Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Highgate to Hackney Wick

Yesterday was another amazing day, weather-wise, so I seized the opportunity to walk two segments of the Capital Ring -- from Highgate eastward through Stoke Newington to Hackney Wick. Nine miles or so, all told.

I began on the Parkland Walk, a disused railway line that's been turned into a linear park. It passed under the arches of several bridges carrying roads overhead, covered with graffiti and street art. I stayed on the Parkland Walk for two miles.

This creature was emerging from one of the arches -- a "spriggan," or kind of goblin, according to my trusty map. "Spriggans were grotesquely ugly, found at old ruins, guarding buried treasure and generally acting as fairy bodyguards. They were also said to be busy thieves. Though usually small, they had the ability to swell to enormous size -- they're sometimes speculated to be the ghosts of old giants. They were said to steal human children and leave baby spriggans in their place."

Leaving that nightmare behind...

...I passed into Finsbury Park, where I stopped at a cafe for coffee so hot that I couldn't begin to drink it for a good five or ten minutes. (A pet peeve of mine.) Some women at an adjacent table were having a conversation about global warming and how worrying it's all become, given our occasionally high temperatures this year.

I passed through the formally planted McKenzie Gardens, and then out of the park and onto a towpath along what's known as the New River -- even though, as my map pointed out, it's neither new nor a river. It's a canal that once supplied London with fresh water from Hertfordshire.

I passed through a couple of wildlife preserves around old reservoirs, and I saw cormorants and other waterbirds. There were lots of attractive new apartment developments nearby. I eventually passed through Clissold Park, a beautiful grassy expanse with small ponds and a big house from the 1790s. 

From there I finally reached Stoke Newington, where I saw one of Banksy's famous artworks high up on a wall -- a cartoon of the royal family waving from a balcony. (It used to be much bigger, but the local council painted over parts of it while removing graffiti ten years ago.)

I passed into Abney Park Cemetery, which contains more than 300,000 closely laid graves (!), according to my map. It's now a wildlife preserve where some rare species of insects and other wildlife have been found.

One five-mile section of the walk ended at this point, but I was feeling ambitious and it was only lunchtime, so I kept going. I walked toward Springfield Park, where I stopped at a cafe and had a baked potato with beans and cheese and a side salad, with '80s retro music playing in the background ("Never Gonna Give You Up" and "Holding Out for a Hero," for example). It's funny how I always hear classic rock or retro rock/pop when I'm out and about. I'm fine with it, because I like retro, but you'd think there's no modern pop music.

The path led to the River Lea and followed the riverside for several miles. There was lots of wildlife and more interesting street art.

Eventually I wound up at a place called the Middlesex Filter Beds, a wildlife preserve that used to be a huge sand-and-gravel filtration system for London's water supply. My map promised two artworks at this location -- and I found one, "Nature's Throne," touted as Hackney's own miniature Stonehenge. (It's made of granite blocks that formed the foundations of an old building.)

The other was "Rise and Shine Magic Fish," the heads and tails of giant ceramic fish emerging from a pond. I was intrigued by the description and I really wanted to see it, so I wandered all over the place -- I bet I spent at least 45 minutes looking for those stupid fish. The map said they were there, but didn't say where, and the park's occasional signposts didn't mention them. Finally, hot and annoyed, I gave up, and only belatedly read that they were moved several years ago to another location after one of them was stolen!

I continued walking the sunny path along the river -- and by this time, mid-afternoon, it was fairly hot (90ยบ F or so) and I was thinking I'd bitten off more than I could chew. But finally I reached Hackney Wick, which is known as a mecca for street artists. I passed under an overpass where the concrete support columns had been plastered with all sorts of items, from CDs and old computer parts to spray cans and toys. Some playful graffiti had then been sprayed overtop the materials.

Gentrification is a contentious issue in Hackney Wick, as this old closed pub colorfully points out. There's been a lot of new construction, like that apartment building to the right, and some people don't like it. (I've photographed this old pub, the Lord Napier, a couple of times before over the years. It's always changing, as street art often does.)

Finally, I made my way to the overground train station and headed home. Of course part of the train line was out, which required me to zigzag through the tube system to get back to West Hampstead -- but that's another story!


  1. I love these walks, and I'm hoping to go one with you when I come to London in October!

  2. How splendid to walk in the sunshine and to cover a good number of interesting urban miles. As one would expect - thoughtfully photo-illustrated by our inquisitive Floridian guide.

  3. I love the way you get to see and experience London. Thanks for this.

  4. My Lord! It seems like you'd have walked every road and pathway in London by now!
    What great pictures. I have to say though- I DO NOT LIKE GRAFFITI ART! See? I can call it art but I still don't like it. On the other hand, that lion is magnificent and I love the spriggan. I'm just an old fuddy duddy, I guess. And it occurs to me that simply using that phrase- fuddy duddy- makes me about ten thousand years old.
    Thanks for taking these walks and sharing them with us, thus saving us the shoe leather.

  5. What a great, long walk that was. You do see such cool and interesting sights. I love these vicarious adventures with you.

  6. What an enjoyable walk with you today. I love love all the graffiti art, especially that painting of the girl with the glasses. Lots of talent there. I loved the photo of the cormorant. We have them here too. It's a shame about those fishes though. It would have been nice to see them too. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

  7. Interesting account of a spriggan. I'd never heard of this before. The whole nine miles had lots of very interesting stuff to see.

  8. Always an adventure on your many walks through and around the city. Some good and some not good street art and graffiti. Interesting tour.

  9. I just looked at a map to get an idea of how far you walked. You covered an amazing distance. McKenzie Gardens looks very nice in your photo. The spriggan was somewhat disturbing, especially the story you told about the creature. The Filter Beds is also an interesting place. You've seen more of London than many people who were born there.

  10. Fun walk! I kind of like the spriggan - but then again I don't have children. Ha!

  11. I love the street art. I wish some enterprising artist would go at the abandoned buildings here but the people in the small twon would probably be horrified and the artist arrested.

  12. The background of the photo of the cormorant looks like an impressionist masterpiece. Great walk - I love your energy and spirit of adventure!

  13. I love these, especially the splendid lion and the colorful building!

  14. Wonderful walk thanks for taking us along on this journey so many interesting places and photos well done !!!

  15. Elizabeth: I hope so too! That would be awesome!

    YP: It is splendid. Nothing makes me feel more alive than going on a long walk. Same for you, I expect.

    Sabine: It's a great city for exploring!

    Ms Moon: I like SOME graffiti art. I like all the pieces in these photos. I like representational art, featuring people or animals or something recognizable. I'm less interested in the tags and throwies and burners, featuring the artist's name, but even those can be cool sometimes. I think I'm a fuddy-duddy too, deep down.

    Robin: I'm glad! I know these posts get a bit long!

    Edna: I'll go back and see those fish one of these days! I just have to go to a different park, now that I know where they are.

    Red: I'd never heard of a spriggan either! Funny how folklore from all cultures is so full of mischievous creatures, going by many names. I guess people needed ways to explain all the things happening in their world that they didn't understand.

    Catalyst: There's always plenty to see. I start out these walks thinking, "Will I get any good pictures?" And by the time I get home I have to cull pretty severely to make a post of just eight or ten shots.

    Sharon: McKenzie Gardens was nice but pretty small. Not worth a special trip unless you're in the area. The Filter Beds, though, would be a great place to spend time looking at wildlife. (On a cooler day!)

    Bug: It surprised me when I looked up and saw it emerging from the arch!

    Ellen: There's always tension between street artists and the public. A lot of people don't like it, and I suppose there IS a certain egotism involved in seizing a public wall and plastering it with your own art!

    John: Isn't it amazing? One of the most impressive grave monuments I've ever seen.

    Sue: Thanks! That cormorant was pretty nervous -- it sped away while I was clicking my camera. I'm glad I got a decent shot.

    E: Yeah, that building is great, isn't it?!

    Comox: Thanks! I had a great time!

  16. Well, I certainly enjoyed taking that walk with you! Wonderful and varied sights!