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The wilds of Londons

The wilds of Londons

 

IT DOES not take long before a little canal water splashes into your lap. Your arms are already wet and at this point, Winston Churchill’s legendary prescription for long life comes to mind: "No sports!"

If you set out to explore London by kayak with Danny Gillard, you cannot expect the kind of comfort you would get in a Venetian gondola as you have to handle the vessel yourself.

That, however, is the appeal of Gillard’s Thames River Adventures, which show the English capital from angles completely different from those found in travel guides.

Participants in the Regent’s Canal tour lugged their kayaks to the pier and put them in the water themselves. Then Gillard gave everyone a paddle and a few instructions: sit down, do not rock, keep your back straight and shoulders tilted forward.

This allows you to move forward swiftly without expending much strength, making the trip past London’s Zoo and villa dwellers’ gardens bearable.

There are few places in London as serene as Regent’s Canal. On this particular day, the only other people in the environs were a few joggers on the esplanade and the waterway’s residents.

Another nature tour, lasting about an hour, takes visitors down the Thames River from the Houses of Parliament to Greenwich.

From the pier, the tour proceeds between maple trees to a park and then a little uphill to the famous prime meridian (zero degree longitude) at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich.

A look towards the city from this part of the Thames takes in skyscrapers, London’s old docks, and the grounds for the 2012 Summer Olympics. As host of the Games, London is to become a sporting city.

If you take the underground railway on Sunday to Richmond, in the western part of the city, you will probably get out with cyclists and triathletes who then push their bikes to the exit and head for nearby Richmond Park.

About five or six times larger than London’s Hyde Park, it is actually more of a forest than a park. It is so big that you have to be in good shape to run around it just once.

You can traverse the park walking in about an hour, during which, with a little luck, you will encounter deer, woodpeckers, ducks and squirrels while passing seas of ferns. There are almost always people in Richmond Park, even when it is raining.

Nearly 40% of London’s area is said to be either water or greenery. There are 148 parks and gardens as well as eight large royal parks. One of the most popular places is Kew Gardens, properly known as the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. It is situated between Richmond and the centre of London.

Last autumn, Kew Gardens added an attraction of particular interest to families: the treetop walkway. About 1.5 metres wide, 18 metres high and 200 metres long, it winds its way through the tops of chestnut trees.

Plants in the greenhouses dotting the park’s 121 hectares include exotic bloomers and ceiling-high palms as well as coffee and olive trees. Flora from all over the world is on display.

Lovers of the outdoors need to be weatherproof in London, though. The sun may be shining in all of the London Tourist Board’s photographs, but common sense – and London’s reputation – would suggest a somewhat different picture. While statistics show that annual precipitation is greater in cities like Paris and Rome, it rains in London more often.

This, however, does not keep a true Briton at home. One popular outdoor activity, cultivated by the Mid-Surrey Bowls Club directly adjacent to Kew Gardens, is English lawn bowling. It is similar to the game of boule in France.

White shirts and grey trousers are de rigueur even in practice. With one foot placed on a rubber mat, the bowler strides forward with the other leg and rolls a ball toward a target ball.

Some people have bowled at the club for 25 years. The register kept by the club’s officers in the clubhouse testifies to a much longer tradition, though. So does the golden badge on club jackets, and also the reverence with which the men play the game.

These Britons have no reverence for the Churchillian prescription of "No sports!".

 

 

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