The Capital Ring is a waymarked path around London. My son (nine years old at present) and I walked a segment of it last weekend, and if our enthusiasm holds up we’ll try to walk the whole lot, though it’ll be spread over a fair amount of time. It’s divided into 15 sections each of typically around 5 miles, though of course you don’t need to stick with these. We started with section 12, from Highgate station to Stoke Newington, simply because of the starting point’s convenience to home.
The first part of the walk fits with a point I’ve made before, that if you understand a city’s transport system it helps you to understand the city. The Parkland Walk runs along a disused railway line from Finsbury Park. In the 1930s plans existed to link this line up to the Northern Line of the tube. After the war, these plans were abandoned along with the grand entrance to Highgate station depicted here and instead the line became a linear park. It’s well-used by walkers, joggers, and cyclists, at least on the cold but sunny winter’s day when we were there. One of the oddest sights – and one which you could miss if you don’t look up at the right moment – is the sculpture of a mythical creature, a spriggan, about to leap out of the side of the cutting. It’s very close to the point where the walk goes under Crouch Hill, in a stretch with rather a high density of graffit.
But further on the walk offers a reminder that the fabric of a city is also dependent on water and sewage. One section (particularly muddy last weekend, and much less busy than the Parkland Walk) runs along the New River. As the very useful guidebook on the Capital Ring reminds us, this is in fact neither new nor a river, but is a 17th century artificial watercourse that still supplies water to London.
Considering that it runs through some very crowded parts of London, the walk along the New River is remarkably peaceful. And it may be a functional watercourse but we spotted some swans in places. As it approaches Stoke Newington, passing under a bridge which would be great for Pooh Sticks (we dropped a single Pooh Stick into the water to establish which way it was flowing) it opens out into two reservoirs, which are now used as venues for sailing, kayaking, and so on.
Two buildings which you can see in this photo were both originally pumping stations, and are both now devoted to leisure activities. The one fronting onto the water still looks like a pumphouse, is beautifully restored, and is used for sailing and kayaking. The turret behind, and to the right in the picture, is part of the other pumping station, now in use as a climbing centre. It’s part Gothic, part Scottish Baronial, all Victorian fantasy and ornament, and built in 1855 on the basis that the citizens of Stoke Newington might object to a functional industrial building, but would accept a new fortified castle in their midst.
This isn’t the only section of the Capital Ring related to artificial watercourses either – there is a very significant section in east London that follows a Greenway built on top of one of the principal sewers.
Perhaps the most striking thing about this segment of the walk is quite how much greenery there is in London, and quite how far you can walk without going alongside roads. In addition to the sections I’ve mentioned, it runs through Finsbury Park and Clissold Park – neither of which I knew well. There are a couple of short road sections in Stoke Newington, but the walk along Stoke Newington Church Street is rather charming as the area has a definite village atmosphere.