A Walk Along the Serpentine in Hyde Park

From Hyde Park Corner by the Park Lane subway on the right, following the signs to the Wellington Museum. Turn right at the top of the steps. Go around the front of Apsley House and then turn right through the gates, crossing South Carriage Drive into Hyde Park. To the right is yet another tribute to Wellington (and also his men) – a statue of the legendary hero Achilles, cast from captured cannon. Wellington was often referred to by grateful contemporaries as the ‘Achilles of England’.

There are two main paths to the left leading through Hyde Park. The first one on the left with a sanded track for riding is Rotten Row, the name thought to be a corruption of Route du Roi, the royal road built by William III in the 1690s, leading from Westminster to his new palace at Kensington. The walk, however, takes you along Serpentine Road, the much wider path on the right.

Walk along the road past the cavalry memorial and bandstand. Soon you come to the Serpentine Bar and Kitchen and the Serpentine Lake, created in 1730 by damming the River Westbourne. Activities on the lake include swimming from the end of May to mid-September and boating, and sometimes skating in winter. In 1826 a businessman won a bet of one hundred guineas by driving his van and four horses over the frozen lake. To the left you can see the tower of Knightsbridge Barracks. Over to the right the large boulder was placed here by Norwegian seamen in 1978 as a token of gratitude for hospitality and support received during the Second World War. Beyond it, behind the hedge and thick screen of trees, there are four acres of greenhouses where all the bedding plants for the royal parks are grown.

Just before the bridge, take the right fork along the left-hand side of the car park on to the road dividing Hyde Park from Kensington Gardens. Turn left opposite the Magazine (a gunpowder and ammunition store built in 1805 and now used by park maintenance staff) and cross the bridge. Half-way across there is a fine view of the Houses of Parliament. On the far side of the bridge, turn right, crossing the road through Temple Gate into Kensington Gardens.

Sculptures and statues

On your left now is the Serpentine Gallery, built in the 1930s as a tea house and now an Arts Council-sponsored gallery for modern art exhibitions. Take the path on the right leading down to the lake, here called the Long Water. To the left above the bank you can see the Temple, built in the 18th century for Queen Caroline, the wife of George II. Queen Caroline also ordered the digging of the Serpentine and of the Round Pond, which you come to shortly. Further along, the path enters a small piece of riverside woodland and garden with an extraordinary statue of Peter Pan in the centre. J.M. Barrie was living near Kensington Gardens when he wrote the Peter Pan story and he reputedly had the statue erected overnight, so that when children came for their daily walk they would think the fairies had brought it.

Immediately beyond the woodland turn left across the grass towards the obelisk memorial to John Speke (in summer only the base is visible through the trees). Speke was the first explorer to trace the source of the Nile to Lake Victoria in 1864. Looking left from the obelisk, the east front of Kensington Palace and the graceful spire of Kensington parish church (St Mary Abbots) can be seen at the end of the broad avenue to the left. Walk up the avenue (or use the tarmac path in the trees to the right if you prefer) until you come to the Round Pond.

Walk to the right of the pond, aiming for the white statue of Queen Victoria (by her daughter, Princess Louise) in front of the palace. (The Orangery cafe is to the right.) Turn left along the Broad Walk and then take the first right turn along the south front of the palace, passing the immaculate gardens, often with rabbits playing on the lawn. The statue in the middle of the gravel walk leading up to the palace is of a wigged and hatted King William III who, in the 1690s, commissioned Wren to convert Nottingham House into Kensington Palace because he hated stuffy old Whitehall Palace down by the Thames in Westminster. Queen Victoria was born at Kensington Palace and lived there until she inherited the throne in 1837 at the age of 18. Diana, Princess of Wales, lived here until her death in Paris in 1997.

Walk straight ahead through the gates out of the park on to Palace Green. Cross the road and walk through the alleyway opposite into York House Place, which brings you to Kensington Church Street. Turn left down to the junction with Kensington High Street (St Mary Abbots Church is on your right). Go across Kensington High Street and turn right towards High Street Kensington Station, where the walk ends.

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