Kensington Circular Walk (8¾ miles)

This walk starts and finishes at High Street Kensington Underground Station, which is on the District and Circle Lines.

It is an easy walk, with some moderate hills, on well-surfaced paths throughout. Although a long walk, it could easily be done in two or three stages as there is copious public transport at hand throughout, including several tube lines. The total length is 8.86 miles / 14.26 kilometres.

The walk explores Holland Park, which has a mixture of formal and wooded terrains, before cutting through the back streets of Kensington and exploring the more-manicured Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. It makes much use of the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Walk, as this route effectively links the main features of both these parks, before returning to High Street Kensington station via an impressive diplomatic enclave.

 


 

1. From High Street Kensington Station go forward through the shopping arcade, then turn left along Kensington High Street. Continue through the main shopping area for 450 metres, using any of the pedestrian crossings to reach the right-hand pavement. Opposite Earls Court Road, turn right into Holland Walk. In 25 metres, turn left through railings into Holland Park and maintain the same direction. The modern building on the left was originally the Commonwealth Institute, but now houses the relocated Design Museum.

2. Continue past the sports field on the left, turning left on the cross-path at its end. On the right now, above the terrace, is Holland House, formerly known as Cope Castle, and built in 1605 for a courtier of James I. Severely damaged in the Second World War, only the eastern wing has been restored. The house’s forecourt is used to stage operas in the summer months.

3. Pass in front of an arcade hiding a café on the right, then veer left past a courtyard housing the Park Office, soon turning right between a children’s play area and toilets. When level with the end of the play area, turn right along a brick-paved path to pass through arcade arches, with the Orangery Gallery on the left and a pond with a fountain on the right. Continue forward up shallow steps, offset slightly to the right, to enter the Dutch Garden with flower beds enclosed by box hedges. Turn right towards the buildings of Holland House, leaving the garden through a wall gap on the far left.

4. Quickly turn left then, just before steps in 25 metres, fork right beside the Yucca Lawn. Note the statue of the walking man to the left. Continue forward between fences and enter the beautiful Japanese-style Kyoto Garden. Enjoy a stroll around the garden, with its waterfall, giant carp and peacocks, before leaving through the same entrance.

Kyoto Garden 
Kyoto Garden
 

5. Resume your previous direction, taking the path to the right following the wall of the Kyoto Garden. On reaching the cross-path at the top of the rise, turn left down Lime Tree Avenue, turning right on the crossing-path just before its end. Walk to the end of the path to see the giant sundial, mounted on a bronze tortoise, just before the North Abbotsbury entrance.

6. Now retrace your steps for a few paces, this time taking the first path left uphill along the newly-planted Chestnut Walk. Pause near the top of the hill to view the Wildlife Enclosure on the left. Just past here, take the second of two paths on the right to reach the statue of Lord Holland, after whom the park is named. He does rather look as if he is trying to work out how to get down! Holland faces the Acer Walk, which now take to reach the North Lawn.

7. Turn left on reaching the back of Holland House. Turn left again at the T-junction, continuing for 100 metres to leave the park through a gate on the right and rejoin Holland Walk again. Immediately turn left, following the edge of the park, eventually going downhill to reach Holland Park Avenue, where turn right.

8. In 20 metres take the next right, Aubrey Road, uphill, turning left into Campden Hill Square towards the top. Siegfried Sassoon, writer and war poet, lived at No 23. Keep forward above the square, turning right into Hillsleigh Road at the junction, then left into Aubrey Walk. Pass St George’s Church, built 1864, cross over Campden Hill Road and go down Kensington Place. Note the “Ancient Lights” sign on some of the houses on the left. This invokes an ancient right, dating back to the 13th century, that prohibits the blocking of light to the property involved.

Drop-out point: Turning left down Kensington Church Street will take you to Notting Hill Gate tube (Central, District and Circle Lines) and buses connecting Marble Arch and Shepherd’s Bush if you want to break off.

9. Use the pedestrian crossing to safely cross Kensington Church Street, turn left, then take the next right, Kensington Mall. This bends left into Palace Gardens Terrace. On reaching Notting Hill Gate, turn right and continue along the start of Bayswater Road. Cross over the gated Kensington Palace Gardens — we return to this point later — and after another 150 metres, enter Kensington Gardens by the Orme Square Gate on the right.

10. In 25 metres past the lodges, fork left along the curving path, passing the Diana Memorial Playground, opened in 2000, and “Time Flies”, a tall shelter with a clock on the left. The Elfin Oak, swarming with elfin figures, is by the playground entrance, and the Broadwalk Café is just to the left of “Time Flies”.

The 111 hectares of Kensington Gardens were formed out of Hyde Park by William and Mary, who found the quiet location and clean air conducive to the location of their London home. The gardens were successively extended by Queen Mary, Queen Anne and Queen Caroline, the wife of George II. Queen Anne added the Orangery, but it was Queen Caroline who, in 1727, was responsible for employing the landscape gardener, Bridgeman, who designed formal avenues and vistas of trees and created the Round Pond. The gardens were eventually open on Saturdays to those who were “respectably dressed” and it became the place to be seen.

11. Continue on the twisting path straight across the Broad Walk (not directly towards the Round Pond). The first of the distinctive Memorial Walk markers, of which we will see many, points the way. Continue on this path, swinging left when another path comes in. Follow the curve and ignore side paths, to get progressively nearer the Round Pond, which has all along been visible over to the right. When a narrow cross-path comes in from the pond at its nearest point, turn left along it — a Memorial Walk marker inscribed "The Great Bow" is here — and follow an avenue of trees to arrive at a complex path junction close to the Physical Energy Statue.

The Physical Energy Statue was sculpted by G F Watts, RA, and erected here in 1908. It is based on the Rhodes Memorial in Cape Town. Watts’s model for the statue still exists within the Watts Gallery in Compton, Surrey.

12. Cross the junction to take the narrow path towards the Long Water, clearly visible at the bottom of the slope. Just before reaching the water, fork left and continue on a path between railings, soon arriving at the statue of Peter Pan. Peter Pan's creator, the author J M Barrie had photographed the six-year-old son of a family friend, then commissioned Sir George Frampton RA to base the statue on this. It was erected without notice or ceremony in 1912 and several copies appear in other countries.

Peter Pan 
Peter Pan
 

13. Continue on until the Italian Water Gardens are reached, and turn right just behind these. Toilets are adjacent just by the park gates and Lancaster Gate tube station is nearby. Turn right again by Queen Anne’s Alcove, a classical shelter of 1706, to walk down the other side of the gardens. These were laid out in 1861 to provide filter beds for the Serpentine.

14. The path, known as Peacock Walk, rises and descends, the nearby Long Water hidden most of the time by foliage, eventually comes to a clear view across the water. Newly erected here is "The Arch", a Henry Moore sculpture framing a distant view of Kensington Palace. Continue for a few metres more, then fork left up a rise to leave the park by the Magazine Gate.

15. Turn left for 180 metres around the bend of the road, passing The Magazine on the left. A former gunpowder store, this now serves as the Serpentine Sackler Gallery (not to be confused with the Serpentine Gallery which this walk later passes). Just before the crossing, the remains of the Middle Bastion can be seen on the left - part of the construction to keep the public out of Kensington Gardens, which were once a royal preserve. Carefully cross over the road by the signed raised pedestrian crossing to reach the edge of Hyde Park. Go over the sanded horse-ride, then turn left for 50 metres to take the next path right to go a short distance to gates.

You are now in the 142-hectare Hyde Park, originally appropriated for hunting by Henry VIII in 1536. It took a hundred years for the general public to be admitted by permission of Charles I in 1637. In 1665, it became a place of refuge for London’s citizens desperate to escape the Great Plague. In 1727, Queen Caroline commissioned Bridgeman to create the Serpentine and its extension, the Long Water, from the Westbourne Stream, which had earlier been used by Henry VIII to provide drinking water for his deer. Gradually more public use was made of the park. Boating, swimming and even fishing are possible on the Serpentine, and the park was the site of the Great Exhibition in the original Crystal Palace in 1851. The north-east of the park (not covered in this walk) contains Speaker's Corner, and Tyburn, a place of public execution close to Marble Arch just outside the park, was used as such until 1783.

16. Turn right at the gates and follow the railings round to pass a memorial to W H Hudson, the naturalist. Where the railings bend, just after another gate, take the right fork to drop down to a roadway. Go forward now up the rise then, just past the Park Police Station, continue on, in more-or-less the same direction, on the middle one of three forward paths. The next feature reached is the imaginative memorial to the Reformers Tree, depicted in black and white cobbles, while an inscription around its base gives its history.

17. Now take the second path on the right from this multi-pathed junction - an inset marked “Knightsbridge” confirms the route, as does the Memorial Walk marker. Pass toilets to the right after 100 metres, and then immediately turn left towards Park Lane, made obvious by the traffic it carries. Go forward until the fine avenue of plane trees is reached. The fountain just ahead is known as “The Four Winds”. Swing right to enjoy this shady avenue all the way to the path’s end.

18. On coming out into the open again, pause to admire the colossal Achilles statue over to the left. Standing 11 metres tall, it commemorates the victories of the Duke of Wellington and his armies, and was cast from the metal of captured French cannon. It was the first public nude statue in England. A few paces further down the path, Wellington’s London home, Apsley House, comes into view, just to the left of Decimus Burton’s Screen of 1826-9.

Achilles Statue 
Achilles Statue
 

Drop-out point: Following the Memorial Walk out of the park will take you in proximity to Hyde Park Corner tube (Piccadilly Line) and buses connecting with Kensington High Street and Victoria should you want to break off.

Apsley House now contains the Wellington Museum, and was originally designed by Robert Adam in 1771-8 for Baron Apsley. The Wellesley family acquired it in 1807 and made substantial alterations, including encasing the building in stone. The family still live in part of the house. The public rooms contain resplendent gifts to Wellington by various grateful European rulers after he defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. The museum is an English Heritage property as is the Wellington Arch (admission charges apply).

19. We now briefly leave the Memorial Walk, as this departs for a circuit of Green and St James’s Parks before returning here. Go forward to cross the drive (Serpentine Road), and continue along the combined cycle-track and footpath, veering right to approach the sand of Rotten Row. In another 20 metres, fork right into the Rose Garden to find that you have again joined the Memorial Walk.

Rotten Row is now a horse ride, but was originally created by William and Mary in 1690 as a safe route between Kensington and Westminster. It was the first road in England to be lit at night. The name is said to be a corruption of Route de Roi – the King’s Road.

20. Go forward past the Boy on a Dolphin fountain (1862) and continue on through colourful gardens. Pass through low railings and continue until a low hill appears. Turn right in front of this, then left in 25 metres by the Serpentine Bar and Kitchen (toilets here). Westminster Abbey, the former owners of the land, were supplied with water from a conduit near here. Carry on along the head of the Serpentine, then turn right alongside it.

21. The path briefly rises away from the lake after 400 metres, before dropping back down at the Lido Restaurant (more toilets here). Just past here can be found the Diana Memorial Fountain, an unusual circular design which contrives to have water flowing in different directions. Explore at will before returning through the same gate.

22. Fork left now up the rise by the Isis Sculpture, then cross the busy road at the top with care, and re-enter Kensington Gardens. Almost immediately turn left, keeping parallel to the road. Go past the Serpentine Gallery via double gates. At a multi-path junction, take the second path with information boards, soon turning left on a curving path to walk towards the Albert Memorial.

Albert Memorial 
Albert Memorial
 

The Albert Memorial is a superb monument to High Victorian Art. It commemorates Prince Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria, and was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1863. Standing 53 metres tall and containing more than 175 figures, it is a spiky foil to the rotund Royal Albert Hall (opened in 1871) across Kensington Gore opposite.

23. When level with the Memorial, ignore the forward Memorial Walk marker. Instead, turning your back on Albert, walk up Lancaster Walk between railings for 20 metres, then turn left through gates into the gardens. Continue all the way along this straight path, passing through a second gate and over a cross-path en route. Where this comes out at Palace Gate, cross the Broad Walk and take the gravel path curving away from the road. At the third cross-path, turn right up the Oak Walk to head for the gilded gates of Kensington Palace ahead. These gates will forever be associated with the immense sea of flowers laid here after Diana’s tragic death in 1997.

Kensington Palace was established around 1605, although none of this building can now be seen. It was originally known as Nottingham House. Gradually extensions and alterations were made, and the building as now constituted was mainly formed around 1689-95 during the reign of William and Mary. Queen Victoria was born here and lived here until her coronation in 1837. The State Apartments and dresses owned by Diana, Princess of Wales are now on show. (Admission charge applies).

Kensington Palace 
Kensington Palace
 

24. Turn right to follow the railings, then take the next left to follow the Broad Walk skirting the palace grounds; the Round Pond is over to your right. The palace entrance is by the statue of Queen Victoria. Even if not visiting the palace, it is worth taking in the attractive Sunken Garden. Take the next path on the left, then left again to walk around three sides of the garden, then continue forward to the Orangery, built in 1704, and now a restaurant. On reaching this, turn right through the gates, then left onto the Broad Walk again.

25. Continue along the Broad Walk until the multi-pathed junction approaching the Diana Memorial Playground, then turn left on the curving path (where you here earlier) back towards the Elfin Oak. Retrace your former steps and exit the park forward through the Orme Square Gate again. Turn left along Bayswater Road, passing the carpark and the Russian Consulate, then turn left into the gated Kensington Palace Gardens.

Kensington Palace Gardens is essentially a private road under the control of the Crown Estate. Pedestrians are permitted to walk along it, however. On rare occasions it may be closed for security reasons. If this is the case, your route can be continued by retracing your earlier steps back to Kensington Church Street (Point 9), turning left and walking its length down to St Mary Abbots Church (Point 27). Please note that photography is not permitted in Kensington Palace Gardens. This delectable road, with its detached mansions and fine trees, was mainly formed from the kitchen garden of Kensington Palace; the houses were built predominantly in an Italianate style from 1844 to circa 1865; many are now foreign embassies.

26. The road dips gently past the back of Kensington Palace. Towards the end of the road, just past the Romanian Embassy, turn right along the footpath for 100 metres to reach Kensington Church Street, where turn left. Follow the street down to the junction with Kensington High Street, with St Mary Abbots Church on the corner.

St Mary Abbots Church has the unusual feature of a covered passageway connecting the church entrance with the street. This was added in 1889. The church itself was rebuilt by Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1869-72. It is usually open. Somewhat dark inside, it has cathedral-like proportions, and it is claimed to contain over 200 monuments. The appendage “Abbots” reflects its medieval ownership by Abingdon Abbey.

27. There is now a choice of two routes. The better one is to take the covered passageway up to the church then, just by the church entrance, go through doors which give access to the shady oasis of the churchyard. Continue forward via Kensington Church Walk to emerge into the High Street almost opposite High Street Kensington Underground Station. The other option is to just turn right at the road junction and walk past the former Barker’s store to reach the station.

 


 

© Mike Biggs, Ramblers (Inner London Area), 2017.

If you have any comments about this walk, or notice that it needs updating to take account of changes on the route, then please contact Mike at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.