Every Londoner has their favourite natural space they like to escape to. So after exploring Shinrin Yoku and forest bathing, it made sense to list our favourite natural spaces in London. Having lived here for 10 years, we've definitely had time to explore it's parks, forests and interesting green spaces. We'd like to share our Mali top picks:
The Curve Garden is one of our favourite natural places. Housed around decaying Victorian buildings and covered by rustic wood structures the garden is place of zen and calm, literally only minutes from Dalston's busy crossroad. From the second you step into the garden the humble charm takes over; the different seating areas all set against the carefully maintained flora is stunning. It is the perfect place to spend a few hours reading a book or catching up with a friend with a drink from the coffee shop. Bringing children in is a must as the array of colourful plants, hand painted protest boards and interesting nooks will keep them busy for hours. It's clearly a popular place for mothers with many young children. During our last visit we were lucky enough to stumble onto a live 8 piece acoustic band, who know what you might find? Check the details here:
It's not uncommon for us to visit the Lea Valley three times a week; we run around it, go for walks and use it as a constant source of inspiration for our photography. Whatever the weather, there is always something new to see. The Lea Valley is huge; connecting the West Ham stadium (formerly the Olympic stadium) all the way to Edmonton and beyond. One can walk North for hours and still be surrounded by nature. Running alongside the lea valley is the Regents Canal, which is the perfect artery for travelling around the huge expanse. The Lea Valley has had a lot of money invested into it over the last two years. Now, every entrance clearly signposts the different paths and distances one can take and they are also building a huge sport facility between Clapton and Homerton on the Hackney playing fields. You can enter the Lea Valley from many spots; Stratford, Hackney Wick, Clapton station, Tottenham or if you want to see as much as possible, grab a bike and pootle up the path. If outdoor partying is your jam there are many free raves over the summer, just take a wonder at the weekend in the evening and follow the sound of fun.
We love the canal, just to get it out there! It is our first stop for connecting with nature and escaping London's busy-ness. We are lucky, as we can walk from our flat in five minutes. But once you've reached the canal you can walk for hours without the urban sprawl, pretty amazing in London! There are many communities that have grown on the banks of the canals. Long boats and occupants are a common site; the locals have BBQs together, prepare wood for their burners and often have extensive plants and vegetables growing on the roof of their boats. Runners, cyclists, families and ramblers are all common sights on the towpath, although its worth noting that some parts (near London fields) get incredibly busy during the weekend. Wild berries grow all along the Clapton strand of the canal and can be picked from late summer; blackberry and gooseberries are widespread. For the lovers of a long walk we can recommend starting in the East, on a lovely summers day, heading west via the canal passing Hackney Wick, Victoria Park and Angel, where you will need to leave the canal and re join just below Kings Cross, then pass Regents Park finishing at Little Venice. It's around 12 miles but on a beautiful day there isn't a better walk in London. The question is, would you have the beans to walk home after?
Hackney City Farm
This farm is special; located on the lips of Shoreditch and London fields, the farm contains an array of animals that visitors can feed, pet and generally admire. There is a keen team of volunteers and workers that maintain the farm and from the second one enters it's clear to see that a lot of love and care has gone into creating this amazing space. It's quite diverse from patches of vegetables growing in one plot to enormous pigs in pens in the next, chickens and geese are left to wonder the cobbled paths; you'd almost think you were in rural Somerset. There is a cafe to relax in after you've pet the animals and admired the crops. For the children of London this is a must visit and one of the few places children can connect with the natural world. The farm organises an array of community events, classes and projects for the public, in case you wanted to get really stuck in! Entrance is free and is open until 4.30pm daily, aside from Mondays.
Hyde / Green/ Regents parks and Primrose Hill
High up on any tourists list is paying a visit to some of London's impeccably kept Royal parks. Each has its own character. Hyde park is a sprawling beast and the largest to explore. One can wonder around the Serpentine lake, eat and drink in the many cafes and wonder from oxford street on one side across to Exhibition row at the other, not forgetting a cheeky slice of art in the Serpentine / Sackler Galleries on the way. Green park compounds Piccadilly circus with Buckingham palace; a smaller park with plenty of space for sitting. One could even rent a deck chair at the Northern end of the park, how very British! In contrast, Regents park is a large expanse triangulated between Baker street, Camden and Primrose hill. The park itself is gorgeous and displays some fine landscaped gardens to gaze over. But if a summers day strikes you must head North across Regents canal into Primrose hill. A joyous mound that allows panoramic views of the city and the perfect place to watch the sunset with a cool beverage. Find out about these and all the other royal parks here:
If you want to see a proper forest, with no cars in sight or be within hearing distance, Epping is the choice. located in East London, Epping can be visited from a number of tube and train stations; Chingford, Loughton Station and Debden Station. The forest is vast and ancient, the royals used to hunt here. It's easy to see why as its just a stones throw from central London but gives visitors all the pleasantries of country life. Expect to see dog walkers, ramblers, cross country runners and off road cyclists. We even did a spot of camping in Waltham Abbey, which is a 10 minutes walk from the forest. You can easily spend some time soaking up nature and then pop into a country pub, we often pop into the Queen Elizabeth hunting lodge near Chingford for a swift ale. There is plenty to do in Epping so get yourself on train and go explore.
The Heath has to be London's favourite park. Set in North London, the park can be visited from Gospel Oak, Hampstead Heath Station or a slightly longer walk from Highgate station. The area boasts many attractions. Firstly, you can easily wonder for an hour in this park, each turn has a change in the environment; busy woodland, open plains, lakes, paths, hills, there is so much to explore. I still don't think we've been to every corner of this place. Exploration is key but if you want specific places then check the Pergola, a stunning Edwardian structure built to promote architecture and landscaped spaces, used in its time for dinner and drinks parties. Well worth a visit. If you find yourself there in summer, remember to bring swimwear and a towel as the much famed Hampstead ponds can be swam in. They have single sex and mixed ponds that are actually perfect with the right weather. For those who search for ultimate views get up to the Parliament Hill viewing point.