9 of the best hidden nature walks near UK cities
Escape the hustle and bustle and get back to nature without having to leave the city limits.
In her memoir The Wild Remedy: How Nature Mends Us, naturalist Emma Mitchell describes the effect of nature as “an unseen, silent reaction in the brain that is simultaneously soothing and curative”.
There’s a science to this: phytoncides – the substance emitted by plants and trees that produces the fresh ‘green’ scent – have been shown to benefit our immune, hormonal, circulatory and nervous systems.
Here are nine walks that will give you that dose of nature just a short walk or drive from the city centre.
1. Parkland Walk, London
Distance: 2.5 miles
This scenic, linear path runs along the former railway line between Finsbury Park and Highgate. The route is diverse, showcasing hundreds of wild flowers, several species of trees (including two surprising fig trees), plenty of birds, foxes and hedgehogs, and the occasional splash of graffiti art.
There are two parts to the walk: the first part, Parkland Walk North, starts at Alexandra Palace and ends at Cranley Gardens in Muswell Hill. Walk through Highgate Wood or Queen’s Wood towards Highgate Station and you can pick up the second section, Parkland Walk South, which continues onto Finsbury Park, ending behind the cafe in the park. Spring 2019 will see the opening of a new ‘Wildlife Trail’ zone, with a butterfly garden, bug hotel, bat boxes, bluebell dell and pond.
2. Jesmond Dene, Newcastle
Distance: 4.6 miles
A cracking walk that will lead you along the Ouseburn, through six city parks and ending at historical Quay Side. The highlight of the walk is its section through Jesmond Dene, a narrow wooded valley, where the waterfall, crumbling ruins and towering trees will transport you into a fairytale world. A charming petting zoo just seals the deal.
3. Worsley Woods, Manchester
Distance: 2 miles
While this is slightly out of the city limits (a 25-minute drive west of Manchester city centre) you won't regret visiting the 30-hectare Worsley Woods. There are plenty of trails here but a pretty primer is the 2-mile circular that starts at the car park in the north of the woods, just off Greenleach Lane. Walk south along the Kempnough Brook to the Instagram-friendly Old Warke Dam, which is backed by a beautiful 16th century lodge known locally as the ‘gingerbread house’. Photos taken, walk west along the lake to the picturesque Worsley Canal Basin, and then north back to the car park.
4. Dr Neil's Garden, Edinburgh
Distance: Under a mile
Tucked away on the beautiful Duddingston Loch's north-east side, this neat little hillside garden crams in a huge array of plants and trees. Lovingly landscaped by doctors Nancy and Andrew Neil in the 1960s – but only officially opened to the public in 2013 – the grounds are jam-packed with conifers, rhododendrons, azaleas and triumphant herbaceous borders. A walk here isn’t about distance. Instead potter along the criss-cross of paths and immerse yourself in this tranquil and thoughtful space. Make sure you take advantage of seats dotted throughout the grounds and enjoy the idyllic lakeside views.
5. Kelvin Walkway, Glasgow
Distance: 10.75 miles
The Kelvin Walkway extends the rugged West Highland Way to Glasgow’s centre via a path from Milngavie to Glasgow Heliport on the River Clyde. This bracing walk begins at the Riverside Museum (although you could do it in reverse if you wish), heading north along the River Kelvin and Allander Water, over a mix of walkways, riverside paths and open countryside. Watch out for the stiles, some of which need repair, and we’d suggest visiting in dry weather to avoid the boggy paths in the later stages of the route.
6. Penllergare Valley Woods, Swansea
Distance: Under a mile
This vivid green woodland is the last surviving pocket of a once-grand Victorian estate. It’s a magical place, dotted with waterfalls, lakes, lush foliage and ruins. There are 12km of walking paths but one of the prettiest is the short stroll from the car park to the waterfall at the southern end of Lower Lake. Take a picnic or head back to the cafe at the entrance for a refreshment.
7. Eccup Reservoir, Leeds
Distance: 4.5 miles
In the middle of patchwork farmland, with red kites swooping overhead, Eccup Reservoir can feel a world away from the city – despite being only 20 minutes drive from it. Begin on Alwoodley Lane, walk north to the reservoir and turn left, where the path will take you along the shoreline, up into pretty Eccup village, and then out into rolling farmland and woodland, and back along the shore to where you began. On a bright day, this is one of the city’s most picturesque spots.
8. Moseley Bog, Birmingham
Distance: 2.2 miles
Moseley Bog is said to be one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s inspirations for Lord of the Rings, which is fitting because it's bursting with rich colours, diverse wildlife and ancient forests that will make you feel like you’ve stepped into a fantasy world. The 11-hectare site is popular thanks to its well-maintained paths but you can still find peaceful stretches to spot buzzards, woodpeckers and pipistrelles. This easy 2.2 mile walk starts on the River Cole, following it south to Shire Country Park, west through Swanshurst Park, and then north to Joy’s Wood and into Moseley Bog.
9. Mersey Way, Liverpool
Distance: 8.9 miles
The 22-mile Mersey Way stretches from Rixton in Warrington to Garston in Liverpool. This walk picks up the path at Garston, hugging the Mersey round past the airport and ending in the chocolate box village of Hale. With a bit of planning, you could also take a detour to Hale Duck Decoy for a guided walk around the saltmarsh nature reserve (open July-February, by pre-arrangement only) .