grew up in London. I know why people go there: for the
nightlife. the history. the theatre and the bustle. They
emphatically don‘t go for a breath of fresh air. But that‘s exactly what the London Tourist Board is suggesting people should be doing.
It‘s easy to forget that the city has a larger number and wider variety of outdoor parks and commons than most of its liuropean counterparts. particularly as you edge towards the home counties.
Barnes Wetland Centre is a case in point. In 2000. four
concrete reservoirs were converted. with the planting of
300.000 aquatic plants and 30.000 trees. into a 105 acre marshland site. Luckily for those of us who prefer to travel without their wellies. the paths and exhibition centres that weave through the park are dry enough. The bird population (a mixture of permanent inhabitants and seasonal migrants) is undeniably impressive and ranges from the mundane (your common pond dwelling swan) to the exotic (the flesh-eating South Georgian Pin Tail duck).
But watching from the observation tower. it‘s startling how alien and how fascinating even the most familiar birds appear when you really look at them. The centre won last year‘s 'l‘ourism lior 'l'omorrow award and on the basis of this visit. this tranquil site deserves its prize.
It‘s only a few miles through west London to Kew Gardens. but the distance between the Wetlands Centre‘s rough charm and Kew‘s manicured lawns is immense. ‘lt's not a garden.‘ says our guide Valerie firmly. ‘lt‘s a scientific institution where people come to look at the plants.‘
We wander past the grand lake and into the Main 'l‘reehouse. which smells like a school swimming pool. but houses sortie truly awe-inspiring specimens of fauna and alongside telling details about their colonial significance. The Princess of Wales conservatory has a heat-efficient triangular design which makes it look like a Martian colony. and inside lurk decadent orchids and some alarmingly phallic cacti.
Hampton (‘ourt Palace was built by Henry‘s crony (‘ardinal
1 14 THE LIST 1)?) Apr 0 May 2200?
Looking for fresh air in the big smoke. Words: James Smart
Wolsey and formed the main royal residence until George III decided it contained too many bad memories and upped sticks to Windsor (‘astle in 1760: there are still residential apartments within its walls. It‘s an impressive place. with the iconic red brick of its ornamental gatehouse overlooking colourful gardens while a remarkably clean-looking Thames flows round its boundaries. lnside. there‘s a vivid contrast between the original Tudor buildings and Sir Christopher Wren‘s later. airy additions. The Haunted Gallery (allegedly stalked by (‘atherine Howard‘s spectre) is as disappointing as these things usually are unless you visit them late at night with a gullible friend and a pocketful of hallucinogens.
We don‘t have time to visit the maze. so we wander through the gardens. where neat lawns are overhung by trees pruned to
look like giant arboreal mushrooms and chew on _ the impressive statistic that the palace has as many IHSIde lurk
chimneys as there are days of the year. each with a different design. Indeed. if you‘re looking for h_d d
places to stroll and think. these metropolitan parks
are ideal. And they tell you a deal great about alarmlngly phallic cacti
London's history. whether you‘re interested in its early days as a settlement set atop the Thames marshland or the imperial project fuelled by plants such as rubber. tea and tobacco. W hat‘s more. they give you a chance of upping your tan and breathing (fairly) fresh air at the same time. Needless to say. they wouldn't have been half as interesting if the rain had been pouring.
London Wetland Centre, 020 8049 4400; Hampton Court Palace, 020 8781 9500; Royal Botanic Gardens, 020 8332 5655.
I The List travelled to London with GO. GO flights can be booked at www.go-fly. corn, by calling 0870 6076543 or through your local travel agent. We stayed at Cannizaro House, where rates start from £120 per night for a double or twin room. Call Thistle Hotels on 0800 18 17 16 or visit www.thistlehotels.com/cannizarohouse