London is the greenest city of its size in the world and is bursting with perfect open spaces to have a picnic. The world famous Hyde and Regents Park are great, but there’s a hidden gem in north London that is well off the beaten track—literally!
The Parkland Walk runs for four miles from Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace, following a disused railway line, and offers an unusual and unique view of the city. Disembark at Finsbury Park tube station, head along Seven Sisters Road and then follow the western edge of the park—which runs parallel to the railway line—until you reach a footbridge. The start of the walk is opposite, beginning quite abruptly, a little higher up than would appear to make sense: the line would have crossed over the other lines below and then passed through the park roughly where you have just walked.
There are well signposted access points along the route, and it’s funny to think you’re walking where trains once travelled and you can actually see what the driver saw. As you’d expect, everything is overgrown, but the path is kept clear. You really could be in the middle of the countryside.
The railway was built in 1867, but hasn’t seen a passenger train for more than 50 years since the steam trains stopped in 1954. The line, known as ‘Northern Heights’, was open for freight traffic until 1971 and 13 years later the tracks were removed and the path was renamed Parkland Walk, the longest and flattest local nature reserve in London.
The low autumn sunlight shooting between the trees and brick structures provides a beautiful backdrop to the gently winding route. Street art and graffiti is visible along most of the path, and some weird and wonderful sculptures jump out of the walls when you least expect it—particularly the ‘Spriggan’, by local artist Marilyn Collins. Urban myth suggests it depicts the supernatural creature that picked off walkers in Stephen King’s horror story Crouch End, but don’t let that put you off!
The narrow strip of woodland and miniature meadows dissects residential streets and is home to 22 species of butterfly, hedgehogs, glow-worms, and foxes. You’ll also discover patches of acid grassland, the ideal habitat for a colourful range of grasshoppers and the rare field cricket.
Most of the walk’s tunnels are closed, but a few arches remain, draped in various foliage and plants, providing an autumnal palette of colours all year round. Once you’ve meandered past a large disused substation and a series of more arches, the path heads underneath a row of roads to reach the disused Crouch End station, your picnic destination!
The two platforms are a truly unique setting for a capital city lunch.