There’s much more to London than skyscrapers, historical buildings and sprawling suburbs – the capital is a haven for wildlife too, if you know where to look. Many parts of the city are awash with animals, plants and open green spaces, and we’re not just talking about the major parks either. There are glorious belts of nature hidden all over London and one of the best ways to discover and explore them is by bicycle.
Take the north-east of the capital, for example. Earlier this year, London Cyclist magazine mapped out a cycle route linking together six interesting parts of the city where flora and fauna thrives. The 12.5-mile route takes in a mixture of quiet and busy roads, plus paths designed for pedestrians and cyclists. It offers the chance for a leisurely three or four-hour ride through some fascinating parts of the city.
It takes you from Clapton Common in an anti-clockwise loop, featuring Clapton Pond, Abney Park Cemetery, Hackney Downs, Abney Park Cemetery, St Mary the Virgin Churchyard, Leyton, and Low Hall Wood. They aren’t necessarily places that would be at the top of your London tourist hit-list, but you might just be surprised as to what you can find.
There’s plenty to be said for heading off the beaten path once in a while and reconnecting with nature. There are millions of people living in London, but there are millions of animals too – of all different species. This is your chance to go and find some of them for yourself.
What you need to know
London Cyclist recommends starting at Clapton Pond on the common, in order that you can finish your bike ride at the Lea Navigation, which offers great views. It suggests spring and summer as being the best times to visit, not just because there is a greater chance of seeing wildlife but because there will be greater cafe and pub opportunities.
If you’ve got your own bike in the capital, then you’re all set. If not, then there are various opportunities for renting a bicycle, whether for a few hours or the whole day. It’s a different way to see London, fairly economical, and it’s good exercise at the same time.
In terms of refreshments, there are various options along the route. These include Springfield Park cafe, the cafe at Springfield Marina; Stoke Newington Church Street and Leyton High Road. Alternatively, you could pack some sandwiches and a drink in your bag and find a quiet bench in one of the nature spots to enjoy your lunch.
1. Clapton Pond
The nature trail starts at Clapton Pond, an ornamental water feature on Clapton Common, home to nesting birds, ducks. In the summer, you’ll typically find mallards and coots on the water – there could even be a heron if you’re lucky. The common is just a few hundred yards from Stamford Hill station on the London Overground – this may be your best access point unless you have a bike rack on your car.
2. Abney Park Cemetery
Situated within a housing estate, a short distance to the south-west of the common, this active cemetery is famous for its wildlife. Abney Park is a local nature reserve, home to sparrow hawks, tawny owls and the rare wood spurge. All manner of different creatures have made the cemetery their home.
3. Hackney Downs
This large open space in the middle of Hackney is home to mature sycamore and London plane trees. Various birds – including robins – live in the hawthorn and rose hedges. To get here from the cemetery, you can follow the route of the A10, or weave your way through the back streets to avoid the traffic.
4. St Patrick’s Cemetery
Next to the railway line, to the east of Hackney Marsh, St Patrick’s Cemetery features mature trees around the perimeter – oak, Lombardy poplar and ash included. These offer nesting opportunities for birds, while the grasslands between the graves are attractive to various species.
5. St Mary the Virgin Churchyard, Leyton
After passing through Leyton High Road, you’ll reach St Mary the Virgin churchyard, which has a northern section now dedicated to wildlife. It is developing into thick woodland, mainly ash and sycamore trees, and is home to various birds and a range of butterflies.
6. Low Hall Wood
Sycamore, cherry and horse-chestnut line the ancient pathway through Low Hall Wood, which runs alongside Dagenham Brook. If you’re lucky you might see a grey wagtail, green woodpecker, or willow warbler.
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