January 04, 2009

Five Great Ways to Enjoy London – On Foot

London is a walker’s paradise, especially April through October when the days are longer. There is more sunshine than people expect and the weather is rarely worse than a mizzle (between a mist and a drizzle). Best of all, you could walk somewhere new every day for decades and never need a car.


Strolling through the English countryside is legendary. You may walk across miles of unmarked fields among too many sheep to count, enjoy a meal in a pub in the “middle of nowhere” or learn about the significance of a historical landmark – all without having to pull out your own guidebook, map and compass. Volunteers in the UK Ramblers lead at least 50 rambles each week around London, most of them car-free. Select your walk (http://www.ramblers.org.uk/) and just show up.

Walking Tours

You are standing in the shadows of one of the most notorious council estates, Trellick Tower. Normally, this might make you uneasy. Instead, you stand transfixed as Andy Duncan (http://www.leglondon.co.uk/) gossips about the ensuing drama after Ian Fleming named one of his greatest Bond villains for Trellick Tower architect, Ernő Goldfinger. Dr. Duncan is a historian and leads a walk four days per month.

If you are in a “I need a walking tour and I need it now” mood, London Original Walks (http://www.walks.com/) has 10 to 20 walks per day, including Explorer Days which take you further afield to such places as Cambridge or Leeds Castle. Most leaders have a drama background, keeping their audiences entertained as well as informed.

London Wetlands Centre

Traipsing through reeds and on boardwalks over water, you come to your first bird hide. Serious birdwatchers have expensive binoculars and cameras on tripods trained over the wide marshy lake. Several turn to give you a look that clearly warns if you so much as rustle your jacket too loudly there will be trouble. Retreat quietly and continue along the path.

You’re just outside central London in a former concrete tank reservoir site that the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (http://www.wwt.org.uk/) cleverly converted into a 100-plus acre bird sanctuary. The “Duck Bus” (aka 283) originates in Hammersmith and will deposit you safely on the doorstep of this quiet urban wilderness.

National Gardens Scheme

A plethora of new gardens await the green space enthusiast who has visited most of the better-known gardens in greater London. The National Garden Scheme (NGS) opens over 3600 private gardens across England and Wales, and over 200 of these gardens are in or near London. Competition is fierce and it is a great honour for a garden to be included in the NGS Yellow Book. From April through September, consult the NGS “garden finder” (http://www.ngs.org.uk/) and choose which private garden to visit that day. The garden settings vary and you may find yourself in a suburban back garden, vegetable allotment, manor house, or even between floating barges.

Thames Path

The Thames winds 184 miles from its source in the Cotswolds to the Thames Barrier in London, and most of it is accessible by public transportation. Pick a section at random (www.nationaltrail.co.uk/ThamesPath ) and make a day of it. The nine miles from Reading to Henley include Sonning Mill Theatre, colourful flower gardens surrounding the Shiplake Lockmaster’s brick cottage, thrills as longboats navigate their way through narrow locks while Lockmasters shout instructions, miniature railroad with station running through a large private estate, and finally Henley-on-Thames, site of the annual five-day Royal Henley (Rowing) Regatta. Any section you choose will have its own charm.

Getting There

Walking: London A to Z Street Atlas
Tube/Bus: Transport for London Journey Planner (www.journeyplanner.tfl.gov.uk)
Train: National Rail Journey Planner (www.nationalrail.co.uk)

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