Day out: Wanstead Park, London

Embrace spring and enjoy native bluebells, baby wildfowl and lakeside walks in the romantic remains of an 18th-century garden within Epping Forest

Bluebells in woodland

Wanstead Park provided an al fresco lifeline to East London locals in recent lockdowns, thanks to 140 acres of roamable public space and a legacy of naturalistic features from its former incarnation as a stately home. 

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Now managed by the City of London, there are walking trails, a system of five lakes, trees to climb, dens to make, an abundance of wildflowers and wildfowl and one of the most beautiful displays of native bluebells in or around the capital. Tea and ice cream are also served in an unpretentious café near the park’s historic Temple.  

Gosling in spring
Spring goslings at Wanstead Park/Credit: Sonya Patel Ellis

Wanstead park walking routes

Walk or run the 3.25-mile Chestnut Trail through Epping Forest from a choice of entrances east and south of the park. Spot herons and egrets nesting on the Perch Pond and Ornamental Waters. Follow the springtime mating and birthing journeys of swans, Canada geese, ducks and coots and their fluffy, inquisitive young around Heronry Pond and Shoulder of Mutton Pond. Keep your eyes open for red-eared terrapins, smooth newts and common frogs. Dip a toe in the shallower edges of the canal when the weather allows.  

Newt under water
Smooth newts can be spotted in the ponds/Credit: Alamy

Bluebells at Wanstead Park

Thousands of native bluebells have colonised the understorey of this easily accessible copse in an ultra-violet, sweet-scented carpet of delicately bent bell-flowered stems. Thanks to the committed work of the Friends of Wanstead Parklands and WREN Wildlife, log-edged paths have been constructed to prevent visitors from crushing the emerging plants. But the vision from the sidelines through April and into May is no less peripheral or spectacular. 

Other wildlife at Wanstead Park

It’s not just Chalet Wood that bursts into bloom in spring – the whole park is a biodiversity hotspot. Pollen-rich willow and alder catkins are some of the first harbingers of spring, followed by vivid yellow broom flowers, frothy cow parsley, fresh green nettles, unfurling ferns, pockets of herbs, such as lemon balm and yarrow, wood anemones and harebells. Meanwhile, a mirage of yellow flag irises, majestic bulrushes and sprawling white-flowered common water crowfoot provide further spring interest in and around Wanstead’s glistening lakes. 

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Words: Sonya Patel Ellis