5.75 miles (9 kilometres) The point to point official Parkland Walk is under 3.5 miles. Grey day in October. With silly dog
I had not expected a grey, cold October day in the urban jungle to be quite so colourful. I’ve also never walked the Parkland Way before, despite it being in my yard and I wasn’t entirely sure whether it would be any good. Let me reassure you, yes, it is all kinds of good.
The Parkland is made up of two nature reserves created from what’s left of the Edgware, Highgate and London Railway between Finsbury Park and Alexandra Palace, two long strips of earthworks which have been preserved and maintained with great care by the Friends of the Parkland Walk, under the stewardship of Haringey and Islington councils. It relies heavily on volunteer funding and community action to take care of it and protect it from developers.
There’s a great wildlife walk leaflet available from the Friends website and a ton of information there on the history and flora and fauna you’re likely to see. There is also a huge amount of street art and graffiti, not least a ‘hunt the art’ trail by Ben Wilson, the chewing gum artist. Along the walk are posts which lead you to a space where Ben has hidden miniature artworks painted on chewing gum. There’s also a leaflet for that but it’s more fun to hunt them yourself.
I start at Finsbury Park tube, or as I always call it, Krapy Rubsnif (in homage to the great Humphrey Lyttleton), walk part way across the park and over the footbridge into the south reserve. Almost instantly the city falls away and you’re in inner city woodland, with graffiti fairies hiding in the bushes.
There are signs of the invisible railway everywhere, for a start you’re walking above the city, with railway sleeper benches and bits of railway infrastructure.
There’s also plenty of company. I’ve seen a bright orange rodent, two magpies (two for joy) so things are already looking up and even the dog’s antsy mood is lifting. There are runners, walkers, students on lunchbreak, dog walkers, but the really weird thing is people are smiling and nodding to each other. Ok not quite saying good morning, but if you live in the Smoke you’ll understand how unusual this is. It’s as though we’re all up here, on a higher plane, spreading a little joy about. There are also a surprising number of wildflowers still in bloom, but I guess we’re in our own city microclimate so I shouldn’t be surprised. And of course there’s an abundance of spectacular street art and graffiti.
Part way along the reserve widens and you can leave the railway course and disappear into a tree trail, or trails, sloping up the hill. Shovell and I enjoyed this part, he found some egregious smells and I found fungi. I remembered to bring my UV light this time. No one in London bats an eye if you are hunched up over a toadstool with your coat over your head. One more reason why I love London.
Before long you come to a ghost station, Crouch Hill. The platforms are still there, it is a marvellous place to sit and wait for a train which will never come, and perhaps look out for the spectre of a signalman at the mouth of the tunnel. Listen for the hoots of steam engines but maybe take care when the veil between realms is thin, on Halloween.
There’s a tree a little further along the line, one you should stop and take care of, it’s the baby loss tree where people come to hang remembrances for babies who died or who were born sleeping and didn’t get the chance to grow older. The tags and ribbons are incredibly sad. No photo of this one, go and be there if you can.
At the end of this section is the Highbury tunnels, now home to a bat roost under the protection of my quiet bat people, the London Bat Group. I hope to go in there, it has been restricted during the covid pandemic, bats have not been as popular since SARS-CoV-2.
We leave the south section and go ‘overland’ now and I choose the route through Highgate Wood. This deserves a walk of its own, it is very very old, and is one of London’s nicest spots so go explore. There’s a great cafe in the middle. I even manage to catch a couple of falling leaves. But I head through to Cranley Gardens and the north reserve.
It’s much smaller and at first glance nothing new, but then there’s a bridge with views right across London.and a gorgeous virginia creeper in all its autumn colours. Parthenocissus bowls me out every time. I also find an excellent Italian café, The Grove café near the end of the reserve in Alexandra Park. You get your coffee delivered by a man singing opera, and they do some excellent home made food. It’s joyful.
Eventually we turn round and head back through the reserve again where I find two more hidden artworks, and then I check out the other route back, through Queens Wood. I had no idea it was so huge, it was part of the ancient Forest of Middlesex, and is considerably less ‘managed’ over the years so it has an incredibly rich biodiversity. It is also gorgeous.
I find out, a little too late on the way home, that it is also home to the wild service tree, which grows now in very few places in Britain. It is in berry now and before hops they were used to flavour beer, so a very long time ago. Despite my lovely walk I’ve managed to get annoyed about missing them. There’s really only one thing to be done: I’m going to have to go back and do it all again. Damnation.
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More walks in London
The official point to point walk is made up of north and south reserves, easily accessible by underground and is well signposted in both directions, except for a section between the two reserves in which you have a choice of route. I started at Finsbury Park (Piccadilly & Victoria lines) and ended at Highbury (Northern line). My walk is longer than the Parkway as it takes in Highgate Wood, Alexandra Palace park and Queens Wood nature reserve, bringing the total mileage to 5.5 miles, or more if you explore any of these (which you absolutely should). GPX is here. There are plenty of great cafés along the way.
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