Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Sunday 22 February 2009

A quiet spot

That's something I could have done with this week - suddenly it's Friday and I still haven't written up what I meant to last weekend.

Saturday was such a bright day, with some real warmth in the sun - just the weather to go and check out some of the City gardens.

With so many commercial buildings squeezed into a mediaeval street pattern, and private interests successfully resisting any grand plans that might have inserted continental-style squares and piazzas into the City, even (or especially?) after the Great Fire, greenery and open space here - unlike in the West End and later expansions of London - depends on the old churchyards, which provide somewhere for office-workers to get a bit of something like air in their lunch-hours. At the weekends, they are practically deserted.

Thanks to a more recent unpleasantness, there are gardens, not just in the churchyards, but in the remains of some of the churches built after the Great Fire.

One of the most visible - since it's on a corner passed by several bus routes and all the other traffic towards St Paul's - Christchurch Greyfriars, of which just a shell was left after the Blitz. Now its walls surround a formal rose garden, rather bleak at this time of year, but impressive in season.

Turn the corner and walk up towards the former General Post Office, and you would come to one of the better known City gardens, Postmans' Park, which combines the former churchyards of Christchurch Greyfriars and St Botolph Aldersgate.

Shaded by all the surrounding buildings (and frankly rather dull as a garden at this time of year), it's most famous for the wall of ceramic plaques created to mark acts of heroic self-sacrifice. Here you can see plaques commemorating the pantomime artiste who in 1863 tried to save a fellow-performer from fire, despite wearing an inflammable costume herself, the policeman who rushed into a bombed building in 1917, as well as this rather more revelatory than intended description of a drowning.

One of the most atmospheric is St Dunstans, tucked away in a hilly side-street not far from the Tower.

The remains of the walls, surrounded by the uninspiring glass and steel of modern office blocks, enclose lawns, shrubs, palms, even substantial trees, and last Saturday, hellebores open and plenty of bulbs showing real signs of life. It's a beautifully peaceful place. Don't tell anyone about it, though.

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