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Top 10 Things To See in Hyde Park

Posted by on in Insider Guide to London
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Top 10 Things To See in Hyde Park

Summer might technically be over, but with temperatures hitting 26c this week in the city, why not explore some of our favourite parts of the world-renowned Hyde Park. Located just a stone's throw from InterContinental London Park Lane, the park offers over 350 acres to explore and is home to a number of famous landmarks including the Serpentine Lake, Speakers' Corner and the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain. 

The grand gateway into Hyde Park, designed by Decimus Burton, stands tall opposite the hotel. The 25-year old built the royal entrance for King George IV and decorated the Portland stones with copies of the Elgin Marbles sculptures that were originally on the Parthenon in Athens. Read on to find out the key things to see when taking a stroll in Hyde Park.

1 – Rose Garden
This collection of roses, shrubs and herbaceous plants has colour all year round but the scents are particularly strong in June. Look out for the Boy and Dolphin statue on your left as you enter the garden. This was designed in the 19th century by Alexander Munro, a friend of the Alice in Wonderland author, Lewis Carroll. There is an interpretation panel explaining its history. Also on the left is the bronze figure of the Greek goddess, Artemis, shooting an arrow. The fountain was installed here in 1906 and the designer was Countess Feodora Gleichen, the first woman member of the Royal society of British Sculptors.

2 – Holocaust Memorial Garden
This garden of four boulders set in gravel was the first public memorial in Britain to victims of the Holocaust. It was constructed in 1983 and paid for by the Board of Deputies of British Jews. The largest boulder has an inscription of text from the Book of Lamentations: “For thee I weep / streams of tears flow / from my eyes / because of the destruction / of my people.

3 – The Serpentine & Queen Caroline
The stone urn is a memorial to Queen Caroline (wife of King George ll) who created the Serpentine in Hyde Park and the Long Water in Kensington Gardens from 1726-1730. Her gardeners joined together six existing fish ponds and dammed the Westbourne Stream which flowed through the park.

The Serpentine was used for a mock sea battle during celebrations in 1814 to mark 100 years of the Brunswick royal family. In 1826, Henry Hunt drove his company’s coach and horses across the frozen lake and won a bet of 100 guineas. Today the lake is used for boating and swimming and is a good place to watch water birds.

4 – Royal Route
Rotten Row is the remains of a royal carriage route from Kensington to Westminster. It was built in the 1690s for King William ll, who lived at Kensington Palace because the air in what was then the edge of London was better for his asthma than the smoke of Westminster. The road had 300 oil lamps and was the first road in Britain to be artificially lit. Its original name was the French Route du Roi but this became corrupted to Rotten Row. The sandy track alongside is a horse ride and is used by the Household Cavalry based at Hyde Park Barracks in Knightsbridge.

5 – The Lido
People have swum in the Serpentine for more than 250 years. The Serpentine Swimming Club, formed in 1864, is the oldest in Britain. The creator of Peter Pan, James Barrie, established the Peter Pan Cup in 1904 for the winner of a 100 yard swim on Christmas Day. The race is still held and club members continue to swim all year round. When the lake is frozen they break a hole in the ice. (Public swimming is from June to September.) The Lido with its columns and clock tower was built in 1930 as a changing room and is now a restaurant.

6 – Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain
This unique fountain was opened by Her Majesty The Queen in July 2004. From a distance, it looks like a necklace of moving water. The design, by Kathryn Gustafson and Neil Porter, reflects Diana’s life. Water flows from the highest point in two directions, cascading and swirling until it meets in a calm pool at the bottom. Diana’s quality of openness is symbolised by three bridges where you can cross the water and enter the heart of the fountain. The memorial contains 550 pieces of Cornish granite shaped by traditional hand skills and computer-generated technology. Please feel free to sit on the edge and dip your feet in the water but we ask you not to walk on the Memorial.

7 – Serpentine Bridge
The bridge has good views to the right over the Serpentine, Hyde Park and beyond to the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. To the left, you look over the Long Water and Kensington Gardens. The level of the Long Water was originally higher than the Serpentine and water poured in a great cascade into the lower lake. When the bridge was built in the 1820s, the level of both lakes was equalised. The designers of the bridge were John and George Rennie, sons of John Rennie, who built Southwark, Waterloo and London bridges.

8 – Boating & Peter Pan
People have sailed boats on the Serpentine throughout its history. The Ordnance Survey map of 1894 has a pier near the boat houses. The second boat house was built in 1903 by the Royal Humane Society. The island in the lake beyond the boat house, although made from sludge dredged out of the lake in the 1860s, has a romantic tale attached to it. In the Peter Pan story, this is Bird Island where Peter Pan lived after he flew from home one night as a baby. He later sailed from the island in a boat made from a thrush’s nest and landed in Kensington Gardens.

9 – Speakers’ Corner
In this corner of Hyde Park, people are free by law to speak publicly about anything they want, as long as they don’t use indecent or obscene language. Since an act of parliament in 1872, Speakers’ Corner has been a symbol of free speech throughout the world and thousands of people have used their right to put forward their ideas. Speakers have included writer George Bernard Shaw and the Methodist minister, Lord Soper. Karl Marx, Lenin, Marcus Garvey and George Orwell all stood here to listen to speeches. On Sunday mornings, you can still hear many different subjects discussed.

10 – Marble Arch
The Marble Arch was erected here in 1851 as another grand entrance to the park but it was built 20 years earlier outside Buckingham Palace as the main gateway. It was moved to Hyde Park to make space for a new front wing at the palace. The design, by John Nash, is based on the Arch of Constantine in Rome and it is the first British building to be clad in white Carrara marble. There are three small rooms inside which were used as a police station until 1950.

 

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Guest Tuesday, 28 March 2017