Of all the parks in central London, I think St James’s is my favourite. Often on one of my walking routes round the city, I find myself walking through St James’s Park, (probably every other time I visit London.) In fact I don’t think I’ve ever walked up the Mall due to the park enticing me with its beautiful and attractive green space every time I’m near it!
In the heart of historical London, set back from the River Thames behind Whitehall, St James’s Park stretches from Horseguards Parade and Downing Street at the eastern end of the park to Buckingham Palace at the western end, along the length of The Mall. The Park provides a lovely environment to walk between these famous London landmarks and features a lake that runs the entire length of the park.
St James’s Park is the oldest of London’s 8 royal parks and the first to be opened to the public. Due to its proximity to St James’s Palace, the park area was purchased by Henry VIII in 1532 to be used as a royal deer park for hunting. In 1603, the park was drained and landscaped by King James I, but the significant changes were made by Charles II in line with the classical French style he witnessed during his exile in France. This saw a long canal being created with lawns and avenues of trees installed down each side. It was Charles II that opened the park to the public.
The park was remodelled once again in the 19th century by John Nash in a more romantic style, commissioned by the Prince Regent, who later became George IV. He made the canal into a curving and more natural looking lake surrounded by winding paths over gentle gradients lined with informal shrubberies, and it’s this style of landscaping that we still see in the park today.
For more information on the history of St James’s Park, click here
So, on entering the park from Horseguards Parade, the first thing that draws your attention is the Guards Division War Memorial, a large cenotaph to commemorate the guardsmen who died in WWI. Five life-size bronze figures adorn the memorial representing the foot guard regiments: Grenadiers, Coldstream, Scots, Welsh and Irish. Installed in 1926, a further inscription was added after WWII in memory of those who died between 1939 and 1945.
The park immediately gives the impression of a well groomed space with colourful borders lining the neatly trimmed lawns. Look out on the right for the little rockery pool which undoubtedly will be in use by a pair of mallards.
It’s not long before you approach the park cafe; worth a call in if you’re using the park for a stop off on a longer walking route. Just keep an eye on those pesky pigeons if you dine outside – it’s amazing how close they come to your plate while it’s still in use!
Sitting outside here with your cuppa gives you a great view of the Swire Fountain which was installed in 2007 and is a great centrepiece bringing the lake to life, with the Churchill War Rooms and the London Eye in the background.
Visiting in winter or spring before the trees have fully established their canopies means you’ll get to see more of the buildings surrounding the park as you wander through. My photos for this post were taken in early spring showing just that. In summer, you’ll only glimpse an odd speck of architecture or a couple of pods on the London Eye through the leaves.
Despite St James’s Park being one of the most visited parks in Europe with a hefty footfall of over 5.5 million visitors every year, nature and wildlife has still found ways to flourish.
Duck Island, jutting out into the eastern end of the lake acts as the park’s nature reserve and there are approximately 20 species of bird that regularly breed in the park. Look out for Moorhen, Coot, Shelduck, Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal, Pintail, Shoveler, Common Pochard, Red-Crested Pochard and Goldeneye, as well as the majestic Great-Crested and Little Grebes, and the rarer swan in the family: the Black Swan. You’ll see several different types of geese too, including the Canadian, the Greylag, the Egyptian and the Bar-Headed goose.
Some of the more famous residents, although I’ve never actually seen them myself are the Great White Pelicans! Living near Duck Island, they were first introduced to St James’s Park in 1664 as a gift from the Russian Ambassador to King Charles.
There are signs around the park telling visitors not to feed the pelicans, however you can usually see them getting fed fresh fish between 2.30 and 3 pm every day adjacent to Duck Island Cottage. They are gregarious creatures and have displayed some entertaining antics over the years. It’s been said that one rather mischievous pelican used to fly over to London Zoo in Regent’s Park to steal their fish for his lunch and these days they are often seen out of the lake sitting on the benches alongside visitors!
As you walk down the side of the lake be entertained by the antics of the squirrel, not to mention the human! Check out this guy feeding the pigeons from his hand.
On reaching the Blue Bridge, cross and pause in the middle to get a superb view each way down the lake, providing a great vantage point to observe the lake’s waterfowl.
This low-arched concrete bridge is the third to span the lake. The first was designed by John Nash which was replaced by an iron suspension bridge in 1857. The current bridge dates from 1957.
Continuing along the length of the lake but on the other side now, you’ll find spring time the best time of year for colour and interest along the route. Daffodils line the lake sides with the best park views of Buckingham Palace coming into play.
You’ll also come across the best examples of blossom trees in all of London (in my opinion), and if you’re lucky enough to visit during the spring, you’ll no doubt be amused by everybody capturing their selfies and intriguing poses amongst the blossoms. Well, what can I say – I had to join in!
The western end of the park is where you’ll find a children’s adventure playground with its exciting centrepiece being a series of boulders sunk into a giant sandpit, forming different levels to climb amongst.
Rounding the western end of the lake, revel in the fabulous view down the full length of the lake to Horseguards, and on the nearby island I spotted that elusive black swan, yeay!!
I exited St James’s Park by the north-western exit nearest Buckingham Palace through a host of bright yellow daffodils…
…and looked back on a great view of the park…
…before heading on over to Green Park via Buckingham Palace.
I hope I’ve inspired you to spend some time in one of London’s green spaces when you visit the city!
Do you have a favourite London Park?
I confess I’d never done an official walking tour, having shunned them in favour…