What I loved most about Canberra was being able to hike and bike almost every weekend. Within twenty minutes’ drive in any direction of the city lies an unadulterated, kangaroo-ridden countryside.
Understandably, when I moved to London, I assumed that my weekend walks were temporarily over. However last month, as the indulgences of London life started to take their toll on both my wallet and my waistline, I made a bold decision; I would continue to hike. Not over mountains or towards bare horizons, but instead through the streets and parks that make up England’s capital.
I must admit at this juncture, that despite being one of the earth’s most buzzing urban centres, London does pretty well with its allocation of green spaces. So well, in fact, that it’s currently vying to become the first urban area in the world to gain National Park status. This would not only ensure the future protection of London’s parks, but also be a best foot forward in creating a more sustainable city for its millions of residents and visitors.
For me it simply means that there’s always a patch of green at the end of my urban tunnel. For September’s Monthly Mission, I completed my first city hike from Victoria to Richmond Park.
Surprisingly, my low maintenance location didn’t make my walk, well, a walk in the park. Despite never being further than 100 meters from a Starbucks, convenience store or another pedestrian, I still encountered the normal setbacks: I took a wrong turn almost immediately and got slightly lost; the weather closed in despite a clear forecast and amazingly I still ended up hungry and thirsty amid tall grasses, wishing that I had prepped better. City hikes, it seems, can be just as demanding as a walk in the wilderness.
From Victoria I ambled my way towards Vauxhall Bridge. Turning west along the Thames, I immediately spotted wildlife. Coots, an elegant egret and a giant inflatable plastic hippo wallowed in the muddy banks. I followed the river for several miles through some of the city’s wealthiest neighbourhoods. Chelsea’s white washed balconies and impressive houseboats proudly lined my path. This rigid alignment was broken only occasionally by stocky footbridges, clusters of trees and most shockingly, the dull shimmer of a Buddhist shrine in Battersea Park.
By the time I crossed the river into Putney I was starting to tire, accentuated by the fact that I’d suddenly entered perfect suburbia. Large plots with walled front gardens stashed Audis and Landrovers. Yummy mummies with expensive buggies pushed Oscars and Harriets in front of me. I prefer kangaroos, but I convinced myself that I was experiencing the city’s fauna in all its forms, from meandering middle classes to selfie-taking monks.
The ‘real’ wildlife, however, was just down the road. In Richmond Park an early autumn light dowsed everything and it was only minutes before I saw deer. I’d planned this as the pinnacle of my walk and it didn’t disappoint. Two stags lounged casually in the long grass, their large ears flicking reactively at flies. A few crows did well to avoid shaking antlers as they diligently pecked their hosts clean.
As I marched the final kilometre to Richmond Gate, I almost forgot that I was even in London (save the guilty promise of a Prêt sandwich that beckoned) Weekenders gathered on benches atop Richmond Hill to admire the last rays of sunlight that fell over cascading slopes. Behind the winding river, the deep green eventually stretched to the horizon. I had found a horizon!
City hiking it may be, but I’d somehow managed to find a tiny slice of tranquillity in this urban paradise.