Wild camping this close to London seems wholly improbable. Impossible even. Yet, less than five miles from the M25, this magical riverside collection of woodland glades and hidden tent pitches is very much the real deal. Campfire smoke wafts its way through a leafy canopy and canoes rest, rolled onto their sides, against tall, native trees. Many campers arrive by bike, pedalling the 16 miles from the towering stadium in Stratford’s Olympic Park, others hop on the train and ride the 30-minutes from London Liverpool Street. However short the journey, though, once here the campsite certainly still feels a million miles away.
Created by Lee Valley Regional Park, this ‘almost wild’ campsite has been specifically left untamed and untouched to allow everyone, from escaping urbanites to out-of-towners, the chance to get back to nature. There are only 17 pitches and facilities are little more than a composting toilet, a clean water supply and logs for your campfire. Other than that it’s up to you to use your imagination. Hammocks swing between trees where some hardy campers have decided not to bother bringing a tent and a chatty coupe nudge a canoe into the water, setting off for the short paddle to the local pub. It’s a serene scene. And while some choose to bring the bare ‘expedition’ essentials, the campsite is still an thoroughly approachable place, with families and friendly groups, too, occupying the larger clearings.
The real joy of this campsite is the escapism that hiding away in the woods allows. It’s easy to come here for the weekend and never real leave the fireside, save for a brief evening lying silently on the riverbank hoping to catch a glimpse of an otter. If you do venture out, though, the Lee Valley Park has plenty to offer. Covering a vast swathe of countryside either side of the very river that even Adele sings and reminisces about in one of her famous pop songs, the park encompasses a collection of reservoirs and pools set aside for wildlife. On the largest reservoirs there’s still place for people to play, too. Sailing and kayaking are popular and there are several nearby activity centres, while the Lee Valley White Water Centre is renowned as one of the best white water locations in the country. That’s right, despite the flat, edge-of-London location they’ve even managed to craft some of the UK’s best white water. Improbable? Impossible? That seems to be what wild camping in the Lee Valley is all about.