Visiting London is always a treat. The buzz, the noise, the hustle and bustle. Everything you need is on tap. Food, drink, entertainment, shopping, accommodation. London has got it all. Sometimes though, it can all feel a little overwhelming. For those of us visiting from a more rural location, access to nature feels like a real breath of fresh air. It’s a chance to slow down, soak in the atmosphere and recharge before hitting the bright lights of the big city again. I’m sure for anyone living in London, it has the same effect. So, here are a few ideas of where to access nature in London.
The swimming ponds at Hampstead heath
The swimming ponds at Hampstead Heath are my absolute favourite part of London. There are three ponds, all lifeguarded and available for wild swimming. The ladies’ pond, the men’s pond and the mixed pond. The ponds are exactly what they sound like with unheated water and plenty of ducks. A swim costs £4 per adult or £2.40 for concessions. Being able to go wild swimming in London was a real game changer for me. Even if you don’t fancy braving the cold water, just walking on Hampstead Heath is a real nature hit. Stroll along the paths for a minute or two and it’s easy to forget you are in a city at all.
Morden Hall Park National Trust
You can always rely on National Trust to provide an idyllic countryside walk, even in the middle of a city. Morden Hall Park is a country estate set in London. It is a wildlife haven beside the river Wandle, a tributary of the Thames. Its renovated snuff mill has now become a learning centre and local crafters use workshops within former estate buildings. At the park’s heart is the stable yard with a cafe, book shop and exhibitions in the living green centre. Get away from it all as you stroll past the old mill, over bridges, beside the river, through rose gardens, nature reserves and meadows. Entry to the park is free for everyone.
Access to nature at the London Wetland Centre
With wide open spaces and nature at every turn, the WWT London Wetland Centre is a real natural gem. Stroll through gardens and wildflower meadows. See wildlife in lakes and ponds and don’t forget the camera. There’s even an adventure playground and wild walk for the kids. As well as birds including ducks and geese from around the world, visitors should look out for the adorable Asian short-clawed otters.
2500 acre Richmond Park boasts grassland, open spaces and herds of beautiful deer. It is one of the most important sites in the UK for ancient trees and hosts rare species including bats, birds, beetles, wildflowers, grasses and fungi. Explore the woodland gardens, enjoy a drink from the tea rooms and climb King Henry’s Mound for views across to St Paul’s Cathedral. If you’re feeling adventurous, you could try horse riding, power kiting or golf. Hire or bring a bike to cycle the Tasmin Trail. Find out all about this and other fantastic open spaces on the Royal Parks website.
Access nature at the London Natural History Museum Wildlife Garden
For a little oasis in the centre of London, head to the wildlife garden of the Natural History museum. Explore cute paths that run between a variety of plants teeming with wildlife. Relax beside a peaceful pond and see if you can spot the fish. The Natural History Museum website has details of what to look out for at the time of year when you visit. Grab a free pack with a mini beast guide and a game of leaf bingo. Or, just sit and enjoy the tranquility before getting back to the rat race.
Access to nature from London in Epping Forest
Epping Forest District is a 131 square mile area that borders London and can be reached by tube. Despite being right next to the city, Epping Forest is 94% green belt or farm land with a variety of natural environments to explore. Forests, lakes and grassy areas provide plenty of space to run around and let off steam. Four visitor centres serve the area with plenty of information about activities including cycling, walking, running, football, horse riding, golf, fishing and dog walking. Head to the City of London website to find out more.
Clapham Common is well known as an open space where lots of people enjoy picnics and impromptu games of football, especially during the summer months. The common has two small woodland areas containing around 2000 trees. It is also an important habitat for bats, birds and insects. Four ponds and one wetland area can be found on Clapham Common, complete with reed beds, fishing platforms and a variety of water birds and fish. There are lots of opportunities for sport including a skatepark, basketball and netball courts, an outdoor gym, bowling green, cricket nets, pingpong table and tennis courts. Last year, Tough Mudder headed to Clapham Common for one of their first urban events. I can highly recommend it.
Homely accommodation in London
Access to nature in London will make any stay in the city more relaxing. The same can be said for the accommodation you choose to stay in. If you are looking for somewhere to stay that is homely, spacious and convenient, have a look at SITU Serviced Apartments. They offer accommodation around the city that is very reasonably priced and promises to make you feel at home throughout your stay.