London is a city of surprises. A throbbing metropolis, where glass and concrete skyscrapers soar out of the ground, the capital’s iconic black cabs belch diesel fumes across multiple lanes of traffic while the constant press of commuters and tourists leave a dizzying daze of commotion, combustion and cacophony.
And then you wander into a magical forest and the sounds of the twenty-first century fade away, replaced by bird-song, a canopy of leaves shielding you from the jet engines overhead and not another human in sight. Surely no other capital can morph so rapidly or often as London. It’s one of the reasons we live here and it’s what we love about it.
Here are some of our favourite woodlands to explore when it’s all getting a bit too much…
Known to the Victorians as “Gravelpit Wood and to the medieval Bishops of London as “Brewer’s Fell”, Highgate Wood is a 70-acre area of ancient woodland within walking distance of Highgate Station.
Over 30 species of bird as well as seven species of bat...
Mentioned in the Domesday Book, the modern-day woods are a tranquil escape from the bustle of N10.
It’s also an important oasis of wildlife with over 30 species of birds living here as well as seven species of bat.
Nearest tube: Highgate
While the area close to Wimbledon Village is open land, much of Wimbledon Common is actually woodland, filled with criss-cross paths and trails (not to mention various golf courses and riding routes).
The Wombles’ home turf is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation, not least because the non-woodland heathland areas are the natural habitat of the endangered stag beetle.
There are many species of trees include indigenous oak, lime, beech and silver birch, which have been here since ancient times, as well as more recently introduced London Plane, sweet and horse chestnut and sycamores.
After a long walk in the woods pop into Wimbledon for some shopping and a bite to eat (there’s an Ivy Brasserie!)
Nearest tube: Southfields/Wimbledon
It’s Dick Turpin’s old stomping ground...
Saved from almost certain destruction by Queen Victoria declaring it a peoples’ forest, it’s Dick Turpin’s old stomping ground and today is shared by horse-riders, orienteers, BMX riders, and mountain bikers, as well as the hundreds of thousands of visitors the stunning area receives every year.
Nearest tube: Epping or Leytonstone
Close to Epping, Hainault Forest is another example of an untouched woodland that’s immensely popular with north west London’s twitchers. There are reports of over 158 bird species, with residents including the firecrest and the yellow-throated wood warbler.
A haven for cyclists and riders, the forest is part of Hainault Forest Country Park, and despite feeling remote it’s only around 300 acres.
There’s car parking for visitors (you have to pay) and along with a nature trail, fishing lake and picnic area there’s also a children’s play park and the all-important public conveniences.
Nearest train: Romford
Queen’s Wood in north London is a postage stamp of a forest at just 52 acres, and yet the ancient oak-hornbeam woodland boasts an incredible and diverse ecosystem of flora and fauna, having never been subject to the more intensive management practices of nearby Highgate Wood.
It’s also the site of a plague pit, having been known as Churchyard Bottom Wood before being acquired from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners by the council and renamed after Queen Victoria.
Bird species here include woodpeckers, and over one hundred species of spiders. Eeek!
More commonly associated with its vast open spaces (see also the Fenton/Benton video), Richmond Park is also a destination if you’re after a woodland walk thanks to the Isabella Plantation.
Set in the centre of the park, the plantation is a new-comer, being planted in the 1830s. The plantation has been open to the public since the 1950s and includes the National Collection of Wilson 50 Kurume Azaelas (which came from Japan in the 1920s) as well as rhododendrons and camellias, making for a beautiful as well as relaxing woodland stroll.
The 40 acre plantation and wider woodlands are free to visit, and are ideally mix-and-matched with a walk in the huge park (our favourite).
Nearest tube: Richmond