Secret squares

Craving fresh air? Embrace isolation in these secluded squares, says Sarah Riches


Everyone has a fond memory of Trafalgar Square. For me, it’s visiting the National Gallery on a school trip to London, and, years later, taking part in a frozen statue flashmob and singing carols in a choir beneath the Christmas tree.

Perhaps you’ve splashed in the fountains, snapped the Fourth Plinth or admired Nelson’s Column, a 52m monument which commemorates the eponymous admiral who died in battle in 1805.

Now London is fighting another battle – against Coronavirus – and visitors are urged to avoid busy areas such as Soho Square and Leicester Square.

But if you need to escape your hotel room, then you can still stretch your legs in one of the capital’s quieter squares at a safe distance – two metres or more – from other visitors.

Great for kids

Golden Square in Soho meanwhile has no lawn, but it wins points for its table tennis table – making it great for teenagers. Just make sure you use antibacterial hand gel before and afterwards.

Got younger kids? Then visit Merchant Square on the Grand Union Canal in Paddington. If it’s warm enough, children can play in a water maze or count ducks from a nearby park which floats on the water. The square is also close to Fan Bridge, which opens like a Japanese fan, and Rolling Bridge, which curls into an octagon (Wed & Fri noon; Sat 2pm).

Little ones will also enjoy running through the fountain in Granary Square behind King’s Cross, which has amphitheatre-style seating leading down to Regent’s Canal.

Ideal for solo travellers

Russell Square is a Grade II-listed square in Bloomsbury, which was once home to writers such as Virginia Woolf and E M Forster. With its large lawn, fountain and lime trees, it’s the perfect place to write your diary or read a book. The beautiful Kimpton Fitzroy London hotel, built in 1898, looms over the garden.

I’ve saved the best till last: St John’s Lodge Garden in Regent’s Park. While not strictly a square, it’s worth including as it’s often deserted, even on a summer’s day pre-Coronavirus. While the royal park’s rose garden and lake are popular spots, I had a birthday party here once and of my 20 or so guests – all long-time London residents – only a couple of them had been before or knew how to find it.

Even though it’s on the park map and off the Inner Circle road, it’s easily missed by passersby – look out for an ornate wrought iron gate next to allotments. The gate guides you under a pergola which opens into the garden. A grand private villa, built in 1818, overlooks the lawn, which is bordered with blooms. The space was designed in 1889 as a place for meditation, and it is indeed a relaxing spot – particularly around the fountain. You can also sit in secluded woodland and feel smug about finding a secret garden in central London.

Credit: Floating Pocket Park courtesy of European Land
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