Wonderful walks in Hackney
Take a walk on the wild side and discover Hackney's architecture, history and wildlife.
"People often say they love Hackney for its diversity. I love Hackney for its biodiversity," says Cath Prisk, founder of local social enterprise Outdoor People and author of 'Hackney Wild Walks', a series of maps designed to help families get outdoors.
Hackney's green credentials are indeed impressive: 40 per cent of the borough is made up of green space. It has 24 sites of importance for nature conservation and at least 30 protected species within its borders.
Hackney has 24 sites of importance for nature conservation
"It has so many different sides," continues Cath. Adding: "I love walking through gritty Hackney Wick as much as leafy Springfield Park. New graffiti pops up behind the old world feel of the Geffrye Museum herbal garden, and you can say 'hi' to the sheep and donkeys at Hackney City Farm, or see the explosion of exotic plants in front gardens around Haggerston.
"There's elegant architecture from the 17th century in one street and modernist academies in the next. It's all walkable, explorable and there's always more to discover."
Cath's passion for Hackney's architectural diversity is something she shares with Sean Gubbins, who runs a schedule of history walks in the borough for the Hackney Society.
Sean says: "By walking Hackney's streets you get to feel part of the place, building up a familiarity and concern for our borough. More so, if you get to know the local history: why places bear the names they do, why and how they were built, who lived there, when and why.
"Walking gives you more time to look around and take things in, to see things you had not noticed before... a different perspective. Hackney is always changing. After a couple of months re-visit a street and you might spot a new use for an old building or, sadly, its demolition and replacement, maybe bearing a name which harks back to centuries past."
It's not just the borough's fantastic wildlife you encounter when taking a stroll, but its history too. So pull on your trainers and you never know what you might discover.
Here are five of the borough's best walks:
Colourful canals to wonderful woodlands
Start: Church Crescent, Well Street Common, E9
Finish: Marshgate Bridge, Homerton Rd, E9
Distance: Approx. 3 km
A gentle stroll across Well Street Common takes you into Victoria Park - London's first truly 'public' park - created in response to a petition to Queen Victoria in 1840. The Hertford Union Canal, which you'll hit next, was opened 10 years earlier to connect London's docks with the Midlands. A sunny stroll down its towpath today takes you to the Lee Navigation Canal, dating back even further to 1768. A final stretch through Wick Woodland (pictured below) brings you back onto Homerton Road and into the present day.
Hidden gardens and architectural gems
Start: Poole St entrance to Shoreditch Park, N1
Finish: Town Hall Square, Mare St, E8
Distance: Approx. 4.5 km
One for architecture buffs. Starting in Shoreditch Park, this route weaves through some of the borough's smaller green spaces, like Hoxton Community Garden and St Mary's Garden, revealing views of Hackney's historic buildings along the way. You'll see the former film hub Gainsborough Studios, the fine old buildings of Hoxton Street, stop to chat to the animals at Hackney City Farm (pictured below) and wind up crossing London Fields to finish with a view of the Hackney Empire's famous façade.
Northern parks and nature reserves
Start: Clissold Park, N16
Finish: Springfield Park, E5
Distance: Approx. 5.2 km
Clissold Park, where this walk kicks off, was built in 1790 as the country home for a family named Hoare. You will see the house in which they lived as you walk through the grounds towards Abney Park Cemetery (pictured below), one of the 'magnificent seven' garden cemeteries built in the second half of the nineteenth century. On to Stoke Newington Common, where the West Hackney Almshouses were built in 1889, and you are on the final stretch to Springfield Park, where you can take in the wonderful views over the flood plains of the River Lea.
River Lea route
Start: Marshgate Bridge, Homerton Rd, E9
Finish: Manor Road, Stoke Newington, N16
Distance: Approx. 7 km
This route kicks off with a walk through the Wick Woodlands' haven of calm, before following a snaking path through Hackney Marsh along the River Lea (pictured below) and into Springfield Park, a designated Local Nature Reserve because of its springs, trees and grassland. Stop for a well earned cake in the park's cafe before walking across Clapton Common and ending in the hidden gem of Allens Garden.
St John-at-Hackney church to Springfield Park
Start: St John-at-Hackney Churchyard, Narrow Way, E8
Finish: Springfield Park, E5
Distance: Approx. 5 km
Start your stroll at St John-at-Hackney Church. When it was built in 1792, it stood in the middle of an open field. Today, you will need to cross the busy Lower Clapton Road before heading north west to find the next oasis of green: Hackney Downs. Then snake east to South Millfields to see Hackney's largest collection of elm trees, one of which is more than 300cm in girth. If you've worked up a hunger (or a thirst), break the journey up at the Princess of Wales pub before following the towpath along the River Lea to Springfield Park (pictured below).