A lot has changed since the 1800's, but going to the park with your family and friends is timeless. Public Parks are as much a part of our history as they are our future. Their origins take us back to a time when cholera epidemics and unsanitary living conditions created a need for clean, public spaces where families could get outside, feed the ducks and and enjoy the fresh-air. Today, there are more than enough public parks to give all (+-) 61,113,205 people living in the UK somewhere pretty and peaceful to picnic and enjoy the sunshine. From London to Cardiff, Aberdeen to Suffolk and everywhere in between, there are public parks in every town across the UK... free, picturesque open spaces made specifically for our enjoyment.
This month we are paying homage to the public parks that make our cities beautiful, by counting down our personal favourites. Please feel free to comment and tell us if you think your favourite has been left out unfairly!
10. Victoria Park, East London
The oldest public park in London has a significant political history. After the cholera breakout of the 1830's, it was built when 30, 000 local residents petitioned for an open space where they could have picnics and enjoy the outdoors. Today, Victoria Park is still a breath of fresh air in the midst of the traffic in Hackney and Bethnal Green, and hosts a wide range of festivals and events over summer. To find out more, check out the impressive itinerary.
9. Bute Park, Cardiff
Bute Park is a peaceful retreat right in the heart of Cardiff's central business district. The 56 acre public playground almost catches you off guard, as you go from buildings and bus routes to trees and grassy picnic grounds. It's the kind of place where you can go on your lunch break for half an hour or spend the entire day. Public access is really easy by bus, car or foot, making it great for families and their pets (it is also pooch-friendly). The various trails on offer are also challenging and scenic enough to give accomplished hikers, runners and cyclists a decent work out. www.cardiff.gov.uk
8. Holyrood Park, Edinburgh
Holyrood Park is a piece of the ancient Scottish countryside, located a short distance from Old Edinburgh Town. This gorgeous public park is decorated by stunning land and rock formations that make the trails feel a lot further into the wilderness than they really are. It offers a number of crags, cliffs and lochs, as well as volcanic formations like the basalt columns, aptly named Samson's Ribs. The park highlight is still the view of Edinburgh from Arthur's Seat - the hike to this point will take roughly an hour and is suitable for most able-bodied walkers. Holyrood Park is also hosting a number of events in 2011, like the August Foodies Festival.
7. Richmond Park, London
If the purpose of a public park is to bring people together, Richmond Park is a roaring success. Dating back to the 1600's, when King Charles first built a deer park for his own hunting purposes, the gorgeous hills and plains that make up the 1,000 hectares of public property are shared by families, dogs and more than 650 local deer (not for hunting anymore!) today. The park trails are always lined with cyclists, walkers and people en route to their favourite shady spot below the trees or beside the ponds. www.royalparks.gov.uk
6. Queens Square, Bristol
Queens Square is a testament to the people of Bristol and their commitment to preserving public spaces. Originally built in the 1600's, this beautiful Georgian Square (one of the biggest in Europe) spent most of the twentieth century divided by a dual carriage way that saw most of the surrounding area go downhill. In the late 90's, the square was restored to its former glory and once again serves as a beautiful public space for all to enjoy. The square is located right in the busiest part of Bristol, just a stone's throw away from the harbour, which only adds to its peaceful charm. On the grass surrounding a statue of King William the 3rd, you'll find people from the surrounding office blocks and nearby houses enjoying the summer sunshine or just resting beneath the trees. The square is also a popular location for festival goers with We, The People taking place just around the corner.
5. Abington Park, Northampton
Abington Park is Northampton's favourite public space for families and dog walkers. The park features a fantastic museum, lake, an aviary, playground facilities, sports fields and more. In summer time, the bandstand area comes alive with Folk Music concerts, which are very well supported by the local community. Come autumn, you'll see the gorgeous Horse Chestnut trees start to rain their leaves across the thinning grass. In winter, squirrels scuttle across the snow-covered pathways in between long naps under cover. And by spring time, the flowers are blooming with colour again.
Abington is another historic site, being the first public park in the Northampton area. It was first opened in 1897. Below the site are the remains of a Medieval village that was long-abandoned by the time the council decided to build the park. www.northampton.gov.uk
4. Crystal Palace, South London
Joseph Paxton's second creation on this list, the Crystal Palace Park, is a remarkable site for families with little ones. The dinosaur display came a long way since first opening in the 1800's. A multi-million pound restoration in 2001 has seen the scaly sculptures touched up and revamped, ready to be appreciated by the next few generations to come. The Crystal Palace Park also hosts the National Sports Center, a museum, a maze, a cricket pavilion and more. The great facilities at Crystal Palace Park make it a great place to host events like South London Calling.
3. Coed Y Brenin, Snowdonia National Park
Coed Y Brenin is the Rolls Royce of public parks. Walking, hiking and biking trails dissect the 1,600 acre piece of land, which includes a number of spectacular waterfalls, a volcano trail, view points over the lush Welsh forest. Be sure to bring a sturdy pair of walking shoes and some water - it's a park made for people wanting to interact with Mother Nature. There is little to no vehicle access past the car park, so it's up to you to work for her affection. This is mecca for bikers in the UK - the trails are absolutely magnificent and very challenging! www.forestry.gov.uk
2. Platt Fields, Manchester
Platt Fields offers an enchanting blend of natural and man-made beauty. The main attraction is the lake, where people ski, fish and take their strolls around the trails and community gardens surrounding it. As an all-purpose public park, there is enough to keep families coming back throughout the year - even on chilly winter mornings, the park is still a beautiful place to take your little ones to see the squirrels and stretch your legs. During summer, there are festivals, concerts and events there, keeping the nearby student population and families happy. Platt Hall and the Gallery of Costume Museum are great on-site attractions that offer an interesting visual tour of clothing through the ages.
1. Hampstead Heath, London
Hampstead Heath is probably the closest a public park can get to being trendy: a lot to do with its high profile visitors. Drawing in the arty crowd from nearby Camden Town, including actors, writers and famous personalities, Hampstead Heath sees more paparazzi snapshots than most night clubs. The website, www.hampsteadheath.net, says that 'More than two centuries ago it was a favourite refuge from London for wealthy lawyers, politicians and businessmen'. Little has changed over time - it's still a beautiful reminder of the old Middlesex Forest that was once there, located in the heart of London. Whether you're there for an afternoon picnic, an evening stroll with the dogs or a dip in one of the swimming ponds, the Heath is always a great pleasure.