Waterlow Park is one of the most beautiful park
s in London
, and not well known. The chief sources of beauty are in the way it falls steeply down to a pair of large ponds, and in the variety of its trees. It is in Highgate
, down Highgate Road just south of the village, with a spectacular view of the clustered towers of central London, but a world away in spirit. It's right next door to the much more famous tourist attraction Highgate Cemetery
, so if you're going there please do wander in the park for a while.
It was given to the nation in 1889 by Sir Sydney Waterlow, who was Lord Mayor from 1872 to either 1873 or 1875: there is a statue of this kindly-looking gentleman overlooking it, top hat held beside his leg, but wear has made the number unclear.
The house is called Lauderdale House, and now hosts little exhibitions of photographs, Persian Rug sales, the odd small concert, and so on, and has a café in the back rooms. It is called Nell Gwynn's house, though documentary proof is admittedly lacking, but the story is that Nell threatened to throw her infant son from a window unless the King recognized him as his. Charles II fondly said, "Save the Duke of St Albans". This "historic" house does rather suffer from the two new axeheads and three new handles syndrome, since it burnt down in the late 1800s and was gutted again in the late 1900s, but it's a nice legend the locals cling to.
In the stone wall on the High Street is a small metal plaque recording the fact that the cottage of Andrew Marvell, "poet, wit, and satirist" once stood there.
But the gardens, the lakes, the trees! There are all kinds. Sir Sydney Waterlow and his gardeners must have had a good time laying them all out. At the upper levels are formal gardens, geometric figures and tightly-clipped box hedges, and pretty flowers in striking colours.
Then it falls down to two lakes, with an ornamental bridge over the stepped cascade where they join. Great willows lean over and into the water, in which seagulls, coots, mallards, grebes, and crows throng. At rare times I have seen voles - water rats - scuttling along the banks and into the water, with their elegant (and quite un-ratlike) gaits. Over the tumbling water on one side of the bridge, amid mossy banks, are two dwarf maples, one at this time of year an utterly brilliant pure crimson.
The variety of the trees: it is not preserved woodland; it was probably all planted, except for the most giant of the oaks. It does not pattern like woodland. It is mainly lawns, with some rose gardens, with individual trees all over it. They are in fact mostly English trees, though there's that maple and a Tibetan cherry and a few such: many of them labelled, as in a botanical garden; but one or two of each kind England had to offer, a great feast of different colours and leaf kinds and canopy shapes. Here's a great dark yew in the middle of the lawn; a huge spreading holm oak; ruddy beeches; an avenue of limes (as you read about in old novels); and oaks and elms and holly and a hundred others in a profusion of (at the moment, for most of them) autumn leaves, at every level, everywhere a variety to please the eye.
There's a playground down at one end. There's a tennis court up at the far end. There's a wishing tree, a low one with innumerable little copper labels tied to it to tinkle in the wind. There's a hospital aviary, a few cages where staff mend injured birds - mainly crows and doves and blackbirds, but there have been a lapwing and a falcon and so on from time to time.
evilrooster wanted to be taken somewhere special and hidden when we met, and Waterlow Park seemed to do the trick.