I wasn’t supposed to discover Gillespie Park today, Good Friday. I was supposed to wave goodbye to the kids, who were catching a 10am train from King’s Cross with their dad, and then go home and do some chores before meeting a friend at 2 for coffee. The chores included having a shower and some lunch (not at the same time), so nothing immovable, but still. Things to do.
Instead, after I’d finished my chauffeuring and waving, I got in the car and just drove about a bit until I saw something interesting. I didn’t really make a decision about it. It was just that it was a clear, sunny bank holiday and I had that feeling in my bones that something good would happen, something more exciting than a shower and a spot of lunch, if only I kept my eyes peeled. I get like that sometimes when I’m on my own. Normally when there are chores to be done.
I whizzed up Cally Road as far as it went – it took five minutes, the roads were empty – heading in the opposite direction from home, and then round to the Arsenal where I spotted an unfamiliar sign that said ‘nature reserve’, and an open gate. Bingo. I pulled over and leapt out of the car and through the gate, with all of Spring in my step. (I hadn’t been anywhere near Arsenal tube for a very long time. The story behind why I ever went there in the first place is a story for another time. It involves a boy whose surname was Sparks who once drank out of a can of red coke that had been used as an ashtray all night. My surname is Bright, and I used to think, as we sat gormlessly and miserably on the night bus or on the floor of a corridor in the Astoria or on the swings in a freezing cold playground at 3am, about how our future children could be called Bright-Sparks. It was the only thing that cheered me up. Anyway, I digress.)
Up the Arse
GP = Gillespie Park
Gillespie Park is a secret 2.8 hectare paradise tucked away under the Emirates stadium and wedged in alongside the train lines, on land that was previously old sidings and a marshalling yard. It runs between Finsbury Park and Arsenal stations, and it’s made up of Islington’s largest meadow; Islington Ecology Centre itself; a pond; an impressive (if rather rattly) wind turbine and then other bits with trees and paths and other nature stuff. It’s a green and pleasant haven, ringing with clarion birdsong and fizzing with butterflies. And it’s well worth a good ramble round – I was there for over two hours. (Admittedly some of that time was spent patiently waiting to see a frog at the pond – there was no frog, but there were tadpoles, and it was a pleasant wait. And later I found a mosaic of a frog, which is nearly as good.) Apparently they do things like family bushcraft sessions, and now I know where it is, I’m going to keep an eye on the programme. Oh, and there’s a cafe too, though I think it was closed while I was there. It’s the kind of place you could easily take for granted if you lived nearby, but discovering it as an outsider, and finding it almost empty for the entire two hours, I was entranced.
The largest open meadow in Islington. Across the UK we’ve lost over 95% of all of our meadows in the last 100 years.
Outside the ecology centre I stumbled across the Freedom from Torture mosaic, created in 2012 by survivors of torture seeking refuge in the UK, who have made images relating to their cultural roots and the struggles they’ve been through. The people who made it come from far and wide: the Cameroon, Chechnya, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Uganda – and they’re supported by Freedom from Torture’s Natural Growth project, which is a psychotherapy group that works outside, in nature, where people can feel calm and peaceful and can be reminded of good times in their own countries. I love the mosaic, the charity and the idea of the project, and, moved, I took a few minutes standing in the cool shade to think about the power of nature, the strength of the survivors, and how incredibly, embarrassingly lucky I am.
The Freedom from Torture mosaic
The Freedom from Torture mosaic
So the chores remained undone, and I was late for my 2pm rendez-vous. But I’d had a magical, healing time discovering somewhere new and exciting. I’m pretty sure it was my unconscious brain directing me to spend a bit of time walking around outdoors: as I headed back to real life, car keys in hand, the skin on my face tighter and pinker thanks to the hot Easter sun, I felt earthed and excited and re-energised. I don’t know if it was the fresh air, or the time on my own, in daylight, or the luck of following my nose and being rewarded by finding something good; but whatever it is, I’m going to try to make time for a bit more of it. It’s Good Friday, one of the holiest days in the Christian calendar, and as I walked I was reminded of a quote by Henry Thoreau, whose book Walden is next on my list:
“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.”
Posted on April 19, 2014. Posted in Musings, Observations, Rambles | Tagged arsenal, butterfly, easter, ecology, highbury, islington, london, meadow, nature, thoreau, walden, Walking | Leave a comment
Ivy’s friend Lola made some blackberry jam and gave Ivy a little pot of it. It is the sweetest jam, in all senses, and I wish this little pot could have lasted forever. Ivy and Lola were born 3 days apart, and I sometimes wonder what they’ll be like when they’re sweet sixteen.
They’re pretty sweet sevens right now, so there’s a long way to go.
Ahh, the smell of old books. This is a 100-year-old copy of A Tale of Two Cities that I found in a charity shop for £1. I first read the novel aged 9 – I was a bit precocious – and immediately changed the spelling of my name from Lucy to Lucie. I’m still Lucie with an ie even now, many years later. Dickens has a lot to answer for.