Morden may commonly be referred to as “the stop where the Northern Line ends”, but the suburb also happens to host one of south London’s best kept green secrets – Morden Hall Park.
A National Trust-run park, Morden Hall Park gives visitors a taster of days gone by in the here-and-now. A former deer park, it too has retained its agricultural and industrial history preserving its snuff mills, which in the past generated the park’s income. Today the collection of buildings are used as a learning centre, a café, second-hand bookshop and a living green centre with exhibitions – all of which pretty much greet visitors as you enter the park.
Walking through Morden Hall Park, passing its rich industrial heritage that is the well-preserved mills, it can’t help but feel that you’ve stepped into some countryside estate. Turn your back and you are faced with a river stream, which on the other side of the bank sits Morden Hall. An 18th Century manor house, this elegant white building, with its own private gardens, is now exclusively used as a wedding venue.
A short walk from Morden tube station accompanied by Google Maps on my smartphone, the app directed me to a tree-lined entrance in to the 125 acres of sprawling parkland. A false alarm, however, as I was quickly greeted by a security guard who vehemently made it known that it was the “private entrance” to Morden Hall. No sweat, as some yards further along Morden Hall Road and I was warmly greeted by the public entrance to Morden Hall Park, which unlike many National Trust-run places is free to enter for all.
Looking at Morden Hall from the opposite bank within the parkland itself, which takes you along what appears to be a mini woodland, offers a quaint picture moment. As you venture deeper into Morden Hall Park, it doesn’t take long to become acquainted with one of the park’s endearing features – foot bridges – of which Morden Hall Park has many given that the River Wandle meanders through the parkland.
With its nature trails, activities and changing landscapes – from wooden footbridges to sprawling meadows to mature trees, quite a few of which have fallen – Morden Hall Park is a popular nature escape for locals, families, the elderly and those, like me, who make the journey especially.
The real nature and natural pleasure at Morden Hall Park comes in the form of its wetlands where visitors can get up close and personal with the flora and fauna. A wooden boardwalk, complete with a high viewing platform, has improved access to the wetlands enabling visitors to explore the centre of the wetlands and get closer to nature without disturbing it.
Overgrown reed beds add to the adventure as you navigate the wooden boardwalk, before approaching a number of open water areas offering a diverse variety of plants and wildlife. This special ecosystem, which is heavily guarded and barricaded in height by nature itself, supports a rich variety of birds, plants, invertebrates and fish.
The boardwalk with its various vantage points, including a dipping platform, make it all the more interesting an experience for children to learn about the diverse habitat.
As you exit the wetlands area, catching the sound of the nearby Tramlink light rail link, which runs through the northern part of the park, reminds visitors that you are actually in the city, incase you forget as you meander through this tranquil part of south London. If your venture at Modern Hall Park makes it passed the wetlands, there is also The Garden Centre – which stands on the site of the historic estate’s kitchen garden between Morden, Mitcham and Wimbledon – to check out, where you can buy seeds, plants and tools, with all profits going back into looking after the park.
The initial pull for me to go and explore Morden Hall Park also included the Watermeads Nature Reserve, a short walk from Morden Hall Park. Unfortunately the nature reserve was closed to the public, at the time of my visit, due to a collapsed bank along part of the path. This closure was a reminder of the fragile nature of such eco-systems. One of the first sites acquired by the National Trust in 1913, the organisation has worked hard to turn the Watermeads into a nature reserve and to help to improve access to the area, which prior to 2015 was only open by special request.
Morden Hall Park may not make it on the ranks of south London’s well-known parks, but it is easily one of the most sublime to cross paths with.
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief @rosamedea