Parkland Walk: Urban wilderness in London
Here on Travellous World, we’ve covered quite a bit of walks already in the UK capital, but some are just too good to miss. For today’s walk we head up to North London where the grass is green. Really though, the route on this walk feels like a completely different place from the rest of town. Urban wilderness. If that’s what you’re after, Parkland Walk is the walk for you.
History of Parkland Walk – the railway line
Parkland walk is a 4.5-mile linear green space and cycle route that runs between Alexandra Palace and Finsbury Park via Highgate. What makes this walk so special is that it follows the course of a disused railway line. The route was originally constructed by the Edgware, Highgate and London Railway as part of its Finsbury Park to Edgware line in the 1860’s. In the 1930’s there were plans by the London Underground to incorporate these lines into the Northern Line, but the start of World War II put these developments to a halt. This fact made that that the track gradually fell into disuse from WWII onwards. Passenger traffic remained though until 1954 and freight traffic on the line continued until 1970. However, poor conditions of the line’s bridges and parts of the track made its closure inevitable.
Most of the platforms and station buildings were demolished after closure of the line. The borough’s council made the ultimate decision to transform part of the track into parkland and introduced Parkland Walk. The route was officially opened in 1984 and declared a local nature reserve in 1990. I have to say, it’s one of the best things I’ve discovered during my time in London!
The route from Alexandra Palace
If you start at Alexandra Palace, or Ally Pally, you can take a train from King’s Cross Station which gets you in about 15min to Alexandra Palace station. This is where the tough part of the walk starts. You need to climb the steep hill that is home to beautiful parkland and of course, Ally Pally itself. The skyline views from the hill are quite spectacular, so it’s really not too bad to undertake this challenge. Perhaps sit down in the local café to catch your breath if you really need to. The views can be seen from there as well!
From the Palace we found it quite tricky to find the next part of the route. We used the map from Londonist (on bottom of this page) to navigate. We were told to pass the Little Dinosaurs play centre, so we headed for that. The route continues to Muswell Hill where more gorgeous views of London can be taken in.
Soon enough we found ourselves in Highgate Woods and Queen’s Wood. Those names sound like fairytales, don’t they? Well, the woods look it too. It’s definitely worth spending a bit more time there before continuing the official route.
Cornish folklore – Spriggan
From Crouch End, the route really changes and more and more signs of the old railway line seep through. We saw tunnels which were closed to protect the bats that live there, remains of abandoned platforms and railway bridges. The bridges and walls are covered in leaves and branches of trees, hiding some of the applied street art as well. The trees have grown over the past fifty odd years, making the nature reserve the urban wilderness that it is nowadays.
Spooky? Not during the day when the route is highly popular among joggers and cyclists alike. At night, I can imagine it to be a different thing. On the other hand, one aspect really stood out for us on this walk. It’s the statue of a ‘Spriggan’, a treelike creature that’s derived from old Cornish folklore. Whatever bad happened, a house on fire, a building demolished or a child kidnapped, the Spriggans were blamed for it by the inhabitants of West Penwith in Cornwall. The Spriggans apparently were related to the trolls of Scandinavia and looked like ugly, old men with childlike features. They were said to be found in old ruins, so finding one on an abandoned railway track isn’t too extraordinary. We however found the statue quite creepy!
Finishing the walk in Finsbury Park
The walk ended much sooner than we hoped. Before we knew it, we found ourselves in Finsbury Park. I used to live nearby in 2012, so it was good to be back! The borough is a bit rough, but the park itself is lovely, with an athletics track, basketball court and a small lake. Here’s also where you can find Finsbury Park Café. We decided to sit down here for a delicious ice cream, and we watched the boats in the lake while we reminisced about our walk. (Walking Parkland Walk in the opposite direction from us? Take the Victoria or Piccadilly Line to Finsbury Park tube station, or the Great Northern Line from Moorgate to Finsbury Park railway station and head for the park.)
Parkland Walk is a fabulous weekend walk if you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of Central London. I was told that you can also see hedgehogs, foxes, butterflies and even a rare species of deer here, so the wildlife fan will love it here too. We spotted some butterflies and tons of birds on our walk.
Personally, London has always known to surprise me with things like this. Upheld traditions, nature walks and countless of green spaces have kept me exploring for the past three years. What is your favourite thing about London?
What to look out for
So, what to look out for on Parkland Walk?
- London skyline views from Alexandra Palace
- London skyline views from Muswell Hill
- Highgate Woods and Queen’s Wood
- Street art/graffiti
- Abandoned railway platforms
- Spriggan statue
- A rare species of deer: the muntjac
- The pond and café at Finsbury Park
Have fun! And please share your experiences in the comments below. What did you like best about Parkland Walk?