London has a great many attractions; many of them historically resonant – Buckingham Palace, the Palace of Westminster, St. Paul’s Cathedral and, of course, the Tower of London, to name just a few. But one thing it doesn’t have among all those historical, nay medieval, iconic buildings of import is one that, to step into its grounds, is to disappear into another magical world. A, well, fairytale sort of place; somewhere that feels like it’s right out of a classic storybook.
But stop right there – London truly is the city that has everything! If it wasn’t, how could you explain the existence of the turreted and battlements-sprouting Lambeth Palace and its 11 acres of fabulously fantastical gardens, with hidden garden-walled-corridors, climbing rose bushes and beatific stone sculptures? How, indeed!
Officially the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury (the highest minister in the Church of England), its innards and its gardens are only open to the public during the spring and summer months, so to say you should make a beeline for them then is putting it mildly – and, should you be staying relatively central during your trip to the capital (for instance, accommodation near Brewery Road London City, like The Montcalm at The Brewery London City), it’s very easy to get to, being literally located just across the Thames from the Houses of Parliament.
So where to start? Why, through the grand Tudor gatehouse that acts as the site’s entrance, of course! From here you’ll come across the palace proper and be able to cast your eye over this truly marvellously mismatched cacophony of elegant, grey-brick buildings that make up the magnificent whole. It’s been built up over the centuries, but looks far from a tumbledown affair and, what’s more, the Great Hall (all high, arcing ceilings and elaborate windows) has to be seen to be believed. It’s like something out of Hogwarts.
And so to the garden, which you’ll discover beyond the palace. First up, there’s a pristine green lawn (could there be peeps playing croquet on your visit?) and then, after this, an upper terrace, festooned with rose bushes and trellises. It’s all terrifically bucolic, with the scent of lavender, roses and so on filling the air – and their colours proving a feast for the eyes.
And then you’ll notice – quite wonderfully – that the garden extends further into the distance, beyond the hedgerows in front of you. And here’s the opportunity to stroll along coniferous corridors like you’re a character in The Secret Garden; there’s even a swing that dangles down from the strong branch of and wise, ancient tree. And, finally, you’ll come across three further delights – a patch of wildflowers (all daises, tulips and poppies), a charming stone pagoda that delightfully appears to have merged with the nature around it and a small, exquisite, round pond set into the ground. All in all, it’s a magical (and expansive) garden, all right.
Lambeth Palace’s gardens are open on the first Friday of April-September every year, from 12noon-3pm.