Royal Victoria Park: A jewel in Bath’s crown
PUBLISHED: 16:43 27 February 2017 | UPDATED: 16:43 27 February 2017
Royal Victoria Park is one of the city’s unmissable green spaces, says Rachael Sharpe
Park with pedigree
Originally an arboretum, Royal Victoria Park, which is just a few minutes walk from Bath city centre, spans 57 acres of green parkland, with the iconic Royal Crescent as its backdrop. As its name suggests, the park is named after Queen Victoria, who officially opened it as Princess Victoria, in 1830, when she was just 11 years old. It was the first park to carry her name and and includes an obelisk dedicated to her. Originally, the park was managed by a committee of Bath’s wealthy and financed by voluntary contributions, until it was taken over by Bath City Council in 1921.
Royal beginnings have been just that for the park beginnings – today it’s hugely popular with both Bath residents and visitors and for good reason as it’s beautiful, clean and has a plethora of attractions catering for all ages and tastes. Testament to this, Royal Victoria Park has received a Green Flag award, the national standard for parks and green spaces in England and Wales. Furthermore, it is Grade I registered by English Heritage on the National Register of Historic Parks and Gardens – quite the pedigree.
Royal Victoria Park is a great place for families. Children will be delighted (and hopefully worn out by) with the large adventure playground, where they can fly along the zip wire, become king or queen of the pyramid climbing frame and generally make good use of all the fun play equipment. When it’s time to calm down, why not use one of the picnic areas, have a barbecue in one of the designated spots (facilities for disposable barbecues and bespoke heat-proof bins for disposal), or just enjoy an ice cream? Feeding the ducks is always a big hit too.
Of course the park is the perfect place for a scenic and sweet-smelling walk, jog or run. If you fancy something different you can enjoy a game of tennis or challenge some friends to mini golf – the 18 holes are trickier than they look! Extreme sports fans flock to the skate park, which was refurbished in 2015 and includes concrete bowls sunk into the ground and one of of the only vert ramps in the country.
One of the year round highlights of the park is the Botanical Gardens, located in the north west corner. Formed in 1887 and occupying a huge 9.5 acres they offer a brilliant collection of plants on limestone.
A must-visit, and indeed an inspiration for many gardeners, the Botanical Gardens are so beautiful they’re a treat for anyone who appreciates nature. The scented walk is particularly relaxing and you’ll also discover many choice trees, shrubs, a fine herbaceous border, a rock garden and pool and a collection of old shrub roses.
The gardens also boast a beautiful replica of a Roman Temple, which was in fact the city of Bath’s exhibit at the British Empire Exhibition held at Wembley in 1924.
The Botanical Gardens were extended in 1987, to mark the centenary, incorporating the Great Dell, a disused stone quarry and formerly part of the park itself, which already boasted a covetable collection of conifers, including large North American conifers which had been planted in the 1840s.
These days the Great Dell is a wonderful sunken woodland garden, which boasts a plethora of beautiful and fascinating plants. Be sure not to miss the aerial walkway in the Great Dell, which is situated at the northern end of the park next to the Botanic Gardens. Recently restored by Bath and North East Somerset Council, the original route around the Dell has been resumed, providing a series of truly breathtaking viewpoints, amongst the exciting collection of unusual and specimen trees – great vantage points for any budding photographers.
Walking into the Botanical Gardens you can’t fail to be impressed with the 7m high chainsaw sculpture by local artist, Lee Dickinson – a true work of art. This sculpture was done in 2001 after the park lost its Giant Redwood brought over to the UK in the 1850s to Honey Fungus and decided a sculpture would be a fitting celebration of its life and place within the park.
Temple of Minerva
The Temple of Minerva, situated within the Botanical Gardens, was originally designed to promote Bath stone at the 1924 British Empire Exhibition in London and is a truly stunning piece of architecture. The listed building sadly fell into disrepair and was subject to anti-social behaviour, before benefitting from the eight-year restoration project in the park which also saw the reintroduction of perimeter railings and entrance gates, repairs need to the bandstand and general landscape improvements. The temple now back to its former glory, was given a new lease of life as an education centre for groups of up to 40 people, showing educational videos, hosting exhibitions and also providing information for visitors.
The Interpretation Centre has a 15-minute video explaining the Heritage Lottery Fund restoration of Royal Victoria Park along with other information and occasional exhibitions – well worth a watch if you visit. The Temple of Minerva is now also used for weddings, civil ceremonies and receptions and what a picture perfect venue it is!
When the weather is warm, Royal Victoria Park is the prefect place to relax, enjoy the sunshine and picnic or barbecue or just read a book in beautiful surroundings. Visit in the mornings or evenings and you might see the hot air balloons taking off before they fly over the city.
If you visit Bath in the colder months, the park is still well worth a visit – the autumnal landscape is a riot of colour sure to lift the spirits and the open-air ice rink (November/December) is really quite magical.
Visit bathnes.gov.uk to access the park’s calendar and plan your visit.