London is a fascinating city for infinite reasons. Just one of which is that it holds enough green space to be considered for National Park status.
In the months leading up to this lockdown, I explored several stretches of the Green Chain. Arguably lesser known than the Capital Ring trails, this network of paths curated by Transport for London connects a multitude of parks, palaces and bird habitats in London’s south east.
It stretches from the most eastern stretches of the Thames estuary, back in towards Zone 2 south, finishing up (or starting depending on your preference) in Nunhead cemetery. It covers some areas of little-visited greater London yet also manages to incorporate several places of historical importance on route. Lesnes Abbey and Beckenham Palace to name a few.
Like most of London’s walks, there’s no need to cover it all in one go.
In fact, it actually works better to split the route into chunks that are manageable on a pre-roast Sunday amble. Purely because there are so many things to look at along the way. Most sections are roughly four to five kilometres long, so doubling them makes for a comfortable couple of hours amid the green of their trails.
I’ve now sampled more than half of the eleven stretches suggested by TfL and what I’ve enjoyed most is the varied terrain that the chain covers. An eclectic mix of natural spaces including, ancient woodland, hidden ponds, large lakes and manicured palace grounds means that wildlife is never too far away. On each stroll I’ve counted almost forty species of bird along the way, while still having time to appreciate the scenery itself.
In spite of the very organised sign posting of the route itself, it’s still possible to feel wonderfully lost on some of the more remote stretches. In Lesnes Woods I literally stumbled upon the unassuming stones and shallow ditches of a bronze age tumulus (burial ground) before diving down towards the abbey itself on the banks of the river.
Wilderness is great but of a weekend I also really like grabbing a fancy cappuccino to-go (perhaps I’ve been living in London too long!). Along the route once you exit its forests and vast sets of fields, there’s always a great café just around the corner. In fact, many of the manmade sites are heritage properties, so all have welcoming restaurants serving coffee and snacks for us city hikers!
The amount of green spaces in London never fails to surprise me and the Green Chain is just the latest in a series of discoveries.
The planning and thought that goes into setting aside these routes for us to enjoy defies the idea that this city is all about polluting public transport. And it also gives those of us looking to find unknown corners of our boroughs good reason to strap on our boots and get going.
I can’t wait to walk along the chain again when this crisis passes.