Tomorrow is the first advent and I thought it would be appropriate to celebrate the start of December with an advent calendar of parks and green spaces for a walking enthusiast. The calendar has a selection of 24 parks to go for each day up to Christmas and one special treat for Christmas Day. I hope it inspires to revisit few old favourites and perhaps discover some new green spaces and sights this holiday season! 💫
The map based calendar starts from North West and works its way through London, finishing in South East. There’s one park, farm or sight to go on each day of the month and although it is unlikely you’ll visit them all, I hope the calendar gives inspiration to embark at least on few adventures. For example Morden Hall Park or Beckenham Palace in South are both great to visit on the season as well as woods, city farms and wetlands of North.
Some of these parks run Christmas activities such as fairs and ice skating, craft workshops and light walks. Kew Garden has a renowned light walk. Check out before to see what’s on or just go with the flow.. there’s plenty going on. Others are quiet places where you can walk around, enjoy fresh air and look out for wildlife. Wherever you visit I’m sure you have a different experience on each day. You could even brave it and have a winter swim!
And of course.. when you’re finished exploring don’t forget to give some special love to your favourite local park 🙂 💚
Last month I was commissioned to create a map for Geographical Magazine to illustrate a story of urban greening in Brazil featured in their December issue. The editor Paul Presley requested for an area map of Minhocão – the highway planned to be converted into a park, but otherwise I didn’t have lot of information to begin with. So I took some time to read about the project, although the timeline was tight and came up with a flat map featuring an ‘elevated’ highway that has gone through a green transformation.
I highlighted the green areas in the neighbourhood and ‘closed off’ the 3 km stretch of highway to cars by adding pedestrian and cycling lane with icons. I also added extra foliage, seating and shades as well as new access points such as elevators. Although the area map is based on real map, the illustration is theoretical and does not reflect the real conditions and plans, but I very much hope it helps to reimagine the motorway as green space that is open for sustainable walking and cycling.
Lottie Watters’ article is a fascinating and critical view of what becomes of the area after it has been greened. She draws comparisons with High Line at New York and Rambla de Sants in Barcelona as well as notes the doubt and mixed feelings in community – it’s a story definitely worth to read for anyone interested in the effects of urban greening. Through working on an infographic map to illustrate her writing I personally have learned a lot of the area I beforehand was not familiar with.
Perhaps one day I have an opportunity to visit and see if the project turned out as I imagined it. 🤞
Greening the ‘Big Worm’ is an article by Lottie Watters in this month’s Geographical Magazine, December 2019
In the season when everything is roller-coasting around shopping it’s easy to forget Christmas is not only about spending. In fact you’d feel much happier to spend some time outdoors, see the city in festive spirit and pick up some gifts on the go. Depending on your budget bring enough to buy warm drinks and street snacks or even take some with you – there’s nothing nicer than a flask of tea and home-made fruitcake or gingerbreads to keep you going while exploring.
Trafalgar Square Christmas is not the same without the smell of a spruce tree and every year the City of London orders one from Norway to stand in the square centre. It’s a tradition that’s been going on for years and switching on the light ceremony this year is on December 5th at 6 pm (mark your calendars!). There will be speeches and carol singing on the night and every evening through December (singing, not speeches). As the open Christmas venue organised by the city this public tradition will get 10 points out of 10. Bring a hot drink, friends or family and enjoy the holiday spirit.
Southbank Centre Walking by the Thames is nice all over the year, but during Christmas the area gets a special makeover for the season, with lights and markets popping up everywhere. Atmospheric Southbank Centre winter market is open for two months from November, bringing the buzz and light to the river. No doubt it will be busy and popular with locals and visitors alike, but if you get overwhelmed you can always step aside and enjoy the views over the river with cup of cocoa, either bought from one of the cosy looking cabins or kept warm in the home brought flask.
Borough Market For the foodies Borough Market is a great destination on weekends all around the year, but in December it opens every day with seasonal food, decorations and it’s own Christmas tree. You can easily spend a fortune there, but you don’t have to. The samples are often free and if you pick up one or two food items you really liked you can either give them as gifts or have them as special treats in Christmas. Even if you really are on a budget (for example working as independent illustrator!) you can still spoil your taste puds with a doughnut or cinnamon bun from one of the vendors.
Somerset House There are many ice skating spots popping up in London, but the one in Somerset House is the oldest and one of most beautiful. Even if you don’t plan to skate, you can still watch other skaters and take in the holiday vibe of the beautifully decorated square with its Christmas tree and lights. You can even have hot chocolate while’re watching, but it’s not exactly cheap and you may want to pick one up before heading to the Somerset House. If you bring your own sustainable thermo cup, it will last for longer. At the end you may decide to give a go on skates as well.
Carnaby Street Many streets are lighting up for Christmas, but Carnaby street is special this year as all its decorations are recycled and sustainably produced. It’s called Carnaby x Project Zero and this years theme is ocean diversity. There are plenty of street lights in London, but this one is the first to be produced with zero waste from start to end. Even the energy used was renewable! Fingers crossed next year all the others will follow this initiative. When you’re done with admiring the sea creatures you could head to Chinatown and pick up some authentic street food on the go.
Covent Garden Although shopping in the area is one of London’s most expensive the market lights and decorations are free to see for everyone and if not exactly the place for shopping spree you can find a small gift or two. I personally would pop by at Stanfords to pick up a specialist travel book either as a present for myself or to a friend. You could even go to the British Museum later, with more than 60 free galleries there is plenty to see any time of the year. The quirky Clocks and Watches room with the display of wooden cuckoo clocks and golden pocket watches sounds especially seasonal.
Greenwich There’s more in Greenwich than the Christmas market, although walking around the village and admiring decorated shop fronts could be your main activity of the day. There are plenty of priced activities and this year, for the first time, skating opens up in Royal Museums. Either if you’re skating or not you can still take in the magical vibe at the Queen’s House and watch the skaters whizzing by in their colourful hats and scarves. When you get overwhelmed by holiday buzz, find a quiet spot in the park for treats you brought from home or picked up at the market.
Tower Bridge London’s most magnificent bridge is not less magnificent at Christmas and lighten’s up this part of the city in darker evenings. With Christmas market on one side and Tower of London on the other this area has plenty activities including ice skating next to Tower. But even just a walk along the bank in the dusk is atmospheric to see Christmas tree and seasonal art installations near the City Hall, with views over Tower Bridge in the background. You can also take a stroll over the bridge and admire winter lights from the heights. Dress warm as it can get quite nippy.
Natural History Museum Another museum that is magical in Christmas. Not only because there’s a skate ring next to it, but in wintery light the cake like museum really looks festive. You may think Natural History Museum is about dusty skeletons and extinct species, but the truth is very far from it. The museum has many different collections and even a huge Mineralogy collection with rocks, gems, ores and even meteorites. As the dark skies are lit up during Christmas, this is an ideal time to explore the stars in close contact and add the sparkle to the day.
Camden Market If you want to get lost in alternative Christmas reality then Camden Market is just the place for it. You can easily spend half a day exploring the quirky shops and stalls in the depths of Camden and if you get tired, pick up some food from the diverse food outlets to eat on the canal side. Even if you don’t find anything to buy (although there’s plenty of funky and weird stuff), you’ll still have festive time with live music, seasonal food and decorations livening up one of the oldest street markets in London.
With street markets, skating rings and lights there’s plenty to explore this season. And while you are walking keep an eye out for real spruce trees as well, growing in local parks and on the streets. With all the pimped up trees across the city, there is nothing more beautiful than a real thing. Christmas is open. Get outdoors and enjoy the season! 🌲
I am not a big camper, in fact over the past ten years the times I’ve been out camping is probably less than I can count on my two hands. I have travelled a lot, but as a light traveller I’ve never seen a point of carrying heavy load on my back all the time. For me the ideal rucksack can fit into the airplane luggage holder and the destination has, however basic, bed for the night.
But recently I have been wondering what it’s like to get away from it all and explore the wilderness in more open way than just by making day trips to nearby nature sights. Perhaps also, living in Estonia means you find very quickly the flights are much more expensive than in central Europe and you have to start planning differently.
When I was younger I always wanted to travel south because of the sun and exotic destinations or to cities for the buzz and excitement, but now I start to be fascinated of the north and the opportunities it has for the nature traveller. As many I’ve been cutting back my long-haul travels and decided to travel more locally. North has plenty of options and openness.
Comparing to South and Central Europe North is still lot wilder and more forested, with less cultivated land. When in southerns countries wild camping is illegal as there is always a danger to trespass on someones land, in most north countries wild camping is legal by law. It’s called the ‘right to roam’ as long as visitors are respectful to people and environment.
However, depending on the countries, the rules vary and if Sweden is welcoming the visitors with open hands, Iceland has a rule you can camp in the wild only if there’s no camping site nearby. Most countries have one night stay rule and Scotland does not allow camping in popular national parks. Wherever you go, check with local visitor information.
The right of access also means you are free to walk and hike in nature or forage mushrooms, berries or herbs. Imagine setting your tent up by a beautiful lakeside, listening the nature and picking your own wild food such as lingonberries. I’d be careful with mushrooms unless you are expert, but a nettle tea sounds quite nice doesn’t it?
I don’t think I’d be going wild camping any time soon – it’s a skill to acquire as anything else and I may start with more regular campsites.. But I like the idea of the open wilderness that still exists in this part of Europe. It’s good to know the nature of the North is open for everyone, if you are brave enough to face the wilderness. ⛺
After taking a creative break in Edinburgh I’m back in discovering the natural wonders of London. So todays infographic/map is about waterfalls! Waterfalls in London doesn’t really sound likely, but London actually has quite a few waterfalls, although most of them are man-made. Some parks are quite well known for their water cascades such as Regent’s Park and Kyoto Garden in Holland Park, but did you know there’s a beautiful waterfall on the Carshalton Ponds in Sutton or a quirky brutalist style cascade in Barbican Estate?
There is something really tranquil about being near the water and sound of waterfall has a very calming effect. However with the loss of natural environment and man-made structures replacing the nature, the real waterfalls and cascading rivers in cities have become scarce. Artificial structures like ponds and steps may replace the nature, but they are far from being the real thing. If more city parks would have real streams and waterfalls this would help considerably to create quiet pockets, where to relax and enjoy the nature.
I’ve seen many amazing ‘real’ waterfalls around the world and you may argue cities are not a place for waterfalls, but I disagree. I think cities are exactly the right place for anything that would make it more natural/calm/wild/interesting and better for its residents. For example why couldn’t there be a waterfall park in London, where people in all ages could go to relax and hear the water flowing. River Wandle is hardly a Minoo Park, but maybe, with a little help, it could be? 🌊
This is the second walk of my Edinburgh green walk series and covers around 5 miles of parks as well as some Edinburgh highlights. You could easily spend a full day on this walk, if you want to visit all the sights, but I would recommend at least half a day. Climbing up to Arthur’s Seat takes some time (unless you are very fit!) and I’d plan at least an hour for National Gallery.
Start this walk with a cup of coffee and a Swedish pastry at Söderberg Coffee Shop by The Meadows. Sainsbury’s next to the cafe is a good place to stock up, if you want to bring some snacks/ picnic lunch for your walk. Continue into the park and walk through it diagonally, turning left at the entrance.
Pass the Summer Hall and turn onto E Preston Street. Near the Lloyds Bank building turn to Holyrood Park road and enter the Holyrood Park. There’s an information stand near the entrance with paths to Arthur’s Seat. Choose the one you prefer, I recommend middle path for its quiet and great views over valley.
Walk along the path until you meet people coming up from the other side. It gets busier here when you come to main stream, turn right and continue along The Dasses path until it splits. You can now join the crowds and climb up to Arthur’s Seat or continue little longer and have a quiet picnic by yourself.
When you finish admiring the views continue along the path towards Dunsapie Loch. You can see the lake from anywhere and it’s a nice gentle stroll down. If you do feel you need to catch your breath, there’s a bench by the loch you can rest and swan spot. Otherwise turn left and continue along Queen’s Drive.
Where Queen’s Drive splits keep left. There’s another nice viewing spot by the St Margaret’s Loch and more swans. You can also see the ruins of Saint Anthony’s Chapel from here if you look up the hillside. Continue until you reach the roundabout and turn right, passing Scottish Parliament and the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
Take the Canongate Street to city centre that has few sights on the way such as Canongate Kirk yard and Museum of Edinburgh. Turn right at Jeffrey Street and keep going until you reach to Scottish National Gallery. There’s a cafe in the gallery or Costa on Princes street with good views over castle.
The highlights in the gallery include known artworks such as The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch and The Monarch of the Glen, but there’s much more to explore including art by Scottish painters. If you have a backpack leave it in the locker or carry it in your hand when you walk.
Finished at the gallery walk up The Mound and turn left up the hill until you reach to Royal Mile. Cross the Lawnmarket and the next house on your left is National Library of Scotland. It has interesting staircase and a shop if you have time to peek in. It also holds exhibitions and has a small cafe.
When you exit the library go back a little bit the way you came from and turn left to Victoria street leading to Haymarket. Half way down the street you find a The Bow Bar, go in for authentic pub experience. You can rest off your walk, have a drink from wide selection of spirits and take in the quirky interior.
This is a great walk if you want to get to know the Edinburgh highlights, but also have some down-time away from the crowds. I’d recommend this walk either in the morning or afternoon. With fast pace this walk could be done in less than two hours, but if you want to really enjoy it, allow at least 2 and half hours or even better – half a day.
Start from Waverley Cafe stand, which is a cute coffee box near Waverley station. Bring your own reusable cup for take-away coffee to warm up your walk (especially in winter). Take the News Steps up to Old Town and enjoy the views over Edinburgh New Town.
Turn to St Giles’ Street up to Lawnmarket and walk along the Royal Mile until the Edinburgh Castle. If you have enough time and sterlings to spare, visit the castle, otherwise turn left and take the Patrick Geddes Steps down to Grassmarket Square.
There are few benches you can sit on, if you feel tired of climbing up and down the stairs. When you have had enough rest and people watching, continue the walk towards Castle Terrace. There’s an entry to Princes Street Garden behind the car park.
Walk through the gardens taking in the views of the castle. There’s plenty more seating if you want to chill out for a while. Gross the road beside The Royal Scottish Academy and you are in East side of Princes Street Gardens with great views and Scott Monument.
Turn to busy Princes Street and continue walking until you reach Calton Hill. Take the steps up and walk around the Observatory for great views all around. When you finish exploring take the Regent Walk back down (you can also reverse the steps and walk).
Walk to The Conan Doyle for after walk rest and pub food. It’s a chain pub named after famous novelist, but quite nice to finish the walk. Note there are construction works happening in the area and continue to find somewhere quieter if you like.