diamond geezer

 Friday, October 14, 2011

  Walk London
  CAPITAL RING
[section 12]
  Highgate to Stoke Newington (5 miles)


This section of the Capital Ring is essentially in two parts - a railway that isn't a railway, followed by a river that isn't a river. Intrigued?

A railway that isn't a railway: The Parkland Walk
Had things gone differently, Northern line trains would run between Highgate and Finsbury Park via the heights of Haringey [more details]. Plans were afoot in the 1930s to take an underused branch line and incorporate it into London's tube network, but World War Two interrupted and the extension never happened [more details]. Instead the tracks were relegated for freight, then closed altogether, and in 1990 were reborn as a footpath-cum-nature reserve [more details]. Today the Parkland Walk is a delight, weaving between the rooftops and gardens of Haringey, providing a welcome breath of green for pedestrians and cyclists alike [more details]. But you can't walk the first bit of the line from Highgate because that ran through tunnels beneath Shepherd Hill, and those have long been sealed off, so an above ground detour is called for. It takes a deliberate effort to view the eastern portals, wandering off the main drag to an overgrown cul-de-sac where ivy tumbles down across the mouth to two dark caverns [photo]. I always deviate this way, whereas most continue along the path proper on the woodland stroll towards Finsbury Park.



At two and a quarter miles the Parkland Walk is very doable, whether you're a toddler or a dogwalker or a petulant teenager. It's a little narrow at this western end, at least compared to further on, and there always seems to be a muddy patch even when it hasn't rained for days. Pause here a moment while a stream of bikes passes through... probably with Dad leading Mum and the kids, with the littlest one on stabilisers. Sometimes the path runs along an embankment, with brief views from bridges into the suburban roadways beyond. Other times it runs through a cutting, hemmed in by trees and undergrowth sealed off in an eco-bubble from ordinary London outside [photo]. Crouch End station still exists, sort of, with a cafe in the ticket hall upstairs and two decaying platforms as alternative parallel routes [photo]. It's best seen in winter, either from the track or from the footbridge, but most atmospheric when draped with a blanket of green.

It's taken me three attempts, but this time through I finally spotted the sculpted figure hidden in one of the arches past the station [photo]. He's a spriggan, a mischievous forest-dwelling fairy, and features in the only horror story Stephen King ever wrote about Crouch End. There's a lot of colourful graffiti on the walls along here, some of it sprayed by the tall bloke in a bandanna who I passed out walking his wolfhound. "Yeah, I did that stuff in the tunnel," he said to the woman on his arm, presumably as a chat-up line, as a bag of aerosols dangled from his wrist. The path meanders on, past crunchy leaves and chimneypots, with a particularly good view of Stroud Green and its Overground cutting below. One last verdant curve, and the Parkland Walk comes to a grinding halt at a long railway bridge across the East Coast mainline.

Interlude: Finsbury Park
That's the park itself, not the railway station. I passed through on that unfeasibly hot October weekend (you remember) to find the entire park packed out with sunbathing locals. Tropical slopes, with a fallen brown carpet - a most rare combination. By the overflowing playground I spotted a sour-faced clown making balloon animals for an audience of one - a small Hassidic boy with drooping sidecurls - which would have made a bloody marvellous photograph except also a grossly unwise one. Moving on.


A river that isn't a river: The New River
It's 400 years, near enough, since Sir Hugh Myddleton drove a canal down from Hertford to Islington, providing fresh water from the Lea for a thirsty City. Still does, thanks to Thames Water, unlikely as it may seem. His shallow channel followed the contours, which made it cheap but wiggly, and one of his wigglier wiggles now twists round the Woodberry Down Estate on the Seven Sisters Road. The footpath alongside is strangely remote, especially after the busyness of the Parkland Walk, and more than a little muddy [photo]. The only person I passed was a bloke in trackies pissing lager into a tree while his staffie looked on, but don't let that put you off. A more serious problem was the fallen tree near Amhurst Park which had smashed down on top of the kissing gate, which took a fair bit of crouching and squeezing to manoeuvre beneath. Cyclists and wheelchair users, think again... indeed, the Capital Ring sends you on a far less interesting direct shortcut instead.

After three quarters of a mile the New River bends back on itself to pass (and fill) two reservoirs, one East, one West. The East is better hidden, starting beside an old brick pumping house above the river, and leading up to the dividing line along Lordship Lane. The West is more scenic, more blue, and home to the yachts and kayaks of the West Reservoir Sailing Centre [photo]. A pleasant but little-known spot, I thought, apart from the infilled apartment blocks of Woodberry Park - a luxury development with waterside views, currently at the "inaugural tenants" stage. A rather more impressive building is the Victorian pumphouse on Green Lanes, designed to resemble a turrety castle, now cavernous home to an indoor climbing centre [photo]. The New River doesn't reappear until you reach Clissold Park, down the road. Ignore the two ponds, they're the ornamental remains of the Hackney Brook, but there is still a boomerang-shaped curve of canal-water over by the bowling green.

Epilogue: Stoke Newington
Right at the very end of this five mile walk comes an on-road section. But Stoke Newington Church Street is a lovely road - a sinuous historic high street unsullied by major chain stores. Eating well and drinking hard are easy round here, ditto nipping into an independent boutique for something quirky but unnecessary. Near the far end a gate leads into Abney Park Cemetery, one of Victorian London's Magnificent Seven. William Booth is buried just inside, in a large tomb beneath a gold-etched scroll [photo], although not everybody local knows who he is ("But what is the Salvation Army?" asked a well-dressed girl before wandering off, no better informed). Abney Park was also Hackney's first nature reserve, although the only rare creature I saw amid the tumbledown gravestones was a hopping whippet. 12 sections down, 12 miles to go.


» Capital Ring section 12: official map and directions
» Who else has walked it? Mark, Darryl, Tim, Paul, Stephen, Tetramesh, Jo, Richard
» Today's eight photos; all 92 Capital Ring photos (so far)
» On to section 13 (or back to section 11)


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
life viewed from london e3

email    twitter    G+

my flickr photostream