There’s nothing quite like a bracing wintry walk surrounded by nature – and you might be surprised by just how much wilderness you can find without even leaving London.
Take a look at these five almost-urban sites of natural beauty that would each serve as a wonderful spot for a winter ramble – and the five pubs you can duck into afterwards to warm up next to the fire.
Richmond Park (ending at the Lass O’ Richmond Hill)
King Charles I founded Richmond Park in the early 17th Century, so that he would have somewhere to hunt deer. Today, the deer (not the same ones) remain – 630 of them – but they now roam freely and hunting them is extremely frowned upon, i.e. illegal.
The largest of London’s Royal Parks, it is a national nature reserve, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a Special Area of Conservation and a Grade I-listed Historic Park and Garden. In short, it is an almost unfathomably handsome landscape, so it’s no wonder that the Royal Ballet School has made its home there in the formal royal residence of the White Lodge. There are few more beautiful places to walk in London.
Afterwards, you can head to the Lass O’ Richmond Hill on the fringes of Richmond Park and sink into a leather armchair beside a crackling fire.
Parkland Railway Walk (ending at The Railway Tavern)
The Parkland Walk is a straight line from Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace, comprised of a redundant railway line that has become overgrown with plant life since its closure in 1964.
The elevated walkway offers unique glimpses of London through the vegetation, yet the overarching canopies of tree branches offer a sense of secluded privacy that you’d never expect in such otherwise built-up areas. Meanwhile, the platforms of long-forgotten stations are still visible at various points along the path, imbuing this walk with an uncanny atmosphere that is all the more pronounced under a layer of snow.
The Railway Tavern in Crouch End provides a thematically perfect conclusion to this stroll, with classically wood-panelled 1930s style and an impressively flared copper smoke hood above the fireplace.
Hampstead Heath (ending at The Spaniards Inn)
One of the highest points in London, Hampstead Heath offers staggering views of London from Parliament Hill – as breathtaking on a clear winter’s day as they are at the height of summer.
With 790 acres comprised of untamed woodland, rolling parkland and 25 ponds – three of which provide picturesque locations for open-air bathing (men’s, ladies’ and mixed), in case you fancy making a chilly winter’s walk even more invigorating – Hampstead Heath presents an opportunity to commune with wilderness a mere 8km from Trafalgar Square.
After that, head to the historic Spaniards Inn, located on Spaniards Road running between Hampstead and Highgate. Built in 1585, the inn counts Charles Dickens, Lord Byron and John Keats among those who have drunk in its oak-panelled rooms. And, yes, it has a fireplace.
Little Venice (ending at Warrington Hotel)
The towpaths of London’s canals form the basis for a picturesque walking tour of waterways which can be adjusted to any length of your choosing.
With no traffic and next to no chance of getting lost, the canals provide a perfectly relaxing combination of water, wildlife, engineering and architecture – not to mention a beguiling insight into the eccentricity of canal life through the unique styles and curious names of the narrowboats that hundreds of people call home.
Make sure you end your walk at The Warrington – a pub built in 1857 with perhaps one of the most beautiful bars in London, bedecked with dark, intricately-carved wood, mosaic-tiled floors, and fruity paintings that hint at the building’s reputedly risqué history…
Bentley Priory Nature Reserve (ending at The Hare)
Located in northwest London’s Stanmore, the Bentley Priory Nature Reserve is a 136 acre patchwork of ancient woodland, untamed grassland, wetland and an artificial lake.
The nature reserve is home to an 18th century stately home of the same name, built by renowned Neo-Classical architect John Soane (who also designed the Bank of England). During the Second World War, Bentley Priory was used as the home of RAF Fighter Command. It’s also home to a deer enclosure, whose inhabitants will gladly nuzzle the fence to greet anyone proffering a festive carrot.
Round off your walk with an elegant meal and a festive beverage at The Hare gastropub, where the warm welcome guaranteed to four-legged friends makes this an ideal option for dog-owners.