1. Animal statues in (and just outside) Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens
It may feel like Winter Wonderland dominates the whole of Hyde Park at this time of year, but you can avoid it completely with this circular walk, taking in five very different statues of animals. Or be brave and combine it with a trip to see Santa and a skate. Length: approximately 4.5 miles, 2 hours (Walked by Emily)
If you are driving, park in the car park next to the Diana Memorial Fountain (£2.80 per hour, max 4 hours). Cross Exhibition Road into Kensington Gardens and walk down to the water’s edge and turn left for a couple of hundred yards until you come to 1. Peter Pan (Sir George Frampton, 1912). Peter proudly stands, pipe to his lips, on top of a mountain of fairies, rabbits and mice. Can you find the tiny snail, hold his nose and make a wish? Scan the QR code next to the statue and get a call back from Peter himself – it is a lovely direct conversation, as the boy who never grew up thinks he can spot the fairy magic in the listening child.
Continue on past the formal Italian gardens and head out of the park at Lancaster Gate and make the five-minute walk up to Paddington Station to 2. Paddington Bear (Marcus Cornish, 2000) A Bear Called Paddington first arrived from Peru in Paddington Station in 1958, courtesy of Michael Bond. This life-size bronze statue of him perched on his suitcase is next to Platform 1.
If you want to continue the South American vibe, there is an excellent Argentinian café, Abasto, on Connaught Street, where you can re-fuel on empanadas and dulce de leche. Or head straight back into the park and walk along the north side towards Speakers’ Corner. Skirt round the top entrance to Winter Wonderland and cross on to Park Lane, opposite Brook Street for 3. Animals in War Memorial (David Backhouse, 2004) The simple Portland stone plinth remembers animals that have died in conflict. Two bronze mules laden with battle gear troop up from one side and on the other is a strong horse and a trusty dog. Immediately engaging to children, the list of the donors who made it possible is worth reading too – surely the only memorial that includes thanks to the Amalgamation for Racing Pigeons!
From here, go back into Hyde Park and walk down towards Hyde Park Corner. Just before you get there, turn right to find 4. The Cavalry Memorial (Adrian Jones, 1924). St George in triumph stands over an unfortunate slayed dragon, whose face looks as if it may have inspired a thousand picture books.
Cross the road back to the Long Water. The Benugo-operated café here does excellent wood fired pizzas. Walk down the south side of the lake and just before you get back to the car park, is your final sculpture 5. Serenity (Simon Gudgeon, 2009). The fluid, graceful bird was previously called Isis but the name has been changed for obvious reasons.
2. Literary, artistic Hampstead Heath
Once the home of highwaymen, these days you are more likely to bump into a celebrity or literary figure while wandering the leafy lanes of Hampstead and Highgate. There are a myriad of ways to add a cultural twist to a stomp centred around Hampstead Heath, so depending on the age and stage of your children, and where you want to start your route, our suggestions can be easily adapted. Either way, wellingtons on – it’s hard to believe you’re in London here. Length: approximately 4.5 miles (to Hampstead Heath Overground), 2 hours, not counting dawdling, stopping and exploring time! (Walked by Anya)
First stop: Highgate Cemetery (Archway station) and head up Highgate Hill past the statue of a cat on the Whittington Stone (1821) which is said to mark the spot where Dick Whittington heard the Bow Bells ringing. Enter Waterlow Park and walk five mins. across to the lower exit, adjacent to the Cemetery gates. The cemetery is divided into two (East and West). The East cemetery is great for a ramble and doesn’t require a tour or booking. There are plenty of famous graves to spot, including Henry Moore, George Eliot and Karl Marx.
Exit onto Swain’s Lane and cross Highgate Road onto Hampstead Heath. Bear right up the Heath, keeping Highgate Ponds on your right. Keep walking until you reach Kenwood House ahead of you. It is free entry into the House so you could pop in and see one of the famous Vermeer paintings. If not, just admire the Henry Moore sculpture outside! (You might want to make Kenwood your focus. If so, Mac’s Kenwood Trail is a good guide for ages 5–11, both around the Estate and in the House.) The up-market canteen-style café at Kenwood is great and there’s a good children’s menu.
Head down the hill towards Wood Pond and cross the bridge into the wooded area. Come out of the trees on to Parliament Hill, famous for kite flying. With some of London’s highest points, the Heath not only has staggering views of the city but also can be very windy.
Cross over taking the path down towards the mixed bathing ponds and exit Hampstead Heath (a few minutes from Hampstead Heath overground if you’re ready to call it a day).
There are several options if you want to carry on: stroll along Well Walk past Constable’s House to Burgh House (open Wed to Sun) for traditional tea, or an alternative for older children would be to cross over on to Keats Grove and visit Keats’ House which has re-opened after a major refurbishment (open Thurs, Fri, Sun – closed between Christmas and New Year).
Or wind your way onto Hampstead High Street for a crepe from La Creperie (a window-serve fixture outside the William IV pub) and then make your way up to Hampstead underground.
3. Remarkable Women
This short central London walk starts in Westminster, crosses the river and finishes at St Thomas’ Hospital, taking in the statues of five pioneering women along the way. Length: approximately 2 miles, 1 hour (Walked by Julia)
Start at the Florence Nightingale statue in Waterloo Place, Westminster. The bronze sculpture, showing Florence clutching her famous lamp in her left hand, is in the middle of the road next to the Guards Crimean War Memorial.
Walk down to Parliament Square where amongst the other statues of political leaders is the 8ft 6in bronze statue of suffragist campaigner Millicent Garrett Fawcett by Turner Prize winner, Gillian Wearing. Unveiled in 2018, she is the only statue of a woman in Parliament Square and she holds a banner that reads ‘Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere’. Fawcett campaigned for more than six decades; she died in 1929, aged 81 years old, one year after the vote was granted. Big shout out to feminist campaigner, Caroline Criado Perez, who whilst running on International Woman’s Day noticed the lack of any female statues in Parliament Square. It is thanks to Perez that she stands here today.
Exit Parliament Square towards Millbank and next to the Houses of Parliament on your left you will spot Fawcett’s contemporary, Emmeline Pankhurst, founder of the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union) and creator of the famous slogan ‘deeds not words’. Pankhurst died in 1928, just before the Act received Royal Assent. Ironically, her statue was unveiled in 1930 by Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, who had opposed the vote for women.
Stroll over Lambeth bridge and head for Lambeth Palace. Between the river and the palace is a monument to the Special Operations Executive. The SOE recruited volunteer agents who operated undercover in occupied territory. Violette Szabo, whose sculpture is on the plinth, was one such agent. Caught on her second mission into France, she was imprisoned in the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp and executed there in 1945, aged just 23. She was posthumously awarded the George Cross and the Croix de Guerre.
If you fancy a pit stop, the café in the lovely Garden Museum (in the former church next to the palace) is just a stone’s throw away. If you are tempted to add an art fix, ‘Lucien Freud: Plant Portraits’ is on at the museum until 5 March. (NB, the museum is shut between 22 Dec to 9 Jan, but the Garden Café remains open.)
Keep walking along the Thames Path until you get to St Thomas’s Hospital and the statue that celebrates the tireless work of Jamaican-born nurse Mary Seacole. Seacole cared for wounded British soldiers during the Crimean War, having learnt her nursing skills from her mother who ran a boarding house for invalid soldiers. It took a 12-year campaign to raise funds for this well-deserved statue.
For more inspiring suggestions, head to dandelion.london or visit them on instagram.
Source: Dandelion London