london

a guide to london's abandoned railway parkland walk

london-parkland-walk-sign

Tom and I were having a dinner party with our new neighbours (now dear friends) last year and Matt, the husband of the couple, had recently completed the London marathon. I asked him where in the local area he had trained for it. He replied that he often went along a route between Alexandra Palace and Finsbury Park, which was an abandoned railway track. This caught my imagination (and Tom's) immediately! 

But, you know, best-laid plans and all that....but suffice it to say, last weekend when we had an extra day (thank you Bank Holiday) we decided to go for a long walk and finally check out the abandoned railway track. It's one of north London's best-kept secrets and I'd highly recommend doing it if you live in the area.

Londonist has a pretty good guide to the walk, which we used, but I will add my own observations and recommendations below.

First of all, get yourself to Alexandra Palace station and then make the uphill climb through the park to Ally Pally itself. The views really are lovely from up here.

view-from-ally-pally

Then head west down hill, through more of the park, where the trail starts. It's not very well sign posted, so you do need to know where you're going! There are some nice landmarks in this part of the park, including one of the oldest trees in the area - included in an Ordinance Survey in the 1860s. If you keep walking past that, going pretty much straight, until you spot the Little Dinosaurs play centre, then walk a little more past that, veering towards the right, and you're nearly there. Look for a graffitied wall and a long green tunnel, as seen below! Now the adventure begins!

tom-parkland-walk

It's pretty easy to follow this part of the walk, it goes through Muswell Hill and there are a few information boards along the way, showing you what was meant to be the railway:

We walked from Alexandra Palace along the - line to Highgate, and then from Highgate along the - line to Finsbury Park.

We walked from Alexandra Palace along the - line to Highgate, and then from Highgate along the - line to Finsbury Park.

Once you hit Highgate, it gets a little confusing - because the most direct route is to go via the road to Highgate, but we wanted to keep going through the woods. Again, not brilliantly signposted but we walked some of the way through Highgate Woods, sticking to the Eastern path. Follow this for a while, then look for a gap in the fence near the keeper's lodge to take you out on to the street, then cross the road into Queen's Wood to continue the walk. 

queens-wood

I really enjoyed Queen's Wood, it is a lovely ancient parkland and you could probably spend all day exploring here (it's 52 acres!). There's a diverse range of plants, trees and wildlife. I was quite taken with the frog pool (but spotted no frogs!).  

bittersweet-nightshade

To continue on the Parkland (south) walk, follow the Capital Ring signs, which take you off to the right. You'll come out at a road called Queenswood Road - now, you can cross the road and keep going through the park but we weren't sure, so we came off here. If you do this too, go right up the hill and follow this road along, going past some very nice houses (!),  until it eventually becomes Wood Lane and you come out on the A1, Archway Road. Go left down Archway Road, turn left at the Boogaloo Pub down Holmesdale Road and you'll see parkland on the left and where the walk starts again.

It's worth taking a very quick diversion to your left, just a couple of hundred metres, where you'll see disused train tunnels that have been turned into London's only bat sanctuary! 

The bat cave!

The bat cave!

parkland-walk-sign

Then you head off down the track, which is much more defined than you've experienced so far! And it's pretty much a straight line all the way to Finsbury Park from here. 

I found it such a peaceful walk, even though there were other people around - mostly runners and fellow walkers, the occasional cyclist. It does appear to be a well kept local secret. The parkland has grown almost wild over the abandoned planned railway structures, making it quite beautiful….like living, abstract art, in a way. Take your camera, as there's something to catch your eye at nearly every turn on this walk. These were our favourites:

Remains of abandoned train platforms!

Remains of abandoned train platforms!

Arty arches!

Arty arches!

Goblin! Keep an eye out for this guy. It was amazing how many people walked right by him, or only noticed because we were taking pictures.

Goblin! Keep an eye out for this guy. It was amazing how many people walked right by him, or only noticed because we were taking pictures.

Plant art!

Plant art!

We finally got to Finsbury Park and the heavens opened, so we ended up back on a bus to Hornsey - which was on our way home - where we went for a little stroll and found ourselves in the Great Northern Railway Tavern for a much-deserved cold beer! 

summer-fruit-hornsey
beer
phil-with-beer

For more on the Parkland Walk, you can visit the Friends of Parkland Walk website. Also check out Londonist for all the other walks in London they've done and recommend! 

weekenders on our own

Just a perfect day
Problems all left alone
Weekenders on our own
It's such fun
- Lou Reed

Sometimes the best days are the unplanned ones. 

shoreditch-street-art-a-nahu

We expected rain, being stuck indoors, winter still blowing its frosty breath over the city. Instead, it was pleasantly overcast when we met our friends at Old Street tube and took the scenic route, through the streets of Shoreditch which are like galleries with vast, colourful murals everywhere you look, to a cafe for the best vegan burger in London:

essential-vegan-burger
cassava-chips
street-art-broadway

 

Then we walked around Columbia Road, past Hackney City Farm where we saw baby goats frolicking in the grass, and then up to Broadway Market where we stood elbow to elbow with East London's hipster population jostling for vintage clothes, killer brownies, raw milk, giant cheese toasties, coffee and sourdough bread. I came for Frida.

Actually, I think it's meant to be a blend of Frida and Diego!

Actually, I think it's meant to be a blend of Frida and Diego!

 

Then we walked back to Haggerston along the canal. The sun came out and we unpeeled ourselves from our coats with glee. We made a brief stop at Proud East for probably the best Virgin Mary I've ever had:

virgin-mary
phil-and-lisa
phil-and-tom

Refreshed, we walked further along Regent's Canal up to Islington. The air was cold but the sun was out, and I could smell the sweet perfume of violets on the banks, wood-fired stoves in the canal boats, and coffee from the riverside cafes. We saw a group of friends drifting along the river in a floating hot tub. I took note of the company for future reference!

We wandered through Camden Passage, as the stallholders began to wrap their unsold wares in newspaper and box them up, and there was still a queue at the Breakfast Club. We stopped for a pint in the Camden Head (our new favourite place in this part of town).

tom-camden-head

When a day turns out to be unexpectedly fun, in the gentle company of true friends with whom you can just be yourself, with delicious food, refreshing beverages, the weather surprisingly fine and the promise of spring hovering on the horizon.....these are the days that I live for. 

things i like to do [video]

my beans

Following on from last week, I've now finished this week's MAKE FILMS assignment. Here is a little video about one of my favourite things to do....gardening. Specifically, growing vegetables and fruit - and then cooking and eating what I grow! 

I'm really lucky to have a garden (a rarity in London) so I don't take it for granted and am grateful for every bean, potato, tomato and stalk of rhubarb my little patch has produced so far.

Learning to garden has been very much a trial and error thing for me - sometimes I have successes, but more often than not things don't go according to plan! 

The greatest lesson gardening has taught me - which I try to apply to life in general - is that you have to let go of the things you can't control. You might take every precaution necessary to protect your plants from squirrels, slugs and birds, but then there might be a drought, or a storm, or you'll pick something or dig something up too early, and all your work is down the drain. You can't take these things personally, but merely chalk it up to experience, process the lessons for next time, and move on. 

It's also one of the most absorbing, calming, lose-yourself-in-the-moment tasks I can think of. Time stops for a while and you find yourself talking to your basil plants or watching in fascination as bees, pollen drunk, float from flower to flower. 

I'm always learning, trying to go with the flow of nature and the seasons, and every now and then there's a delicious triumph. 

Happiness comes with a bit of dirt under the nails, I think. 

PS: Turn the sound on for music - and spray bottle sound effects! Music is 'Take Me Higher' by Jahzzar - http://betterwithmusic.com/

scenes from the weekend [video]

I made a film! 

I'm taking Xanthe Berkeley's marvellous MAKE FILMS course, which I highly recommend, and this was our first assignment - "Scenes from the weekend" (make sure you put the sound on to hear the music!).

Tom and I went to a favourite (and lively) part of London where we took in Broadway Market, Columbia Road, Shoreditch and Brick Lane, so I had masses of footage by the end of Saturday afternoon.

There's something for everyone in this video - street art! Hot and jellied eels! Goats! Beer! Drums! Frida Kahlo!

Film-making is a very new medium for me. I'm completely out of my comfort zone, but I can see why people find it addictive. This was so much fun to film and edit together, so I hope you like it.

lovelorn but hopeful

Image by Matt Haynes.

Image by Matt Haynes.

2007. Jubilee Bridge. I had written a raging, mournful, lovelorn but hopeful poem and Smoke, a wonderful (and much missed) literary journal, had accepted it for publication. The editor wanted an accompanying image - what could be better, he suggested, than the poet gazing at the object of her affection? That was, of course, the city of London. 

I don't remember my hair being, as Matt put it when he sent me the photo, "like the whole of a New England forest has blown onto your head..." 

But I do remember how magical that time was. I had met someone wonderful just days before this picture was taken - and he would be my husband three years later.  But most of all, I remember how every day I woke up feeling like I was on some kind of drug, when everything was new, and the air was practically tingling with possibility. 

I wonder if I should go New England with my hair again.