The monsters that lurk in Crystal Palace Park in South London.
There’s something really special about Crystal Palace Park that makes it a mash-up of the National Trust Heritage Site and urban sports park, with the old Olympic Stadium, surrounded by the iconic television mast and crumbling foundations of the old palace. But it is the Grade I listed dinosaur sculptures that make it a special corner of London.
The dinosaurs were designed and built in 1852 by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins and Richard Owen, and despite some anatomical inaccuracies were still an impressive attempt at capturing what the animals would have looked like. This was the Victorian equivalent of a theme park and so the dinosaurs can be found within their own enclosure, lurking in the lake and prowling under trees. If you follow the route around the park (you can now get a handy audiobook to walk round with), among the various dinosaurs enclosures, you get the progression of each historical age. It’s like a zoo, but where none of the animals can escape.
The best view is at the top of the hill where you can overlook the impressive Ichthyosaurus sculptures in the lake, with the telephone masts and old palace behind you, the rickety train line running across to the right and the Olympic sports track over the hill. It’s a perfect mix of the old and the new, which sums up this vibrant patch of South London.
My favourite dinosaur is undoubtedly the sloth-like Megatherium, which has been in an eternal struggle with the same tree since the 19th century. As the tree grew, it broke the arm off the sculpture. However, the Megatherium was eventually repaired and wreaked its revenge on the tree, suffocating the 19th century tree into the stump you can see today.