Just 40 minutes from Euston, walk up the ancient Hastoe Lane. Overhung with hawthorn, chestnut and in the summer edged with bright red woundwort and fragrant white wild garlic.
Past the entrance to the park continue past the beech woodland and turn left into King Charles walk. You are now on a 2000-year-old Ridgeway path. In autumn the woodland is sublime. Colours of golden syrup and copper glint in subdued autumn light, and at the viewpoint you can see the Rothschild's Tring Park school and beyond to the castle-like Mentmore towers. The Iron Age fort of Ivinghoe Beacon is to the east.
In summer the park is carpeted with common orchids, scabious and harebells.
In winter snow it is a sledge and ski resort for the town.
Google map: bit.ly/Tq3DKR
The Lea Valley walk is a lovely stroll for Londoners at any time of the year, but in autumn I think the combination of trees, leaves and water is particularly lovely.
For an 11ish mile walk, I recommend heading north from Limehouse to finish up at Ponders End, where you can catch the train back to Liverpool Street Station. For a shorter stretch start or stop at Markfield Park, about 1/2 mile from Seven Sisters and Tottenham Hale tube/train stations.
En route you pass the surprising and stunning Three Mills, the Olympic Park (albeit through security fencing), and breathe in the fresh air of the great green expanses of Hackney, Walthamstow and Tottenham Marshes - and then you're in the countryside with narrowboats and fishermen.
The whole route follows the reflective waters of the Lee/Lea in its various guises - from the Limehouse Cut to the Lee Navigation to the River Lea.
My favourite place to break the walk for a bite to eat is Pistachio's in the Park Cafe in Markfield Park which runs alongside the Lee Navigation.
For a coffee early on in the route, and good food too, you can detour to the Counter Cafe in Hackney Wick - it's on the west side of the canal at the junction with the Hertford Union Canal - which itself offers up a whole host of alternative destinations!
For me, the hardest thing about doing any of the Lea Valley Walk was working out how to get onto it. If you are walking from Limehouse aim for St Anne's Church - it marks the point where Commercial Road crosses Limehouse Cut, and there's access to the canal there. St Anne's is also one of Hawesmoor's churches and its website is great for directions - you can get there easily on the No 15 bus from central London, or on the DLR (Limehouse/West Ferry stations).
Lea Valley Walk information: www.walklondon.org.uk/route.asp?R=4
A Walk Along The Limehouse Cut Canal (lots of info about what you'll see on the early section): www.imvisitinglondon.com/limehousecut.html
Three Mills: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Mills
Pistacios in the Park: pistachiosinthepark.org.uk/category/markfieldpark
Friends of Markfield Park (good map): www.markfieldpark.org.uk/
Counter Cafe: thecountercafe.co.uk/
St Anne's Church website (great directions): stanneslimehouse.org/location.html
TfL bus route map finder: www.tfl.gov.uk/tfl/gettingaround/maps/buses/
Easily accessible from central London (by tube, or overland rail from Liverpool St) the forest offers vast areas of walking and biking with beautiful dense trees, particularly the 'Up and Down Walk' which is a great leg stretcher in an otherwise pretty flat part of Essex. The Forest Information Centre is a good place to start, where guided trail maps are available. Take a map if you can and a compass is always helpful - as it's easy to lose your sense of direction in the forest!
In the 90s I used to walk Yogi, a joyful Bouvier des Flandres, in these gardens every day. Yogi has long gone, but the gardens are in better shape than ever after a £12.1m facelift courtesy of National Lottery funding. An artificial lake, classic bridge, cascade of waterfalls and even an Inigo Jones gateway are just some of the treasures hidden among the specimen trees and latticework of pathways in this early example of English landscape gardening. Dogs still roam free in the wild woods and fields, but must be leashed in the more formal areas.
This south London park, its landscaped gardens formerly part of the Kelsey Estate, has been kept secret by the locals for the past 99 years. It has been our family favourite since Grandma pushed Mum around in her pram before the Second World War. When I was a little girl, Mum and I fed the ducks together every Sunday. As Kelsey Park heads towards its centenary, and since I have no daughter of my own to pass it on to, the time has come to share Beckenham's hidden treasure with the rest of the world. I hope Grandma isn't turning in her grave.
"... Confidence is a preference for the habitual voyeur of what is known as ... Parklife!" Blur, 1994
The "Lungs of London": take a break from the city buzz and head up to Hampstead Heath. To breathe in wide, open and green views, start from the wonderful lido at Gospel Oak; trot up Parliament Hill to marvel at the city stretching out from east to west below; continue round the fields and woods to Kenwood House and enjoy a well-earned break on their outside cafe terrace; play spot the bird or spot the dog as you jog gently back down (approx three miles round route). To add to your fitness experience and commune further with nature, stop off at one of the swimming ponds (one each for men and women on the east Highgate side, and one mixed pond near Hampstead entrance) or finish off with a few lengths of the lido! To enjoy all four pools, enter the Hampstead Heath duathlon in early September, running between swims in all the pools, starting at the lido and finishing at the athletics track.
www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/hampstead-heath for a trails map and details of events like the duathlon. Can be easily reached from Gospel Oak or Hampstead Heath overground stations or C2 bus from Oxford Circus or 214 from the City/St Pancras, stopping at Parliament Fields.
Us south Londoners have the most amazing free sports venue, here on Blackheath and adjacent Greenwich Park. Whatever your age, you can play and run your way across one of London’s biggest green spaces soaked in two thousand years of history.
Arriving at Blackheath Station walk up through Blackheath Village onto the heath proper. On the very place where thousands gathered for the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 you can play football, hockey, rugby, football, cricket, lacrosse, athletics, baseball and American football. It is also ideal and popular all year round for kite flying.
Walk across the heath past the start of the annual London Marathon to the gates of Greenwich Park where children can take a donkey ride. Then cross the A2 along which for centuries pilgrims rode and walked to Canterbury.
Through the gates and into the park where you can play cricket on a pitch in the shadow of the Georgian Ranger’s House, filled with mediaeval and renaissance art and old Dutch Masters; or play tennis on a court split by the nought degrees Meridian Line; walk toward the Royal Observatory and the statue of General Wolfe, winner of Canada for the British, pockmarked with Luftwaffe bullets and then take in the magnificent view that takes in the masts of the Cutty Sark and Canary Wharf.
Walk, run, jog, play with frisbees and cycle all for free in these grounds - horseback-ridden by Henry VIII and Elizabeth 1 - past the remains of a Roman temple, past a deer park, flower garden, bandstand and magnificent trees.
But if you want to be organised by someone else you can take part in sessions for military fitness, weight training and running for mixed groups and mums only. And if you’re worn out by all this you can take children and watch them making some effort on the children’s boating pond in the shadow of the Maritime Museum.
Blackheath Railway Station, Tranquil Vale, Blackheath, London, SE3 9LE
Buses: 53, 54, 89, 108, 202, 380, 386
Other stations around Greenwich Park: Network Rail, Maze Hill: DLR, Cutty Sark
Sports on Blackheath
For all field sports contact GreenScene, London Borough of Lewisham
Tel: 020 8314 2047 email@example.com
Kite-flying is free and can take place all year round.
Donkey rides are temporarily-suspended due to bereavement but will resume in October 2012.
Sports in Greenwich Park
Small putting green at Greenwich Tennis Centre, north of Ranger’s Field
(0)20 8293 0276 www.playzennis.co.uk
One cricket square on Ranger’s Field near Blackheath Gate available to book Tuesday-Thursday and weekends during park opening hours, 1May-30 September. Pavilion with changing rooms and showers.
Tel: 020 8858 2608
South end of the park close to the Blackheath Gate.
Call 20 8858 2608 for details of pitch hire times and prices.
Military/Keep Fit Training/Running
British Military Fitness
020 7751 9742
Contact for prices
Go Commando Personal Training
£20 per 3 hour session
Serpentine Running Club
07970 896440 out of office hours
Michelle - 07956 234309
Rebecca - 07967 793957
Email - firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pedal and rowing boats, open from Easter til October, weather permitting.
Google map: bit.ly/Onf2YV
Rock climbing is one of the fastest growing sports in London, and the capital's indoor centres are now overflowing in peak hours.
London now has a new easily reached outdoor boulder park five mins from Fairlop tube stop on the Central Line.
This venue isn't just suitable for beginner to advanced climbers but offers them a rare opportunity to climb outdoors. Crucially, this is a boulder park so ropes are not a pre-requisite - a big bonus for newer climbers.
Fairlop Waters, Forest Road, Barkingside
Essex, IG6 3HN
It's worth making a special trip to find Hampton Lido, as the Canadian triathlon team have just done. This little gem, saved from demolition in 1985, is hidden away in SW London by Bushy Park. Open 365 days of the year, the open air lido has a heated 36m pool, plus a children's pool and a delightful grassy area to spread rugs on beneath shady trees.
The low, 1930s style building along one side has a gym with all the latest equipment and a fitness studio which offers yoga, pilates, circuits and more. Upstairs is the small Sun Deck cafe for breakfast (best porridge in London) lunch, drinks and snacks and a south-facing balcony terrace overlooking the pools. There are music concerts on the grass in the summer and if you join the Poolside Club you can swim and BBQ in the evenings outside public opening hours.
The Secret Cinema is one of the most innovative projects in London. The crew rent a discreet venue in the city and construct an interactive version of the film that they show at the end of the evening. The audience are expected to dress up and immerse themselves in the environment, heightening the eventual experience of the film itself.
The location varies, but details of upcoming events can be found at www.secretcinema.org
Three life-guarded, open-air swimming ponds (yes real ponds, weeds and all!) in the heart of London. Each pond (ladies, mens and mixed) has its own unique atmosphere, whether you want secluded bathing among ducks and lily pads, clear open water for training, or a place to splash about with friends and wash away the London grime. At each pond, there is a grassy bank for sitting, a jetty to dive off and changing rooms complete with showers. Swimming in the pond is the most serene, yet invigorating way to finish off a summers day in the capital. Oh and did I mention that they're open all year round?
+44(0)20 7485 3873
Google map: bit.ly/QdGSKG
Nearest tube: Highgate or Hampstead
Overground: Gospel Oak or Hampstead Heath
If rain stops play outdoors, but you still want to get fit during the Olympics, I would head for Pineapple Dance Studios. As an amateur dancer since my childhood, a musical theatre class taken here while on holiday gave me my longed for ‘Fame’ moment – and without having to stop traffic and find a taxi to dance on (although not an impossible feat during the Olympic weeks I would imagine?). As a tourist, I was pleasantly surprised that I could simply walk up and pay the fee on the day and choose from a large selection of classes. My class was mixed ability (some people having been lured in by the promise of seeing one of the stars of the TV show I am sure) so I was able to marvel at the prowess of the incredibly talented ‘jobbing’ dancers while I paused to catch my breath!
Whether you are visiting Olympic Park or just looking to keep the kids occupied head down to Billingsgate, take a picnic but be sure to pack a mackerel (the fish market closes at 8.30am) and when you spot Sammy the seal (although most likely Simone) throw the fish at her. She has been hanging around here for a few years and why not with all that fish around? You might see porpoises and the odd dolphin too....
River Thames between Canary Wharf and as far in as Vauxhall Bridge. West India Quay on DLR and walk along the docks.
Google map: bit.ly/QdJAzO
Every time he visits London my partner has to head to Southbank to re-live his youth. The Southbank skatepark, where they came to hang out and practice tricks back in the 70s, still exudes a prickly "them" and "us" atmosphere. Now the graffiti art is prized and there's a railing to keep tourists out of harm's way. It might lack its original edge, but it's still the best place to show off your flips.
If you fancy some wild swimming, but don't want to dodge the River Thames traffic, there are other watery magnets around the capital. Try the ponds on Hampstead Heath, or the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park. There are also Grade II listed lidos in Parliament Hill Fields and Brockwell Park. Break up a day of London sight-seeing with a dip in the outside pool at the Oasis in Covent Garden. Finally, at 90m, the Tooting Bec Lido is perfect for serious swimmers.
Outdoor Swimming Society: www.outdoorswimmingsociety.com
The Outdoor Swimming Society interactive map: wildswim.com/
Kate Rew's film about wild swimming in London: www.guardian.co.uk/travel/video/2010/aug/05/kate-rew-wild-swim-london?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3486
Hampstead Heath Ponds
Men only, women only and mixed. No children under 8, children under 16 with an adult.
Address: Hyde Park, W2 3XA
Tel: +44 (0)20 7706 3422
Open: 10am-6pm weekends and bank holidays in May; 10am-6pm daily June-mid Sept
Brockwell Park Lido
Address: Brockwell Park, Dulwich Road, London, SE24 0PA
Tel: +44 (0)20 7274 3088
Open: Mon-Fri: 06:30-22:00, Saturday: 07:30-21:30, Sunday: 07:30-21:00
Parliament Hill Fields Lido
Address: Gordon House Road, NW5 1NB
Tel: +44 (0)20 7485 3873
Open: May-Sept 2012: 7am-9am & 10am-6pm daily; 6.30-8.30pm Mon, Thur & Fri. Sep-May 2013 7am-12.30pm daily
Oasis Sports Centre
Address: 32 Endell Street, WC2H 9AG
Tel: +44 (0)20 7831 1804
Open: Mon-Fri: 6.30am-9pm, Sat-Sun: 9.30am-6pm. (Last admission one hour before closing).
Tooting Bec Lido
Address: Tooting Bec Road, SW16 1RU
Tel: +44 (0)20 8871 7198
Open to the public from 19 May to 30 Sep. For the rest of the year, the Lido is open every day to the South London Swimming Club.
You don't have to be a famous comedian or a boat-race prankster to swim in the Thames, but from 1st July 2012 you do have to get prior consent from the harbour master if you want to swim between Putney Bridge and Crossness (near the Thames Barrier). Anyone can enjoy a dip in the water upstream, and there are some lovely spots to cool off on a hot summer's day from Chiswick to Richmond, via Barnes, Old Isleworth, and Strawberry Hill.
Port of London Authority: www.pla.co.uk/swimminginthethames
Yes, you can sail in the middle of London. The Shadwell Sailing Club is open to the public every Tuesday from April till October. For as little as £10 a session the club will provide all the equipment, sailing gear and instruction needed for novices and experts alike. The evening starts at 6.00pm, and if the conditions are good, you could find yourself on the water for four hours. After all that exercise you'll relish a pint or two at the Prospect of Whitby right next door.
3-4 Shadwell Pierhead, Glamis Road, London E1W3TD
Tel: +44 (0) 2074814210
Google map: bit.ly/Ontf8n
The Shadwell OAC also runs youth courses for RYA certificates in sailing.
Fishing is free anywhere along the tidal Thames from Teddington Lock to the sea. Catch freshwater and sea fish, ranging from roach, pike and perch to bream and flounder. Choose your spot carefully and watch the tide. A friend of mine is a passionate angler, and swears Thames carp fishing is some of the best to be had anywhere. You'll need a rod and line licence, available online or through the post office.
Licence: 1 day £3.75 (or £8 for salmon and sea trout)
Google map: bit.ly/OnukwR
Under-recognised but really fun for the family: my nephews went mad for the splash zone, a kids area open in summer. Plus lots of special kids activities as well.
Cheap and good fun for all the family - Richmond Park has lots of space for young ones to run around, beautiful deer to admire from near or far, the Isabella Plantation with its gorgeous walks and hide and seek places, cycle paths, free car parking, cafe or lots of picnic spots and great views of London over to canary wharf. If you hanker after a nice river walk or town amenities, you can just stroll down from the park along the riverside, watch boats and feed the ducks. Bliss.
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