Leafy green trees wave in the wind. Their branches rustle softly, filling the park with a pleasant white noise. We turn down one a path, not quite knowing where it would lead. There was something on a sign that advertised the Kyoto garden, but I have been following that sign for almost 10 minutes and I have yet to come across anything vaguely resembling a Japanese garden.
Holland Park sits hidden above High Street Kensington. Strategically placed amongst the Victorian homes and mews, and under Notting Hill the park might be one of London’s best kept secrets. Unlike Hyde Park which sees tourist flock in their thousands to feed the swans and visit Kensington Palace, or St James Park which offers a perfect view of Buckingham Palace, Holland Park is quieter about its charms.
Located to the edge of the centre, where homes of most well-off bankers are located, and just before we Hyde Park itself Holland Park truly only exists for those who know that it is there. And even then, you may not truly notice its full size. For six months I thought it was simply a sports field, a pavilion and playing equipment. It wasn’t until I entered it through a white walled gate that I realised that this seemingly compact park, was actually filled with sprawling gardens and hidden groves.
The park is not small, however the deceptive it’s gated walls may be. Instead the 54-acre piece of land contains enough wilderness, carefully cultivated gardens and winding paths that you can get thoroughly lost. So, bring a map, or make sure you have a power in your phone because while there maybe maps scattered around the park, I still managed to get severely confused and a little lost.
Part of the parks charm is its calm nature. Hidden away, at the edge of central London this luscious green space has a local feel to it. Children play on the parks on their way home from school and local cricket teams make use of the meadow at the bottom of the park. There are people sitting on the benches munching away on lunch, and after 5pm the businessmen and women divert their route through the park as they make their way home.
And it’s not just parkland. There are tennis courts, and a rugby field too. And throughout the summer it’s opera season. Opera Holland Park offers a program of outdoor performances, underneath the cover of a large canopy. The eccentricities of British summer weather doesn’t have to put you off a trip to the Opera, or even the cinema.
This year you can make your way down to re-watch The Favourite, Stan and Ollie, or even Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid under the large canopy.
There is an Ecology Centre as well, offering school trips and holiday experiences for children, allowing the Londoners, brought up among the stone and brick to get their hands stuck deep into mud and dirt.
But it is the park itself that is the main attraction. Located near Holland Park Station, it already sits in a beautifully idyllic part of London, amongst the homes that first spring to mind when the capital is mentioned, but its charm is a little different.
Find a spot in Holland Park and you could believe you have left London for a smaller city. The skyscrapers and terraced homes, and crowds of people fade away, leaving you with a perfect sort of serenity. And everyone seems to come for the same reason, it is a place to breathe. A calm away from the bustle of the high street and tourist-filled crowds of Portobello Road.
Nowhere can you do this more perfectly in that the Kyoto Garden, once you have finally found it. The sound of the water bubbles away and the carefully curated spot of paradise transports you to another world entirely. The leaves here are different colours and the pebbled ground around the pounds almost looks soft and cushioned.
You may have to beware the tourist there though. Because while you may get lost trying to find it, they never do.