Urban Nature Trail: Parkland Walk northside from Alexandra Palace to Highgate

London’s longest nature reserve, Parkland Walk, follows the route of the railway line from another era that used to run between Finsbury Park and Alexandra Palace. What stands today is a tranquil path featuring urban nature in its wildest, unadulterated and intriguing form.

Many people walk the four-and-a-half mile stretch that is Parkland Walk – including both northside and southside – as a whole. I however decided to break it up and walk northside and southside separately on two different occasions. You can read about my jaunt along the southside of Parkland Walk from Finsbury Park to Highgate here.

Beginning at one of London’s highest points, Alexandra Palace, I decided to begin my journey not at Alexandra Palace Station as many do. I did a “wise” or “cheeky” move, depending on which side of the rambler’s fence one walk’s on, and hopped on a bus from Wood Green Station, which took me right outside Alexandra Palace itself. I have walked to Alexandra Palace on previous occasions from Alexandra Palace Station, and the short yet steep walk was thankfully not my calling on this occasion.

“Ally Pally” as its most commonly referred to was built as a recreation and entertainment centre for the Victorians. Those who have charted its history often refer to its “chequered past” including two fires, one of which burnt the entire palace to the ground 16 days after opening in 1873, and a second in 1980, which destroyed a large section of the palace. It continues to exist today as an exhibition, conference and sports venue.

Palace aside, which is honestly somewhat of an anomaly, the real draw to Alexandra Palace is its spectacular and unrivaled views of London, offering panoramic views of the city. Alexandra Palace is surrounded by Alexandra Park, a mixture of hilly and flat lands. To the rear of the palace, Alexandra Park features a boating lake and the site of the old Alexandra Palace railway station which is now used as a community centre.

I however did not make it past the front side of Alexandra Park to view such amenities, instead choosing to admire the panoramic view of London, over a pretty open stretch of green, while perched on a bench along a park promenade. Once I had my feel of the panoramic spectacle, I was ready to check out some nature London-stylee.

Although it’s a well-known walking route, Parkland Walk is not well signposted from Alexandra Palace. Heading down hill towards the Little Dinosaurs play centre, you can end up on Parkland Walk by way of street, following Springfield Avenue all the way round or by walking through the park – either way, you end up at the Muswell Hill entrance to Parkland Walk.

Taking you through a tree lined avenue, it feels good to be back on the track of Parkland Walk. The north section of the Walk is a lot shorter than the longer and more nature-ly diverse south route, but this short stretch has its highlights too. A significant part of the north stretch are wooded areas, featuring some standout birch trees as well as oak trees, which offer a taster of what’s to come ahead in the ancient Highgate Wood and Queen’s Wood.

In short sharp bursts where the Parkland Walk North is not under wooded parts, the elevation also boasts some panoramic views, although it will not offer the well-known sights and landmarks that the view from Alexandra Palace does. Much of this part of Parkland Walk backs on to tall houses around Muswell Hill. While the path is a lot narrower than many parts of the southside, the north patch feels more busier frequented by locals.

A small tunnel at the Hillfield Park Gate entrance to Parkland Walk, where once stood Muswell Hill Station, and a viaduct further along serve as reminders of the railway route of days gone by. By the time you have found your groove on this walk, which is pretty instant along both stretches of Parkland Walk, it comes to a halt at Cranley Gardens.

Possibly indicating a stretch of the original railway route that was perhaps underground, to continue along Parkland Walk, walkers must transfer through to Highgate Woods. If you have time, Highgate Woods, an ancient oak woodland, is well worth exploring.

Steeped in history, nature and maturity, a walk through Highgate Woods truly feels like you’re walking in a period signalling the beginning of time. Only a brief stretch of open land in the form of Highgate Wood’s cricket pitch and football pitch indicates that you are in a century far closer to the here and now.

Highgate Wood is home primarily to oak, hornbeam and hollywood trees, as well as grey squirrels and bats. There are a number of areas that have been fenced to allow for the regeneration of the vegetation, ensuring that the indigenous flora and fauna continues to thrive.

It’s very easy to spend hours at Highgate Wood – that’s not just down to the endless awing at the landscape, but it is also easy to get lost here, as you often hear the locals saying. Be sure to leave yourself sometime for another beauty in the form of Queen’s Wood, which is next to Highgate Wood.

The Corporation of London now manage Highgate Wood and are responsible for its maintenance, as is evident as you take a stroll through the wood. Queen’s Wood, which is managed by Haringay Council, is more wild and in its most natural state rather than what appears to be the more landscaped Highgate Wood. Although it’s evident that Queen’s Wood has been neglected at times throughout its history, it has a more neighbourly vibe to it and a thriving community who also ensure that the woodland thrives.

Like Highgate Wood, Queen’s Wood is also an ancient oak-hornbeam woodland. Once you get past the popular cafe, near the entrance on Muswell Hill Road, and venture deep into Queen’s Wood, there is a very strong sense of earth elementals and magical goings. An area of the wood, featuring a ring of trees, is now known as the Witches Coven, and the site is frequented by magic users for rituals.

Heading back to Muswell Hill Road, my walk came to an end at the bus stop. But if you wish to continue Parkland Walk along the southside, Archway Road is a short walk away, turning left on to Holmesdale Road where you can pick up the longer and more varied half of the Parkland Walk.

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief @rosamedea

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