It took 4 years, but this walk from hilly Highgate to the River Lea at Clapton is a great way to finish the Capital Ring.

The prospect of finishing another of London’s ‘strategic’ walking routes was a glistening one, and after months of rain I found this Sunday morning to be ideal. This route, encompassing parts of sections 12 & 13 of the Ring brings a wealth of interest and sharp changes in environment.

Starting point: Highgate Tube station, zone 3, Northern Line (Mill Hill East and High Barnet branches).

Finishing Point: Clapton railway station, zones 2 & 3, services to Liverpool Street and various buses outside.

Length: 7.7 miles (12.4 kilometres).

Orndance Survey Maps app route link here

Download the GPX file for this route here Highgate to Clapton

As bloody usual it was fiddly to get to my starting point early on a Sunday morning. A bus from home never turned up so I had to wait 20 mins for the next one, meaning I had to get a later train to Victoria, tube to Euston, then another tube only as far as Archway as the Northern Line wasn’t working any further north that day, then finally a bus to Highgate station. And breathe…

Luckily it was a gloriously sunny day so when I crossed Archway Road and left down Holmesdale Road all that travel nonsense drifted away. I did almost give up when the bus didn’t arrive at the start of my journey as I had the makings of a nasty cold and really wasn’t sure I was up for a walk. But I did it anyway. Sometimes a good walk clears a cold, other times it doesn’t.

Artwork on a wall along Holmesdale Road, Highgate, Capital Ring

The entrance to London’s Longest Local Nature Reserve™, Parkland Walk, is easy to find. This 4.5 mile-long arc of greenery follows the rail cuttings and embankments of a long-dead railway line that used to run from Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace. World War Two put paid to plans to turn it into a full Tube extension and gradually it petered out. Today a vast multitude of joggers bounces up and down the route, untroubled by motor vehicles and only occasionally worried by cyclists. It’s not the most enthralling walk in the world but it does have an eerie feel when you trudge atop a large embankment with houses below you on both sides. When you walk across one of many old rail bridges crossing over normal roads it adds an air of interest and the odd perspective of looking down upon a residential street.

A tree swallowing brickwork along the Capital Ring

The Parkland Walk is not just a joggers’ paradise though, it is also a valuable nature reserve, with acid grassland being one of many rare habitats visible along the route. There are loads of interpretation boards to enlighten you on natural and railway topics. The husks of abandoned train stations provide another weird sensation, especially at what would have been Crouch End station because the path runs along the rail bed but the platforms have been retained, flanking your way. If you ever wondered what it might be like to jump down on the live rails and whisk a fallen child to safety then you can imagine it here.

Graffiti is an ever-present on this walk as well. The quality is dubious in several places but when I was lurking by some alcoves I found one or two impressive pieces to photograph and add to my gallery of London’s street art.

The graffiti of the Parkland Walk, Capital Ring section 12

Just when I had finished snapping I got quite a fright when something caught my eye.

The Spriggan in an alcove along Parkland Walk, Capital Ring

Amazing, right?! If you look closely you’ll see him in the montage above. He’s a spriggan, a fairy guardian of barrows and burial sites, but also a damn thief. I’ve seen pictures of this sculpture before but I had no idea I was about to encounter him on this walk so it was an absolute delight. I’ve also killed a vast number of these things in Skyrim. To watch so many joggers ploughing past I wondered if they were oblivious to him or just jaded? I really hoped the former, though that’s hardly much better.

Onwards and immediately I noticed that the usage of the route was declining swiftly. Most users appear to cut away from the Parkland Walk just after Crouch End ruins so from now on the path was less crowded. I can understand why though because it also becomes a bit thinner and a bit more precarious. One woman let out a sharp gasp when her jogging partner nearly tripped over an exposed tree root to avoid a puddle. They would have plummeted about twenty feet through brambles with that kind of momentum.

So far I had walked most of the way with a large frown on my face. The sun was low and severe so I could barely see. Actually, I could see perfectly well but the only thing I could see was my sunglasses sitting on my desk at work, in my mind’s eye. So yeah – blind.

Horrible railings over rail lines at the edge of Finsbury Park

The Parkland Walk ends in a weird fortified bridge with all manner of horrible barbs protecting the edge of Finsbury Park. I entered the park and found it to be mild and calm, not really in need of that kind of protection. I weaved across the paths and dodged out the way of rampant kids having a great time, before I quietly descended out of the north-east exit onto Green Lanes.

Alexandra Palace seen from the New River, Capital Ring section 12A quick map check revealed that the boggy track beside a still watercourse was my intended route. This is the 20-mile-long man-made New River between Hertford and Islington. Which only now I’m writing this have I discovered is definitely a walk I need to add to my to-do list. It was damn slippery after so much recent rainfall as the path was pure mud. Quite hard work as it filled my boot treads very quickly. Looking back the way I’d come I spotted Alexandra Palace hulking on a hill behind me and my mind wandered onto whether the Capital Ring could feasibly have taken a minor detour to encompass that, the highest point in North London. Never mind.

A view along the New River east of Finsbury Park, Capital Ring section 12I didn’t take to these conditions very well, my nose was bunged and I could feel my slight fever nagging me. I nibbled on some Weetabix breakfast bars and told myself to shut up, cross the A107, and take on the next stretch of the New River which arcs back towards Green Lanes about half a mile down the road. Soon after this section starts you get to the edge of the East Reservoir, just north of Stoke Newington. On a day like today even the sludge doesn’t bother the lovely views.

A canoeist and a few dinghy sailors enjoyed their Sunday but a few metres on I encountered two worried and hesitant-looking joggers, who I advised should look for another route today. It was so slippery that they definitely would have taken an unwanted bath in the New River.

The West Reservoir had an equally lovely little path around it, one being enjoyed by a slumbering Jew, dog walkers, and an Evangelical Christian organisation using the ground floor of a newly-built block to sing very loudly.

Views around the reservoirs in Stoke Newington, from the Capital Ring section 12

‘The Castle’ up ahead houses a climbing wall but I’m not certain what it used to be. Maybe a pumping house for all that water out the back?

The Castle along the Capital Ring in Stoke Newington

You have to walk along Green Lanes for a few minutes but unlike my walk along sections 10 & 11 of the Capital Ring this doesn’t feel like a hardship because of how much of your time is spent amidst greenery. Soon you enter Clissold Park with its ornate benches and happy atmosphere. So happy in fact that I encountered someone jogging backwards. Is that a ‘thing’ now? Looks dangerous if you ask me!

Clissold Park bench, and the church, Capital Ring

Stoke Newington is a place of contrasts and Clissold Park sits between some crumbly housing estates and Church Street, which is extremely ‘villagey’. In the sense that it is full of quirky shops and pubs, the buildings toting fading painted advertisements for dresses and purses.

The sights of Church Street, Stoke Newington, Capital Ring

I like it.

Old shop front and new art along Church Street in Stoke NewingtonAfter the main strip of Church Street you turn off into Abney Park Cemetery, a classic London jumble of a graveyard which houses a few famous names including my namesake but not ancestor William Booth – founder of the Salvation Army. The chapel in the centre reminded me instantly of the one in Nunhead Cemetery in that it is tumbledown and precariously close to being completely derelict. The lead of the stained glass hangs out of the stone frame, for example, and in no way does it appear loved any more.

Outside the main gates of the Cemetery I crossed Stamford Hill at the pedestrian crossing and headed into Cazenove, up Cazenove Road – a religious melting pot, it seems. Immediately I saw devout Muslims and Jews in full faith regalia heading to their respective congregations for prayer. One latecomer performing a White Rabbit style of running and checking himself every few metres as his curly ringlets blew around his bearded face.

It turned out that I should have turned off of Cazenove Road soon after entering it but I never spotted the blazes and I was too interested in the people around me to check the map. Thus I lost the Capital Ring for a bit, one street parallel, but this may well have turned out to be the more intriguing walk. At least at noon on a Sunday anyway.

At Upper Clapton Road, the A107, I waited an eternity to cross at the lights before heading up to re-find the Capital Ring just before it enters Springfield Park.

A great many people were sipping tea and coffee near the entrance but sadly there aren’t many good views from here. To get those you need to walk a score metres further before you can see down the hill and away into Essex. A few of the power lines that follow the River Lea can be spotted in the middle distance, and the rest of the view isn’t all that inspiring, but it is a view nonetheless so I savoured it.

Finishing the Capital Ring with a view from Springfield Park

The River Lea at Springfield ParkI popped down the steep hill and reached the River Lea quickly. Reminiscing about the day I walked the whole of the Lea Valley Walk almost made me forget that I had just completed the 78 miles (126 kilometres) of the Capital Ring!

Wahey! In May 2009 I walked from County Hall to Putney along the Thames. This shortish route embedded itself in my psyche and led to the desire to walk all of London’s routes. In September 2009 I stepped out and walked 13.4 miles from Woolwich to Beckenham along the Capital Ring and Green Chain, little did I know that I would take 4.5 years to finish the whole Capital Ring, but it did. It has been a brilliant way to scout parts of the city that I have never seen. It has been intensely rewarding and a sort of self-propelling agent to get me out and about. I have now finished the Green Chain, Lea Valley Walk, and the Capital Ring but luckily I still have plenty to do before I can consider myself ‘finished’ with the capital.

I let that thought sink in as I walked through Lea Valley Park. It didn’t particularly feel real, and I know I’ll have a bigger buzz when I finish the London Outer Orbital Path, but this was still a small triumph considering the worries I have had with injury in the past.

Crossing back over the Lea by Clapton I thought about continuing down to Hackney Wick but by now I was feeling quite rough so I took the spur up to Clapton Station and found myself a bus back towards the Tube network.

Springfield Park is a fitting place to end the Capital Ring considering I already walked to North Woolwich a long time ago. Sections 12 and 13 are pretty and have plenty to absorb your attention. This corner of London feels a little bit ‘way out there’, in a nice way, certainly a route I will recommend to other walkers in future. From now on I know I have LOOP walks to carry out with access points in the middle of nowhere and I will miss the relative ease of the Capital Ring. Once TfL gets its act together and stops shutting down swathes of London every flipping weekend this would be a far more walked circuit of what is undoubtedly the greatest city in the world.