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Nine secret rural spots in London

In need of an escape to the ‘countryside’? We’ve found some green retreats you can get to with your Oyster card

By Kate Hodges
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Don’t get us wrong, we’d be the first to sing the praises of London – this place really is the bee’s knees – but we all need space from 24-hour Tescos and angry commuters every now and then. Luckily, Kate Hodges (author of ‘Rural London: Discover the City’s Country Side’) has hunted around the capital in search of some sanctuary. Here are nine rural spots right on your doorstep where you’ll feel a million miles away. 

Rural London: Discover the City’s Country Side’ by Kate Hodges is out now, published by Michael O’Mara Books.

Christchurch Greyfriars
Christchurch Greyfriars
© Shutterstock

1. Christchurch Greyfriars

What is it? A floral elegy to a lost church

Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, Christchurch Greyfriars was destroyed by fire in the Second World War but in 2011 the grounds were transformed and turned into gardens. Roses climb around wooden trellises and towers, built to replicate the original church’s towers and pews. A short hop from St Paul’s Cathedral, right in the heart of the city, this is a sliver of rural tranquillity.

© Shutterstock

St Pancras Old Church
St Pancras Old Church
© Jeff Pitcher

2. St Pancras Old Church

Attractions Religious buildings and sites St Pancras

What is it? Central London’s village churchyard

A leafy sanctuary hidden just behind St Pancras station, the Old Church is a piece of ancient London that’s somehow managed to survive into the twenty-first century. It looks like a country chapel, with a square tower topped with a jaunty roof and is surrounded by a grassy, cleared graveyard dotted with a few mausoleums. Don’t miss the Hardy Tree, an ash that’s been encircled by layers of tombstones purported to have been arranged by the novelist Thomas Hardy.

© Jeff Pitcher

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Eel Pie Island
Eel Pie Island
© Jeff Pitcher

3. Eel Pie Island

What is it? A bohemian hideaway with a touch of rock ’n’ roll

Long beloved of bohemians (The Rolling Stones, The Who and Black Sabbath all played legendary shows here), Eel Pie Island is home to a nature reserve, higgledy-piggledy houses and artists’ studios. The place is only accessible via a footbridge from the north bank or boat, but the awkwardness of getting to it is also its saving grace – it feels undeveloped, a little ramshackle and a true retreat for creatives.

© Jeff Pitcher 

Camley Street Natural Park
Camley Street Natural Park
© Jeff Pitcher

4. Camley Street Natural Park

Attractions Parks and gardens King’s Cross

What is it? Bird-watching and pond-dipping round the back of the Eurostar terminal

Hewn in 1984 from an old coal yard at the back of King’s Cross station, this creatively-designed oasis is a deep green jewel in one of the most built-up areas of town. Wander through a mini-woodland, past the quirky café (their cakes are out of this world), past a series of ponds and onto Viewpoint, a floating platform on the Regent’s Canal.

© Jeff Pitcher 

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Nunhead Cemetery
Nunhead Cemetery
© Jeff Pitcher

5. Nunhead Cemetery

Attractions Historic buildings and sites Nunhead

What is it? Acres of ivy-covered graves to explore

With spectacular, unexpected views towards the city, Nunhead Cemetery is a bucolic spot that restores and inspires. Walk up a tree-lined avenue to the ruined chapel, picturesque and gothic and with sightlines back towards the London Eye, or take a winding route through the fifty-two acres, listening for the hammer of woodpeckers and watching for jays.

St John’s Lodge Gardens
St John’s Lodge Gardens
© Jeff Pitcher

6. St John’s Lodge Gardens

What is it? Concealed elegance and tranquillity

Push open a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gate on the Inner Circle of Regent’s Park to find this hidden treasure. Built to be a garden ‘fit for meditation’ in 1889, the nymph statues, trailing wisteria flowers, green arches and stone bowers spilling with blooms provide respite from the heady(ish) clatter of the park’s bandstands, ice cream vans and zoo. It’s peaceful, very English and one of the best-kept secrets in central London.

© Jeff Pitcher

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7. Brixton Windmill

Attractions Brixton

What is it? Flour power on an urban estate

One of the most surreal sights in Brixton, this 200-year-old working mill is tucked behind a modest housing estate just off Brixton Hill. Set in immaculately-cared-for community gardens, the mill produces stoneground flour and is the hub for a series of events that include bat walks, milling demonstrations and a harvest festival. Book ahead for a full tour of the building.

The Sun Inn, Barnes
The Sun Inn, Barnes
© Jeff Pitcher

8. The Sun Inn

Bars and pubs Barnes

What is it? A village pub inside and outside

Perfectly situated, the Sun Inn is a delightful pub overlooking a village green, complete with duck pond. On a sunny day, with a pint of real ale and a handmade Scotch egg, it feels like you could be in deepest Yorkshire. The Thames is only a short stroll away – work off your indulgences with a walk along the towpath.

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Queens Wood
Queens Wood
© Jeff Pitcher

9. Queens Wood

Restaurants Cafés Highgate

What is it? A remnant of old England

Wilder than neighbouring Highgate Wood, and tangled with ancient trees, this space has been wooded since at least 1600. Even in the height of summer it’s easy to lose yourself and find a quiet space to dream. Have a sit in one of the supersized branch dens towards the Wood Vale end and conclude your visit with a cup of organic soup from the community-run café.

© Jeff Pitcher

Need a break from the city?

Mayfield Lavender Farm, 2015
© Joyce Dela Paz

The best day trips from London

Things to do

Now lockdown is easing a little we can ditch the city for a (little) bit with one of these great day trips, covering everything from beaches and wild swimming to quaint country pubs.

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