Forest Bathing:

what it is and where to do it
(in London) 

Oxleas Woodlands, an ancient forest in South London, photograph: Marathon


Surrounded by nothing but nature, forest bathing can help the mind and body relax. Although the term originates from Japan, forest bathing is possible anywhere, including London. To help you start your forest bathing journey, we’ve rounded up four forests in London.

Text Mirabella Shahidullah

The concept of forest bathing, or Shirin Yoku, first originated from Japan and describes the immersion of oneself in complete nature as a practice to increase relaxation and a positive wellbeing. Much like the English translation suggests, forest bathing is not just about going outside but aims to connect your mind and body through experiencing life in nature-rich areas such as a forest, woodlands or even the small nature reserve near your house. Qing Li, one of the world’s foremost expert into the health benefits of forest medicine explains that it is not the same as working out, it’s not hiking or running in nature, instead the practice encourages you to awaken your senses by connecting deeply with your body through forestry.

Often described as a method of ecotherapy, the great thing about forest bathing is that it is something anyone can do, even in an urban space like London. In fact, in 2019, London was given the title of the world’s first National Park City, and for good reason; the city has many hidden green gems where forest bathing is possible. Besides being great spaces for forest bathing, many of the city’s now protected woodlands are actually remnants of Britain’s ecological history.

1.    Haringey Woodlands – North London

photograph: Oxyman

Haringey’s Ancient Woodlands span over four areas; Bluebell, Coldfall, Queen’s and Highgate Wood. Since Roman times (and before), the Haringey’s woods were areas of historical economic resources due to the heavy concentration of oak and hornbeam. Of all the woodlands, Highgate wood is the biggest, spanning 28 hectares with natural species and plants that have evolved from the ice age. Bluebell Wood is the smallest at just an acre in size but is the last remaining fragment of the once larger and ancient woodland, Tottenham Wood which was eventually deforested.

2.    Epping Forest – East London

photograph: Peter Trimming

Epping forest in East London was the royal hunting forest of Henry the VIII and is a landscape with a variety of fungi filled woods, grassy plains and even a former Elizabethan deer park. Easily reachable for Londoners, it is at the end of the circle line and has many different trails. While you are forest bathing, why not try your hand at identifying fungi; Epping Forest boasts around 1,600 different fungi species within its lands, just remember not to pick any as the land is royally protected to maintain the natural ecology of the ancient forest.

3.    Ruislip Woods – West London

photograph: Robin Webster

A large woodland reserve in west London, Ruislip is a site of interest for walkers and historians alike. Use of the woods is thought to date back to the Bronze age after a spearhead and pottery were found in an excavation in 1984.  The first wood to be named a national nature reserve in London, Ruislip woods is comprised of the smaller woodlands, Park Wood, Corpse Wood, Mad Bess Wood, North Riding Wood and Bayhurst Wood Country Park; making it a space where you can choose between several activities such as self-guided and guided walks, cycling trails, campsites, or even birdwatching for mute swans at Ruislip Lido.

4.    Oxleas Wood – South London

photograph: Marathon

Oxleas Wood is the historical forest in Eltham near Greenwich. Some parts of the woodland have existed since the end of the Younger Dryas, over 8,000 years ago. Spanning 72 hectares, the woods has a combination of parklands and woods along with the gothic tower, Severndroog Castle which located on top of Shooter’s Hill, one of the tallest natural points in London. Perhaps less visited than other South London parks and woods, the many winding trails of Oxleas Wood provide an ideal tranquil space for your next forest bathing adventure.

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