Regent's Park review
I'm sitting in Regent's Park watching two ducks having a fight. It's quite exciting. They are skimming the lake and flapping and scrapping and squawking and it's definitely going to end in bloodshed. Somebody is going to go home with a dead duck for dinner tonight. It was quite relaxing sitting here by the flower beds and fountains until those two hoodlums came along.
They've got a lot of ducks in here. I'm pretty sure they're ducks. They are definitely birds anyway. Maybe there's only one bird with different outfits on. The mallards like a shiny green waistcoat and orange boots, whilst others have gone for a dark brown tweed or a smart black suit (the coots). The unfussy pigeons prefer a simple grey suit and bright red socks -- I think of them as the businessman of the bird world. They are the old men you see getting off the train every day in a fraying suit and scuffed-up shoes.
This is actually quite a nice place to come if you want to do a bit of bird watching (of the feathered variety, I mean). They've got ducks, geese, herons... all sorts. Eagles, vultures, buzzards, pterodactyls (I made those ones up). The best looking bird in here is the swan. If you had to marry a bird for a bet then it would definitely be a swan -- no doubt about it. They've even got their wedding dress on ready to walk down the aisle. It's a bit of a lousy life though, isn't it. Now that I've been sitting here for five minutes I'm starting to feel a bit sorry for them. They've basically got themselves all tarted up for nothing... they just float around waiting for somebody to chuck them a bit of bread, and when an old biddy finally obliges a little duck steams across and steals it. They've got a lot in common with prisoners (I have just realised this) because that's all they eat: bread and water. Stale bread and water -- the feast of swans and Wormwood Scrubs. And they all wear tags around their ankles. I came here thinking they'd make a beautiful bride, but five minutes later I see them for what they really are: narcissistic criminals surviving on soggy stale bread with electronic tags around their ankles. How the mighty have fallen.
Queen Mary's Gardens is the prettiest part of the park and is famous for its roses. They've got a couple of big circular beds but it looks a bit bland today. All I can see are spindly canes and threatening thorns -- it must be out of season. But I've been here enough times in the past to know that it's usually a riot of colour.
I always wonder why we associate roses with romance, because if you think about it, there are only two types of plant that hurt you when you handle them: nettles and roses. And then we go and give them to our missus: here you go, my love... here is a token of my undying love; but be careful when you touch it because it might draw blood.
Queen Mary's Gardens is where you'll find the nicest cafe in the park. There are actually five of them dotted around the grounds but the Garden Cafe is definitely the best. That's where you can have a proper sit down meal and a coffee (it's like a big restaurant). This is where you can take your grandmother on a Sunday. Show her the roses and park her wheelchair up in the cafe for a cup of tea afterwards. Then push her in the lake. (That last bit was a joke.)
I've just been watching a load of people on the pedal boats and I have decided that they are death traps best avoided. They are using them like bumper cars, bashing into their buddies and trying to sink them. It's like a Toy Town version of the Battle of Trafalgar. The poor husbands are doing all the pedalling and look totally knackered, whilst their kids are going Faster! Faster! The mums just look scared stiff and wish they'd stayed on the bank. You can see them secretly praying for the ordeal to end. It looks to me like you need two people to pedal or you'll just go round and round in circles (there are two sets of pedals), but some of them are magically managing to go in a straight line with just one -- I cannot understand how that is possible.
I'm at the second cafe now -- the Boathouse Cafe. This is the rubbish one. Lots of noise. Big queues. This is where you come to pay for the boats, so it's full of families and kids and pigeons and litter sweepers. It's a self-service place with very few seats inside and three thousand hyperactive kids running around the patio. One of the toddlers has just tripped over on the concrete and is screaming so loudly that the birds are fleeing from the trees. Don't bring your grandmother here for chrissakes, or she will write you out of her will.
The northern half of the park is where the pretty stuff comes to an abrupt end. It's just a flat and featureless pasture of grass and sports fields. You'll see a little hill in the middle with a building on top -- that is cafe number three. Even if you don't want a drink it's still worth climbing the hill for a distant view of London Zoo.
The zoo occupies the northern corner of the park, and you can walk along the southern edge and have a sneaky little look at some of the animals. I love the zoo. I've been there about a billion times and it's one of my favourite places in London, so I'm quite happy sneaking a peek at the cages. The most obvious attraction is the big desert mountain range on the far left -- that's called the Mappin Terrace. It looks like it should have some lions and tigers grazing on top, but it's actually full of wallabies and emus (it's their 'Outback' zone). If you stick around long enough then you should be able to see some wandering around the flat bit at the bottom. The brown brick building next door is called the Mappin Pavilion, but you won't be able to see anything in there (unless you can see through walls).
After that comes a couple of cages full of big sticks and furry brown ferret-like creatures (they are too far away for me to see what they are -- see if you can do it). A little further to the right is a small patch of grass underneath some netting -- that is a tiny section of the 'Tiger Territory'. If you cross your fingers then you might get lucky and see them (most of the territory is hidden behind the wall though).
The concrete building with green pepper pots on top is the famous old elephant house, but its full of bearded pigs these days (which you wont be able to see) -- they got rid of the elephants ages ago. The mud-filled paddock next-door is home to the camels. If the big beasts are outside then you'll have a great view of them from the path... this is probably the best view of the zoo from the park.
After that comes a few goats in the children's zoo, and the sandy coloured meerkats zone. Then there's just a couple of largely invisible bird cages (invisible... but not inaudible!). If you turn left down the eastern edge of the zoo then you can get a glimpse of the Bugs house and some llama-like guys in a muddy pen, plus a very distant view of the penguins.
So there you go... you weren't expecting that, were you! There are quite a lot of animals that you can see for free from the path, and it's well worth strolling up to the northern edge of the park to have a look. [Note: you can see even more cages from the opposite side, but I will write about those in my Regent's Canal review.]
If you're walking the same route as me then you will now be heading south down a broad avenue on the eastern edge of the park. This will take you to the fourth cafe out of five -- the Smokehouse. This one does burgers and sausages and hot dogs. A bit further on is another little coffee shop and some ornamental gardens. I saw Tony Benn down here once, so keep your peepers peeled for him (although he's dead now, so you probably won't see him).
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