Are you tired of taking your children to the same playground with rusty swings over and over again? Are you craving a different sight than the one of your local park? With a little a bit of research, I found out that the city provides many unsuspected opportunities for outdoor activities all year long. Here are my top 5 original ventures in some secluded and green corners of North West London.
1 – Mapesbury Dell Park
London harbours many lovely parks, which undoubtedly contribute to the city’s charm. Mapesbury Dell is a magical garden tucked away behind a row of residential houses, a carefully guarded secret by local residents. It is a rather small park that has everything to please the nature-loving crowds: beautiful gardens with a variety of flowers and wildlife, a wooden playground, a pond and some picnic tables. The park hosts free admission to annual events such as the popular Wild Day in the summer, a Midsummer Open Air Opera Evening, a Back to School children’s party in September, festive fun and carol-singing at Christmas, as well as a regular Gardening Club.
Address: 10-12 Hoveden Rd, NW2 3XD
2 – Kensal Green Cemetery
Inspired by the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, Kensal Green Cemetery was founded as the “General Cemetery of All Souls” by barrister George Frederick Carden. It is recognised as one of England’s oldest and most beautiful public burial grounds. Kensal Green Cemetery opened in 1833 as one of the world’s first garden cemeteries and doyen of London’s Magnificent Seven. Its Gothic character made it the ideal setting of several scenes in movies, notably in Theatre of Blood. The cemetery is a conservation area and it is home to at least 33 species of birds and other wildlife.
My suggestion to bring children to a cemetery may make some of you startle; it goes without saying the location demands a certain degree of respect but children’s imaginary worlds are vastly enriched when they explore uncommon surroundings with mystical ambience.
Address: Harrow Rd, W10 4RA
3 – Fenton House
Pictures by commons.wikimedia.org & geograph.org.uk
This 17th-century house sitting in Hampstead will give to its small visitors a sense of wonderment. Fenton House is owned by the National Trust. Curious objects and collections of early musical instruments and ceramics can be found inside the house and, from the balcony at the top the house, you can see far-reaching views across the City of London. But the main attraction is assuredly its 300-year-old walled garden, which brims with colourful flora and constitutes one of the most charming locations for a stroll in nature. Family based activities are organised throughout the year, including the Easter Egg Trail, the Apple Weekend and musical performances.
Address: Hampstead Grove, Hampstead, NW3 6SP
4 – Meanwhile Gardens
Pictures by geograph.org.uk
Meanwhile Gardens is a beautiful community-run landscaped garden playtrail near London’s Westbourne Park underground station. It is a tranquil hideaway that allows people to peacefully sit, read or reflect, despite it being two blocks from busy streets in a densely populated part of North Kensington.
Also known for his arty maze of bridges, stepping stones, optical illusions, tree ladders and tunnels in Haldon Forest, Devon (named the “The Beginner’s Way”) Jamie McCullough is the sculptor who sought to have this then-derelict wasteland used as a communal garden. Westminster Council, the local authority at the time, gave temporary permission – which gave rise to the name ‘Meanwhile’.
The Gardens now fall under the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s jurisdiction and have undergone many landscape developments since its creation in 1976. The four-acre site provides a wildlife garden project run by Kensington & Chelsea Mind, which works with adults who have mental health difficulties, using horticultural training and social enterprise to help with recovery and social integration. At one end of the Gardens, the renovated scented courtyard offers space for quiet contemplation; at the other end, a free skate pit draws hundreds of skateboarding enthusiasts all year round.
There is also a purpose built play centre for children under 6 called the Playhut. This area offers to the little ones a large outdoor space for play, a paddling pool in summer, a sand pit, arts and crafts and other activities that stimulate play and learning.
The Gardens themselves provide opportunities for volunteering and educational schemes; some youth offenders carry out their reparation orders under gardeners’ supervision.
Overall, local residents – the Meanwhile Gardens Community Association – work hard to perpetuate Jamie McCullough’s vision of a lush garden that brings joy and reflection to people in their everyday environment.
Address: 156 – 158 Kensal Road W10 5BN
5 – Queens Park Vegetable Allotments
Allotments have gained hype these past years, brought by the increase of popularity in healthy eating, the media coverage of organics and the rampant culture of ‘growing your own’. Your little ones will be delighted to dig in the mud while participating in a common family project and learning about where their food comes from. It is beneficial for Londoners who don’t own a garden to get an experience of working the land and grow fresh vegetables and fruits which are part of a healthy lifestyle. Food growing can also bring people together from all parts of the community through a shared interest. Most of the people interested in these allotments are in their 20s and 30s with young families. As there is a high demand and an endless waiting list, Robin Bower, secretary of Queen’s Park Allotments, suggests putting your name down as soon as possible.
Address: Kingswood Avenue, NW6 6SG