Six car-freeSummer adventuresclose to London
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. RHS Wisley, Surrey
The Royal Horticultural Society’s flagship garden is a delight in every season. Whether your visit to Wisley coincides with apple blossom in the orchard, curtains of flowering purple in the wisteria walk, or autumn’s leafy carnival of colour, there’s always plenty to see.
What’s special about it in summer? Look out for hammocks in the trees and swing seats by the River Wey, flame-like Peruvian lilies or delicate white Chinese dogwood.
How do I get there? Follow Good Journey’s directions to arrive by bus from Guildford or Kingston upon Thames. And get discounted entry with your bus or train ticket.
Anything to look out for on the way? If you catch bus 715 from Kingston, the route runs beside the River Thames before heading for the wooded commons near Esher. (You can also pick up the bus opposite Café Rouge, five minutes from Esher’s railway station). Keep an eye out for Claremont Park on the left and, soon after the village Cobham, the gothic tower of Painshill rising over the main road.
Where can I have lunch? Wisley has five different coffee shops and food halls, serving everything from scones to sausages. The Stone Pine café at the north end of the garden is a good choice, serving gourmet sandwiches in a pine and heather landscape that feels beautifully peaceful.
2. NT Knole Park, Kent
“More like a town than a house” is how Virginia Woolf’s described Knole, in her gender-fluid 1928 novel, Orlando. With a landscape park full of wild deer and views across the Kent Weald, Knole Park is also an idyllic rural escape and a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Trains to nearby Sevenoaks take just twenty minutes from London Bridge station and the park is then a mile’s walk or bus ride up the hill. Inside the house itself, you can discover centuries of art and royal history. Don’t miss the Gatehouse Tower, with its spiral staircase and rooftop views; Eddy Sackville-West entertained his Bloomsbury Group friends here.
What’s special about Knole in summer? There will be baby fawns in the park from June. Walk among the fallow and sika deer on one of several lovely walks around Knole Park, including this easy three-mile walk. There are also lots of creative activities on offer, from photography to flower arranging and a couple of family-friendly outdoor cinema evenings in September.
Any views on the way? The walk from the station gets more interesting as soon as you reach the old town around St Nicholas church and Sevenoaks School. And the walk through the park is delightful with rolling green slopes and ancient oak trees.
Where do I have lunch? Knole’s Brewhouse Café is good for snacks and hot lunches and has a rooftop terrace. Lots of pubs and cafés nearby in Sevenoaks too.