Sunday, 15 January 2017

Finding nature in North London

There are reasons to leave London (mainly the expense of living here) but despite growing up in a small town, I adore living here. I love the variety of city life, the sheer amount of possibilities, the number of people and the constant excitement of it. Nature is still essential to me though. Nature is actual life and wonder. For me it brings the peace and slowed down sense of joy that can easily be missed when you're constantly busy and flitting from work, to responsibilities, to socialising, to restaurants, bars, galleries, gigs, the gym, shops, and everything else. My 'daily' walks have brought me joy mainly by forcing me outside and putting me in amongst the changing seasons, the growth of plants, birdsong, and the delicate play of light and shadow ever creating beautiful changes in the same places.

I think most people are aware that London is pretty green and know of the Royal Parks etc and I do love those spaces but my 5 favourite spaces are a bit less manicured, a bit less crowded and a bit more natural.

Parkland Walk is my favourite! It's a 5km walk from Ally Pally (Alexandra Palace) to Finsbury Park and is the longest nature reserve in London. Ally Pally is a park on a big hill, with a lake full of ducks and overpriced swan boats, enclosed deer and a wonderful view across London. A path with a view leads you to Highgate Wood, which leads you to Queens Wood, which takes you to the main section of Parkland Walk which is a disused railway line that takes you all the way to Finsbury Park. It's lush with greenery, and brightly coloured graffiti on the old railway bridges. And there are usually loads of cute dogs being walked along the whole route. You can either start from Alexandra Palace (I usually do) (national rail zone 3) or Finsbury Park (Victoria line, Piccadilly Line or national rail, zone 2).

Tottenham Cemetery

When Stu and I first started taking walks here, we couldn't help thinking and talking about death but now we walk there and respectfully enjoy this beautiful spot without fixating on the cemetery factor. It's a bit scruffy and a bit higgeldy, some old graves have subsided but many are clearly well visited and piled with flowers and notes. There's a very pretty memorial garden and a lake of ducks and geese. Trees line the central path and reach up like the walls of a cathedral. Nature is abundant. In spring, wild flowers tumble. In summer, the light is lush and green as you walk beneath the cathedral of trees. In autumn, yellow leaves carpet the ground and in winter, frost sparkles and there are graves decorated with Christmas decorations.

There is little to be seen on the marshes but open space. Emptiness. Space to breath and little surprises to stumble upon like this tower of tiles made by local children. Heading out of the marshes and walking along the canal is a narrow but lovely path. I like looking at the names of all the canal boats. Stu always says how he'd quite like to live on a boat and I always say I don't want to deal with emptying the toilet of a boat/shower water and then Stu says oh yeah. 

Nearest stations to Tottenham Marshes are Northumberland Park (overground zone 3) or Tottenham Hale (Victoria Line zone 3) depending which end you want to go in.

I've actually only been to Woodberry Wetlands one time because it's a bit out of my way and only opened last year but I'd like to go back soon. No dogs allowed here because it's a safe zone for birds. We actually saw a mama coot sitting on her eggs when we were here before. It's a smallish park, an old reservoir in a less pretty part of London but it has it's own ordinary kind of beauty. Peaceful. And a great cafe. Closest stations are Manor House (Piccadilly zone 2/3) or Stamford Hill (overground zone 3).

To end, I want to mention Abney Park, which is actually another cemetery. A really wild, woodland dream of a cemetery. I have no pictures, only memories of peaceful tumbling greenery, tall trees and a symphony of birdsong. Seriously, the birdsong was INCREDIBLE. I need to go back there and take pictures. It's just down the road from Stoke Newington overground station (zone 2) and Stoke Newington is a lovely area to explore as well.

I feel very lucky to have access to these amazing natural spaces while also enjoying access to the food and culture and city fun of London. I feel like if I ever move away from the city, it will have to be to somewhere stunningly beautiful, where I can hike up mountains and run free. No swarms of midges though please, so probably not Scotland.

Do you seek out nature? Or do you prefer to avoid it! Why?

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