London has more green space than any other city on the planet and Hayden Shearman, the author of Runner’s Guide to London has put together a list of the hidden gems in London that every Londoner should explore for running or walking.
London has more green space than any other city on the planet. I learnt this the hard way when setting out to write a book about its top running spots—the book soon grew and grew because there were just so many incredible places to run.
The following top 10 list could have included all the well-publicised central running havens (like Hyde, St James’s, Regent’s and Victoria Parks) and the mega parks out west (Bushy and Richmond) but chances are you already know about them and one of the things I love about running is the ability to explore new environments. So what lesser known parks should all Londoners explore?
Well, here is my top 10. I could have easily have made this list a top-40 rather than top-10, but these 10 will get you started and I’m sure make you hungry to explore more of London’s hidden treasures.
- RUISLIP WOODS
Have a look at a satellite image of London. See the large block of dark green in the top left corner? That is Ruislip Woods and its neighbouring, and equally runnable, woodlands. It offers miles and miles of leafy trails ideal for a weekend adventure.
Location: Ruislip (16.7mi NW of central London)
Perimeter Distance: 9.0mi (when combined with Park, Copse, Mad Bess and Bayhurst Woods)
Must Know: Trails can become very boggy in wet weather. Open at all times except for Bayhurst Wood (open daily from 9am to various times: 4pm in winter and 8pm in summer).
- HOME PARK
Otherwise known as Hampton Court Park, and the little sister to neighbouring Bushy Park, this park is tranquility defined. You’ll run over flowing grasslands, down stunning avenues of trees, past roaming deer, alongside mirrored skies on the Long Water, and all with the Thames Path waiting right next door.
Location: Kingston Upon Thames (11.8mi SW of central London)
Perimeter Distance: 5mi
Must Know: Watch out for golfers and avoid doing sprint training towards deer. Open 7am to 9pm in summer, 6:45pm in March and October, and 5:30pm in winter.
- HORNCHURCH COUNTRY PARK
A former RAF base, this park is a testament to some of the incredible wildlife development and restoration work happening around the city. Have fun spotting the many flora and fauna plus the overgrown pill boxes around this gently undulating park. Plenty of options to explore north and south (via the LOOP path).
Location: Hornchurch (15.8mi E of central London)
Perimeter Distance: 2.5mi
Must Know: This area of London is exposed to the elements and, after heavy rain, you’ll need to stick to sealed trails. Open at all times.
- WIMBLEDON COMMON
The resident wombles keep this green space clean and tidy, but your trainers will be anything but after running it. There are many (often muddy) trails through wood and heath to explore, plus options to run further afield via the way-marked Beverley Brook Walk (runs north and south) and the Capital Ring (runs east and west).
Location: Wimbledon (8.1mi southwest of central London)
Perimeter Distance: 7.8mi
Must Know: Open at all times. Dirt trails are no-go after rain, use the subways to dodge the A3 and look out for golf balls when near the courses.
- HAMPSTEAD HEATH
There is no better place in London for exploration than in Hampstead Heath. In fact, newcomers are almost guaranteed to get a little lost. But take a smart phone or map with you (for when the internal compass fails) and enjoy discovering ponds, palaces, muddy trails, hidden viaducts, and top-notch views of the city.
Location: Highgate (4.6mi N of central London)
Perimeter Distance: 8.0mi
Must Know: Golders Hill Park, the Hill Garden, the Pergola, and Kenwood Estate are closed after dusk.
- GREENWICH PARK
You may already know of Greenwich Park’s attractions (including great formal gardens, meadows, hills and views) but what makes this park particularly appealing is its proximity to other running locations. Blackheath to the south has acre upon acre of flat grass land, the Thames Path to the north has options east and west, and then over the river (via the foot tunnel) you can head up through Mudchute Park and around the docks of Canary Wharf.
Location: Greenwich (6.7mi SE of central London)
Perimeter Distance: 2mi (around Greenwich Park only)
Must Know: Opens year round at 6am and closes at various times between 6pm in winter and 9:30pm in mid summer.
- CRYSTAL PALACE PARK
Hills are the secret to making you a stronger and faster runner, and Crystal Palace Park and its surrounding suburbs and parks have plenty to go around. You’ll love the view from the northern end of the park and you can also run in the footsteps of champions on the famous athletics track. Use the way-marked Green Chain to connect to nearby parks and woodlands.
Location: Crystal Palace (7mi S of central London)
Perimeter Distance: 2.05mi
Must Know: Crystal Palace Park is due for an upgrade of some sort, so enjoy it in case it turns into a construction site for a a few years. Open from 7:30am (9am weekends and holidays) to dusk.
- FRYENT COUNTRY PARK
Just a few corner kicks north of Wembley Stadium is this slice of English countryside in the heart of suburban London. It has woods in the south and hedge-lined meadows in the north, all over rolling terrain.
Location: Kingsbury (9.1mi NW of central London)
Perimeter Distance: 2.3mi
Must Know: Open at all times, take care after dark (run with others).
- DANSON PARK
A wonderful family park with playgrounds, gardens, a couple of eateries, easy parking, a boating lake, a stroller friendly 2km running loop, and an off road perimeter track. The dream locale for a gentle morning run followed by brunch with the friends.
Location: Bexleyheath (11.7mi southeast of central London)
Perimeter Distance: 2.4mi
Must Know: Open from 7:30am weekdays (9am weekends and holidays) and closes at dusk or 4:30pm (which ever is later).
- QUEEN ELIZABETH OLYMPIC PARK
London’s newest park and a remnant of probably the greatest sporting event the city has ever hosted in the 2012 Olympic Games. Explore the trails that hug the river banks and circumnavigate the sporting venues then head north or south on the River Lea, east on the Greenway, or west to Victoria Park. Finish off with a swim at the Aquatics Centre or a mountain bike ride at Velo Park.
Location: Stratford (5.8mi NE of central London)
Perimeter Distance: 3.6mi (following the art trail starting and finishing at Westfield)
Must Know: Paved areas can be slippery when wet/icy and there will be plenty of foot traffic when events are on.
Hayden Shearman is the author of the new book Runner’s Guide to London, which is the ultimate companion for exploring the runner’s playground that is London (features over 120 London running routes and parks). www.runnersguidetolondon.co.uk