The Capital Ring – Finsbury Park to Stoke Newington – Part One

Travellers’ Joy in Finsbury Park

Dear Readers, as you might remember a fortnight ago I started my peregrination around the Capital Ring, London’s 78 mile footpath that meanders around the Capital through Transport for London’s Zones 2 and 3. As it was in the low  temperature-wise last Saturday we skipped it like the no-hopers that we clearly are, but this week we retraced our steps to Finsbury Park and headed east. First up was the Traveller’s Joy/Old Man’s Beard along the path. This is the UK’s only native clematis, and I loved the way that it showed all the stages of its growth, from bud to full-blown seedhead.

Then it was off through Finsbury Park itself. This is a surprisingly large park, and as I reported last time it was established in 1862, to replace the pleasure gardens that were in the area before. A fairground was setting up in the distance as we walked past, and the park is host to music festivals and all kinds of community events during the year. This time there was no sign of the random drummer, but there was a hip-hop dancing class led by a very enthusiastic chap in his fifties. It appeared that I was a smidge too early for the Latino Life festival which is being held this weekend, and it only costs a pound too.

Magnificent old planes in Finsbury Park

There is a small flower garden, known as Mackenzie Gardens, which is named for Alexander Mackenzie. He landscaped the original park back in the late nineteenth century, and was also involved in the design of the Victoria Embankment and Southwark Park. The flowerbeds are being restored to their original colours.

Like many urban parks, Finsbury Park felt pretty safe with an edge of what my Canadian friends describe as ‘sketchiness’. Unfamiliar ground is always slightly more alarming than places that you know – I’m sure people who are unfamiliar with my beloved Coldfall Wood might find it a bit eerie and dark. Still people seem to be relaxed, there are lots of play areas for children of all ages, and on a sunny day it feels as if everyone is just out to enjoy themselves and chill out.

Mature trees in Finsbury Park


On the way out of the park, I saw this poor tree with the most extraordinary damage to its trunk – it’s obviously an old wound, and from the way that it zigzags down the trunk I wondered if it was a lightning strike.

And yet, the amazing thing is that the tree is in full leaf and looks to be doing very well in spite of its injury. I love the resilience of these amazing plants.

Leaves on the wounded tree.

Then we leave Finsbury Park and cross Green Lanes (named because this rather daunting A Road was once a tangle of meandering tracks that led to local village greens, hence the plural). At this point, the Capital Ring joins the New River Path. The New River isn’t a river, and it isn’t new – it is an artificial water course, finished in 1613 and designed to bring fresh water from Ware in Hertfordshire to the burgeoning city of London. It was designed by a Welsh engineer, Sir Hugh Myddleton, and over its 40 mile course it drops just 2 inches every mile, so that the water flows along due to gravity. These days the water doesn’t go any further than the reservoirs at Stoke Newington, apparently (though I do wonder where the water that flows through the Islington leg of the New River comes from in that case). But honestly, on a lovely summer’s day I wonder if there is a more peaceful spot in the whole of London.

As we wander along, the air is filled with the cries of almost fully-grown cootlets (a word that I just made up). How pathetic they sound, and how glad their parents will be to see the back of them! I’m sure that the one below is well able to fend for his or herself at this point. I love the water droplets on his/her back, showing just how water-resistant their plumage is.

This mother duck seems to have just a single duckling, and both parties were travelling at great speed.

This flotilla of mute swans glided past, partially concealed by the reeds, and they were so quiet that I didn’t notice them until they’d nearly gone.

As we journey on, the other side of the New River becomes rather more industrial. What is OCC, for example?

Well, my friends, it is the Oriental Carpet Centre. I can find out nothing about it except that in one Google review, someone mentions that it has really violent security guards. Maybe check the opening hours before visiting.

After crossing the Seven Sisters Road, we walk alongside the New River and beside the Woodberry Estate, once the largest council housing complex in Britain but now a mixture of public and private housing. I’ve written before about how a new bright and shiny estate is being built here, and how the residents of the old estate have largely been written out of the picture, as usually happens. The Guardian did a series of interviews with people involved in the project and it makes for a very interesting read. When I look at the faces and hear the accents, it takes me back to growing up in the East End of London sixty years ago. These are my people, and it feels as if we’re becoming an endangered species. But then, London has always changed, always morphed into something new. Who knows what will come next? Certainly the young moorhens and mallards on the other side of the New River have no idea, and neither do I.

We cross Lordship Road and walk alongside the East Reservoir, now part of the Woodberry Wetlands Nature Reserve. Look at these rather fancy apartment blocks!

Some of the old machinery and buildings that were used to control the flow of water into and out of the reservoir still remain.

And how about this rather fine view south? The blooming Shard seems to photobomb every photo looking south.

And of course this wouldn’t be a Bugwoman blog without one of our insect friends, so here is a particularly fine hoverfly – I think Volucella inanis rather than the hornet-mimic hoverflies that I’ve been commenting on for weeks. This is a female (as you can tell by the yellow ‘gap’ between the eyes). What a spectacular critter she is, and this species is pushing north at a rate of knots, so you’ll probably spot her soon. As with the closely-related hornet-mimic hoverfly, the larvae of this species live in wasp nests, but unlike those of the hornet-mimic, who largely live on detritus and are a generally good thing for the wasps, these cheeky larvae actually eat the wasp grubs, and are specially flattened so that they can wriggle into the cells which protect them.

Volucella inanis

Anyway, by now we’re getting hungry (it must be a full two hours since we’ve eaten anything, poor things that we are) and so we detour into the café of the Wetlands Centre, where I have what is possibly the best smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel with pickled cucumber that I’ve ever had in my life. Swallows are skimming the water, I think I spot a yellow wagtail, and an emperor dragonfly is patrolling the weeds. What a splendid walk the Capital Ring is! I had forgotten how much green space there is in London, and how lucky us Londoners are. And so, I will leave you for today with a few photos of the lovely new flats that have sprung up next to the reservoir, unaffordable though they are by most of the people who used to live in the Council Houses with this magnificent view.

6 thoughts on “The Capital Ring – Finsbury Park to Stoke Newington – Part One

  1. Anne

    This is such an interesting venture you have undertaken! I laughed out loud at the ‘really violent security guards’ and have enjoyed the serenity of the scenes you have shared with your readers.

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Thanks Anne! I’m really enjoying it, though it is reminding me how unfit I’ve become over the past few years. Still, a little regular walking will do me a world of good, I’m sure.

  2. ringg1

    Thank you for discovering for me a part of London I knew nothing about.
    The damaged cherry tree looks to have been wounded on its trunk in the past, and then the wound has become infected with a disease such as a fungal canker or a bacteria. They look very gaunt wounds, I always think. Although many trees can cope these wounds can get so bad that the trees are ruined.

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      It looks positively painful, I actually winced when I saw it. But the tree is in full leaf and looks amazingly well, especially considering the drought conditions this year. Fingers crossed for its continued survival…

  3. Anonymous

    I’m amazed to see how green it all is! I was viisting London (south of the river) a month ago, and thought the parched gold of the grass would never green again. Just goes to show how extraordinarily resilient plants are …


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