It’s that time of year for crisp winter walks to work off the Christmas over-indulgence and enjoy a blast off fresh air. Londoners are spoilt for choice with routes that take in history, parks, nature trails and river views. Here are six suggestions.
1 Richmond Station to Ham House, Richmond
From the station, walk down to the river and stroll past the pubs and boatyards that lead to Richmond Bridge. As you pass under the bridge you seem to leave urban life behind as you enter a rural setting of where you may sometimes encounter cows.
Cross the field known as Petersham Meadows and head for the delightful St Peter’s Church, Church Lane, just off the Petersham road.
On the left down the lane is Petersham Nurseries, with its lovely garden shop and selection of lifestyle and homeware goods, antiques and gifts. The café and tea house are popular for their seasonal dishes and indulgent cakes. Or pop into The Dysart Arms in Petersham Road, a good gastro pub in an Arts & Crafts building with lovely green views.
Follow the river down to the National Trust’s Ham House, completed in the 17th century by Thomas Vavasour, an Elizabethan courtier.
2 Constable’s Hampstead
A walk on Hampstead Heath is always guaranteed to blow away any Christmas cobwebs and it worth diverting away from the heath itself to take in some local spots with famous connections.
Usually associated with his birthplace and wonderful Suffolk landscapes, the artist John Constable moved to Hampstead in 1819 with his wife Maria when they rented Albion Cottage near Whitestone Pond.
They lived around the Heath on and off, at 2 Lower Terrace in the summers of 1821 and ’22, then at Stamford Lodge on Heath Street, before settling at 40 Well Walk in 1827.
Sadly, Maria died in 1828; Constable was left to care for their seven children alone, until his death in 1837. You can see the houses today as well as the views that inspired many of his works. The Heath and its changing cloudscapes were a favourite subject of his.
In 1819 he painted Hampstead Heath, with the House Called ‘The Salt Box’ featuring the area near Judges Walk and Hampstead Heath with a rainbow, (1836) was last treatment of the subject on display at The Tate Britain.
3 Hackney Central to Victoria Park, Hackney
Hipster Hackney has the most green spaces in the capital, despite its gritty inner-city image. Across from the station, you’ve got Bohemia Place, once a tram shed, but now a laneway home to a bustling spring/summer weekend market, and a string of bars including Hackney Church Brew Co, and ABQ London. In the neighbouring gardens, the Church of St John-at-Hackney dates back to 1792.
Heading south on Mare Street is the famous Hackney Empire, built in 1902 to a design by Victorian theatre architect Frank Matcham. In the early 20th century Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel trod the boards here and the venue continues to put on a varied programme today – it’s panto is always a winner.
From here it is a short walk to the gates of Victoria Park. You can either take a left at Victoria Park Road, where you’ll pass The Hemingway and possibly the charming Victoria Park Village depending how far along you go.
Alternatively, continue walking along Mare Street until you see the steps down to the canal – opposite Andrew’s road, and stroll along the canal until you reach Victoria Park – London’s oldest public park, full of wildlife and attractions – or on towards Hackney Wick.
The park has 218 acres of cultivated green space, wide parkland interspersed with tennis courts, a bowling green, fountains, cafes and lakes.
Victoria Park is also called the People’s Park and on your walk you will find The People’s Park Tavern, one of Hackney’s best loved pubs. The lake, teeming with ducks and swans, is home to two sculptures by Romanian artist Erno Bartha – Bird and Skyscraper – and perched on one of the lake’s islands, the Chinese Pagoda has a history stretching all the way back to 1847 when it was transplanted here after a Chinese Exhibition at Hyde Park Corner.