diamond geezer

 Saturday, August 27, 2022

This week has seen the launch of four London Nature Trails, a quartet of official walking routes co-ordinated by Footways and the London Wildlife Trust, and supported by the Mayor and TfL.
Uncover a whole world of urban nature on four new walking routes in London. Follow the routes via maps on your phone, via the Go Jauntly app, or pick up a free printed map from locations listed below. Use London Wildlife Trust’s spotter guide to discover animals and plants as you walk.
It's always good to add to the capital's collection of carefully thought-through walks, which these very much are, and the long weekend is an ideal time for a lively launch.

These are the four - (click for a map)
Central - Swiss Cottage to King’s Cross: 1 hour 30 minutes | 4.5 miles | 7.5 km | 10,000 steps
North - Burnt Oak to Wembley Park: Two hours | 6 miles | 10 km | 14,000 steps
South - Bermondsey to Brockley: Two hours | 6 miles | 10 km | 14,000 steps
East - Wanstead to Royal Docks: Three hours | 9 miles | 15 km | 21,000 steps
To try to do them justice:
i) I've been online to scrutinise the routes
ii) I've been out to try to collect all four leaflets
iii) I've walked one of the four routes from end to end

i) Route scrutiny

Swiss Cottage to King’s Cross: This is essentially a walk across Primrose Hill and along the Regent's Canal, so a tried and tested favourite. What's odd is they've bolted on a 'there and back' section at the start to take in the Alexandra Estate, which is a proper modernist architectural dazzler with a bit of park, but you're not going to see much nature for the first thirty minutes.
Burnt Oak to Wembley Park: This is a walk down the Silk Stream through Colindale, followed by a shady stretch along the Welsh Harp Reservoir (shadowing Capital Ring section 10), followed by a walk near-ish to the River Brent, ending with a gratuitous extension through the increasingly unnatural towerscape of Wembley Park. It has its moments.
Bermondsey to Brockley: This is essentially a walk along the Thames Path from Bermondsey to Deptford, with a very sensible diversion midway to climb Stave Hill for views over Rotherhithe, then bending back inland to New Cross where it should have stopped rather than dribbling on for 20 minutes to tick off two small gardens.
Wanstead to Royal Docks: This starts with an apologetic glimpse of Wanstead Flats, then crosses to the Olympic Park via 40 minutes of unavoidably tedious backstreets, and what I'm saying is skip that and start in Stratford. Then it's a walk down the River Lea for a mix of creeky wildlife and post-industrial edgery ("if you don't fancy the gritty surroundings, take the DLR"), then a meander across Canning Town to the obligatory Royal Docks. I'm over-familiar with all this, but the central riverside section's well worth doing once if only to go "golly".

ii) Leaflet collecting

Hurrah for handy pocket-sized leaflets, especially when they're colourful, double-sided, detailed and free. Boxfuls have been printed but you have to go to a limited number of collection points to pick one up "while stocks last". The South London map was dead easy to grab from a pile just inside the entrance to Canada Water Library, and the Central London map almost as quick at a desk upstairs in Swiss Cottage Library. But the East and North London maps proved a bit more of a challenge.

"We've never heard of it" said the lady at Custom House & Canning Town Community Neighbourhood Centre, even when I showed her the website on which they were listed. I could then have diverted to pick one up from Forest Gate station, but instead headed to City Hall because I'd not been inside since it became a seat of local government and that sounded fun. I had to endure a full pocket-emptying belt-loosening bag-conveyoring security check just to reach main reception, but the bloke there knew exactly what I wanted. "How many do you want?" he asked, and looked terribly disappointed when I only wanted one as if he were desperate to clear the brimming cardboard box from his desk.

My real problems began with the three collection points in northwest London...
• Burnt Oak underground ticket office
• Burnt Oak Library from the main desk
• Wembley Library from the main desk

Burnt Oak station no longer has a ticket office, just an enquiries window, which was firmly closed yesterday with a faded message securely taped to the window apologising for staff shortages. Just down the road Burnt Oak library was alas in self-service mode, because that's Barnet council's way of scrimping money, with no maps anywhere on view. Thankfully Wembley Library was staffed but the lady in the booth looked at me as if I was a bit weird because she'd never heard of these maps either. Alas it seems the North London leaflet isn't yet available anywhere.

You can probably guess which of the four routes I'd decided to walk...

iii) Burnt Oak to Wembley Park: 6 miles

I'm glad I chose this one, even if I was forced to follow it using a map on the website which kept reloading every time I unlocked my phone. It led me along three sections I was familiar with and two sections I'd never followed before, so that was a win, helping me to stitch together my mental map of northwest London. It started well with a lot of green, interrupted by the vernacular towers of Colindale. It flirted with a few bits of river. It spent slightly too long alongside the A5. It serendipitously delivered me into the midst of a colourful crowd emerging from Friday prayers. It didn't have too much street-bashing. It confirmed how Wembley Park no longer looks like Wembley Park any more. And I only once took completely the wrong path (across West Hendon Playing Fields), otherwise it all worked out quite well.

Because these are supposed to be nature trails I made a special effort to look for nature along the way. We're a bit late in the season for flowers, and suburban trees are much of a muchness, but here are some of the wildlife specimens I recorded...
Silkstream Park: butterflies, floating weed, spliffers
Montrose Playing Fields: pigeons, grass, wolfhound
Colindale Park: saplings, daisies, sunflowers
Rushgrove Park: blimey what was that it was quite big it looked like a woodpecker or maybe a jay but it disappeared off into the shady bits by the river rather quickly you don't normally see one of those
West Hendon Playing Fields: dragonfly, gulls, swan
Welsh Harp Reservoir: great big rat, magpies, goose
Quainton Street Open Space: tabby cat, housefly, nettles
Chalkhill Park: pigeons, squirrel, dachshund
Union Park: sanitised lawn, playspace, fountain
It's hardly a classic list of natural wonders. The real disappointment was Union Park, "a new green space for Wembley Park on the site of a former car park", because it isn't yet finished and looked like the developers had assembled it from a placemaking catalogue. Admittedly it was being well used, mainly because everything nearby was either residential towers or a construction site, but it struck a false note and not really somewhere to celebrate at the end of a so-called nature trail.

Whatever, if you see one of these four leaflets do grab one and file it away for a walk one day, and if you choose to go this weekend look out for some of the celebratory launch events along the way.

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