John Nash's Walking Diary

Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace

27th Feb 2011

I don't really feel like getting up this morning, but at least outside it is sunny, if rather cold. Keith, Ray Bowes and Dave Cook meet at my house and we make our way down to Woolwich Arsenal Station where we are joined by Ray Marshall, Trudi, Alison, Jess, Reenie, David Bailey, and for his debut walk with the Plums, Garth. It's a really good attendance.

We catch the DLR to Bank. Also boarding at Woolwich Arsenal are the Pearly King and Queen of Greenwich, all dressed up in their black suits, decorated with hundreds of mother of pearl buttons, and Queenie wearing a hat with red white and blue ostritch feathers atop it. Reenie sits with them and almost out-sparkles them with her sparkly scarf and earrings. She has a good old natter and laugh with them. They seem like a lovely couple.

At Bank we wait for a Northern line train. Opposite the platform there are huge TV screens built onto the curved tunnel wall, and as tall as a train. They are only showing repetitive adverts though, which seems like rather a waste of a resource.

On the tube I read the adverts opposite me, one of which is quite puzzling 'The Clear Pill' which will enable you to access 100% of your brain and will ‘revolutionise your life.' It lists the side effects, which include total amnesia, paralysis, irreversible coma and sudden death. I think I'll pass on that then and keep struggling with using just the one percent of mine!

We arrive at Finsbury Park, Home to the lovely art deco Rainbow Theatre. Ray makes a start on his bountiful stock of sarnies which are neatly packed into the many inside pockets of his coat, rather like a spiv's selection of cheap watches “Hey guvnor, wanna buy a sarnie? Iv'e got cheese and onion, ham and pickle, or just plain onion if your name's David Bailey!”

We make our way along a short alleyway to Finsbury Park (yes, there is a proper park at Finsbury) which is very well used by runners, joggers, dog walkers, parents with kids etc. Even the Tennis courts are all being used – a sight that one would only expect to see around the time of Wimbledon fortnight. We walk uphill to the café for a quick toilet stop, and although I don't really need to go yet I decide to use the facilities, bearing in mind part of some wise advice for gentlemen of a certain age, namely “Never pass a toilet without using it, never trust a fart, and never waste an erection!”

We walk across a very long footbridge which spans several railway lines, and at the far side we join a path which follows the route of the former Edgeware, Highgate and London Railway, which passes through wooded cuttings and along high embankments level with the roofs of large Victorian terrace houses. All the time our chatter is accompanied by birdsong. The track isn't really very muddy considering the amount of rain we had yesterday, and again is well used by runners, walkers and a few cyclists. The railway line crosses several roads on brick and stone bridges. They appear to be wide enough for two railway tracks. Garth and I ponder on where they found all the ground to make up the embankments, and we conclude that it may have been from the London Underground Tunnels.

We pass an adventure playground built alongside the pathway next to a block of flats which Trudy stops to gaze at and photograph. She tells me that it was here that her Auntie lived, and as a girl she would look forward to visiting and being allowed to go out and play with her Cousins, clmbing through a hole in the fence and playing on the disused railway, which still had the tracks then. They'd be out all day, and would never feel hungry, and parents wouldn't worry where they were or what they were up to. Now that sounds like a ‘proper childhood'.

We reach a disused railway platform, and a kind lady walking her dog takes a group photo of us lined up along it. Soon afterwards we reach a twin-bore tunnel, but the entrance is barred, so we have to leave the railway line and walk up over the top along a busy road with shops. As we walk along the road Alison tells me all about the new campervan that Ernie and she have bought. It sounds quite luxurious.

We pass through a gateway that leads into Highgate Wood, which is popular with families with kids on bikes, and popular with us because it has toilet facilities. We reach the information centre in the middle of the wood. There are plenty of bench seats here where we can sit and eat our sandwiches and drink our flasks of tea and coffee. Cookie has found some brochures about the history of the wood and some of the things to look out for here. It is quite fascinating, and to start with it explains the difference between a wood and a forest, and it is nothing to do with size. The trees in Highgate Wood are mainly coppiced hornbeam with oak standards. I take a look inside the information centre which is well laid out and very informative. There's a bat box on display, complete with model bat inside. Sometime I would like to make a bat box to put in our sycamore tree as I am sure that I've seen bats flying around above our garden on summer evenings, so I try to memorise how it looks.

Having finished our lunches we continue our walk in the woods, passing the woodkeeper's cottage (one rank up from a parkkeeper I suppose) and I notice some lovely old hornbeam trees, who's gnarled trunks are a mass of sinuous twisting ridges, as though a fat old ivy has been enveloped within the light grey bark. It's quite an amazing sight.

We leave the park at Cranley Gate, and are soon back on the path of the disused railway. Trudy and I stop to read an information sign board. The railway was built in 1867, and was closed to traffic in 1964, one of the casualties of the ‘Beeching axe' I suppose, though it was used for the storage of underground trains until 1970. The line passes along a viaduct with panoramic views across the city to the East, and beyond to Essex. The margins of the trackway are decorated with clumps of crocuses in bloom. There are several piles of rubbish and litter along the way that have been ‘wombled' by an enthusiastic group of well meaning volunteers. It's nice to see that somebody cares.

Soon we're at Alaxandra Palace Park, and it starts to rain a bit. I stop to look at a ‘veteran' oak tree, the definition of a veteran tree being ‘having reached a greater age than most other trees of the same species'.

We reach Alexandra Palace. I have never visited here before, and am very impressed by the building, which we can go in for free. There's a Custom Bike Show in progress, so lots of tattoed, leather and denim clad biker types around and lots of shiny chrome two-wheelers parked outside. Crowning the top of one of the palace's four corner turrets is the huge steel structure of the country's first television transmission mast. A thing of beauty, or an ugly carbuncle? I'm quite sure that if someone wanted to erect a 300 feet high steel pylon on top of a prestigious Victorian building nowadays they wouldn't be allowed.

We've come to the end of our planned walk route now, but need to find transport home, and hopefully a pub somewhere nearby. Ray Marshall leads us downhill into the town of Wood Green. The pubs around here don't look very promising beer-wise though. Keith suggests a visit to the Wenlock Arms, which is just a couple of short tube journeys away. The suggestion is not well received by Alison and Reenie, who would be content with a cup of tea in a local café, but they are outvoted by the beer-swilling brigade!

After a ten Minute walk through the rain from Old Street tube we arrive at the Wenlock Arms. Sadly there's no live music playing this afternoon, but there's the Rugby international showing on a TV set, an impressive range of beers on the bar pumps, and a generous free food buffet at the back of the bar which the landlord invites us to tuck into, so it would seem rude to leave after just one pint!

By the time we leave it has stopped raining. We catch a bus to London bridge station and a Train home. It has been a most enjoyable day. I'm glad I did get up after all!

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