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Finsbury Park's Buffer Zone

Following a disused railway on a green route to Alexandra Palace.

Distance 4.5 miles (7.2km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 197ft (60m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Mainly gravel paths

Landscape Green corridor through built-up areas of north London

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 173 London North

Start/finish TQ 313868; Finsbury Park tube and bus

Dog friendliness No particular problems

Public toilets None on route

1 Enter the Parkland Walk from Stroud Green Road through an entrance in the wall. Follow the curving path that initially runs alongside a railway line and then, to the right, overlooks Finsbury Park. At a T-junction turn left and cross a footbridge over the railway. Turn sharp right to continue along the disused railway track that once connected Finsbury Park with Alexandra Palace. Continue for a further 1½ miles (2.4km) along this attractive pathway with nine bridges, which at one point passes between former station platforms.

2 Eventually, you veer left up a path, lined with wooden posts, that leads to a road. Turn right out of the gate, right at the Shepherds pub and right again, into Shepherds Hill. Here you will see a library on the opposite side of the road. Turn left immediately in front of it and follow the rough track that descends to Priory Gardens.

3 Turn right and, after about 250yds (229m), turn left along an alleyway between houses, which leads to the 50 acre (20ha) Queens Wood. The path climbs gently to cross Queens Wood Road and continues bearing left through Queens Wood. After 50yds (46m) turn sharp left. At a crossroads of paths turn right. You are now heading away from the road and following the Capital Ring path. It swings to the right and descends gradually through this woodland that is so dense and ancient that Hansel and Gretel wouldn't look out of place here. Notice the grand oak tree clad with fungi and shaped like a totem pole.

4 At a T-junction turn left, past the former wood-keeper's cottage to Muswell Hill Road. Cross this at the traffic lights and enter Highgate Wood. Take the path on the right-hand side and continue through the woods until the path runs parallel with a row of houses. Turn right here, to leave the wood at the northern end of Muswell Hill Road. Cross the road, turn right into Cranleigh Gardens and, almost immediately, take the path on the left of a garden centre. At the bottom of the steps turn right to rejoin the railway path. Here you can enjoy views to the mast of Alexandra Park and as far as Canary Wharf, in Docklands.

5 Go through an underpass and a covered walkway to bear right along a path through Alexandra Park that passes a café. Continue through the gates, and cross the road on the right to catch the W3 bus back to Finsbury Park bus station (a 15 minute journey).

This is a linear walk with the option of taking a short bus ride back to the start. You don't have to be a train-spotter to appreciate it and indeed, it might help if you're not - trains no longer run here.

The trackbed has been converted into a parkland walk that alternates between running along the top of an embankment and through the deep, wooded cuttings of the original railway. It is London's longest statutory Local Nature Reserve and, although King's Cross at one point is a mere 3 miles (4.8km) further south, you'll feel totally detached from the bustle of urban life.

In its heyday in the 1870s, the Finsbury Park-to-Alexandra Palace line carried 60,000 passengers on one Whit Monday. Its demise was due to the advent of electric trains and the opening of the Hampstead to Highgate tube. Ironically, in 1954, when the last train ran, it had to be lengthened from two to eight carriages to meet public demand.

While you're there

Haringey's conservation staff can be justly proud of their 2 acre (0.8ha) Railway Fields Nature Reserve, near Manor House tube. It's the only one of its kind in Haringey. This used to be a railway goods yard and, although coal can still be found, the only trace of its past life is a set of old rails and a couple of buffers. There's a pond, woodland scrub and a meadow. The unique 'Haringey Knotweed' was discovered here in 1987. It's a cross between the Russian vine and a Japanese knotweed.

What to look for

One grassy embankment is home to a colony of slow worms, which are often mistaken for grass snakes. Their name is misleading for these creatures are more like legless lizards and they actually eat worms. They love living in damp but well-drained open grassland and on warm days can sometimes be seen basking in the sun. Michaelmas daisies and North American golden rods give the embankments a blue and yellow shock of colour in the late summer.

Where to eat and drink

You will pass three cafés on this walk. Just before you turn right into Shepherds Hill is the friendly Jackson's Lane Community Centre and its good-value Big Daddy Kwaks vegetarian café. Seating surrounds the theatre box office and it's a great place for people-watching - dogs are allowed in if well behaved. The solar-panelled Queens Wood Café was once the wood-keepers cottage and looks like something straight out of a Brothers Grimm fairytale. The 19th-century building was derelict for ten years before being rescued in 1989; it now has an organic garden and uses home-grown herbs and tomatoes in an interesting selection of dishes. Popcorn in the Park is a vegan café in Alexandra Park that is run by volunteers and has jazz performances. Don't be put off by the austere exterior, for this is a quirky place where you write out your own order.

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