• rotten row - london's hidden gem in plain view


    It can be said that often the most beautiful things can be hidden in plain sight, seemingly unseen, but easy to find.  London has many such gems, from forgotten statues overgrown in the corner of cemeteries to ornate ceilings that are missed as one simply fails to glance upwards.  However, for myself, one of my home city’s most beautiful hidden gems proudly stamps its presence yet is often unseen and is certainly misunderstood, it is the Route du Roi, or “Rotten Row” as it is now known.  


    This stretch of orange coloured earth stretches from Wellington Arch along the southern edge of Hyde Park. If you are lucky enough to witness the dawn sun rising from behind the ancient oaks it offers a glimpse of London as it may have looked in 1690 when the avenue was first completed.
    The gracious elegance of Rotten Row today belies its original purpose to create safe passage for King William III who after moving the Court to Kensington Palace needed to travel to the seat of government in Whitehall, crossing Hyde Park which was known as a sinister place for highwaymen, on horseback and foot, who frequently robbed the nobility.  William III ordered the route to be lit with 300 oil lamps to provide safe passage for carriages and riders alike thus making it the first artificially lit highway in Britain.
    During the eighteenth century, Rotten Row became a fashionable meeting place for the aristocracy who would parade in their finery, a tradition that lasted for another 150 years as the capital’s burgeoning middle class and the general public would flock on high days and holidays, lining the railings of Rotten Row to watch great parade of riders and carriages. It became a great meeting place for friends, families, food sellers, entertainers and, of course, pickpockets!
    Since 1795, the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment has been based in barracks just to the south and their tradition of exercising their mounts giving them an opportunity to canter as the sand of history plumes up asunder their stride, continues to this day.  Regardless of being a local or a tourist, the sight of Her Majesties Household Cavalry in full regalia remains a breath-taking sight.
    Still designated as a public bridleway, Rotten Row is quieter now than perhaps at any time in its 332-year history.  Riders are still seen daily but mostly the Row is empty. Next time you are in London, get up early and stand in the middle of Route du Roi and you will hear the thunder of horse’s hooves as the history of this most remarkable hidden gem whispers to you.
     Mark Peaker, 2022
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