Seek solace from the hustle and bustle in the capital at these 10 quiet open spaces in south east London…
Words by Victoria Purcell
1 Southwark Woods, Camberwell Cemeteries
With the future of this little-known green space at risk, visit it while you can. The Save Southwark Woods campaign (see page 8) is battling Southwark Council’s plans to return the 10-hectare wilderness, which is part of Camberwell Old Cemetery, back to its original use as burial space. But these lush, green woodlands, which are teeming with wildlife and home to some 30 mature trees, are very precious to those in the know.
2 Desmond Tutu Peace Garden, Grove Park
This landscaped garden in Chinbook Meadows, Grove Park, was inspired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who lived in the area from 1972-75. Created by award-winning garden designer Chris Bearshaw, the space has wildflower areas representing ‘hands holding something precious’, a Peace Pole carved with four languages and a mosaic.
Access via Amblecote Road, off Chinbrook Road, Grove Park SE12
3 The Point, Greenwich
The Point in Greenwich affords spectacular views across the capital, taking in a sweep of landmarks from the London Eye to The Shard, the City and Canary Wharf. The viewpoint comes with an expanse of parkland and a couple of benches for quiet contemplation. There’s also a memorial for Flight Lieutenant Richard ‘Dickie’ Reynell, who was shot down and killed during WWII. He steered the stricken aircraft away from a nearby school, crashing here.
Point Hill, Greenwich SE10
4 The Thames at Ballast Quay, Greenwich
There are plenty of quiet beauty spots along the Thames, but just outside The Cutty Sark pub on Ballast Quay, Greenwich, is a particular favourite. First of all, it’s outside a pub, so you can enjoy a cool drink as you admire the unique architecture of the O2 Arena across the huge expanse of water. Sit on the wall facing the river and it feels as if you’re practically at sea. But please do be careful not to fall in!
Ballast Quay, Greenwich SE10
5 South Norwood Lake
South Norwood Lake was originally created as a reservoir for the Croydon Canal, which ran between Croydon and New Cross from 1809 to 1836. These days it’s frequented by local anglers – who know better than most how to find peace and quiet – and members of Croydon Sailing Club, so you can watch the graceful dinghy sails glide by. The lake is also home to a variety of aquatic birds, including herons and ringed-necked parakeets.
Access via Woodvale Avenue, SE25
6 Manor House Gardens, Lee
Manor House Gardens in Lee was restored in 2000. The beautiful lake with fountain makes you feel like you’re a million miles away from London – and indeed the nearby A20. The Quaggy River runs right through the park, and there’s also a walled garden, wild flower area, a cafe and an ice house thought to date from 1773, as well as a children’s playground and plenty of open green space, too.
Manor Lane, Lee SE13
7 Crystal Palace Concert Bowl
Sadly this rusty old stage – a beautiful brute of modern architecture – is no longer sound enough for rock gods to grace, but this means that you can gaze at it, across the lilly-padded lake, in peace. Since most head to the other end of the park to visit the dinosaurs, it’s quiet, but if you want total isolation, retreat into the safety of the maze next door.
Crystal Palace Park Road, near the junction with Chulsa Road, SE26
8 Cator Park, Kidbrooke
Cator Park at the newly developed Kidbrooke Village, located near Blackheath’s prestigious Cator Estate (hence the name), is a great example of how new developments can interact with the environment. It’s a stark contrast from the troubled, concrete-heavy Ferrier Estate, demolished in 2009 to make way for the new development by Berkeley Homes. Today, newly planted trees, interconnected lakes, water features, ducks, birds and open, grassy expanses dominate the landscape.
Kidbrooke Park Road SE3
9 Sydenham Wells Park
Sydenham Wells Park is one of the prettiest parks in the Lewisham borough, and as such has earned itself a Green Flag Award. It has two tennis courts, a children’s playground and a water play area, but away from all that noise there are formal gardens, a nature reserve and an ornamental garden to lose yourself in, not to mention the large pond surrounded by lush green vegetation.
Access via Wells Park Road, SE26
10 The Green Chain Walk, South London
Join up the precious little dots of tranquillity featured on this page – and more – by exploring the 50-mile Green Chain Walk. Section 10 of the route takes you from Beckenham Place Park to Crystal Palace via Cator Park (3.9 miles) and Section 11 continues on to Nunhead Cemetery, taking in Sydenham Wells Park, the Horniman Museum & Gardens, Camberwell Old Cemetery, One Tree Hill and more (5.4 miles).
Download the maps at tfl.gov.uk