Somewhere in my Cornish childhood, I remember wandering and playing in a beech wood. Beech masts crunched underfoot, cool green moss covered the ancient tree trunks and sunlight dappled the woodland floor. Arching ferns and spikey bracken made hiding places for insects, small creatures and me. It was the epitome of woods: a magical, mystical, special place to be.
Surprisingly, even in the middle of this mad metropolis there are woodland places where we can escape from London life. Secret ways and hidden woods are there for the finding if you know where to look.
One such place, The Parkland Walk started out as a Victorian railway line. Now it is an urban woodland walk that goes from Finsbury Park, taking in Queen’s Wood and Highgate Wood as you slowly ascend to the dizzy heights of Alexandra Palace Park.
On a brisk wintery Sunday afternoon a friend and I joined a group of ramblers, The Capital Walkers. Our meeting point was amongst the mayhem of the Arsenal vs. Burnley FC FA Cup match day so Finsbury Park Station was awash with hopeful Arsenal fans, all heading to the match. Heading off in the opposite direction through the banter and banners we managed to make our way into the calm space of Finsbury Park itself.
It was a spectacularly muddy pathway out of Finsbury Park and onto the Parkland walk proper, so there was quite a bit of tiptoing, splashing and sidestepping as the rather large group manoeuvred itself around the deeper puddles. As the path widened we gradually settled into a comfortable formation and strode purposefully off towards Ally Pally.
“a little bit of the woodland mystery I felt as a child came creeping back”
The first part of the walk is quite linear and lined by back gardens as you would expect a railwayline to be but slowly as we headed further along the walk into the wilder parts I started to forget I was somewhere in Crouch End. Gradually the sounds of the match-day city dropped away and our chatter, woodland bird song and the laughter of children became the soundscape around us. Periodically real life interrupted as buses flashed by overhead but as we passed through Queens Wood and on into Highgate Wood, even those most invasive elements of London disappeared. Sitting with a cup of tea at the halfway point a little bit of the woodland mystery I felt as a child came creeping back.
As dusk crept over us we pulled up out of the woods and into Alexandra Palace Park. The final reward for completing the Parkland Walk was panoramic views across London – a stunning reminder that while we went into the woods, London had been there, all along.
©Chez l’abeille 2016