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Six car-freeSummer adventuresclose to London

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Here are half a dozen day car-free summer adventures that are varied and beautiful. Visit gardens, palaces, deer parks and nature reserves. Take a stroll beside the River Orwell in Ipswich or a boat trip over the Thames at Richmond. These expeditions head off in all directions to see Surrey's finest flowers at RHS Wisley, Kent's incredible Knole Park or Suffolk's Helmingham Hall. Discover oases for wildlife close to the capital; spot egrets, warblers and lapwings at the RSPB's Rainham Marshes or kestrels, terns and kingfishers round the rushy ponds at Rye Meads. Take the train, bus, tube or even boat - it's all part of the adventure.

  1. 3. RSPB Rainham Marshes, Essex

    As the River Thames heads out of London towards the sea, its wide estuary passes through the marshes near Purfleet, a strange area of wilderness on London’s eastern fringes. Rainham Marshes is a maze of boggy meadows, ponds, channels and reed beds that supports rare plants along with waders and ducks, warblers and woodpeckers. Look out for the super-cute, shy water voles too!

    What’s special about it in summer? Lots of migrating birds live on these marshes even in winter, but summer is a beautiful time to visit, with the fields and hedges full of wildflowers and insects. The pushchair-friendly paths and boardwalks are perfect for family adventures and there are often activities during the holidays like pond dipping and grasshopper safaris.

    How do I get there? Follow Good Journey’s instructions and stroll twenty minutes (mostly along the river) from Purfleet Station – or get a bus.

    How about combining it with a longer walk? If you’re up for a longer walk, you can carry on westwards along the river from Rainham Marshes, following the well-signed London Outer Orbital Path (LOOP). The LOOP runs through 150 miles of varied countryside around Greater London. The five-mile stretch along the river to Rainham station is a classic combination of rural and urban with wide marshes and uncompromising industry. The National Trust’s elegant Rainham Hall and its pretty gardens are just beyond Rainham station at the other end. On the way, you’ll pass extraordinary some concrete barges, part of the D-Day preparations.

    Where do I have lunch? RSPB Rainham Marshes has a fabulous eco-friendly café with lots of plant-based options and great views across the nature reserve and the river. It’s open from 10am until half an hour before the reserve closes, with hot food until 3pm. Think locally-made pies and soups, jacket spuds and paninis. The café grows, imports and roasts its own coffee, which is Fairtrade, organic and certified bird-friendly! If you walk to the village of Rainham, you’ll find a choice of cafés there too.

  1. 4. Stanstead Bury, Hertfordshire

    Another RSPB reserve close to London is Rye Meads in the Lea Valley, which is full of delightful corners and has a medieval gatehouse nearby. A thirty-minute stroll away along Rye Road is an interesting manor house, Stanstead Bury, with a walled garden and farm, producing vegetables and red poll beef. Stanstead Bury is a private house, but you can book a guided tour…

    What’s on? The manor house, with its extraordinary mix of architectural styles, is open through the Invitation to View scheme, with dates coming up this summer. The tour lets visitors see the unusual interior, with an ancient half-timbered staircase and centuries of family possessions. And it’s followed by tea with sandwiches and cakes. Neighbouring St James’s Church has an interesting 18th century interior. As a bonus, people turning up without a car will get free veggies! There are also nature and gardening workshops for kids in the beautiful walled garden at Stanstead Bury and you can buy local produce.

    How do I get there? On foot from Roydon or Rye House stations. Trains run from Tottenham Hale Station (Victoria Line tube) to both.

    • From Rye House railway station, turn right over the River Lee, and keep straight for just over a mile. At the end, turn right onto another road for 100m and fork left onto an unmarked track past the church. Stanstead Bury is beyond the church, round to the left. See the map below for both walking routes.
    • If you’re up for an adventure, go cross-country to or from Roydon station (with a great cafe in the old station building). To find this route from Stanstead Bury walk through the churchyard and out of the gate at the far end. Cross the road to an old stile in the trees opposite. Head diagonally left across the fields beyond and turn right on the road to Roydon station.

    What can I see on the walk? The walk from Roydon station is beautifully rural, through fields of grazing cows. From Rye House station, look out for a brick medieval gatehouse, the only surviving part of the original Rye House. It has ornate oriel windows and twisted chimneys and is open every other Sunday in the summer. About 700m along the lane, you will pass the entrance to RSPB Rye Meads on the left, well worth a little detour, even if you only go as far as the first bird hide to have a look at the water birds – watch out for kingfishers!

    Where do I have lunch? Roydon station cafe is legendary. Rye House pub near Rye House station has a riverside garden. There are hot drinks available at the RSPB visitor centre and a tour of Stanstead Bury comes with tea.

  1. 5. Helmingham Hall, Suffolk

    Helmingham Hall is a moated brick palace eight miles north of Ipswich, which makes a long, adventurous, beautiful day trip from London. The beautiful gardens are supervised by landscape designer Xa Tollemache, who lives in the hall, and are open to the public in summer. The park has rolling miles of oak trees, an obelisk-topped mount and huge herds of deer.

    What’s special about it in summer? Leafy gardens by a tranquil moat with a kiosk nearby selling ice creams are pretty much what summer was made for. The late summer borders are dense with elegant shades of pink white and silver: scented meadowsweets and sprawling tobacco plants, late-flowering clematis and abundant roses. The gardens are open from 1st May to 15th September 2019 on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday from 11am to 4.30pm.

    How do I get there? Catch the train to Ipswich. The journey takes just over an hour and there are advance tickets from £10 each way. Since the gardens close at 4.30pm, you need to be on the 11.02am (or earlier) train from London Liverpool Street. There are regular buses between Ipswich railway and bus stations, but you can also opt to walk along the River Orwell (see map below). Catch bus 119 towards Framlingham at 12.45pm from the Old Cattle Market Bus Station. Ask the driver to drop you (twenty minutes later) at the Otley Turn in Helmingham, next to St Mary’s church. Walk through the churchyard and straight between ponds towards the hall. The last bus back is at 5.24pm.

    So what do I do after the gardens close? Explore the deer park, following the way-marked public paths. If you keep the fence of Helmingham Hall’s gardens on your left, you’ll eventually come out on the road again opposite a bus shelter, where you can wait for the bus back to Ipswich.

    Where do I have lunch? Helmingham has the Coach House Tea Rooms plus a little coffee and ice cream parlour. There’s also a huge choice of places in Ipswich, including a mellow pub (with a train departure board) right opposite the station.

  1. 6. Richmond, Greater London

    You don’t even need to leave the city to feel as if you’ve got away for a day. Elegant Richmond is a slice of beautiful, landscaped countryside on the fringe of the urban jungle. It’s also a highlight of the classic Thames Path, which follows the river from the middle of a field in Gloucestershire to the flood barrier in Woolwich. You can find out more about the local sights in our guide to car-free Richmond.

    What’s special about it in summer? You can stroll through shady, wooded parks or drink in riverside pubs, take a boat trip over the Thames or cycle by the water. Ham House, a riverside stroll or bus ride away, has lots of family events to liven up the holidays. And the 17th-century garden is full of the sights and smells of summer with fragrant purple lavender, ox-eye daisies, opulent peonies and scented pelargoniums.

    How do I get there? Arrive in Richmond on the district line tube or overground train or on the regular (Southwestern) railway from Vauxhall. To reach Ham House, you can get bus 371 from Richmond Station to nearby Ham Street or you can stroll along the river (see map below).

    What are the views like on the way? The riverside walk is spectacular. Bus 371 goes over the top of Richmond Hill past a wrought iron, flowery RSPCA monument. Over the river from Ham House, via the £1 ferry, you can visit Marble Hill House, a white Palladian villa belonging to English Heritage.

    Where do I have lunch? Petersham Nurseries, on the 371 route, is very popular. There are loads of other options, including riverside pubs and cafes like the vegan-friendly Tide Tables cafe, just under the arches of Richmond Bridge.

  • RSPB Rainham Marshes visitor centre - from our car-free summer adventures
  • Statue at Rainham Hall - spotted on our car-free summer adventures
  • Country garden door with roses - spotted on our car-free summer adventures
  • Rye House Gateway - spotted on our car-free summer adventures
  • Heron - spotted on our car-free summer adventures
  • Helmingham Hall - spotted on our car-free summer adventures
  • Helmingham Hall - spotted on our car-free summer adventures
  • Statue at Helmingham Hall - spotted on our car-free summer adventures
  • Boats by Richmond House - spotted on our car-free summer adventures
  • Marble Hill House - spotted on our car-free summer adventures