Note from the author:
This story was originally written for a travel magazine as a short story. However, I think they saw right through me and knew it was autobiographical. Not all of it is exact to the way things happened (and I changed our names), but the part about us climbing over the fence in Regent’s Park is totally true! Enjoy and remember to push yourself to try new things and step outside your comfort zone!
The Magic of Primrose Hill
I contemplated the distance between the red circle and the top of Primrose Hill. My husband checked his watch. This seemed like a good idea when we left Baker Street. We’d just walk over to Regent’s Park, do Primrose Hill, and be back in no time. But now the line between here and there on the map looked farther than I felt like going.
“What do you think?” I asked my husband. My daughters would be no help. At 22 and 19, they hadn’t even broken a sweat.
He squinted at the wooden sign. “What time does the park close?”
I checked the fine print. “10:00 PM.”
“Okay, I guess we’ll do it.” He waved us onward.
I’d rolled my eyes six months ago, when Eric had suggested we train for our European adventure. What’s a little bit of walking? But now, on our fourth day of exploring, I understood.
The view from Primrose Hill had better be good. It made our list because some YouTuber in a random video said it would be magical. “Walk up the hill at sunset, don’t look back, and when you’re at the top, turn around. It will be fantastic.”
My feet hurt. It had better be fantastic.
Our walking picked up the closer we got, and the talking became limited to our youngest, Penny, shouting the time. A group of English boys passed us. They mimicked Penny’s American accent and flirted. She giggled, but stayed on target.
We were on a quest—an adventure, and what’s an adventure if it doesn’t cost you something? Not talking to cute boys, sore feet, and long days are tiny prices to pay for something amazing.
There it was. 213 more feet.
“Remember, don’t look back.” I piped up. I didn’t need to though. Silence settled among us—all eyes looking ahead.
About thirty people in small groups dotted the hill. It looked like a secret gathering of Millennials.
Penny reached the top and got the first glimpse of incredible. Her eyes lit up, and some sort of mysterious energy rippled across her face breaking out in a smile and triumph.
As I turned, I felt it too—that feeling you get when you achieve something—when you experience something you know you can’t pay for and that is rare and big and yours. It was magical. Random YouTube guy was right.
Evening dipped into night, and the skyline of central London shimmered to life. It was the kind of experience you whisper in because it just doesn’t seem right to speak at normal voice.
Millennials came and went, and we took pictures and looked like tourists and didn’t care. For a few moments, we happened upon the spiritual sunset. We walked in the footprints of William Blake and honored the hill.
The deepening night brought us back to reality, though, and we needed to reach the exit before 10:00 PM. Strangely enough, the walk back to the entry gate took far less time than the journey inward. I suppose that’s how it always goes.
As we neared the exit, a couple in their twenties came bounding over the fence and landed on the path in front of us. They didn’t make eye contact, and our appreciation of their sneaky dexterity evaporated with the comprehension of the reason for it.
“It’s closed.” Madeline lifted the lock on the gate and let it clank back into place. “We’re locked in.”
“That can’t be right.” I checked the sign. “Look it says the park closes at 10 PM.”
Eric leaned in. “Yes, that’s right. It does close at 10 PM … in July. It closes at 9:30 PM starting August 1.”
Have you ever noticed how keeping track of the days while you’re on vacation is a really difficult thing to do?
“What are we going to do?” The fence reached above my head and had those spikey things at the top. “I’m not jumping that thing.”
“We could walk back to Primrose Hill,” Penny suggested.
Madeline leaned against the deceptive wooden map. “We could climb the fence.”
Climbing a precarious fence to escape a locked park in the middle of a foreign city far from home had not been part of a single YouTube video or travel book I’d studied. What if we got arrested? Skewered?
I cleared my throat. “I don’t think so.”
Eric finally made the call. “I don’t think we have a choice.”
I wanted to protest, but Penny had already stuck a foot in between the metal bars and hoisted her tiny frame up. The space between the top most slat and the tip of the spike didn’t seem nearly far enough, but she made it and bounded down to freedom.
“Nothing to it.” She grinned.
Madeline went next—being in your twenties has so many advantages.
I took things much slower.
Not as slow as Eric. He made it to the top and paused. I prayed. Penny cheered. And Madeline snapped photo after photo. With careful precision, he eased down bringing our Primrose Hill magic outside the park.
I had considered not coming on this trip. The expense, the fear of flying, the contentment to stay home and read a book. Even after we arrived, I thought about staying in the flat, letting the others go out, and not pushing myself. But I kept thinking I might miss something—a moment in time that can’t be replicated. A singular event woven together to include just the right people at just the right time in just the right place. And I was right.
It couldn’t have been planned. YouTube videos and travel books don’t cover stuff like that. Something magical met us at the top of that hill. And it stood there with us as we faced the fence of Regent’s Park. It bolstered us and took us inward, and we came out better, stronger. Risk-taking, traveling adventurers.