North London's Cultural Guide

Three local parks you may not know

They may not be must-visit destinations, but these green pockets are still worth a wander, says Peter Hayward

Think of England’s green and pleasant land and you might well drift off in a reverie of rolling Cotswold hills, stunning Lake District scenery, or another bucolic setting.

But as you may have discovered during lockdown, London is a city with almost as many trees as people, many of these in parks and green spaces, sopping up the pollution.

The area around Kentish Town is not lacking — there’s Talacre Gardens, Hampstead Heath and Regent’s Park, as well as the squares of Bloomsbury, but a few others are often overlooked.

Some of these will already be readers’ favourites, but others might not always give them the appreciation they deserve.


First, Belsize Wood

Ash and oak trees in Belsize Wood. Photo: PH
Ash and oak trees in Belsize Wood. Photo: PH

Tucked off the main road, providing a picturesque cut through from Belsize Park to Gospel Oak, this nature reserve is quite heavily used. The path runs around densely wooded areas with oaks, ashes, rowan, and holly trees crammed into a dense understory. There are some beautiful old trees here, not least a fallen, but still growing, ash next to an enormous oak in the southeast corner just down from the outdoor classroom. Handy information boards tip you off about the birds you can hope to see. It’s larger than you might think, and on your first visit the multiple entrances can get you a touch disoriented, but let’s face it, you’re never going to be that far from a main road, and even if you were really lacking in direction you’d never lose yourself for more than five minutes. The pond along the woodland path has plenty of tadpoles and is just next to a bank of wildflowers that sparkle in the dappled sunlight. Several sets of steps might make this problematic with a pushchair.

Now, a hop to Maitland Park

Hawthorn on Maitland Park, Gospel Oak. Photo: PH
Hawthorn on Maitland Park, Gospel Oak. Photo: PH

This enjoyable open space is just to the south and east. Maitland Park is essentially the lawns around several blocks of flats, but they make for handsome parkland shaded by trees rising out of a daisy studded lawn. Whereas the previous spot is more for those looking to enjoy some nature, Maitland Park is more a kick back and relax vibe. There are two playgrounds for the younger members of your party. Juxtaposing the built environment and nature, the tall trees provided a perch of a song thrush in fine voice as well as numerous blackbirds. Pleasingly, Whitebeam House, one of the blocks on the north side, towers over several whitebeam trees. Numerous stately limes, horse chestnuts, copper beech, and pink and white hawthorns make for a colourful parkland.

And finally, back to Montpelier Gardens

Only accessible by ginnels from surrounding roads. Photo: PH
Only accessible by ginnels from surrounding roads. Photo: PH

Over behind Tufnell Park, not visible from any road and only accessible by ginnels from Montpelier Grove, Brecknock Road, or Leighton Grove, this park has a tranquil secluded feel; for children there’s a large play area, plenty of lawns, climbable trees, and scrubby area. Mature poplar trees are few and far between in central London, but inside the Montpelier Grove entrance are two vertiginous examples that shimmer in the slightest breeze.

Main pic: Mayflowers on Maitland Park by Peter Hayward 

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The award-winning print and online title Kentishtowner was founded in 2010 and is part of London Belongs To Me, a citywide network of travel guides for locals. For more info on what we write about and why, see our About section.