We are lucky to have a lovely little open space at the end of our road. The bigger parks can get too busy for my liking but Brunswick Park is nearly always quiet. During the lockdown we have been there lots and lots. Even while the playground has been closed, we have made our own fun: picking daisies and dandelions; ball games; hide and seek; rolling…
And yet… I have been yearning to explore vaster, wilder, greener places. As the world’s first National Park City London has plenty of these. Some well known, others less so.
Following the relaxation of the lockdown rules, I’m enjoying getting the chance to visit some of these spaces again. Here are just a few of my favourites in my part of North London (just a short bus or car journey away):
Queen’s Wood is one of Haringey’s four surviving ancient woods – remnants from a time when London’s population depended heavily on a steady supply of firewood and charcoal. It’s a beautiful place for a nature walk at any time of year, but I got to experience the wood in a whole new wonderful way one autumn a few years back during the Great Haringey Fungus Foray, which has been running for nearly thirty years! Guided by renowned botanist Dr Mark Spencer, I learnt to scour the woodland floor for fungi and was astounded by the variety, beauty and downright weirdness of what we found. Some of it tasted pretty good too!
Hackney and Tottenham Marshes
I’ve encountered many unusual London sights on my walks through Hackney and Tottenham Marshes: football pitches amidst ancient marsh and meadowland; rare livestock breeds grazing amongst the trees and pylons; ethereal Victorian filterbeds being slowly reclaimed by nature; a charming little tree nursery; weird and wonderful houseboats; and myriads of birds and waterfowl. Once, I walked along the Lea Valley Walk through Hackney Marshes and past the Olympic Park all the way to the Thames. More recently, Mr Rixon, the girls and I enjoyed an adventure, complete with picnic, in the beautiful wildflower meadows of Tottenham Marshes.
Railway Fields is a genuine oasis because you enter it via a charming wrought iron gate off one of North London’s busiest thoroughfares, Green Lanes, and yet once inside you cannot hear any traffic noise at all. Everything about this former railway goods yard is special: 200 recorded species of wildflower; a unique species of non-invasive Japanese Knotweed; a beautiful birch woodland and a veteran field maple with an extraordinary tale to tell. Small wonder that this Local Nature Reserve is the spiritual home of former conservation officer for Haringey, and my favourite North London nature hero, David Bevan, whom I interviewed here.
Haringey’s longest linear nature reserve, Parkland Walk follows the course of an old railway line from Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace and encompasses woodland, acid grassland, wildflower meadow and scrub, as well as a seventeen-arch viaduct with spectacular views across the capital. Beneath a railway arch along this greenway crouches The Spriggan, a folklorish creature carved in stone, which is believed by some to inspire the folk of Haringey to rise up and protect their green spaces when they are threatened. Just one glance up at the Spriggan is sufficient to restore my faith in magic, fairies and the power of nature and people.
Abney Park is a little wilderness in the heart of Hackney with a fascinating history. It began as the parkland of a country house before becoming an arboretum with the trees planted around the edge in alphabetical order, as well as one of the Magnificent Seven garden cemeteries of London. These days it is a Local Nature Reserve and the home of green woodworking community, London Green Wood. On a wander through the park last year I was lucky to stumble across a Handkerchief Tree (Davidia involucrata) in bloom, so-called because it looks as though its branches are draped with delicate white handkerchiefs.
Bruce Castle Park
Tottenham’s oldest public park, Bruce Castle Park, is home to many remarkable trees, including an Indian Bean Tree (Catalpa bignonioides), which comes from North America and grows bean pods in summer; a Cedar of Lebanon (Chedric libani), more common these days in Britain than Lebanon; and a Corkscrew Willow (Salix matsudana ‘Tortuosa’) – a Japanese tree whose branches twist like, well, corkscrews. But the park’s most beloved tree is the Tottenham Oak. At nearly 500 years old, the ancient asymmetrical tree is supported by a crutch and has inspired many works of art including this lovely poem.
So, which little green space was your sanctuary during the lockdown? Which wild corners are you relishing revisiting? And which North London ones did I miss out?!