The Rugby World Cup kicks off on September 18, taking in 13 venues across England and Wales. But what to do when the final whistle blows? We discover there’s more to the host cities than a stadium and a roaring crowd. Here are six picture-perfect places to unleash your inner sports star.
Cycling in Richmond Park, London
The Rugby World Cup’s opening match (between England and Fiji) and the final will play out at Twickenham, the world’s largest dedicated rugby union arena. Situated in south-west London, the 82,000-capacity stadium is just four kilometres from Richmond Park, the biggest and arguably most enchanting of the capital’s eight Royal Parks. Dotted with duck ponds, rambling herds of red and fallow deer and woods that turn magnificent shades of scarlet, copper and orange as summer blends into autumn, this 955-hectare site is a treat to cycle around. There are smooth roads, rougher gravel tracks and some mildly steep ascents to tackle but nothing too arduous. Besides, there are abundant refreshment pit stops, such as The Butler’s Pantry – a tearoom set in the listed Georgian mansion, Pembroke Lodge. Next to the park’s Roehampton Gate – a 20-minute stroll from Barnes railway station (which is a 13-minute train ride from Twickenham) – Parkcycle hires out trail and road bicycles. Go to its website for a map of the park’s cycle paths. Wherever you venture, don’t miss King Henry’s Mound, which offers great views of London’s skyline. On a clear day you’ll see St Paul’s Cathedral, 15 kilometres away.
Walking in the South Downs, Brighton
Brighton’s popularity with daytrippers from the capital has seen it nicknamed “London by the sea”. This south-coast resort town is famed for its quirky fashions and hedonistic nightlife. It’s ideal for walking, too, whether it’s along the seafront promenade, in its labyrinthine, café-and-boutique-packed Lanes district or through the South Downs National Park. Covering 1600 square kilometres of southern England, these chalk hills are full of heaths peppered with wildflowers and lush pastures. The downs can be accessed at various points, such as Sheepcote Valley, just north of Brighton Marina. Gentle walking trails run through this placid nature reserve. For something more vigorous, take the 77 bus up to Devil’s Dyke. The 18th-century British landscape painter John Constable said this spot, overlooking coast and countryside, had the “grandest view in the world”. Give yourself two hours to walk eight kilometres from Devil’s Dyke to Ditchling Beacon, once the site of an Iron Age hill fort. The 79 bus runs to Brighton from here on weekends if you don’t have time (or are too worn out) for the return trek.
Hiking in Bradgate Park, Leicester
Renowned for its Golden Mile curry district, multicultural Leicester was the focus of renewed royal intrigue in 2012, when the skeleton of King Richard III was found buried under a city car park. A new visitor centre explains how the skeleton was rediscovered and tells the story of the much-maligned king, who died in the 1485 Battle of Bosworth that took place 20 kilometres west of Leicester. If you fancy fusing history with a walk, Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre and Country Park has a network of rural footpaths and guided tours. Leicester folk, however, love to hike in Bradgate Park. Part of Charnwood Forest, 10 kilometres north-west of the city and reached by the 120 bus, this 340-hectare deer park has an untamed feel, with steep, invigorating hillside trails passing dramatic rocky outcrops, gnarled oak trees and the eerie red-brick ruins of Bradgate House, the birthplace of Lady Jane Grey. Dubbed the Nine Day Queen, she was beheaded in 1554 on the orders of her rival to the throne, Queen “Bloody” Mary. You can stomp around the park for hours by yourself or join ranger-led walks that take you to areas not normally open to visitors. They are usually held on Saturday afternoons but, if booking with a group, you can arrange a time that suits you. Check bradgatepark.org for tour and event information.
Jogging in Heaton Park, Manchester
When you’re wandering through the converted cotton mills and modern high-rises of Manchester’s bustling city centre, wide open spaces can seem a world away. But hop on the Metrolink tram for 11 minutes – or 36 minutes if travelling from the rugby at Manchester City Stadium – and you’ll be in the sprawling, grassy expanse of Heaton Park. The park has hosted many headline events, including a 1982 Mass by Pope John Paul II and concerts by Mancunian rock legends Oasis and The Stone Roses. Its day-to-day demeanour is much quieter. A pleasant way to enjoy the park is on foot, with running shoes. Tree-lined bitumen paths meander past picnic-friendly lawns, a golf course, an animal farm, a boating lake and some eye-catching architecture. The splendour of Heaton Hall, an 18th-century country house, is matched by the views of Greater Manchester you’ll enjoy from its gardens. The park is open from 8am until dusk. If you fancy jogging with a crowd, each Saturday at 9am there’s a free five-kilometre timed run.
Stand-up paddle-boarding at Summerfield Park, Birmingham
Situated at the heart of England’s national canal network, Birmingham is proud of its waterways. Many of these Industrial Revolution-era relics have been restored in recent years. Expect to see lots of narrow boats, canoes and kayaks floating around the canals and people walking and pedalling along the towpaths. Just west of central Birmingham, by grassy, birdlife-rich Summerfield Park, water sports take place at the Edgbaston Reservoir. Originally a small lake, it was extensively enlarged by Scottish civil engineer Thomas Telford in the 1820s to supply water to the city’s canal system. It still serves that purpose but it’s also a great place to try windsurfing, sailing or stand-up paddleboarding – all activities you can do with Edgbaston Watersports.
Golf and tennis in Roundhay Park, Leeds
Leeds has bounced back from the decline of its manufacturing industries to enjoy a stirring renaissance. Stylish bars, restaurants and galleries have flourished inside striking Georgian, Victorian and modernist buildings. Roundhay Park, five kilometres north-west of the city centre (take the 2 or 12 bus), is a haven for leisure seekers. Walking tracks thread through the parkland, woodland and gardens of this 280-hectare space. There’s also a nine-hole golf course; visitors are welcome and club hire available but on weekends book in advance. Prefer tennis? On the park’s western edge you’ll find 16 recently resurfaced courts, free to use on a first-come, first-served basis. You can purchase a racket cheaply at Sports Direct in the city centre. ￼