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Explore London with a Cicerone guidebook - Introduction

Cover of Walking in London
26 Sep 2017
17.2 x 11.6 x 1.2cm
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Walking in London

Park, heath and waterside walks - 25 walks in London's green spaces

by Peter Aylmer
Book published by Cicerone Press

A guidebook to 25 walks in London's green spaces and nature reserves, covering both the city centre and Greater London area. Taking in woods and forests, parks and heaths, canals and rivers, the guide includes a wealth of information about some of the species you might encounter as well as the history and conservation of these areas.

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This guidebook presents 25 varied walks exploring London’s green and open spaces. Covering both the city centre and the Greater London area, it takes in royal parks, heaths, forests, canals and rivers, including Epping Forest, Hampstead Heath, the World Heritage site of Kew Gardens and Wimbledon Common. Walks range from 4 to 14 miles and most can be accessed by public transport.

Alongside detailed route descriptions and OS mapping, the book features practical information on parking, public transport and refreshments. Each walk showcases a particular species of wildlife that you might encounter, and there is fascinating background information the history and conservation of the capital’s wild spaces.

London is a city of 8 million people and 8 million trees, and its vast open spaces are home to 13,000 species of wildlife. This book is an ideal companion to exploring a greener, more gentle side to the city.

  • Activities
  • Seasons
    Winters are rarely too cold, nor summers too hot. The transitional seasons of spring and autumn bring first a blooming of life and second the transformation of leaf.
  • Centres
    All of these walks can be undertaken from a base within the Greater London area.
  • Difficulty
    All of these walks are within the range of most occasional walkers, though some routes can be linked together to give longer days for those who want them. Little specialist equipment is needed beyond comfortable footwear and clothing appropriate to the season.
  • Must See
    Woods and forests, parks and heaths, London's rivers - far more than just the Thames - and canals. Many of the walks pass by some of London's architectural jewels, while others delve so deep into countryside that it's difficult to think you are still in London.
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The geology of London
London’s open spaces
When to go
Safety in London
Getting around London
What to take
Using this guide
East to the Lea
Walk 1 Rainham Marshes and Coldharbour Point
Walk 2 Dagenham’s open spaces
Walk 3 Epping Forest from Chingford
Walk 4 Wanstead Flats and Park
Walk 5 Olympic Park and Greenway
Walk 6 River Lea
Lea to Brent
Walk 7 Enfield Chase
Walk 8 Regent’s Canal
Walk 9 New River and Parkland Walk
Walk 10 Royal Parks
Walk 11 Hampstead Heath
Walk 12 Dollis Valley Greenwalk
Brent to Wandle
Walk 13 Ruislip Woods
Walk 14 Yeading Brook
Walk 15 Crane Park
Walk 16 Bushy Park and Home Park
Walk 17 Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park
Walk 18 Kew and Isleworth
Walk 19 Wandle Trail
East of the Wandle
Walk 20 Happy Valley
Walk 21 Hills and woods of Croydon
Walk 22 Sydenham Hill Wood
Walk 23 Woodlands of south-east London
Walk 24 Chislehurst
Walk 25 Downe
Appendix A Long-distance paths in London
Appendix B Where to find out more


London is a city of eight million people, and eight million trees. Its people speak 300 languages, while in its skies the cries of 300 bird species may be heard. For every acre of land that bears a building, road or railway, another is open space – garden, park, woodland, farmland, or perhaps just a forgotten corner too marginal or hard of access to attract the developer’s shovel.

Heronry Pond, Wanstead Park (Walk 4)

Spring in Regent’s Park (Walk 10)

Although it is a world city, hub of finance and centre of culture, London is equally a city of open spaces in which 13,000 wildlife species have their niche. This might surprise both native Londoners and the teeming millions who visit for leisure or business: some is plain for all to see, as in the majestic Royal Parks that spread in a loop from Westminster through to Camden (Walk 10), but most is much less-known, except perhaps in its local community, such as Sydenham Hill Wood in the south (Walk 22) or Wanstead Flats in the east (Walk 4).

Take Wanstead Flats as an example. During 2016, the local wildlife group set itself the target of positively identifying 1000 species on its tiny patch, just under 1 mile square, across the year. They finished with a count of 1508, and that is in just 0.2% of London’s area.

It should therefore come as no surprise that there is a serious proposal to have London declared the world’s first National Park City. Not for an entity with planning powers, as say in the South Downs or Peak District national parks; instead, one that would celebrate London’s greenery and the opportunities it gives its people, both for recreation and business, and improve the richness, connectivity and biodiversity of London’s habitats.

The Capital Ring is a well-signposted London trail

This book asks you to invert your view of London – to see it not as a city for humans, but as a range of habitats for wildlife – and this is incontrovertibly best done on foot. A corollary of London’s greenness is that there are remarkable opportunities for the walker – one National Trail, six regional trails, and many more local ones, all taking advantage of over 600 miles of signed footpaths and countless extra miles of informal paths. You will from time to time encounter roads and houses – but on every one of these 25 walks, you will often wonder where all of these have gone.

That said, London is clearly a city that the hand of man has shaped in extreme ways, dating back now over two millennia. It would be foolish to say that even the off-the-beaten-track stretches, which you might visit with this book, are immune. Even the verdant open landscapes of the Lake District are highly artificial in their way, the result of centuries of tree-clearance for sheep pasture which, if mute economics were allowed to take its run, would soon become afforested again. Perhaps a better way of looking at things is to accept that no landscape of Britain – from the great hillscapes of the Scottish Highlands to the long level fields of Fenland – is free from human influence. The question is, where is the line drawn between influence and overt domination?

In the case of London, it is a question without easy answer, bound up in the approaches of Londoners and their authorities (regal and mercantile, state and municipal) to the needs of humans in the city. And that, in turn, depends in part on its geology, and the very particular circumstances of an invading force of Romans in the first century AD.

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