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Falling in love again with Roundhay Park

May 8, 2020

The lake at Roundhay Park. Picture by India Stephenson.

Our lockdown daily walks are unlocking a whole new world on our doorstep. Sheena Hastings celebrates Roundhay Park, Leeds. Pictures by India Stephenson.

In the hurly-burly of our usual lives, it’s so easy to take for granted the ‘normal’, the everyday – the stuff you see but don’t see.

Suddenly, in these days of together-but-isolated, I’ve taken a close look at so much I’ve scanned but not really noticed for years. It was just the wallpaper of my life.

Take our beloved Roundhay Park in Leeds. Lucky enough to live in close walking distance of this 700 acres of suburban paradise, it was our courting ground, the place where our children ran free in the woods, paddled boats, played frisbee, lolled with ice creams.

Since those kids have left, we’ve largely forgotten the park, except for the odd stroll with Sunday afternoon visitors. It seemed too familiar, too close, pedestrian even – certainly not exciting.

Further and longer walks, (sometimes queueing in traffic through Dales villages to get to them) seemed preferable.

But now, when forced to stay close to home, we’ve fallen in love with our beloved park all over again.

Every morning brings something new. Roundhay Park. Picture by India Stephenson.

In the mist of early morning, or as the sun dies and reflects the magnificent woodland around Waterloo Lake, we breathe clean air, the swell of birdsong pure and unbroken by distant cars.

Our new favourite tree, a horse chestnut, is documented in daily photos of its spring awakening. We’ve watched, with breath held, the unfolding drama of nesting swans, a mysterious injury and hospitalisation of mum and impending hatching of eggs brooded by dad.

The new favourite tree. Roundhay Park. Picture by India Stephenson.

We’ve isolated ourselves from joggers and cyclists by climbing high into the woods, or dawdled off-track, skirting a carpet of bluebells and wild garlic.

Each day the children’s rainbows have proliferated on trees along one woodland path; we make friends with new puppies and dogs, leading their grateful owners down a dappled track.

Hill 60, a great vantage point for pop concerts or cricket matches in the natural bowl that was once destined to be a third lake, was named after a mound close to Ypres, the site of an epic World War One battle.

Swans’ nest at the upper lake, Roundhay Park. Picture by India Stephenson.

In those years, local battalions gathered on the park’s Soldiers’ Field and received their marching orders. Many never returned.

So many associations with liberty are part of our park. It is never closed, and now its openness and richness give incredible comfort and solace. The luxury of space and greenery, hills, water and wildlife, remind us that life and freedom to enjoy it are still extraordinary.

The lake at Roundhay Park in the evening. Picture by India Stephenson.

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