A Sunday Walk in Coldfall Wood

Dear Readers, since the lockdown Coldfall Wood and the playing fields next door have become the centre of outdoor activity for what feels like half of North London. Walkers, runners, picnickers, families with children, dog-walkers, berry-harvesters, casual drinkers, kite-fliers, cyclists, footballers, softball players, den-makers and skateboarders have all trooped through the woods. Some have observed social distancing, some have not. Some have left prodigious quantities of litter, other people have helped to clean it up. Some have moved slowly, noticing the clouds and the changes in the season, others have raced through, huffing and puffing, and some have done both at different times. Some have smiled shyly, some have bellowed into their phones. In short, all of human life has been observed during this past four months when I have walked here in the morning almost every day. Even on a busy morning you can find a  quiet spot, such as this lane next to the allotments.

One of the smaller trees has been pulled down by the ivy, and it is becoming a limbo-dance to get under it.

You never know what you’ll hear from the allotments – sometimes there’s the distant sound of a cockerel crowing, but today there was the roar of power tools. It didn’t completely drown out the yaffle of a green woodpecker, though, and there was an ardent woodpigeon in the trees cooing to his loved one.

We walk out of the lane and head towards the playing fields. There is always the brightness ahead, the sudden sense of the world opening out.

Running towards the light

The crows seem to be socially-distancing, but I imagine they are each patrolling their own small area looking for worms.

Elsewhere, autumn is well on the way.



Sycamore ‘keys’

There are a few common red soldier beetles (Rhagonycha fulva) about on the yarrow, but their heyday is when the hogweed is out – you can sometimes see dozens on a single flower head, and indeed some wag has nicknamed them the ‘hogweed bonking beetle’. The adults eat aphids and the larvae eat slugs and snails, so this is definitely an insect that you want to encourage in your garden.

And while this big critter looks like a bee, it is in fact a bee-mimicking fly, possibly a drone fly.

A woodpigeon is making the most of the elderberries – these birds really do prefer wild food to anything humans can offer, as anyone who has seen them fighting over ivy berries will attest.


The Japanese knotweed is still doing extremely well I notice.

There is an unmistakable whiff of autumn in the air. Everything is in a hurry to spread its seeds before the nights draw in.

Greater knapweed seedheads

Seeds on my mysterious beet plants

Fennel seedheads


Am I the only one who loves the burdock? Actually no, the bees are quite keen as well….

Some things are still in flower, like the lady’s bedstraw.

And the spear thistle is still popular…

And then, as we reach the wood again, the coolness and the darkness are welcome.

A lone rowan tree by the stream

When I listen to the sounds of people in the wood, I wonder if it has been so intensely used at any time in the last few hundred years. Once upon a time it was coppiced every year, with the hornbeams being cut right back and the wood taken by ordinary folk to make charcoal or as tinder. What a social event that must have been! Not to mention when hunting parties rode through, and what a bunch of hooligans I imagine they were. It gives me some comfort that the woods are resilient, and have known all kinds of usage in the years that they’ve been in existence. The woods are a nature reserve but they are also a vital public space, used by people with no gardens and no access to the outside. Getting the balance between welcoming people and protecting the vulnerable parts of the wood right will be essential, because, as I know from my time volunteering in other open spaces, people have to feel that the woods belong to them too for them to care about protecting them. Let’s hope that some of the people who have never ventured into Coldfall Wood until the lockdown will grow to love it as much as I do.

Little stream in Coldfall Wood

16 thoughts on “A Sunday Walk in Coldfall Wood

  1. Bug Woman

    There in lies a long tail – at one point the playing fields at the back of the woods were going to be turned into a golf driving range, and the woods were full of abandoned cars! Lots of concerted community action and a council that does more than pay lip service to green spaces. It’s a nature reserve in perpetuity now, thank god.

  2. Bobbie Jean

    I always take away something from your posts that expands my knowledge –something related to my daily or recent experiences. I just Googled hornbeam and firewood. It’s also used as for charcoal, known as ironwood, and is used in blacksmith forges. A big wince! Two hornbeams sprang up in our backyard last year. I have fallen for them, and cannot imagine using them for something so mundane as charcoal.

    1. Bug Woman

      I know, they are fabulous trees, and last year the ones in the wood were flowering (which they only do every few years). Because they were coppiced, they form the most extraordinary twisted shapes. My friend Ann says that the trunks look ‘muscular’ and she’s right….

      1. Bobbie Jean

        I didn’t know they flowered–just as my willow does. I learned this about the willow only two years ago! The 40 foot tree is abuzz each spring now. Who knew there were that many bees in one location? Perhaps I should read beyond Wikipedia as my first source, and dig out my little book of Texas trees. Here’s hoping I find it again.

        Thanks again.

  3. Alexandra Rook

    Lovely thoughtful observed piece of writing both yours & in this piece by Amy Liptrot (see below). Thank you for re-acquainting me with Coldfall (such a wondrously evocative name) where I used to run the dog every morning before work & a few weeks ago stomped round with a friend from Kentish Town who has recently discovered it in her explorations of the Local instead of the Global: we all heed to.
    I thought you might be interested in this https://www.placewriting.co.uk/mmu-events/a-hyper-local-spring-by-amy-liptrot

    1. Bug Woman

      That is a lovely piece by Amy Liptrot, I loved her book. And she’s right about the joys of the hyper-local. I don’t know how I would have managed without the woods that are close to me…

  4. Andrea Stephenson

    When lockdown started it was as though the parks and paths I frequented had become like Grand Central Station. It’s calmed down now – a few more people than normal maybe but not too many!


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