In 2019 London is working towards becoming a National Park City – a formal recognition of our vast network of green spaces and green built environments in the capital. It might not seem like it when you’re head down doing HIIT or ordering rounds at The Ned after a hard day’s work, but London is an exceptionally green city.
Dotted all around us are parks and green spaces offering a break from the grind. Hyde Park is of course the largest, while Hampstead Heath is often referred to as the lungs of London. Scraps of ancient forest cling to the edges – there are ancient woods at Beckenham Place Park and Sydenham woods includes parts of the old Great North Wood.
But London is not alone in offering city slickers a touch of the countryside. Here are some of the best green spaces within striking distance of the concrete jungle in the capital and our regional centres.
In the east, Walthamstow Wetlands is the biggest urban wetlands in Europe and really feels like a slice of countryside near the city. Down on the Thames at Chelsea, the Chelsea Physic Garden founded in 1673 provides respite from the busyness of the King’s Road and Embankment traffic. Soak up the greenery and perhaps sign up to one of their courses in medicinal plants, floral art or iPhone photography.
Why is this city full of people who have packed up their London careers and successfully relocated for bigger, cheaper houses and more access to green space? Because the dream is real down in the west. In Bath and Bristol, it’s quite common to hear obviously lovely and well-rounded former (and not at all smug) Londoners walking along delightful green paths to work. Leigh Woods offers a tranquil setting to the backdrop of Brunel's famous suspension bridge.
The steel town is an unsung green city, and the locals seem to want to keep it that way. However, an episode of Grand Designs featuring a build at Oughtibridge brought it to our attention and now we can’t help but be jealous. From the centre to the rolling green of the Peak District takes a mere 10-20 minutes in the car. Drive out to Stanage Edge or Low Bradfield for real countryside, fresh air, heather and green with plenty of paths to walk your dogs.
Brum is spoiled for green choices, but if you’re a dog walker, take advantage of the closed railway line from Birmingham New Street and ramble out along the Harborne Walkway. Much like the Highline in New York, Paris’s Promenade Plantée or Peckham’s Coal Line, it’s a green space that makes use of a formerly industrial service line and places a ribbon of green right where locals need it.
A pocket park is found right by the cathedral. Queen Eleanor’s garden is a space tucked neatly next to the Great Hall of Winchester Castle and is a recreation of a medieval garden honouring Eleanor Queen of Castile and Queen Eleanor of Provence, wife of Henry III. This is a quiet spot to have your lunch on a visit to the city and collect your thoughts.
Alderley Edge, a 30 minute drive out of town is our tip for serious countryside near Manchester, with its sweeping views and height. In 2020, Salford will see the opening of the RHS’s latest garden. It will feature 154 acres of expert landscaping at RHS Bridgewater, with a masterplan by RHS Chelsea stalwart Tom Stuart-Smith and with gardens and landscapes designed by hotshots Harris Bugg studio.
A national treasure is nestled here in York Gate Garden. A quiet spot for respite from studying or shopping, it’s an ideal spot to visit if you’re in town for Harvey Nichols and a visit to the Leeds Art Gallery.
Main image credit: Walthamstow Wetlands. Andrea Baldo Light Rocket via Getty Images