I received a copy of “London’s Hidden Walks” for my birthday from my wife but had yet to walk any of the routes it suggested until now. This one is lovely.

We all know Kensington is rather up-market. With Harvey Nicks and Harrods within a stone’s throw east and Absolutely Fabulous Notting Hill brooding to the north you would be quite right in thinking that this walk focuses on money and property. London’s Hidden Walks contains fascinating and detailed explanations of all that’s interesting along this route but as usual, on the whole, I’ll leave that to you to choose to uncover by buying the book yourself!

Starting point: High Street Kensington tube station, on the District and Circle lines.

Finishing point: Ditto, it’s a circular walk dontchaknow!

Length: 2.9 miles (4.6 kilometres).

I chose a particularly hot day to walk this so the very short tube journey turned me from cool and composed to flustered and dripping within two stops. Luckily there was quite a breeze gusting up Kensington High Street. As soon as I had navigated between dawdling shoppers and chuggers I crossed at the lights and turned to admire the elegant lines of the Barkers building, which is now the Associated Newspapers HQ.

Associated Newspapers HQ on Kensington High Street

An unassuming shaded alley, Kensington Church Walk, leads north from Kensington High Street and cuts through a pretty but very busy garden. Today there were scores of people lolling about. I can imagine the garden would be an oasis in other seasons but during high summer it did actually feel a bit claustrophobic with so little space between each small group of people. St. Mary Abbots rises from the east side of this open area but there were loads of vans and trucks doing something so I couldn’t get closer to poke my nose in.

Continuing north Kensington Church Walk turns into a thin mews-like passage with various small businesses, hairdressers and the like, on your left. As soon as you leave here the typically magnificent Kensington townhouses make themselves known to you in all their startling sun-drenched and whitewashed glory.

The Elephant & Castle pub on the corner was overflowing with pint-toting blokes in shirts on extended lunch breaks. I immediately began to consider the high potential of preparing a new pub crawl route for this area to rival my South Kensington/Knightsbridge/Belgravia pub crawl from last year.

Ruined townhouse on Campden GroveA couple of months ago there was a fairly prominent news story about a house renovation that turned to disaster when it caught fire early one morning. The neighbouring family had to scale several high garden walls in order to escape the inferno. Luckily nobody was injured. That house, on Campden Grove, now sits completely gutted, waiting to be renovated from scratch I assume. Such a shame, but such an opportunity as well!

The rows of expensive houses carry you uphill in a lazy westward zig-zag until you walk along Campden Hill. Apparently these are some of the most expensive houses in London but if I’m honest I’d rather have a nice big Victorian detached place in Norwood, please. The building site at the end of Campden Hill is very much still a work in progress but the new building they are constructing, Holland Park School, has an elegant modern frontage that I quite admired. Especially with such a big hot sun beating down on it.

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You enter Holland Park moments later. As you have gathered from the spoilt surprise in this post’s title there are, or rather ‘were’, cows in Holland Park! I had no idea. Their lovely faces bob up and down from forage to the streaks of sunlight cutting through the foliage. Some have rather impressive curved horns and seem to be scything through the longer grass while the calf I spotted just ruminated in peace, sitting down.

Cows in Holland Park

I actually completed this walk at the start of August but life has carried time away, as it has to the cows as well. On 22nd August the cows were returned to their home out in Hertfordshire. The following cute tweet (re)assures me that they will be back grazing and helping to run Holland Park next summer!

 

P1100273I got quite excited seeing unexpected bovines so I got unduly excited when I saw a wooden sculpture/throne object that reminded me of the throne in Elmstead Woods, and then equally excited to see the statue of Lord Holland in his pond. I reined in my derailed reserve when I realised I wasn’t sure which way to go next. There were some boring looking buildings peeping through the trees to my south, but just more woodland to the west. the map in the book is not exactly clear but gives talks about Holland Park Comprehensive School so I figured that must be the way. Which is a bit of a shame because the Kyoto Garden I’ve heard a bit about is just north of here. There is another Kensington walk I plan to do in the future and that does include that garden, so it can wait. It’s not going anywhere. And in fact I suspect that if I wait until some snow falls it will be really stunning and peaceful.

More flowers in the Holland Park

So, south I went and surprised myself by pretty much tripping over dozens of sunbathers on a lawn. I had my camera in my hand still from cow excitement and some of the ladies were clearly looking at me like I was only here to snap them in their minuscule bikinis – I wasn’t. My expanding beard doesn’t do me any favours in the “I’m not a pervert, honest” stakes either. I briskly took on the path bisecting the lawn and found myself in a formal garden heaving with bees and flowers.

Flowers in the Holland Park

With no lawn there were only a few sunbathers collapsed on the benches instead. They rested as the bees busied themselves.

Around the corner is another wide space containing a fountain, a colonnade, and more sun bathers. Small kids in sun hats were frolicking in the water whilst their mums chatted on the benches. Another peaceful Kensington oasis.

I walked through a garden full of roses before taking the path out of Holland Park. I stopped to look at the map board outside and was completely baffled. I seriously began to wonder how I could possibly have come out on the northern edge when I had stuck to left major turns and always downhill. I was on the verge of getting my phone GPS working when I spotted that the map was deliberately upside-down, with north at the bottom. A-ha!

P1100295With the world the right way up again I walked down the gently sloping hill and detoured briefly up Melbury Road to look at the turreted brick house belonging to Led Zep’s Jimmy Page. Snazzy.

The mansions around here were draped with interesting blue plaques and usually a lot of pretty flowers. Everything was well-maintained and serene. I popped along Holland Park Road to have a look at the exterior of the Leighton House Museum, which apparently is amazing inside but today I didn’t have time.

Down on Kensington High Street again I had to dodge vans and cyclists who all wanted to cross my path but didn’t fancy indicating their intentions in any way, and then I turned south down onto Edwardes Square. The houses to the left were on a less grand scale to those north of the High Street but they were still lovely, I wouldn’t scoff at owning one anyway. The Scarsdale Tavern was dazzling with its floral display and, with the doors thrown open, looked very welcoming. It has been many years since I actually went in and enjoyed a pint but I do remember it being pretty nice.

Immediately after the Scarsdale you pass along a silent Mews with rotting wooden doors and a whole lot of not much else to look at beside the arse-end of a police station. The next half mile is a zig-zag of quiet roads with towering whitewashed houses and sleepy little shops. Soon you arrive on Lexham Gardens and walk around one of those gated green areas that us proles aren’t allowed into. At the end turn north and pass a row of odd little cottages to arrive on Cornwall Gardens.

Mansions in the Kensington back streets

These houses are bloody enormous. And so ornate! The sun made them look even more impressive. Another little alleyway arrives on your left and you walk all the way up Stanford Road to the Builders Arms pub. Which I can vouch for in terms of having lovely food. Their set-lunch menu is particularly and surprisingly large and tasty. For some reason the book tells you to walk around the back of the pub rather than just staying north onto Kensington Court Place, which has the enormous mansion blocks. There really isn’t anything to see behind the pub so don’t bother.

Ornate mansions near High Street Kensington

Thackeray Street is pleasant enough with a couple of little cafes and other shops serving local residents. Kensington Square has never caught my imagination though. It feels dirty compared to most similar places in London. I can’t put my finger on why. Maybe it’s the tall trees casting their shade over everything? There is a fair bit of interesting architecture around the southern edge, with a couple of churches, but the rest is a bit dull. In the northwest corner you can see Kensington Roof Garden peeping out at you from the top of the huge building in front of you. I have never been up there yet but I think my pub crawl creation for the area might have to include one of the bars up there…

All that remains is for you to squeeze through the huge crowd of tourists on a guided walking tour and admire the Evening Standard clock poking out the side of the Barkers building, before turning left back onto High Street Kensington finishing exactly where you left off.

The first part of this walk is the easy winner, if this were a battle of the halves. The joys of Holland Park are numerous and unexpected. The second half of this walk is basically designed to get you back to the station via some pretty residential buildings but it is worth it for those on Cromwell Gardens. Still, if you’re after a short but interesting walk in West London then you’ll be hard-pressed to beat this one.