Many Londoners found themselves rubbing in dollops of after sun lotion in the aftermath of April’s freak heatwave. Despite having to nurse red raw skin and deal with dodgy tummies from hastily organised BBQs, the city welcomed the sunshine with open arms. Summer is finally on its way (crossing my fingers right now!).
Whether you’re meeting friends for a BBQ or kicking back with a new book, spending a glorious day in a London park is the ultimate inexpensive escapism.
This post puts the spotlight on South London’s best picnic spaces that you can reach on bike, away from the tourist traps. So, pack the pannier with your favourite sandwiches (classic cheese and onion, please), a lightweight blanket, a good book and a big bottle of water.
Peckham Rye Park
The calmness of Peckham Rye Park is a welcome relief after battling through the craziness of Rye Lane. Do be aware that it is still a bit of a high-risk area due to the amount of footballs flying around. If you’re not joining in a game, there’s plenty of space to settle down and set up a £1.99 disposable BBQ from nearby Khan’s Bargains. Burn off the burgers by taking a stroll through the Japanese Garden and the pretty Sexby Garden, then around the pond and community garden. Pubs line the Rye ready for you to pop in for a craft beer; head to The Rye, The Clock House or The Ivy House. You can also take a detour to Nunhead Cemetery, one of the seven Victorian Magnificent Cemeteries in London. It’s only a five-minute cycle away from the park but you’ll have to demount to explore the eerily fascinating site.
Any Made in Chelsea fan (please say I’m not the only one left?!) often visualises a picture-perfect date in Battersea Park. Cycling is allowed on the carriage driveways and you can rent out bikes from London Recumbents on site. Park patrol is often out to catch anyone cycling on the footpaths – you have been warned! BBQs are also banned, so stick to cucumber sandwiches and some cheeky Champagne in plastic cups. The park is very nearly as beautiful and Instagram-ready as the whole Made in Chelsea cast put together. There’s a huge lake with a fancy tea house and you can imagine Noah and Ally casually rowing along while getting caught in a storm (this reference will only make sense to fans of The Notebook). In fact, you can recreate the scene yourself by renting out a boat or pedalo. The Peace Pagoda is also super cool and it sits just south of the river, so you can carry on cycling into the city or along the Thames path.
Cycling around Dulwich Village is a pleasure. The tricky roundabout isn’t enough to deter me from enjoying the quaintness of it all. Even the sign posts are nice to look at – where else can you say that about? The park is a green garden of good vibes, with a lake and rowing boats for you to carry on re-enacting The Notebook around London (I’m really sorry if this reference is going over a lot of people’s heads). Visit nearby Dulwich Picture Gallery if it starts to get cloudy or if you’re feeling all, like, cultural. Otherwise, cycle a few laps before deciding on the right spot – harder said than done because there are so many. Oh and treat yourself to an ice cream at the Pavilion Café, you probably deserve one.
Burgess Park is gritty, with its cityscape surroundings and proximity to the hellish Old Kent Road. But that’s the appeal of it – a proper urban park in the centre of all the madness. Hordes of people come together for community BBQs on a weekend, complete with heavy beats courtesy of a friendly local’s portable sound system. Cycle through on a quiet weeknight and you’ll catch its duckling-to-swan moment, as the water fountain provides a calm soundtrack to the sun setting over the city. If you’re really lucky, you might even get caught in a blizzard of blossom and magnolia petals from the trees that line the wide paths. This happened to me last week and I felt like I was in Kyoto dream. The shouts of a rowdy group of youths soon brought me back to reality. Lots of commuters cut through this park on their route. If you’re one of them, spare five minutes to demount, sit down, close your eyes and feel the love.
Crystal Palace Park
It’s all about the dinosaurs at Crystal Palace Park, even if they do look a bit naff. Erected by the Victorians, they don’t exactly scream Jurassic Park but they’re fun because, well, they’re just so…random. Once all the novelty of them wears off in around, oh 12 minutes, you can continue the 1.5-mile lap around the park. There’s a maze, a boating lake (sorry but you really need to watch The Notebook to understand my obsession with lakes) and even a little farm. It has ponies and reptiles and alpacas. YES, ALPACAS. Instead of packing a picnic for this one, I recommend the veggie Sunday roast dinner at nearby The White Hart pub.
This is only a handful of South London’s sweet spots but hopefully it’s got you in the mood to get the bike out and hit your favourite sunny patch. Let us know your suggestions for where to go in the comments box below.
And remember to WEAR SUNSCREEN.
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.