I normally only blog about books/writing here, but I wanted to share my second big love today – nature and the outdoors. I’m no Katniss, and I probably wouldn’t survive a night out in the wild alone, but moving to a big smoggy city like London has made me realise how much I crave being around trees or general leafiness.
Luckily, London actually has an amazing range of green spaces within a commutable distance. I’ve been trying to discover as many ‘green’ day-trips as I can. These are my favourite places for woodland walks and field frolics so far (travel distance is from where I live in inner-east London, via public transport).
Hampstead Heath – 40 mins
Hampstead has a wonderful literary history, which originally attracted me to it, but its heath and woods and fields are prime terrain for ‘wandering aimlessly’. I went for a long ramble the other day and found Kenwood House, an old country manor with a history stretching back to the early 17th century. The whole area is perfect for jogging, dog-walking and just sitting back with a book, too. And John Keats’s house is just nearby if you fancy a visit…
Richmond Park – 1.5 hours
Two words – wild deer. You do kind of feel like you’ve stepped into another world at Richmond Park when you spot your first lot of deer – both Red and Fallow kinds wander the space freely. My first sighting was of towering antlers poking out from the grass under the shade of tree. These guys were very handsome. Even at the height of summer, it’s easy to find a secluded spot amongst trees to picnic and feel like you’re lost in the woods, when really, the quaint Thames-side town of Richmond is just a walk away.
Epping Forest – 1 hour
Epping Forest is an area of ancient woodland between London and Essex. I’ve gotten lost in here a few times before, once stumbling upon Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge from Tudor times. The forest covers around 2,500 hectares, so you can definitely spend all day walking, cycling or riding along the wooded paths. It’s no wonder the forest was once called ‘the lungs of London’.
Highgate Wood and Queen’s Wood – 45 mins
We visited these woods on the day before Halloween and they were aptly spooky. It was very misty that morning and the shaded pathways were cloaked in silver fog, conjuring images of witchy gatherings and ancient rituals. These oak-hornbeam woodlands are said to be a part of the original wildwood that covered most of Britain about five thousand years ago.
The Chiltern Hills – 1.5 hours
We explored this lovely area last weekend. I’d read that the Ivinghoe Beacon was an easy hike close to London, and there are a few different trails of varying levels you can take to reach the beacon. We did the Ridgeway Trail, which took us through vast green fields and butterfly reserves, past friendly sheep, horses and Belted Galloway cattle, over tall hills and through stunning orange forests. When we reached the top of the beacon, I marvelled at the beautiful English countryside around us. Apparently these trails have been used by merchants and soldiers for centuries, and it’s easier to feel transported to different times when you’re on the peak of a mountain or beacon.
I’m excited to explore more of the lush green world around London. I just discovered the Capital Ring walking trails, which look like an awesome way of seeing a bit of everything without going too far out.
If you have any of your own recommendations, feel free to comment!
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”
― Rachel Carson, Silent Spring