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Abigail, London

Green Belt land south of Croydon
Green Belt land south of Croydon Chris Harris / Alamy Stock Photo

My partner and I met whilst trying to escape city life, on the Little Stour in Kent. More specifically, the rundown boathouse of our university rowing club, accompanied by biting cold and the occasional seal who had drifted up the estuary.

When we moved to the capital, having access to nature was a priority because it’s where we take stock and slow down. As an author, it’s also where I pace out the plots of my books.

'If we couldn’t hear birdsong around the neighbourhood, we weren’t in the right place'

We scanned maps of South East London and drew circles around local parks and woods, indicating which green spaces could be reached on foot and where we might be able to drive. If we couldn’t hear birdsong around the neighbourhood, we weren’t in the right place. Alas, it’s often the squawk of parakeets or chirp of sparrows.

After giving birth to my daughter in the midst of winter, accessing green space was vital when it came to feeling like myself again, especially when the lines between day and night were so often blurred. The challenge came from locating woodland or trails that aren’t just close by, but publicly accessible, as so much is fenced off as private land.

A woman and her child on her back in a carrier
Abigail enjoying the green space around London with her child | Abigail Mann

When we can’t drive out to the countryside, we play urban hopscotch between patches of the Great North Wood that once spanned across the highlands on both sides of the River Thames, connected by greenways and paths, the verges left to grow long for the butterflies.

Nowadays, our baby happily babbles from a carrier as we duck beneath branches and step over stiles. Whether it’s the trails of Ashdown Forest or green belt heathlands just south of Croydon, you can easily forget that the pace of urban life is less than an hour away.