In her 1930 essay ‘Street Haunting: A London Adventure’ the novelist Virginia Woolf recounts a winter’s walk across London, simply to buy a pencil. She wrote: “As we step out of the house on a fine evening between four and six, we shed the self our friends know us by and become part of that vast republican army of anonymous trampers, who’s society is so agreeable after the solitude of one’s own room.”
With the days continuing to get shorter, we can celebrate the fact that London in the dark is an alternate world, well-worth exploring. As Woolf notes, sharing the streets and parks of the city with strangers feels refreshingly wholesome in an isolating era of confinement.
In our list of lockdown walks we’re venturing through Lewisham, Croydon, Tower Hamlets and Hackney. We have your classic dog walks, some gorgeous nature spots, and some historical walks. We’ve also got some places you can enjoy in the dark, “on a fine evening between four and six.”
Haggerston Park is just off Hackney Road and can be accessed from Whiston Road, Goldsmiths Row and Queensbridge Road. The nearby area became a wasteland after much of it was decimated when a gasworks was bombed by a doodlebug in 1945. It was carved out of the derelict site in the 1950’s and officially opened in 1958.
If you look closely you can spot that the park has some nautical elements : as a raised area that represents a ship’s bridge, a compass structure in the sundial and oval brickwork that resembles lifeboats. The maritime features are credited to Rupert Lyell Thorpe, who was commissioned to design the park by Hackney Council, and had been a lieutenant in the Royal New Zealand Naval Volunteer Reserves.
The park closes at 5:30pm so this is one to explore in the daytime. The park’s Hackney City Farm is mostly closed due to Covid-19, but is still open for takeaway’s from Frizzante Café, and you can buy veg from Growing Communities and pick up some fish from Soul Share.
Here’s one you can do in daylight or when it’s dark, as it’s a street tour. Ghost signs are faded signs from bygone eras and there are plenty around Hackney. The Hackney resident Sam Roberts has been obsessed with them since he arrived in London in 2005 and has created a tour. Have a wonder and see how many of the following you can spot.
Continuing with our stationary theme, why not pretend you’re going on a walk to buy a fountain pen… There is a Waterman’s sign in Stoke Newington that says “Fount Pens repaired” and advertises the latest fountain pens.
Need to buy a razor? Have a venture off down Commercial Street towards Tower Hamlets and this sign will remind you to buy one!
London Fields is a classic. A staple for any Hackney resident it’s in Hackney Central and also has it’s own overground station, London Fields. It’s flat so it’s a great place to sit down with one friend and crack open a beer (socially distanced of course!), walk the dog (if you have one), or play football with your household.
The south-western side of the park was home to a WW2 anti-aircraft battery, and underneath the grass the tarmac is still visible.
There is also a sculpture of flower sellers that is well worth having a look at:
Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Queen Elizabeth park is a lovely spot for residents of Tower Hamlets. The year the London Olympics took place was a much more optimistic time. We recommend heading over there and feeling some of that energy, pretend you’ve time-travelled to a pre-pandemic era.
It’s famously home to Sir Anish Kapoor’s Orbit, which whether you love or hate it is definitely an interesting structure. It didn’t get an entirely good reception at the time – but it’s fun to have a look at!
The Northern Parklands by the River Lea provide a great spot for a peaceful walk in nature.
It’s open 24 hours but after dark there’s limited lighting – so you’ve got to be brave.
Jack the Ripper – a Whitechapel history
Wonder the narrow streets of Whitechapel. These streets are where the notorious nineteenth century serial murderer Jack the Ripper killed an unknown number of people, usually female prostitutes who inhabited the local slums.
The five victims that are most likely to have been killed by Jack the Ripper are Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly. These are the streets on which they were found dead:
Durward Street, E1 – then Buck’s Row:
Dutfield’s Yard on Henriques Street, E1 formerly Berner Street:
The backyard of 29 Hanbury Street, E1:
Miller’s Court on Dorset Street, now Duval Street, E1:
Weaver’s Fields in Bethnal Green is an ideal spot for dog walkers. The field is a designated area in which you can let your dog off its lead and play endless fetch. It’s one of the borough’s largest open spaces and has a heritage linked to the Huguenot silk industry. It used to be home to weaver’s silk cottages. Weaver Fields closes at 8pm on Friday and Saturday, but is open 24 hours throughout the rest of the week.
Blythe Hill Fields
Blythe Hill in Lewisham offers a spectacular panoramic view of London, and is a great spot for some hill running or dog-walking. You can reach it by Blythe Hill Lane, Montacute Road, Codrington Hill and Brockley Hill and via several local bus routes.
It was the site of a brickworks until 1938 – when they were demolished, and made into a park. If you’re going on a socially-distanced walk with a friend you can extend it by another half an hour by heading down Crofton Park Road, and turning right down Brockley Road. You’ll eventually arrive at The Orchard pub which offers takeaway pints!
Waterlink Way is a diverted area of the River Thames, it has a lot of wildlife and vegetation, making it a great space to play some fetch with your dog. Fun spots to look out for include Waterview Bridge and Bellingham Tunnel.
Divert off the beaten track and you can find some astonishing peace and serenity. Follow the river path and you can cover Catford, Lewisham and Deptford. If you’re a keen cyclist, it’s a good one to do by bike as well.
The full route extends over eight miles and covers South Norwood through to Greenwich’s famous Cutty Sark ship. Start in Lewisham and you can choose which direction to go in.
A map of the route can be found on Lewisham Council’s website.
If you want to escape the grey streets of Lewisham, Deptford Park is a great option. It is accessible from nearby Surrey Quays overground station and used to be a market place before it was bought by London County Council and made into a public park.
It is renowned for its plane trees. If you don’t like mud you can get your nature fix while walking on a path, as it is fully paved around the perimeter.
Addiscombe Railway Path
Addiscombe Railway Path begins at East Croydon Station and is three and a half miles of picturesque parks. The path covers an area that used to be part of the Addiscombe Line. The old Addiscombe Station is now the East India Way housing development.
It covers Addiscombe Railway Park:
South Norwood County Park:
Coulsdon South to Banstead Downs
This is the sixth part of the London Loop, which is a set of trails that covers outer London. This part takes you through Croydon, Sutton, and into Surrey.
It starts in Coulsdon and passes through the Happy Valley and Farthing Downs before you end up in Banstead Downs which is full of open fields and has been the site of some fascinating archaeological finds such as Iron Age pottery and Bronze Age axes.
Surrey Street Market
If you want to take a more artsy wonder in Croydon, Surrey Street Market, which actually dates back to the thirteenth century, is a good option.
You won’t miss the iconic Boy Soldier artwork by Schoony.
And if you’re going for a wonder after dark this neon sign by British artist Lauren Baker will look even more spectacular:
The street market is open between 8am and 6pm and is a fantastic place to by fruit and vegetables. When lockdown restrictions ease on the 2nd December you’ll also be able to sit outside with a pint, just make sure to stay safe.
I’d wonder through “between four and six” and enjoy being part of “that vast republican army of anonymous trampers”!
If you have any other recommendations for things to do in Lewisham, Croydon, Hackney or Tower Hamlets, do not hesitate to get in touch. Send us a picture and we’ll share it on our Twitter!