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Saturday, November 20, 2004

Greenwich Park

After finishing the paper on Friday morning, I really felt the urge to go out and do something. Anything. So I sat for a bit in my room, reading an old issue of Time Out (Tom Waits is playing here on Tuesday! The tickets were sold out before I even got here... damn) and flipping through a book about London that I have.

I couldn't decide what I wanted to do and was getting frustrated thinking about all the stuff I must be missing just because I don't know about it. Eventually, I gave up on the books and went for a walk.

The aim was Blackheath--a big open area about a half hour walk from my flat. I ended up, however, in Greenwich Park (which is right next to the heath, so I wasn't so far off). Everytime I go to some new location, I hope it's going to offer some insight into London or be the kind of place that feels immediately like something special. This park was neither, but I love it anyway.

Parks in London are different than Canada. They're manicured and neat, designed to offer nice places to walk a dog or a child. Pathways lead to spots that my Austen-riddled mind can only manage to describe as "pleasant prospects," with glorious views. Little manmade ponds--I'm pretty sure fountains aren't found in nature--attact geese and ducks and thousands of absolutely fearless pigeons.

This park is huge, with several specialized areas, including the old Greenwich Observatory, some roman ruins, a deer enclosure, a flower garden (and not just some little patch in the dirt, either), an herb garben (which is supposed to smell wonderful in spring) and acres and acres of grass and trees--the latter often in perfect rows.

One spot, apparently called One Tree Hill, offers a huge view of Greenwich, the Thames and the City beyond. It was late afternoon so the sun was low; everything in sight had a soft, pink glow. That vantage point has a circular bench around a single tree. On the bench is carved:

Here fair Eliza, Virgin Queen
From business free, enjoy'd the scene.
Here oft in pensive mood she stood
And kindly plan'd for Britain's good:
So record tells and this beside,
Sung ditties to the silver tide
Full worth such honours art thou still,
Belov'd of thousands, one tree hill.

Next to that little poem was carved: TN, One Tree Hill, The London Chronicle, May 25-27th 1784.

Anyways, after that, I walked along below the old observatory, up the hill, and took a few photos of a church, with the sunset behind it. I was so caught up in the amazing colours that I didn't even notice I'd walked right into the view of a much more professional photographer--complete with tripod--who was trying to take a picture. While I'm sorry if I ruined his photo, he did manage to capture a very happy moment for me, nearly overcome with joy at the scenery.

After that, I walked randomly and aimlessly--as all good walks should be--over an open field of long, springy grass that twisted and matted in a way that made me think of a damp dog's fur. Thankfully, it smelled much better than wet dog; it was the same refreshing air after a good rain. The trees in this area are in near perfect rows, and everything was clearly carefully planned, but the trees and bushes and even the grass are overgrown and wild.

Though I walked for well over two hours, I didn't cover the whole park, missing out most of the central area, the roman ruins and a large part of the deer enclosure. Even if I had seen everything, I think I'd still go back. While this park doesn't exactly capture the London experience, and isn't the most stunning or telling place I've visited (or will visit), it is really pretty, and made me happy, and I can't argue with a place that does that.

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