A Busy Walk in Highgate and Queen’s Wood


Dear Readers, it’s Boxing Day and all those who have been at home, eating turkey and watching Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special on the TV have suddenly burst out of their abodes and headed for the woods. We made the mistake of heading to Highgate Wood ‘for a change’ but it was so packed with people that ‘the dance of two metres’ became trickier and trickier, especially as the paths had been so trampled that there was thick mud on either side. It’s wonderful that people feel such a need to get out into nature at the moment (and I’m one of those people) but it does point up how much of ‘nature’ we’ve lost, when the small areas that remain are so overcrowded.

The love of the woods is clear, as seen by this bench, with its bowl providing water for dogs and its bunch of roses. The inscription reads:

I sit here with memories for company

Knowing  that if life were moments 

we’d all have a good time’.

Sean Hughes (1965 – 2017)

Sean Hughes was born in North London but raised in Ireland – he was a very successful comedian (the youngest ever winner of the Perrier Award for stand-up comedy at the Edinburgh Festival) and was one of the team captains in ‘Never Mind the Buzzcocks’, the TV music quiz (not that that exactly sums up the complete anarchy that characterised the show). He was a vegetarian and a lifelong animal rights activist, but had a long struggle with alcohol, ending with his death from cirrhosis of the liver in Whittington Hospital at Archway in 1917. I remember his cheeky grin and his way with a one-liner, and had no idea that this memorial bench was here. RIP Sean. The doggies love their water bowl.

On we go, side-stepping the runners and choosing paths largely based on which large groups are approaching. I do take a detour to admire some fungi. I’m thinking this is probably not the hairy curtain crust that I spotted in Coldfall earlier this week, but maybe something exciting like Stereum ramaele, which is often found on oak.

Anyhow, just after this point we give up and head into the slightly quieter and wilder environs of Queen’s Wood. For some reason this doesn’t attract quite the footfall of Highgate Wood, I guess because there is no children’s playground or grassy area for little ones to play. I like its slightly eerie atmosphere, and I find myself admiring the way that the trees grow into strange contorted shapes in order to reach the light.

There has been a lot of coppicing here over the years, which has helped to bring light into some of the darker areas. I must definitely come back in spring and see what appears (before it’s trampled into the ground anyhow).

And by one of the entrances there’s a warning as to why dumping garden rubbish can introduce all kinds of plants into ancient woodland. I think that this is probably yellow archangel (Lamiastrum galeabdolon ssp argentum), a popular garden plant and one which is widely naturalised in many hedgerows and woodlands across the UK. While the plain-leaved variety of the plant is a native, this variegated garden variety is not and, as it flowers earlier than the native plant it often out competes it. However, I am reserving judgement because I have no idea if the native species grows here, and this is still a useful plant for pollinators. David Bevan, who was the Conservation Officer for Haringey for many years, was relaxed about ‘introduced species’ in his recent LNHS talk, and my instinct is to agree with him.

By this time Queen’s Wood is getting a little busy for my taste as well, and so we head back towards Muswell Hill and home. On our way along Connaught Gardens I spot this street tree, which is covered in pink catkins. I rather think that this is a grey alder (Alnus incana var ‘Ramulis coccineis’) – if so it will have red shoots when spring comes. I must have a wander along and check.

Home we toddle, through Fortis Green, where we meet this very friendly cat. He does that ‘slow blink’ thing that cats do when they’re attempting to be chums, so I stand there like an eejit and do the same until my husband reminds me that it’s lunchtime.

And finally, I notice this single cyclamen in someone’s front garden, glowing like a small candle flame. I know that it’s not a fancy wild one, but it still cheered me up. And then it’s home for toast, and a cup of tea, while we wait for Storm Bella to arrive (70 m.p.h winds! Torrential rain!).

Yep, 2020 has definitely been a year for grabbing pleasures when you find them.


6 thoughts on “A Busy Walk in Highgate and Queen’s Wood

  1. Alexandra Rook

    Glad to see someone else is still
    slipping back a century & writing 1917 instead of 2017! I don’t suppose he died before he was born but interesting convoluted idea…And isnt that creeping variegated plant Lamium?

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Morning Alexandra and well done for spotting the deliberate mistake🤣🤣🤣. Yes, yellow archangel is a form of lamium but the silver- leaved ones are descendents of garden escapes. Very pretty nonetheless!

      1. Bug Woman Post author

        Fascinating Alexandra- I wondered what it was like living over on the Heath Extension. And I’m glad you’ve been inspired to visit the cemetery. Have a go at East Finchley Cemetery on East Road if you haven’t already, some fascinating graves there, though it doesn’t have the rather attractive dishevelled areas of St Pancras and Islington.

        I also need to.get over to the Heath Extension to find the bog – there are very few bogs left in London! I might wait until it’s a bit drier though…

  2. Alexandra Rook

    PS I read most of your posts as I lived in the non-County roads for 20yrs (before ‘upgrading’ to a place by H’stead Heath Extension – which is beautiful, & been brilliant to be so close to Heath but also to be avoided at w.e & Garden Suburb not at all friendly) so keep gravitating back to the High St. for Black Gull Books, Tony’s & the Hospice charity shop, & Fuel Lands allotment I’ve kept on. So miss a proper High St. (GGn’s has only one shop I’d ever go to & the S’bys is awful). I share your posts quite often with a walking companion & we sometimes walk in your footsteps as your posts refresh one’s interest; I took him to the I&St.P cemetery recently that he’d never been to; it’s started us on other cemeteries now!

  3. Alittlebitoutoffocus

    And I think you missed the cyclamen photo… Too many sherries on Xmas day perhaps? 😉 I also hadn’t realised Sean Hughes had died. That’s what living abroad does for you, you get out of touch.


Leave a Reply