Winter is a bad time to visit a park. The benches wring with rainwater, the grass suffers and squelches, and the wind howls through bare branches and sears skin. But parks are free at any time of year, and they can sometimes beat sitting around the office in a pool of existential angst.
I could have reviewed cafes instead. There are more of these in a five-minute radius than I could visit in a forty-year career, and they’re warm and generally friendly. But they’re not free and what they’re selling is fundamentally the same.
So, over the last two weeks, I have attempted to visit every significant park lying within a two-mile walk of the office, and condense my sojourns into miniature reviews.
Here’s the map for those who aren’t local.
Stonebridge Gardens: Crammed between two roads and the Overground, from its all-weather pitch to Snake Park, it’s already a friend of ours. All Hackney parks are a variation upon the same theme. It is a silent bastion of photosynthesis amid tomorrow’s slums, crawling skywards around it and threatening a perpetual dusk. It may not be beautiful, but Stonebridge Gardens will always be ours.
London Fields: An unremarkable patchwork of flat, boggy grass. The best thing about London Fields is making the pilgrimage. Reach it via Regent’s canal and its council housing projects, then up Broadway Market to see what happens to a neighbourhood when the hipsters declare victory. Return to HQ via Middleton Road, just because it’s preternaturally straight and will make you feel like an aeroplane.
Haggerston Park: The entrance is a gap in a twenty-foot brick wall that would better grace a prison. Once formal in design, it’s now looked after about as well as any other park in Hackney: competently, but without imagination. The windbreak is a shelter on the park side, and makes it possible to linger in winter. Its public toilets have very suggestive and angry notices on them from Hackney Council and are, of course, always closed.
De Beauvoir Square: Handy for the office, and very genteel. In Summer, it would be a handsome alternative to the ROLI sofa.
Fassett Square: The archetype for EastEnders’ Albert Square. Its garden is now crowded with sculpture and exotic plants, and not necessarily open for trespass. The houses that surround it are freshly painted and pretty, its Cockney patter replaced with public school cadences, while its fictional twin has been allowed to decay in mock authenticity.
Rosemary Gardens: I passed this. It looks inviting on Street View, but foreboding in January. Rosemary Gardens borders one of the prettier parts of the canal, and Southgate Road, which isn’t the prettiest part of anywhere. About fifteen minutes from HQ, it deserves a more considered visit when the weather improves.
Victoria Park: Even with a full hour, it’s a struggle to reach Victoria Park‘s perimeter and return to the office in time. I wanted to explore it more fully, and ended up getting lost and returning at about half past two. It’s the only London park within walking distance that wouldn’t shame London’s other great parks. There’s a duck pond, formal pavements, and a miniature pagoda. What more could you want? If I’d timed trains instead of walking, a return to Hackney Wick would have allowed a more leisurely exploration.