Southeast London hidden gems: Lesnes Abbey Woods and Bostall Woods

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A GPX file of the walk can be downloaded from https://www.strava.com/activities/1718549813

Overlooking Thamesmead – the notorious riverside 1960s new town which failed to fulfil the planners’ and the residents’ utopian dream – Lesnes Abbey and its adjacent woods sit quietly along one of the less visited sections of the London Green Chain network. However, for those who have made the effort to walk this stretch of the Green Chain, they are awarded with the arguably the most amazing woodland walking London has to offer.

A couple of years ago, we had planned to walk from the popular Oxleas Woods to Bostall Woods. Unfortunately, the monotony of endless streets of semi-detached houses, and the equally uninspiring landscape of the East Wickham Open Space, caused us to turn back half way and we never did make it to Bostall Woods. Last weekend, after a run inside Oxleas Woods, we decided to give Bostall another go. This time, we decided to drive 15 minutes from Oxleas Woods to Lesnes Abbey Park, and start from there.

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Lesnes Abbey by Axel Drainville

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Lesnes Abbey Woods

Having parked our car along New Road, we entered the park through a nice-looking set of iron gates/sculpture; a well-paved footpath led us into the heart of the park, and soon we saw in front of us its centrepiece – the ruins of the abbey itself. Today, not much remains of the Augustinian abbey, but we could easily imagine how commanding its presence would once have been, overlooking the Thames. Following a series of familiar Green Chain signposts, we ventured into the 88-hectare woodland behind the abbey and the garden. At once, we were pleasantly surprised by how ancient and wild Lesnes Abbey Woods turned out to be. The path rose and dipped among centuries-old trees, which provided ample shade – especially welcoming in the unusual summer heat. Soon, we reached a pond before exiting the woodland. In typical Green Chain fashion, the route took us out of the woods, through an housing estate, before crossing the busy A2041 to reach Bostall Woods.

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The pond in Lesnes Abbey Woods

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Bostall Woods

After the impressive Lesnes Abbey Woods, our expectations were set high for Bostall Woods. Fortunately, the latter did not disappoint. The winding and undulating path through the woods reminded us of walks more likely to be enjoyed in the Surrey Hills than zone-4 London. As the path started to descend, the steepness of Bostall Woods’ boundary became apparent: it transpired that the woodland sat on top of a mount, with rows of suburban houses jostling for space at its base. At this point, we decided to skirt the boundary to rejoin another Green Chain path (from Plumstead), heading back towards Lesnes Abbey. Along the way, the woodland threw a number of very pleasant surprises at us, as the narrow path led us into the heart of the woods, revealing a majestic glade. But soon (and reluctantly) we had to bid farewell to this enchanting place, as the emerging sight of the housing estate beside A2041 once more reminded us of the fact that we were in fact in grimy Southeast London, not affluent Surrey.

Upon arriving in Lesnes Abbey Woods again, we began following the woodland’s Blue Walk signs (the ‘Active’ walk), which took us back to the ruins via the left side of the woods (with some short but steep bits!). We concluded our walk with a cool drink in the park cafe, where a couple happened to be celebrating their wedding. It was wonderful to see the place being enjoyed by locals and visitors alike! We were very glad to have made this journey, and would highly recommend to anyone visiting this part of London. 

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