Walkabout #3: the branch line

Not so much a peregrination as a stroll, literally through a green belt that runs from the conurbations of Finchley to the more elevated echelons of Highgate, and once part of the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) line. Stride out and all too soon you’ll reach the final destination for the Parkland Walk is just a 4 miler.

We joined it at Crouch End railway station – no trains coming and none since the 70s. Alongside the overgrown platforms people stop to pick blackberries. In a tame apocalyptic vision, nature has reclaimed the line and dog walkers, cyclists, runners and city escapees are the only things that travel along here now.

There are few scenic variations or major landmarks yet it’s importance as London’s longest local nature reserve cannot be overstated. Really it’s just a sandy track, cutting through a forested embankment but the simplicity of the natural ambience prompts us to take the time to stop and stare, seeing ordinary woodlanders in a new light, or garden escapees that footprint the wilderness.

Of course the woodland has to be managed otherwise there would be no clear paths or variation of species. Silver birch in particular is curtailed in its enthusiasm to take over and replaced occasionally by the sleeker, paperbarks as well as black and white poplars. Older trees clutch at boundary walls or stand as witness to the days when the trains ran here

Following a disused rail track never ceases to cast its magic; a sense of history pervades, glimpsed through the time boundaries and beneath the ultimate triumph of nature’s reclamation

And then a rude awakening. End of the line, the tunnels ahead are blocked and we descend into the noisome highway and the road home. This contrast is what gives the Parkland Walk its especial charm.

strolling along with Jo and others for her regular Monday walk


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