Running and the City

I’ve been running now for many years.  Initially at the gym I would do the hamster wheel thing for an hour or so at a time.

It then dawned on me that I lived in a part of London that lent itself perfectly to running outside.  Putney by the tow path is, of course, flat, flat, flat.  Perfect for my kind of gentle running. Otherwise known as jogging. I could do 10K in beautiful surroundings, so the gym membership was binned and a whole new world began.

Then we moved to Central and I needed to find a route that worked. The run I now do is very different but no less enjoyable.  Trafalgar Square, St. James’s Park, Green Park, Hyde Park, taking in sights that I’d never noticed, even though I’ve been a Londoner all my life.

Duck island and the duck house in St James’s Park are quite extraordinary and look like somewhere the 7 dwarves might live, with a fully functioning garden (maybe even vegetable patch).  It is in fact a sanctuary and reserve. The lake is so pretty and the view from the bottom of the park, over the lake and up towards Buckingham Palace is breathtaking on a sunny morning.  

The colony of  pelicans on their rock only add to the slightly fairytale effect.  

A quick(ish) cut up through Green Park gives me the opportunity to see the army boys doing their thing in the square.  Some of them look so very young that it makes my stomach tighten.  Too young.  With The Jam in my headphones singing about rebellion, the evils of capitalism and right wing politics ringing in my ears (the 1980s are very much my musical hinterland), it was a curious and moving contradiction – these young lads willing to give their lives for the safety of me and my family juxtaposed in my head with those lyrics that still stir me.  

On I jog.

Hyde Park Corner with it’s own specific challenges.  Cyclists who would rev their engines if they could, heads down in testosterone-filled competition with the person beside them, waiting for the crossing light to go green. Or not waiting at all, risking life and limb by crossing the race track that is this particular death trap of a junction.  The crowd waiting to cross deepens – commuters largely, plugged in and heads bowed to the great God i-phone.  Peripheral vision mistaking the cyclist’s dash between changing lights for the actual change of lights and following, lemming like, across the road.  Horrified, those of us still waiting, watch as they beat a hasty retreat or speed up in a panic to reach the other side once they realise their mistake.  It’s a heart stopping moment.  

Into Hyde Park.  The magnificent horses being exercised by the militia in the morning mist – their breath visible in the cold winter air, creating their own private clouds.  Galloping along the sand tracks, they are eerily silent; it’s a mesmerising dreamlike sequence

The Serpentine and it’s own very special magic.  Swans, ducks, geese, all joined in the water by the intrepid swimmers of the Serpentine Swimming Club. Each time, I make a mental note that I really must do that swim at least once before we leave.  Knowing all the time that I probably won’t.

The Italian Fountains, by Lancaster Gate, are my half way point.  Each time I see them, I am thrilled by the beauty of the structure.  Believed to be a gift from Prince Albert to his beloved Victoria, the romance of it is extraordinary. Four main basins, amongst the elegant fountains there lie marble carvings, a collection of stone statues and urns – a swan’s breast, woman’s head, ram’s head and dolphin. Further round is Henry Moore’s “Arch” through which you get a unique, framed view of Kensington Palace.  All very distracting and make the run go by easily.

The run back is a mixture of more swans, the pedal boats patiently awaiting their passengers; gardens that are so beautifully tended – fit for a queen.  Talking of whom, running past Buckingham Palace, I am struck again by the fairytale quality of the whole building and it’s immediate surrounds. The garden to the front reminiscent of the rose garden in Alice in Wonderland.  Bewildering when, 15 minutes later, I’m back in Trafalgar Square, Charing Cross Road and St. Martin’s Lane, the plight of the homeless is so very clear. The contradiction is startling.  

And it can’t be right.