Christmas is Open

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! đŸŒČ

Edinburgh Green Walk II – Meadows to Grassmarket

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.

 

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Edinburgh green walk – Waverley to Calton Hill

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.

 

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Visit National Parks posters

These three new vintage style posters are inspired by travel advertisements that were used to promote travelling to British countryside in early 20th century, when the train travel for many was nearly the only option to have access to great outdoors. Although the times have changed and travellers may prefer to explore the countryside on a car, taking the train is still one of the most sustainable and comfortable way of travel, as well as sometimes even a more scenic option.

The fictional art posters invite to visit Britain’s fifteen national parks by train and include a stylised map of train stations that are access points to the national parks. The 38 stations can be travelled from towns and cities or even act as connections between parks. Why not to travel the Tenby to Taunton coastline or take a train from beautiful Windermere to Ribblehead Viaduct? The golden age of railways may have passed, but the the new age of train travel is now!

London nature walking week – in photos

Location: London National Park City*  (London becomes NPC in July 2019)
Travel Dates: 18.06 – 25.06
Walking distance: ~120 km/75 miles

Looking back to this week in London I covered around 120 km of streets and paths (140 km according to my walking app and 100 km according Google maps). Overall I visited approximately 36 parks and green spaces, walked by Thames and Regent’s Canal, passed many green squares and gardens and saw large variety of nature and wildlife.

This week helped me to really appreciate the variety of London’s green spaces and accessibility to outdoors and wildlife as well as understand the challenges of nature walking in city environment. It also provided valuable research for my walking maps.

I also met many interesting and creative people…. thank you all for inspiration!

Day 1 – Central London/Thames Path (North Bank) (21 km)

AM/noon – Brompton Cemetery and Barbican Estate
PM – From Charterhouse Square to Somerset House

Starting from Charterhouse Square, now open for public

Found a green rounded garden with seating next to Museum of London

Looking at lush foliage in Postman’s Park, quiet green space near Barbican

Walking through St Paul’s Cathedral Churchyard Garden greenery

It’s getting really wet now, so I’m hiding under the umbrella

Peeking into Middle Temple Gardens, not open for public (at least not from Thames side)

Day 2 – Central London/South Bank (20 km)

AM – Kensington/Hammersmith
PM – From Waterloo to Barbican

One of the many private garden squares in Kensington

Walkway in railway tunnel at Waterloo, South Bank

Day 3 – North London (32 km)

From Golders Hill Park to Canary Wharf

At the start of the walk by gates of Golders Hill Park

Passing the Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath 

The impressive sign in Highgate Wood gates

Entering to Queen’s Wood Nature Reserve

Walking along Parkland Walk that runs along a railway line

From here I left the path and continued in Hackney Downs

Impressive London Plane trees in Hackney Downs Park

Passing beautiful wildflower meadow in London Fields Park

Spotting this beautiful brick building covered with foliage on Regent’s Canal

Taking a detour from the canal via Victoria Park

Back on Regent’s Canal path and surrounded by greenery

Modern landscaping of Mile End Park, running along the canal

Finally arriving to Limehouse Basin.. tired, but happy!

Colourful boats mooring at Limehouse Basin

Quirky seagull statue on Ropemakers Field

Turning to Thames Path for a ferry back to Central London from Canary Wharf.. It’s been a great day!

Day 4 – Central/Royal London (21 km)

From Victoria Tower Gardens to Primrose Hill

Starting the walk today with coffee and green view in Victoria Tower Gardens

Found a quiet space in Jewel Tower gardens in Westminster

Spotting marching pelicans in St James’s Park

Walking path just for myself in Green Park.. look at the crowds on the left!

Lovely and tranquil Queen’s Meadow in Green Park.. next to busy junction

The Italian Gardens Cafe with living roof, taken over by nature

Henry Moore’s nature inspired Arch in Kensington Gardens 

Arrived in Regent’s Park wilder area

Regent’s Park’s wildlife garden with useful tips for gardeners

Passing wildflower meadow in Regent’s Park

Crossing the bridge over Regent’s Canal next to London Zoo

After a short climb the view over London from Primrose Hill. This is the end of my walk!

Day 5 – South London (27 km)

From Wandsworth Park to Bushy Park

Starting the walk from Wandsworth Park by Thames

Walking through the nature on Putney Heath

Spotting a windmill on Wimbledon and Putney Commons

Arriving to Richmond Park… hooray!

Fallen trees in Richmond Park providing shelter for Stag Beetles and rest for walkers

Half the distance done and feeling great!

Winding trail ahead in Richmond Park

Richmond Hill/Terrace Field with stunning views over Thames towards Surrey

Back on the Thames Path for the next 10 km

After a while passing the Teddington Lock

Approaching Kingston Bridge in the distance

Passing quiet Canbury Gardens, it’s late on Sunday evening

Made it to Kingston Bridge..

.. and looking exhausted. 5 km to go!

Finally in Bushy Park at Hampton Wick Gate!

In leafy and quiet Bushy Park and breathing in the freshest air in London

Meeting the herd of deer in Bushy Park.. a perfect end of the day!

Day 6 – Central London/South Bank (15 km)

From Tower Bridge to Waterloo

100 km behind me and on one of my favourite Thames walk

Tranquil wilderness spot in Potters Fields Park

Detour through Borough Market

Crossing Waterloo Bridge with green views over South Bank. The walk is done and my week in London is finished.. until next time!

Conclusion: My walking week in London proves London is great destination for walkers, who appreciate the variety and culture of the city, but still want to see nature close by. London has many species of wildlife and provides unique environment for wildlife spotting. However navigating in urban environment can be stressful at times and the routes are not always straightforward. Large parks have plenty of space to enjoy nature, but the main paths are often crowded and traffic can be heard nearly everywhere. I loved to see few smaller squares and parks in city centre opening up for public in recent years. I sometimes felt unwelcomed outside city centre, yet again few people stopped to help me. Some paths lacked facilities such as fresh drinking water or toilets. If not to account these few issues, London’s urban forrest is very special city environment and I hope more people will choose London as nature walking destination.

Next: I would explore certain area, instead of taking linear path. London has lot of cultural variety and North feels completely different than South or Docklands. I would love to take time discovering different areas in depth as each area is unique.

Park Connection Map second version

As the first Park Connection Map received lot of positive feedback and many wonderful suggestions to include more parks, I designed the second map with 80 additional open spaces and three new lines. I would have liked to fit in even more suggestions, but as you can see below, the map is getting quite busy! Maybe next version will cover even more green ground.đŸ€ž

For those who did not see the first version, this is a creative park connection map connecting parks, open spaces and waterways. The idea of the map is to create a green ground network that can be cycled or walked, based on the idea of classic London Tube Map. The aim of this map is to inspire people to spend more time overground and on healthier green infrastructure. 🍃

The six original ‘lines’ connect Royal parks and City parks, link open spaces in North and South London and follow Thames and Regent’s Canal. The three new lines run along Lea and Brent river and create a BeeLine. Suggested by TiCL.me map makers, BeeLine is a corridor of safe havens for pollinating insects linking London’s green spaces and gardens. 🐝

As a seedling of an idea the Park Connection Map gets watered by the inspiring ideas of National Park City and its aim of making London greener, healthier and wilder, with contributing suggestions from outdoor lovers and green organisations. đŸŒ±

 

Greenground Map v2

Greenground Map v2 PDF

Park connection map in Londonist

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Lovely M@ [read: Matt] from Londonist shared the park connection map alongside with great suggestions to his readers for the long weekend. His article The Greenground: A Tube Map Of Parks And How To Get Between Them highlights the map with a challenge to a reader ‘Imagine a ‘tube map’ showing the parks of London, joined together in ways you might want to walk or cycle.’ and invites to ‘Get out there and explore!’

Helen’s map isn’t intended as a detailed navigational aid, but more as an inspiring prompt to encourage exploration. A walk from Highgate Wood to Clissold Park via Woodberry Wetlands, for example, strikes us as a smashing way to spend a Sunday. Likewise, we can imagine a very pleasant cycle ride from Wandsworth Common to Richmond Park, taking in Putney Heath and Wimbledon Common.

Matt himself is a keen explorer who has taken few outdoor adventures out and about London. He has even compiled his own London Walker’s Tube Map based on most prominent walking routes.

A London Walker's Tube Map by Matt Brown
A London Walker’s Tube Map by Matt Brown

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