‘The Golden Dome and the Flying Saucer’ (Thursday 2 August 2018)
My second drawing visit to The Regent’s Park. The first was nearly 2 years ago (8 Sept 2016), to the southern section: Avenue Gardens, the boating lake, the bandstand and the perfect round of the central Queen Mary’s Gardens with its rose beds and outdoor theatre. Visit Sticks in the Smoke 30: The Regents Park (South side) to see the drawings made on that occasion, and to read the rich and royal history of this grand space.
Today I’m planning to explore the western and northern sections of the park. I walk in through the Baker Street entrance. To my right I can see the crisscross ironwork of the Clarence Bridge, which I struggled to draw on my last visit. The morning is heating fast as I turn onto the wide western path, following the lakeside. Waterfowl busy and teeming out onto the tarmac where squawking and piping knots are fighting over picnic leftovers. Ripples sparkle bright blue against the greenish lap of lake water.
The lake was excavated in the 1820s, opening out the course of the little River Tyburn in a naturalistic style across the south of the park. The River Tyburn rises in Hampstead, about 3km to the north, but today most of its flow is hidden underground in culverts or sewers. From the 1830s when the The Regent’s Park was opened to the public, the lake was a popular attraction, for boating, paddling, swimming and skating. During the severe Victorian winters of the mid 19th century, many thousands turned out on to the lake. Tragically, in January 1867, at least 40 people died here when the lake ice broke, weakened by the sheer volume of skaters.
On this sweltering day it’s hard to imagine the sting of icy air as I stroll around the children’s boating pond, where a girl in waders is picking litter caught in the island bushes. Over to Hanover Gate lawn where the sunbleached grass is dotted around its edge with a variety of trees and little copses (This sits just to the south of the 12 acre grounds of Winfield House -the grand Neo Georgian mansion residence of the US Ambassador, the second largest private garden in central London after Buckingham Palace). I find the canopy cover of a tulip tree and set up to draw towards the Hanover gate and the London Central Mosque. The shade is almost solid with only a few chits of sunlight getting through. An occasional gust of cooler air is a momentary respite. The papercut leaves brittle and rattling above. The mosque dome glints copper gold. But also shimmery greens and blues. It rises like a fleeting mirage between the treetops, unearthly and hardly solid at all. I struggle and fail to get those transient and subtle colours right (The London Central Mosque with its striking golden dome was designed by Sir Frederick Gibberd and completed in 1978. The main hall can accommodate over 5,000 worshippers. It is joined to the Islamic Cultural Centre (ICC) which was built in 1944 on land donated by George VI to the Muslim community of Britain).
There’s a constant flow of tourists and families. Many people in Islamic dress. A woman in hijab with her daughter comes over to look at my drawing. The young girl loves drawing and wants to be an illustrator. She asks an enthusiastic string of arty questions.
All the time I’ve been drawing, a man has been stretched out asleep in the foot of the far hedge. The shadow gradually moves away and he eventually wakes up, flustered. He hastily pulls his things together and staggers off towards the gate to the Outer Circle. Behind me I hear a man shouting. A harassed dad is letting off steam at his two young children. He drags them past, hot and sobbing. On a day like this I think they should all just go and eat ice cream. And dangle their bare feet in the cool lake water.
The day has heated more. I cross the bridge at the lake’s head and walk through stands of woodland. Oaks, plane, maple provide leafy relief. I wander through the Winter Gardens towards the outer circle. Across the road the Gorilla Circus trapeze school is in full swing. I stand and watch for a while. A latticework of ropes and swings. Anxious looking students being coaxed to take a leap into the warm August air.
Then back, across to the north section of the park, which opens out into a wide plain of roller flattened fields, parched horizontal bands in every direction (this part of the park was originally left open and undeveloped to protect the views from the villages of Hampstead and Highgate). Crows pick listlessly at the scuffed ground. I make a hasty beeline across the pitches towards a further clump of trees, narrowly avoiding an all- women fitness class, who are energetically and sweatily star jumping to the enthusiastic whooping of their coach.
I dive into the welcome shelter under a lime tree in a wilder fringe, where dried grasses droop and tall thistles cluster. Sports are happening all around: cricket, baseball, football. Much cheering, yelling, clapping, whistling and clack of bat on ball.
I set up to draw across the pitches, towards the clumped trees of St Mary’s Gardens and the Euston office blocks behind. The BT tower a sci fi space rocket stands ready for blast off. Close to me a flying saucer has landed. It sits raised up on a grassy mound and surveys these 360 degrees of dried out fields. This is the Regent’s Park Hub. Opened a few years ago, a focus for all the sporting activities here, providing changing rooms, showers and cafe. An oasis and a lookout across the sports ground. Two toddlers are roly-polying down its slopes and yelping as their mothers chat on the cafe terrace.
A cricket game has finished, the young players excitedly chattering, file down the path below. Scrunch of shoes on scatterings of brittle lime leaves.
I drain the last dregs from my water bottle. It’s tepid. My thoughts drift towards the ice cream kiosk I passed on the way here.
In his ‘Sticks in the Smoke’ project, Nick Andrew has been regularly visiting, researching and drawing different publicly accessible parks or gardens in London since January 2016, exploring the theme of city green spaces from the perspective of a rural landscape painter. The first two sketchbooks will be published as a book in late 2018. www.nickandrew.co.uk . Nick is grateful to London Parks & Gardens Trust for their support www.londongardenstrust.org.
The Regents Park, Chester Rd, London NW1 4NR
Opening times: 5am – dusk
Google earth view here