You don’t need to leave the city to experience a bit of wildness. Here are six excellent London walks that take in plenty of nature, all within zones one to three.
Now the weather has become (almost!) reliably sunny, I’m itching to get outside and into the wild as often as possible. Time doesn’t always permit a weekend trip out of town though, so I wanted to share some of my favourite London walks for those of you looking for some outdoor inspiration.
1. Crystal Palace Park
The Victorians – what are they like! Crystal Palace Park is a curious insight into what it must have been like living in a time where things were truly being invented and discovered – now the internet is mainstream it’s like nothing phases humanity. This pleasure garden is inhabited by a collection of fibreglass dinosaurs, most of which aren’t quite the right shape or colour. The park itself is an expansive mix of landscaped gardens, plain grass and an athletic stadium. It’s also a good starting point for south-east London’s Green Chain Walk. The train station plops you right outside the park’s gates.
2. The Thames Barrier to Greenwich
I love the Thames Barrier – an ugly yet magnificent London icon. Most of us will have seen pictures of the barrier before, but it’s not until you’re up close and personal that you realise the sheer power of the river and the scale of this piece of infrastructure. I did this walk on Christmas eve, the first time I stayed in London over the holidays, so it has a little bit of extra magic meaning for me. In winter the walk is gloomy and eerie, and I’m keen to try it again this summer to see how the mood changes. From the barrier you can walk to Greenwich in around two hours. Watch out for development works that cut off access to some parts of the Thames Path.
3. New Cross Gate Cutting Nature Reserve (aka Brockley Nature Reserve)
I’ve written about this before here. This secret nature reserve open its gates to the public once a month, and it’s a treat to be able to explore the overgrown paths and wildflower meadows that snake their way between Telegraph Hill and the New Cross railway. The whole nature reserve can be explored in as little as 20 minutes, so perfect if you’re short on time.
4. Where Regent’s Canal meets the Lea River
When I lived in Hackney I spent a lot of time along these waterways – strolling along the Regent’s Canal from Angel to Hackney Wick, passing by Victoria Park, or going for wild runs along the Lea River up into the Walthamstow marshes and as far as Tottenham. Even though the surrounding are very industrial on either end of the walk – the gasometers near Broadway Market to the Tottenham’s ample warehouses – it’s also very tranquil. On a hot day, take a pit stop at Hackney Wick’s canalside bars, where the Regent’s Canal meets the Lea River.
5. The Parkland Walk
Hop on the train to Zone 3, alighting at Alexandra Palace station to walk along the remnants of a railway track that once connected Ally Pally to Finsbury Park. The walk takes in the old platforms of the now nonexistent Crouch End railways station. This is London’s longest nature reserve, spanning just about three miles from start to finish. Like all of the city’s nature walks there are metropolitan reminders scattered around – even when the concrete vistas are shrouded by trees there’s enough graffiti to let you know you’re still on urban territory.
6. One Tree Hill
For me, this one is a super brisk, I-don’t-have-time-to-be-walking walk. Just around the corner from where I live and a few minutes from Honor Oak Park overground station is One Tree Hill. You can climb to the summit of this steep(ish) south-east London peak in around 10 minutes. From the woody hilltop there is an excellent view of the Shard and Canary Wharf, reminding you of the hustle-bustle of the city nearby.
This is by no means an extensive list. For more inspiration, the Inner London Ramblers’ website is a good resource. Is there anything I missed? What are your favourite London walks?