Despite its industrial heritage, Leeds is a city of green spaces, so there may be more nature in your city break than you thought…
There’s still a misconception of the North as a dark, dismal place, but the reality is very different, especially if you’re visiting Leeds. The mills, warehouses and factories of our past have been repurposed, creating unique venues, and the city itself is absolutely brimming with green space. So whether you fancy a walk around a nature reserve, a picnic in the park or a visit to one of the city’s impressive landscaped gardens, you won’t be disappointed.
Our most famous park is Roundhay. At 700 acres, it’s one of the biggest parks in Europe, which means you’ve got a fabulous adventure ahead of you. It’s a beautiful outdoor space, with rolling parkland, lakes and award-winning landscaped gardens, alongside two adventure playgrounds, two cafes, a skate park and a host of sports pitches – but that’s not the only reason to come here. They also host outdoor festivals like onRoundhay and big events like the Bonfire Night display, the Tour de France and the World Triathlon Series.
Golden Acre Park is a great choice too. At 55 hectares, it’s perfect for exploring, so head down to the wildflower meadow, the heather garden or the cherry orchard before returning to the tearoom for a well deserved cuppa. You’ll find plenty of other parks in the suburbs, with Woodhouse Moor, Middleton Park and Gotts Park all offering glorious outdoor spaces, perfect for picnics, family outings and long, leisurely walks. Alternatively, visit Kirkstall Abbey, which is surrounded by 24 hectares of parkland.
Of course, you don’t actually have to leave the city centre to find a lovely park. Hunt out Park Square in the business district, a beautifully maintained space full of seasonal flower beds, stop by Penny Pocket Park for a view of Leeds Minster or visit the new Tower Square at Wellington Place, where you can look out on the Lifting Tower from the old Central Station while enjoying a coffee from Sociable Folk.
Would you believe there are actually 20 nature reserves in Leeds? That’s a massive number, and it means that you have a huge variety of walks ahead of you. Chevin Forest Park is one of the most impressive. It’s a half hour drive away in Otley, but you’ll be rewarded with stunning views, interesting walking trails and the chance to see a wealth of wildlife, including woodcocks and great hairstreak butterflies.
You don’t have to go that far out of the city to get back to nature though. Kirkstall Valley Nature Reserve is just over two miles away and offers wildflower meadows, ponds and reedbeds on the site of the old power station, while Meanwood Valley is even closer – why not take the seven mile trail through woodland, lowland heath and meadow?
Leeds is also home to Middleton Wood, one of the largest remaining ancient woodland sites in West Yorkshire. It’s perfect for walking under a canopy of their ancient oak trees, and you’ll find a huge array of wildlife here – but it’s not all natural, you’ll also find bell pits that remain from our early coal mining days and you can follow the former routes taken by trams.
If you’re looking for something really impressive, you need to head out of the centre. A half hour drive will bring you to Lotherton Hall, a beautiful Edwardian house, surrounded by eight acres of gardens. Designed by Gwendolyn Gascoigne between 1903 and 1949, it’s a mix of landscaped and natural terrain, creating a fabulously varied walk – don’t miss their bird garden, which is home to 130 different species.
Temple Newsam is equally impressive, but only 20 minutes away. This historic country mansion is set in 1,500 acres of parkland, designed by Capability Brown to offer stunning vistas. While you’re here, take a leisurely stroll down the colourful Rhododendron Walk to the Menagerie Ponds, each of which has a different feel, with open parkland at the first, vibrant perennials at the second and a grass and bamboo garden at the third.
Just like Temple Newsam, the gardens at Harewood House were designed by Capability Brown and they’re beautiful to behold. Taking inspiration from all over the world, you’ll come across more than a few surprises, including a Buddhist monument built in 2004 by monks in Bhutan. It’ll take you 20 minutes to get here by car, or 30 minutes on the number 36 bus, but if you’d prefer to stay a little closer to the city centre, you could always visit the Canal Gardens at Roundhay Park or the Japanese Gardens at Horsforth Hall Park.
Hetchel Woods image copyright Joanna Richards.