Sandwiched between the sea and the South Downs conservation area, Brighton is a city with lots of wide open spaces around it. However, if you tire of the Regency architecture and funky shops, you can find respite and relaxation in green areas without having to leave the city.
The largest park in Brighton, Preston Park sits alongside London Road, the main route in to Brighton from the north. It is listed in English Heritage’s Register of Parks and Gardens of special historic interest. Within the park is a beautifully restored walled garden, a rose garden, and historic buildings including the grade II listed Clock Tower, the Rotunda and Tile House.
Locally, it’s best known for it’s use as a venue for festivals and fares. It’s the end point for the yearly Pride parade and hosts a mini-festival as part of the parade.
Day-to-day, visitors enjoy the cricket fields, football pitches tennis courts, cafe and can train on the 500m cycle velodrome, the only one of it’s kind in Sussex. Preston Park is also a venue for the local Health Walks initiative, encouraging people with communal walks to both help fitness and also discuss local historic features.
Also very large, but not on the scale of Preston Park, Hove Park is in the north west quarter of Brighton & Hove. It just touches the Old Shoreham Road, making it easy to get to by car. It has a great range of facilities, including two football pitches, a large playground, twelve tennis courts and a bowling green. If none of these tickle your fancy you can relax in the cafe while your children wear themselves out running around the large green, or circle the area on the miniature railway.
Just across the road from the park is The British Engineerium, a Victorian steam driven pumping station which now holds an amazing collection of steam driven machines. It is currently being restored and is open on special ‘steam days’ while the work is carried out. Perhaps the perfect place to pack grandparents and children off to whilst relaxing in the sun!
Between Hanover and the top of Kemp Town is Queen’s Park, covering a natural bowl between the two areas. It’s quite large and contains tennis courts, a bowls green and sensory garden in the northern end at the top of a steep slope. The park has tarmac paths that wind down the slope to help people with buggies or wheelchairs negotiate them more easily, and many benches to take a break on.
At the centre of the bowl is a duck pond and play area, fenced off from each other so there’s no chance of coming off the slide and running in to the water. The park has large areas of grass which are great for lounging or letting children run around on. They are sloped so ball games can be a little awkward, but they’re perfect for frisbee.
Of historic interest is the clock tower on the east side of the park, built in 1915 from money left by William Godleye. The story goes that he left the money as he was always pestered for the time when visiting the park.
St Ann’s Well Gardens
Between the Seven Dials area and Hove nestles St Ann’s Well Gardens, a hidden oasis with a children’s playground, tennis courts, a bowls lawn, and a secluded sensory garden.
It’s heavily wooded, with lots of shade and is home to many squirrels, giving delight to children and hyperactive dogs. In it’s heart is a pond well stocked with fish. Park rangers have added bird boxes and feeders to help the garden’s large bird population thrive within the city. Bats roost in the garden and can be seen at night when they hunt for food.
The scented sensory garden is large and self-contained on the west side of the gardens. It is a particularly fine garden which aims to give visually impaired visitors a chance to enjoy their experience without colliding with cyclists and skateboarders using the broad paths through the main areas.
The cafe is very good and popular, especially for those with small children as it has easy buggy access. The food and drinks are both good quality and reasonably priced, and since the the cafe was rebuilt a few years ago it has good views out across the toddlers play area and bowling green.
Several small green areas are dotted around Brighton, offering a relief in some of the more built up areas. Near the centre of the city is the Old Steine, which holds a statue of John Cordy Burrows, mayor of Brighton three times in the mid-19th Century. The status is grade II listed by English Heritage and is one of many historic pieces across the city.
A hundred yards away is the New Steine, off St. James’ Street. It is home to TAY, a memorial to people who have died from AIDS. This beautiful and haunting statue by local artist Romany Mark Bruce was put in place in 2009.
Brighton’s beach and interesting shopping areas mean it’s parks are often overlooked. If you’re visiting the city, especially if you’re bringing your family, they are well worth searching out for a relaxing afternoon of play and watching the kids run around.