pigeons… control me.”
- The open-air Shakespeare theater, where poetry and precipitation hold hands. When we went in late August to see Troilus and Cresida, we witnessed what was only their second dry performance of the summer.
- The rose gardens. It’s a thorny wasteland in wintertime, but in warmer weather, it’s a fragrant Victorian paradise reminiscent of the final chapters of Alice in Wonderland. If I had a flamingo, I could play croquet.
- Walking along the perimeter of the zoo, sometimes you catch a quick glimpse of a giraffe or a gnu, a flash of exotica in the middle of urban grey.
- On weekends, there are a dozen soccer games going at a time, none of them lightly contested. And completely randomly, on summer Wednesday evenings, Britons play softball, with only a few people on either side aware of the rules.
- Collecting handfuls of conkers (fallen chestnuts), just like my parents and grandparents. I never went for the full competitive version where you drill a hole through them, put them on the end of a piece of string, and then bang them against each other until you have a champion conker. But I like having a handful of them in my pocket, smooth, asymmetrical, beautiful.
- The Regents Park Cafe, which has really good soup, and this caramel-chocolate confection that’s worth leaving the house for by itself.
- During the glorious two-week summer of 1998, hanging out on the grass with Jill, sitting in rented deck-chairs. We read the thick Saturday newspapers in our bare feet, knowing that there was no better place in the world.