Where Wild Londoners Roam

Nick Nomi

Senior Contributor

London’s vast cityscape is perhaps one of the most well-trodden on the planet. For who has never crossed London Bridge for a peek at the suspension bridge disguised as a gothic castle (Tower Bridge), braved the crowds on Oxford Street only to quickly escape to the relative serenity of Bond Street, or retraced the steps of Mr Grant in pursuit of pastel-shaded summer days in Notting Hill? But within the metropolis one can find so many hidden gems, little hamlets that hide on the riverside and old architectures snug in their new looks, forever changed by time. From inner-city villages and broken churches reclaimed by nature to city-dwelling goats, these are some of our favourite quiet spots where only wild Londoners roam.

Lamb’s Conduit Street

A simple street nothing more, but such a delightful one. It doesn’t have the raucous identity of Carnaby, the grandiosity of Sicilian Avenue, nor the true calm of a good London Mew, but this partly pedestrianised street in lovely Bloomsbury is one with a long history and such wonderfully cohesive local life. The highlight is the excellent Noble Rot wine bar, quite possibly Bloomsbury’s finest resident, and right across the street is La Fromagerie, one of its best cheese restaurants. 

There are also two Victorian pubs, The Lamb, where Dickens used to drink, and the striking Perseverance. And there is a surprisingly large collection of independent stores too, including the Persephone book store and publisher, whose noble mission is to find and publish hidden stories written by previously neglected female British writers.

Rotherhithe Village

The small main street that leads through Rotherhithe Village connects to London Bridge in one direction, and to Greenwich in the other, with stops in Rotherhithe-proper and the Docklands along the way. But these atmospheric cobbles perched on a quiet stretch of the River Thames is where one finds a scattered history of the roots of a modern civilisation, for its from here that the Mayflower set sail with the Pilgrim Fathers on their journey to create the New World.

In truth, it didn’t go well and the journey was abandoned, restarting weeks later in Southampton. But the fantastic pub that bears the same name, the Mayflower, is one of south London’s most atmospheric, with low beamed ceilings and a hidden terrace that sits on the riverside with beguiling views of Wapping and The City. Walk a few minutes through the village for atmospheric victorian wharves and sculptures of cats and pilgrims on the river wall.

But it’s the atmosphere here that’s so wonderful. The Watchhouse Café shares a jewellery box sized space with a few headstones in the park offering a serene memento mori where locals walk their dogs, and the Brunel Museum hides the atmospheric Thames Tunnel beneath and holds intimate, summer evening cocktail parties (The Midnight Apothecary) in a private garden lit by fire lanterns. While walking along the riverside, look carefully just before reaching Canary Wharf to see two Antony Gormley sculptures across the river, one in front of The Grapes, Ian McKellen's pub in Limehouse, and another in front of the actor's home just a few doors down.

Little Venice

Little Venice, just a short walk from Paddington, isn’t much of a secret these days, but stumble off the main canal and you’ll find a delightful village with pubs piled high with dusty board game boxes, personable wine stores, cafes with stand up comedy, and pretty waterside gardens, perfect for crowd-free springtime strolls. Stroll along the canal or take a boat unto Camden, or stay in Little Venice to peruse the small collection of local-loved attractions hidden away in the unassuming interiors of those delightful canal boats. Foodies should start at the London Shell Company, a charming seafood restaurant with wines from artisan producers, while the Puppet Theatre barge tells magical stories with a mix of marionettes and shadow puppets, perfect for families looking for something a little different to do in London. 

Country Life In The City

For a true slice of country life in London, one needs to travel west to London’s most important nature reserve, the incredible Richmond Park. Home to 600+ deer, birds, beetles, horse-drawn carriages, and acres of parkland with 1000’s of ancient trees, as well as the delightful Pembroke Lodge cafe, and the lesser-known, fairytale-like Hollyhock Cafe sprouting up from the trees in the Terrace Gardens.

But Central London has its wilder moments too, and remarkably, plenty of spots to soak up the attentions of giddy goats and other animals amongst vegetable gardens and quaint cafes. 

South London has quiet Surrey Dock’s farm where goats graze with views of the river, Canary Wharf has Mudchute Farm, home to alpacas and five breeds of sheep, east London has Stepney City Farm, and the City has Spitalfields Farm, where once a year, on the day of the Oxford Cambridge Boat Race, two goats, one for Cambridge and the other for Oxford battle it out in the Oxford vs Cambridge Goat Race, all for fun and charity of course (but don’t expect it to be quiet).

Gardens in Church Ruins

Saint Dunstan’s In The East is the shell of a church, broken by the Great Fire, repaired by Wren, and bombed during the war. But now its overgrown with flora and within those crumbling walls is an idyllic garden refitted with benches in place of pews — for nature rules here. Sitting inside the walls is a whimsical experience, just moments from some of London’s biggest names (The Shard and The Tower) but all one sees is trees sprouting through church windows and vines in various stages of growth encircling the ancient stone. 

It’s easy enough to find, just off a small alley from Great Tower street, and open till dusk. Another such church exists just a little further west, and it’s the kind of place one could stumble into and never really notice. Just a few moments from legendary St Paul’s, Christ Church Greyfriars clings to busy Newgate Street but offers a serene sanctuary with park benches and gardens to enjoy, but nature is held back by a joyless, over-bearing gardener, so the walls here are bare.

Like Saint Dunstan’s it was rebuilt after the Great Fire, a new tower built by Wren, and most of the church destroyed in the Blitz, leaving what’s left today. A remnant of terrible things to be sure, but a stunning little retreat that smells of flowers and new life in the summer, where one can retrieve a moment of thought from the chaos Zone 1.

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