Quiet retreats in south London


As the summer takes hold and the mercury soars, finding a quiet spot in London can become tricky.

South London from Shard
But, that certainly is not to say that it isn’t possible. In fact, there are several beautiful locations south of the river where visitors can reflect and take in their tranquil surroundings. Whether it be somewhere you can sit with a good book, enjoy a spot of lunch or just soak up some rays, south London is surprisingly blessed with such sites.

Chumleigh Gardens

One such place is Chumleigh Gardens, a relaxation haven first established in 1981. However, this is not just a picturesque patch of greenery, there is a fascinating story behind this area. Back in 1821 the site housed asylums and bedsits for elderly women of good character who had fallen on hard times or ill health. These were badly damaged during the Second World War, but were later renovated to become Chumleigh Gardens.

Today, a major attraction of this part of Southwark is the stunning multi-cultural gardens. These diverse spaces were founded in 1995 and they reflect elements of English, African, Oriental, Mediterranean and Islamic gardens within their lush grounds.

Open each day from 8am until 6pm, the gardens offer plenty of scope for reflection, as well as an opportunity to pay respect at the World War I and II memorials.

The gardens form part of the 56-hectare Burgess Park, an area that was developed between the 1950s and 1980s and is home to a wealth of attractions.

The park is, in fact, the largest Southwark has to offer. It underwent a £20 million overhaul in 2012, helping to introduce many of the attractions housed on-site today. So, for those looking to take advantage of play areas, cafes and sport facilities after their quiet time, this is the perfect choice.

Location also certainly works in Chumleigh Gardens’ favour. The site is well connected to the rest of the capital thanks to its close proximity to the Northern Line via the Elephant and Castle Tube Station. Those preferring to drive will find a small car park which is free to use for up to four hours.

Red Cross Gardens

Southwark is also home to the enchanting Red Cross Gardens. Managed by the Bankside Open Spaces Trust (BOST), this area is a truly immaculate stretch that is kept in tip top shape by a team of volunteers.

It actually began its life as the first Victorian community garden. Opened by Octavia Hill in 1887 on the site of a former paper factory, it quickly became famed for its luscious flower beds and curved lawns.

The gardens were founded in an effort to allow city children to gain access to the joys of the countryside. Today, Red Cross Gardens continue to offer beautiful vistas, fantastic flowers and jaw-dropping greenery to visitors to south London.

However, this is only possible thanks to a restoration process led by BOST. Much of the gardens’ charms were lost under tarmac and overgrown grass in the 1940s. But, with the help of a National Lottery grant, they were brought back to their former glory and re-opened in the summer of 2006 by the Princess Royal.

The gardens also benefit from strong transport links. Located in the heart of Southwark, visitors can take a short walk to the grounds from Borough Tube Station. London Bridge and Southwark stations are also close by, as are London Bridge and Waterloo East railway stations. Leathermarket Gardens are also just a short walk away, offering even more opportunities for relaxation.

Bonningham Square Garden

Originally built to provide homes for railway workers in the 1870s, Bonningham Square Garden is another prime example of a slice of London that offers a relaxing hideaway for visitors looking to escape the hustle and bustle. It is also another site that has an interesting story to tell, having lived a charmed existence in a number of guises.

Located in Vauxhall, the area was badly damaged in the Second World War. Years later the properties had been due for demolition in the 1970s, but were saved after a campaign by local residents. In the following years, squatters moved into the residences, however in the early 1990s locals helped transform the square into a pleasure garden.

This community garden is a testament to what can be achieved with a healthy dollop of team spirit. They are also home to a wealth of horticultural delights. These include silver birch trees, eryngium pandanifolium, melianthus major, mulberrys, dragon aram, myrtles and much more.

The Square Garden is open from 10am to 5pm on Saturdays and Sundays – perfect for a spot of relaxation after a busy week. Getting to the gardens is a doddle, as they are located just a short hop from Vauxhall Tube and railway stations. Visitors here will also find Vauxhall and Kennington Parks nearby, just in case any more stretches of greenery are required following a visit to the Pleasure Garden.

Centre for Wildlife Gardening

Last, but certainly by no means least, in our search for quiet spots in south London, we come to the Centre for Wildlife Gardening.

Tucked away within a residential area, the centre is an absolute haven for peace, quiet and beautiful landscapes.

Within the centre you will find something for everyone, thanks to its wild flower nursery, wildlife demonstrations and regular talks. Of course, there is also the little matter of the treasure trove of cosy hideaways in which you can take a breather and watch the world go by.

While doing so you might just spot some intriguing wildlife. Red foxes, stag beetles, frogs, newts, grasshoppers and songbirds are among the creatures regularly seen within the grounds. The appeal of this stunning attraction has been recognised by the numerous awards it has scooped over the years. These include several Green Flag honours and Southwark In Bloom’s gold award in 2009 and 2010.

Once you have taken some time out you could then head into the award-winning on-site visitor centre. There you will find green-fingered experts on hand to share gardening tips and answer any questions that you may have.

Picnic facilities are also available, offering the opportunity to indulge in a little lunch in these sublime surroundings. After all, what could be better than an hour or so of nature spotting in beautiful surroundings while enjoying some fine food and drink?

The Centre for Wildlife Gardening is open for business Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday from 10:30am to 4:30pm. Wheelchair access is available, as is on street parking. The centre itself suggests that the best time of year to visit is between March and October.

Visitors looking to take a trip on public transport will find East Dulwich railway station nearby, with Peckham Rye and Nunhead stations a little further afield.

If a visit to the centre gives you the bug for nature then you are spoilt for choice thanks to several nearby reserves.

Just a mile down the road you will find the Bellenden Road Nature Reserve, while the New Cross Gate Cutting and Sydenham Hill Wood Cox’s Walk facilities are only a couple of miles away.

All of which goes to show that while the capital may be a hive of activity, particularly in the summer months, there are some stunning escapes right on the doorstep of south London’s many attractions.