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Explore London with a Cicerone guidebook - Sample Route

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

Sample Route

Rainham Marshes and Coldharbour Point
Start/finishPurfleet station (TQ 554 781)
Distance8 miles (13km)
MapsOS Explorer 162, Landranger 177
RefreshmentsRoyal Hotel, Purfleet; café at the RSPB centre
Public TransportTrains every 30 minutes off-peak
ParkingRainham Marshes RSPB centre, New Tank Hill Road, RM19 1SZ (TQ 547 787)

This is a walk around one of the best places in southern England to see its birdlife. The marshes east of Rainham were formerly used by the military, which kept other users away, and the recent refurbishment of the area by the RSPB is an object lesson in conservation. The walk starts with a circuit of the reserve, just inside Essex, before taking to the riverside, at London’s easternmost edge – industry hems in the path, but many species of gull, duck and wader rest and forage here.

The southern edge of the RSPB reserve

Turn right out of the station and walk along London Road to the Royal Hotel. Here turn left on a path for a few metres to the Thames, and turn right beside it, passing the Purfleet Heritage Museum housed in a former munitions magazine on your way to the RSPB centre. Here, get a ticket to enter Rainham Marshes Nature Reserve – it’s free for RSPB members and residents of Thurrock and Havering.

Despite its name, the RSPB reserve in fact occupies Aveley marsh. The reserve is open daily except for Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Check for opening times and entry charges.

Cross the bridge from the end of the café and go ahead at the map sign, soon passing the first and most simple of the hides, known as the Purfleet Scrape. Ignore two left turns at the cordite store – at the second (where there is a little tunnel) go half-right – and also ignore two right turns on a boardwalk. In a little while you will come to the Ken Barrett hide, a good place to observe birdlife on the adjacent ponds.

Beyond the hide, there is a lengthy boardwalk section through a reedbed, and then a path takes you to the very substantial Shooting Butts Hide. Continuing, there is a picnic area to your right, then more boardwalk leads you to a bridge. Here, it’s a simple matter to continue back to the RSPB centre, but for the full walk, leave the reserve through the turnstile (1), and turn right on the path signposted ‘Rainham Village’.

The resurrection of Rainham Marshes

Rainham, Wennington and Aveley marshes were used as a military firing range for virtually the entire 20th century, thus saving them from other development. In essence, they remained a medieval landscape, and indeed beneath their surface Bronze Age trackways, from a time when the regular flood and drain of the river gave a rhythm to everyday life, criss-cross the site.

To a bird looking for a resting place, or a source of food, even the 20th-century marshes would have looked much like any other wildlife-friendly river estuary. The end of military use gave the RSPB a great opportunity to acquire the eastern part of the marshes in 2000 and to set about restoring habitats such as pools and reedbeds. The bold new visitor centre opened in 2006.

Follow this until it comes to a gap in the fencing on your left, cross the road here, and continue ahead on a fenced path over the eastern tip of the landfill site. This is due for completion in the mid-2020s, after which it too will be actively managed for biodiversity.The path climbs a little to give good views over the marshes, down the Thames estuary, and across Kent, the North Downs in view, and Essex.

Cross the road again and turn right on the riverside path. At Coldharbour Point, where there is a navigation light, the river swings from west to north, bringing Shooter’s Hill and the Canary Wharf financial district into view. In about 1km you reach the cement barges – around a dozen of them, remnants of a fleet of 500 used in the D-Day landings; they too are a favourite place for birds to rest. The large building in front of you is the Tilda Rice factory.

The stretch from the cement barges to Purfleet station forms the last 3 miles of the London Loop. This 150-mile long-distance path, essentially the walker’s M25, starts just over the river at Erith Pier, barely a mile across the Thames – but 10 rewarding days or so for the keen walker.

Retrace your steps back past Coldharbour Point and keep on by the river until just before a gate to a small car park. Here turn right on a gravel path to access the sea wall, and stay on it for the views, perhaps venturing over towards the Thames-side saltmarshes. Once back at the RSPB centre, you can either go in, perhaps returning to one or two of the hides, or continue over the bridge over the Mardyke back to the station at Purfleet.

The RSPB visitor centre

Water pipit, Anthus spinoletta

Photo: Russ Sherriff

On a typical winter’s day, there might be 200 water pipits across England, and there’s a good chance that a score of them will be dotted about Rainham Marshes.

Unlike rock and meadow pipits, the water pipit is only ever a winter visitor to these shores, arriving from the mountains of central and southern Europe in the late autumn and staying to the spring. Rainham is one of its few overwintering sites in England with the remainder being elsewhere in the south and east. It favours marshy sites but can also be found on flooded fields and places such as sewage works.

The water pipit returns to mainland Europe to breed but it might be possible to see it in breeding plumage just before it does so; it then has a pinkish breast and grey head. Normally it is greyish-brown above and pale below with a pale stripe over its eye.

It is difficult to distinguish a water pipit from a rock pipit, and indeed the two were once thought to be the same species: look for the white outer tail feathers when in flight, which the rock pipit does not have. Rock pipits can be found at Rainham, but they prefer the rougher coasts of western and northern Britain.

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