Friday, June 09, 2006

Roundhay Park, Canal Gardens & Tropical World

Daily walking is all very well but you tend to get bored with the same views all the time. Of course the 'trick' is to vary one's route so that doesn't happen but lets face it, after a few weeks even these different routes become normal and even, dare I say it, dull.

With this in mind, I put some thought into where I wanted to try next. I'm not at the point yet where I need to jump in the car and drive somewhere further afield to do my walk. So what was nearby, within a reasonable walking distance, that was worth creating a new route for me ? It wasn't too difficult and one location stood out - Roundhay Park.

I love this park and as it is only a short 20 minute walk from where I live, I knew I could get there and back and include the park in my daily walk.

Roundhay Park dates back to the time of William The Conqueror in the 13th century when it was a hunting park and given to Ilbert DeLacy in thanks for his support for the King during his many military campaigns. When the last of the DeLacy family died in 1871, it was sold to Leeds council who designated it a public park in 1872 and so the 700 acres became a place for everyone to enjoy.

Ok, history lesson over. It was a glorious day and although I wanted to be in t-shirt and shorts, I had the usual plethera of items to carry with me. So although I didn't like taking it, the backpack came out of mothballs and got filled with an umbrella (well the BBC web site had forecast late afternoon showers), a ham/tomato sandwich, an apple, a can of soda, my cell phone, mp3 player and camera. I also strapped on my heart monitor and pedometer. I was set for anything and with my current fav Hard Rock Cafe baseball cap covering my flowing locks (stop tittering at the back), I was ready for the adventure.

I started slowly and walked down and across the Leeds Outer Ring Road. I passed the famous Flying Pizza eatery and on down Street Lane to the first park entrance. I was slightly disappointed that the usual stunning floral displays outside the park weren't there. I'm not familiar with flowering seasons and the beds looked like they were ready for some sort of summer blooms but today they were just mounds of soil. Sighhhhh.

Once inside the entrance it was a better story. This was the view before me and the path stretched off into the distance with flower beds on both sides of the lush and newly mown lawns. There is something about that smell of newly cut grass on a warm and sunny summers day. Very evocative. It had taken me exactly 20 minutes to get to this point and I was warmed up and ready to explore the park once again.

I was also quite hungry and given the heat of the day, I decided it was the right time to eat my sandwich which was rapidly cooking in my backpack !!! So I stopped at one of the numerous benches in the park and as it just happened to be next to this lovely flower bed, it was a perfect

location for a quick pitstop. The break afforded me the chance to do a bit of people watching while I ate and drank; there was the usual mix of mothers with kids in tow and young couples walking hand in hand along the paths. Of course as it was such a warm day and the grass was soft and inviting, there were other activities going on in places but I'll draw a veil over those !

Given that I only had a sandwich and a soda, it wasn't exactly a picnic - but surrounded by so much of natures beauty, it sure felt like it. My only complaint about this part of the park is about the lack of trash cans. I hate litter but unless there are recepticals for it, I can hardly blame people for not carrying it with them till they find one. I only had an empty pop can and a sandwich bag so it was easy to hold onto them till I came upon a bin but come on LCC, there is a need for more of them in the park. I was a bit concerned about walking again after my snack but decided I was only going to be strolling for a while anyway and it wasn't a full meal in any case. As I stood up, I looked to my left and felt the view was worthy of a photo............and here it is.

Now as you can imagine, the park is very popular in summer and this tranquil scene would not be possible on a weekend or even later on a weekday after workers get out. Ahhhh the joys of being retired.

So with my lighter backpack in place once again and my 60's music keeping me chilled, I set off again deeper into the park. Speaking of music, I was heading for the area known as 'the arena' because the topography forms a natural amphitheatre which is perfect for outdoor rock and pop concerts. I think I'm right in saying that there haven't been many such concerts in the last few years for some reason but I vividly remember seeing U2, The Rolling Stones, Genesis, Madonna and Michael Jackson perform in 'the bowl' several years ago. Not together, I hasten to add !! Wow what a concert that would've been. Which was my fav ? Hard to say but probably Madonna. Go Madge !

Just as an aside, there will be another huge concert in the park in September when Robbie Williams will be performing and if I wasn't out of the country, I'd be there for sure.

Anyway, when not being used for a concert, the area is quite dull and a photo doesn't do it justice - one of those places where you just have to be there ! Over on the right of the pic is Hill 60 (don't ask - I've no idea either) where the vast majority of spectators would sit/stand. It doesn't seem like much of a hill but it really is. When it's 'full' and the surrounding flat area is heaving with sweaty rock fans, the acts that I mentioned earlier can pull in close to 90,000. Not many venues in the UK can boast such capacity.

As I live only 20 minutes walk from the park, I can clearly hear the music from my back garden and have often sat out listening to a concert on the occasions when I've not wanted to go to it. All the comforts of home plus live music.

Roundhay is not one of those prissy parks where you're not allowed to walk on the grass. Far from it. Yes the excellent paths do take you everywhere you'd want to go - but often it's good to leave the paved surface and venture off over the immaculate lawns and basically do your own thing.

The park has two lakes and the first of these and the larger by far, is Waterloo Lake - named after soldiers who had returned from the Napoleonic wars. I strolled down one of the many hills in the park and this was the scene before me. Sadly the view was marred by a bench right on the other side of the flower beds but with a bit of digital editing, I removed it. I've kept the original of course but the bench annoyed me so much I'm sure I'll always prefer this version.

Down at the edge of the lake you'll always find the swans, ducks and other floating critters. There is a path which runs right round the lake and at the unofficial starting point near the cafe,

they come right up to be fed - mostly by young kids and their grandparents. It seems the young and the old share this feeling that water fowl like great clumps of white bread thrown at them. Come on guys, make it healthy at least and use wholegrain bread !!

But I digress. The feeding process made it easy for me to get up close for my photographs but I'd taken many of these shots before and I wanted something different this time. I knelt down to get to eye level but that didn't do it. I tried odd angles but I've never been keen on anything other than the classic straight on view.

After taking about 10 photographs, I'd had enough and started on the path around the lake. I'd only gone a few hundred yards and was carrying the camera by the strap and letting it 'dangle' down by my legs when the idea came to me...........take a photograph like this ! Brilliant. I could use the self timer to give me 12 seconds and in that time I could use the strap and drop the camera down to almost touch the water - and use the monitor to try and line up the shot.

So I turned round and went back to where the people were thankfully still feeding the ducks and
got set up. I soon discovered a flaw in my master plan - the critters didn't mind us getting up close and personal when everything stayed on the path above them, but try and go into their territory and off they'd swim !!

I wasn't able to get close to them when feeding and this was the best shot I got - watching 2 of them drifting imperiously away from the camera. Still, it was a worth a try and the technique might come in handy some other time.

It certainly got me some strange looks from passers by who obviously didn't know I'd pressed the self timer before lowering the camera down to the water !

After that, I set off again along the path around the lake. After a few hundred yards it ceases to be paved but is still wide and flat enough for parents with pushchairs. I've cycled round it many times in the past and as scenic paths go, it's hard to beat. This part goes towards the northern end of the lake and meets up with the smaller lake called, appropriately enough, Upper Lake.

If you don't look too closely at these lakes, as in these photos, then they seem lovely clean expanses of water. Sadly this is not the case and if you happened to fall in, you'd be as likely to have a cause of death by polution as drowning.

But on this warm and sunny day, I decided not to look too closely and just enjoy what my eyes were showing me.

This is the narrowest part of Waterloo Lake and in the distance you can see the top end and the path starts down the other side. I had been out in the sun for a couple of hours by now and didn't want to walk all the way around this time so when I got to the end of the lake, I kept going the few yards to the start of Upper Lake.

Upper Lake used to be a bit of a 'nothing' lake - just an area of water with no interesting features to encourage visitors to explore it. Recently the council added a classic water spout or jet or whatever such things are called. In fact the group comprises 7 jets with the middle one being by far the biggest and it's amazing what effect this has on this otherwise poor relation of the lake world. Add a few little viewing/relaxing areas with benches and suddenly it's well worth a visit.

The wildlife certainly thinks so and the lake has plenty of ducks and geese to keep the bread chuckers happy there too. I wonder if this is a practice around the world ? Maybe visitors to this blog could add a comment to let me know. Do other nations have this deep seated urge to feed wildlife with stale white bread or is it unique to the Brits ??

I'm not sure of dimensions but it only takes a few minutes to walk round Upper Lake and this affords different views of the water feature.

Around 2 sides of the lake, the park reverts to it's 13th century roots and becomes forest again. It's not hard to imagine DeLacy and ye olde yuppy chums spending a few happy hours hunting weldebeest or buffalo in there before returning to the mansion for tea and crumpets. No ? Ok maybe deer then....and the odd fox.

It looked too dark and scary for me to go solo in there so after a quick look, I backed out and hit the path again.

No seriously, it looked like a really nice walk in the forest but I was getting tired by now and as I'd never been in this part of the park before, I wasn't sure where the path would lead me and if not a circular route, I didn't think I wanted to do a 'there and back' walk. What a wimp. Hehe.

I was at the deepest part of the park and that's the one point to make about it - it's a very hilly park and it's typical that just when you want to start back out of it, you have to climb back up at a time when you really want the terrain to be flat or even downhill. I certainly did......and the climb up one particular slope took away the last of my energy and I was glad the backpack was basically empty.

So when I reached the exit I didn't fancy starting on the walk back home and went across the road to an area called Canal Gardens which is still part of Roundhay Park but is even more of an oasis of peace and calm. If you want flower beds and plants of all sorts laid out next to water and fountains, then this is your place. It's a wonderful restful spot for sitting in quiet contemplation - and many do just that. You can also walk around the relatively small area and take in the amazing variety of the flowers on display.

When entering the gardens from the north, as I did, there is a long high stone wall which at first glance seems solid for it's entire length. But part way along, it has a small arched opening which
leads to a beautiful section of flowers, water and 3 fountains.

The long rectangular pool has paths around it and a cute little humped back bridge from which I took this photo. At the far end is a good view of a wonderful pub called Roundhay Fox which has changed hands and names several times in my time here in Leeds and has had literally millions spent on it. Provides quite a nice backdrop - for a building - and of course is very popular on days like this when you can sit outside and enjoy a drink and a meal in the fresh air and do some people watching.

This is one place where you are not supposed to walk on the grass and given the slope, you'd not really want to anyway. It still doesn't stop the odd person going over the ankle high decorative rail - usually for a photo opportunity. One such person, and her child, is seen in my shot.

After spending some time here recharging my batteries (ok then, getting my breath back) I went back through the archway and into the main garden area. Looking at the background in this photo, one can see the pub again and so it's obvious this garden is right next to the pool.

It's another beautiful place for relaxation and the colour and variety of the flowers on show are a joy at this time of year. Once again this place would be much busier on a weekend so it's great to be retired and be able to visit mid week when it's so much quieter. It's hard to find peace and tranqility when surrounded by crying babies and screaming kids.

When did I become a grumpy old man ???

Anyway, over on the left of the garden as we look at it here is the entrance to Tropical World which until a few years ago was the best free 'show' in Leeds. As the project has grown, so has the need to charge admission and I've seen this rise from a very reasonable 50p per person to £1 and now it's £3 for adults. I'm all for these sorts of places paying for themselves and not being a drain on the local rate payers so I think £3 is fair enough in this day and age - and the project has grown enough to justify it.

It started off as a glorified hothouse and butterfly collection when it was free to enter. Now it's a strange but delightful combination of mini zoo, reptile house, butterfly collection, aquarium and tropical climate areas with exotic plants, animals, birds, reptiles and of course, fish. Well worth the price of a portion of fish & chips for that lot I'd say.

I was no sooner through the plastic heat retaining vertical strips than I was hit with the huge increase in temperature and humidity and had to wait a moment while both my glasses and camera lens adapted to it. This proved to be a blessing in disguise as it allowed me to watch a

butterfly landing on the wooden rail quite close to me. This is their world and so it wasn't at all concerned about me getting even closer and messing about with the camera settings to get this shot. I needed to use the aperture priority setting to get a small aperture for the depth of field I wanted to make this little fella stand out against the colourful but distracting background.

I was dreading someone coming in behind me and scaring the butterfly away but again being able to be there mid week paid off for me and the shot came out as planned.

I wandered on and took photos of various birds, reptiles and even the waterfall - the cooling spray from which helps balance the almost oppressive humidity in this part of the building. The reptiles are all behind glass of course so thankfully I was able to turn off the flash setting on the camera. I saw plenty of people without that ability and I'm sure they'll not be happy with their images when they see them or not.

As soon as I got to the main reptile section, horror of horrors......the camera battery warning icon came on so I knew I only had power for a few more photos before it went dead. What a dilemma !! What to take ?

I closed in on a particularly photogenic pair of lizards and apart from the lead one swivelling it's beady eye to watch me, both of them were as still as rocks.

The smaller one had actually given it's bigger colleague quite a nip on the neck just before I snapped this shot but as it was probably a female and the male seemed to have liked it, I have to assume it was a love nip.

Not that I'd know anything about such things.

Further down the row of glass tanks was an even better specimen and I kept my fingers crossed that the battery had one more photo left in it. Again it was docile enough and lay on it's branch inviting the shot. In fact it was only the odd twitch of it's leg that showed me it was alive at all.

It was as long and as thick as my forearm and I could imagine that given some prosthetics and some clever camera angles, it could easily have been an extra in some low budget prehistoric movie - with or without a scantily clad Raquel Welch.

Showing my age again.

And with that, the battery gave out and I decided to leave Tropical World and Roundhay Park.

By the time I'd walked slowly home, I'd been out for slightly more than 4 hours and on such a warm day, I was knackered. Once again I'd looked at places I knew so well with a different viewpoint and realised that the park I'd taken for granted for so many years was actually quite a wonderful place.

Thank you Ilbert.

Roundhay Park

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