St. James's Park review (Aug 2013)
This is out-of-date! I have been here again since I wrote this review
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I had a nice sunny stroll around St. James's Park today, which was very pleasant. I reckon it's a toss-up between this one and Regent's Park as the best park in London, but I'm going for St. James's. Regent's Park has got London Zoo and boating on the lake, but it's too far north to have a walk around. You're never passing it unless you're already there, whereas St. James's is just a stone's throw from Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament and Trafalgar Square. If you want to have a sit down in the sun for half an hour and eat your lunch then it's perfect. I've been here a million times before, just strolling through to somewhere else, but I've never actually taken the time to stop and smell the roses. So I had a good walk around the whole lot today, tried out the cafe, met all the ducks, and even had a wee in the toilets.
You need to take your time in a park, I reckon. It's no good running around to see the sights, because there aren't any. Not unless you like looking at the flowers. The best place to sit is on the northern edge of the lake, where all the ducks live. They've got Canada geese, coots (I think that's their name), mallards, and some regal swans, all fighting over the little bits of bread that people drop on the concrete. And there are hundreds of these winged-things, all competing for the tourists' attention. They are pretty tame so expect them to wander around your feet nosing the ground for grub. You get a few squirrels too -- brave enough to get within a few feet -- and some herons as well -- the poor man's flamingo. Once you've tired of watching the birds following each other up the path you can switch your attention to the humans. They all act in a similar manner... following the tour guide as he marches from place to place. The geese all follow one master bird as he ruffles his feathers and sticks out his neck, and the tourists all follow the guide with an umbrella in the air, waving his arms to keep everyone in line. The ducks are pecking at the breadcrumbs on the pavement, the people all chomping on their last crumbs of crisps in the packet.
There are two places in the park that are worth searching out, and one of them is a celebrated view of Buckingham Palace. You'll find it on the bridge across the centre of the lake. If you stand right in the middle then the Palace can be seen right at the eastern end, but with a ruddy great tree obscuring the centre. I know we are supposed to be living in enlightened times when it comes to chopping down trees these days, but give me a chainsaw and I would happily take out that monster. It's ruining the view! If you turn around 180 degrees then you get an even better view of a big fountain and Horse Guards Parade.
The second place worth finding is a little cottage at the western end of the park (directly opposite Horse Guards). It's called Duck Island Cottage and is a perfectly pretty place to live, surrounded by little gardens of veggies and colour. I don't think anyone actually lives there though. It might even be haunted. The place is made of wood and if you peered inside I reckon you might find it solid with cobwebs.
When I was walking around the flower beds I heard a marching band trooping down The Mall -- it was the soldiers making their way to Buckingham Palace for Changing the Guard. The Mall stretches along the northern edge of the park and you can follow it all the way down to the Queen's house. So if you're planning on seeing that then may I recommend a spot of lunch in the park afterwards. You'll be on your feet for half-an-hour to an hour watching the guard change, so a two-minute stroll over to the lake is the perfect place to rest your weary toots.
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