The Capital Ring – East Finchley to Finsbury Park – Part One


Queen’s Wood

Dear Readers, the Capital Ring is a circular walking route 78 miles long that meanders around London, mostly in Transport for London zones 3 to 4. I have actually done it before (and have the certificate to prove it 🙂 ), but after nearly two years of stop-start lockdowns and general confusion, it felt like a good time to do it again. Plus I have been growing increasingly sedentary, so it seemed like a good time to gently get active again.

The Capital Ring actually runs right through Cherry Tree Wood, which is a mere quarter of a mile from our front door so on Saturday, after a long-postponed visit to the dental hygienist (clearly I know how to enjoy myself at the weekend) we set off. Everywhere on the walk is looking extremely parched, but in the early morning it was pleasantly cool. The new café was doing a roaring trade, and rightly so – the food is delicious. I stopped briefly to see if I could get a copy of a new history of the park by our very own Roger Chapman, but it had been so popular that it was briefly out of stock. Clearly there is a renewed interest in our local green spaces, which is very encouraging.

Cherry Tree Wood in the Sunshine

View back to the new cafe

The fenced off area was being used to grow a meadow. Interestingly, it seemed to have the finest crop of greater plantain (Plantago major) that I think I’ve ever seen – meadows often throw up surprises in their first few years, depending on what has been hiding in the seed bank and what the conditions are. The young fruit trees look to be doing very well, though, and the wild service tree has lots of berries this year.

A fine crop of greater plantain

Berries on the wild service tree

I also really liked these mosaics on the side of the Ladies Toilet – very pretty, and very unexpected. I’m wondering if some more are planned, to fill the gaps.

Then it’s out of the gate, along Fordington Road, and off to Highgate Wood. We look back to see the tiny ‘village green’ with its mature trees.

And we pause briefly to consider these bollard-y things, which look as if they’ve been freshly-painted, probably to make them more obvious to drivers. I always thought that they marked the boundary of a parish or somesuch, but the company that makes them, Furnitubes, describes them as a Bell Bollard. Their role seems to be to “deflect the wheels of heavy vehicles protecting pedestrians, people and buildings in busy public realm environments.” These were on the corner of a mini roundabout, so maybe some vehicles take the corner too quickly.

Maybe we should have them on the corner of Leicester Road in East Finchley rather than the concrete bollard which is almost always in a horizontal position.

Horizontal bollard on Leicester Road

Then it’s up a steep hill and into Highgate Wood. This is part of the same great wood as Cherry Tree Wood and my beloved Coldfall Wood, the whole lot originally being owned by the Bishop of London and used as his hunting ground. Highgate Wood used to be known as Gravel Pit Wood, and is the same mix of oak and hornbeam as the other woods.

Highgate Woods.

I note a lot of use of dead hedges to try to protect the understorey areas, and there are some places with actual fences. It’s very hard to try to persuade people not to let their children and dogs trample through places where the young plants are struggling to survive, and most folk don’t seem to even notice them unless they’re higher than usual. Still, they do provide habitat for all manner of small animals and for fungi.

A dead hedge

It is so deliciously cool under the trees at this time of year, but the spider webs give an indication that the year is moving on. How can it be August already?

Then it’s out of Highgate Wood, across the busy road to Muswell Hill, and into Queen’s Wood. There is a delightful cafe here in what looks almost like a hobbit house, with much of the produce grown in the kitchen garden at the back. It used to be known as Churchyard Bottom Wood until it was acquired by Hornsey Borough Council in the 19th century, and named for Queen Victoria. I love the old-fashioned signposts.

This is a much shadier and hillier wood than Highgate Wood, with the amenities all clustered close to the entrance, and the rest of the wood feeling wild and rather mysterious. It’s usually much quieter than Highgate Wood, and none the worse for it. During lockdown both woods were used to within an inch of their lives, with some areas a sea of mud. Now, they have a chance to recover, though the current drought is leaving things dangerously dry. The photo below, for example, shows what is usually a pool full of frogs and dragonflies.

I do wonder what the water companies think they’re doing. Our local company, Affinity Water, actually sent us an email telling us that they have no plans to impose a hosepipe ban, even after the driest few months in living memory. They are, however, dependent on rainfall this autumn and winter to help them to maintain supplies. Surely it would be prudent to conserve water now in case this doesn’t happen? The reasons for not imposing a ban are apparently

But other companies, even in drier areas, have held firm. Those involved in drought discussions say companies would rather wait until the last minute, when rivers are running dry, rather than irritate customers by putting bans in place early” (The Guardian, 3rd August 2022)

In the meantime, river levels are dropping, with the subsequent danger to wildlife. Honestly, ‘irritate customers?’ There’s a lot to how a message is put across, and I’m sure most reasonable people would understand the need to be sensible after the weather this year. In the meantime, fish are gasping in the rivers and the invertebrate life is being wiped out.

Anyhow, at this point we leave Queen’s Wood and walk up Priory Road, passing the most beautiful dark maroon-coloured rose in the front garden of a house which is undergoing a thorough refurbishment. I’m so glad that it was left.

And on the other side of the road there’s a very fine Victorian terrace. These look like very upscale houses for the time, with decorative green tiles outside and all sorts of little plaster details. On the other hand, this is a very hilly spot, and we passed the poor postman who has to tackle some of the steepest external staircases I’ve ever seen.

“It keeps me fit”, he said as he rocketed past us as we huffed and puffed up the hill. Clearly we need to do more of this walking stuff.

Victorian houses on Priory Road – note the ground level green tiles, the double bay windows and the decorative plaster on the top floor.

Then we pass through a very steep path between number 63 and number 65 Priory Gardens and head up to the Archway Road. We pause at the traffic lights to gaze at Jackson’s Lane Community Centre. This used to be a Methodist church, but these days showcases all kinds of innovative performance art of all kinds, with a particular emphasis on shows for young people.

Jackson’s Lane Community Centre

And now, we’re about to walk the second part of the route, along the Parkland Walk. But to hear about that, lovelies, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow…..

17 thoughts on “The Capital Ring – East Finchley to Finsbury Park – Part One

  1. Virginia

    A lovely description of your walk. What am I waiting for? Queens Wood and it’s cafe sound very tempting. I agree with you about the water companies. In so many ways… what is going on?

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Having gotten started on the Capital Ring I’m now looking at the predicted temperatures for next weekend (in the 90s) and thinking that that is going to be too hot for an urban walk. But it is great fun, and very well sign-posted, so you don’t spend half the time trying to work out where you are and where you should be 🙂

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Ah, I know how you like the wide open spaces Mike. So do I -we’re already booked to go back to Obergurgl next year because (happy dance) our favourite hotel is reopening in the summer.

  2. Lizbet Tobin

    Thanks for the memories . I would have been about 13 -14 years old when I first walked through these woods on my own. I wasn’t much of a netball player but was assigned to greet the opposing teams or help organise practice. Afterwards I would walk to Muswell Hill Road , drop off a friend at Cranley Gardens, and pop in to see my grandmother who lived close by.. She would have picked up a “bakery treat” for me, and then I would walk home to our house not far from Dukes Avenue . I think it must have been on a Friday because I didn’t need to sit down to homework as well!

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      That’s lovely Lizbet!I was never much of a netball player either, I always forgot that once I had the ball I wasn’t supposed to run 🙄.

  3. Liz Norbury

    It was lovely to read this, as it’s only a month since a friend and I went for a walk in Highgate Wood, which I always love visiting, as it reminds me of the childhood Sunday afternoons I spent there. Like you, we found the wood to be a welcome haven from the blazing sun. As soon as we were back on the street, we were hit by a wall of heat, and were glad to escape into Queen’s Wood. I’m looking forward to seeing where the Capital Ring takes you next. I’ve walked the Cornwall Coast Path in slow stages – it’s around 300 miles, so it took quite a while – but sadly I don’t have a certificate to prove it!

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Sadly it will be taking me exactly nowhere this week, as 93 degrees is a bit hot for an urban walk, plus the trains and buses are on strike. It’s taking me back to my early teens and twenties (the strikes, not the heat 🙂 ). I wonder if we’ll end up with a three-day week like we did in the early seventies? I remember Mum cooking by candlelight, and how much of a novelty it seemed….

  4. Kate

    The mosaics are a work in progress. There will be 10 eventually each with something relevant to the wood. The first two depicted fruits from the orchard and the most recent one of the cherries is the logo of The Friends of CTW. The artist is local person Debbie Singer.


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