hink of Euston and what springs to mind? The austere black edifice that sits atop the station like a 1950s imagination of a space-age future? Display boards, M&S gins in tins? The hustle and bustle of the rush-hour commute?
Wildlife and the chance to commune with nature are probably not on the tip of your tongue. Sure, Euston is hardly the greenest area. And there is a sad tinge to any consideration of the green spaces around Euston: as the knitted and fabric garlands around the many trees closest to the station attest, the pockets of green closest to the station will soon be subsumed by the HS2 development. Nonetheless, Euston is not without the chance to enjoy a little nature.
The green areas around Euston do not begin and end with Regent’s Park. If you’re looking for a nature pit-stop, there are other spaces to seek out, and you can easily string them together on a 4km walk.From Euston, head out into the gardens between the station and Euston Road: many of the trees here are marked out as some of the hundreds likely to be taken out by HS2. I personally hope the developers save all the trees they can, and come up with a permanent and sustainable replacement of the greenery they must take out.
Beyond the bittersweet grandeur of the old trees around the station, head east along Euston Road. Past the fire station, turn left, north up Churchway. The street dwindles down into an unpromising cul-de-sac, but a small alley spurs off to the right; cut through there and cross Chalton Street.
Head east down the side of the Somers Town Coffee House, turn left onto Ossulton Street, and right onto Brill Place. The park of the same name is fairly unprepossessing, but it has a spray of spring colour and a relaxed air. Not much to recommend it, but handy if you need to take the weight off on one of the park benches, or if you’ve a dog to relieve.
Once known as a hangout for drug dealers and prostitutes, almost a no-go area for anyone not resident therein, the transformation of the area north of King’s Cross is such that anyone who hasn’t seen it for 20 years would find it almost unrecognisable.
The Francis Crick Institute, to the right as you head down Brill Place, is the latest addition to the regeneration. As you emerge onto Pancras Road turn left, then right onto Goods Way. You’ll pass under the rail lines leaving St Pancras, and as you come out from under the bridge you reach Camley Street Natural Park.
Newcomers might think this natural oasis in north London is a part of the regeneration, but it has weathered the changes in the area for the past 35 years. Currently closed for renovation, when it reopens in spring 2019, make sure to pay a visit.
For now, you’ll have to make do with the outskirts. Head up Camley Street with the nature area on your right. The fence is practically invisible with the dense ivy hedge that grows up it, and is supported by a host of birch, holly, and other native trees.
A dark green, ivy wall looks forbidding, but it’s an incredible wildlife habitat: the flowers are a great source of nectar for bees and other insects in the autumn after most flowers have ended, and the berries sustain birds throughout the winter, when that foliage also provides shelter from the elements.As you walk along the fence of Camley Street, look out for pollinating bees, bee-mimicking hover flies, and birds such as blackbirds feasting on the berries in early spring. Blue, great, long-tailed, and coal tits are all likely to be spotted gleaning insects among the ivy, and on the birches nearby; in spring and early summer warblers such as black-caps and chiff-chaffs may be heard singing.
To extend the walk, instead of heading north along the edge of the nature park, continue east along an impressive living wall and turn left to cross the canal. Turn left again and follow Bagley Walk which gives a view over the canal and Camley Street Natural Park.
The canal is a great spot for wildlife, including several bat species at dusk. One of the most surprising animals of the area can also be seen here — terrapins. These introduced oddities are abandoned pets after their owners outgrew the craze for Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles. Cross over the stunning new iron Somers Town Bridge to rejoin Camley Street.Next up is St Pancras old church — perhaps the best spot for quiet reflection and contemplation in the area. An ancient site of worship, the gardens have, over the years, attracted the likes of Dickens, Mary and Percy-Bysshe Shelley, and The Beatles.
The gardens contain an eclectic mix of tropical-looking yet hardy plants, but the trees here achieve celebrity status. An avenue of plane trees on the western side creates a vaulted ceiling of interlocking limbs and leaves, a natural cathedral in the church grounds.
The true star is the Hardy Tree — an ash tree surrounded at its base by a whorl of gravestones uprooted in the 1860s when the train lines were routed through the larger churchyard of the time — so named because it was a young Thomas Hardy who came up with the idea to place the displaced tombstones here.Leaving the church gardens to the west, a row of vertiginous poplars tremble in the breeze, and over the road is Goldington Crescent Gardens. More stately plane trees with lizard-like mottled skin provide dappled shade for the benches and the organic sculptures by Robert Worley that seem to bubble up out of the earth like developing fungi.
For such a small space trapped between a main road and a crescent of town houses, the gardens are a surprisingly tranquil find. Nip around the back streets (Goldington St, right onto Medburn, right on to Charrington, and left onto Carlton) for a view of some frankly delightful little houses, some fine garden planting, an attractive wisteria or two, and very probably some squirrels.As Carlton Street bends sharply to the left, take the little snicket off to the right and continue roughly west. Oakley Square is, for me, one of the landscape boundaries between Camden and Euston — for years I’ve passed by on the bus, but never popped in.
It’s fenced all around with awkwardly placed entrances (the eastern entrance is just north of where you come out on the main road — head up towards Crowndale Road and it’s on your left). Don’t be put off: this sheltered green island in the stream of traffic is another attractive spot with two circular rose beds at either end, trees throwing shade, and benches for a nice sit down.Outside Greater London House at Mornington Crescent, Harrington Gardens is a remnant of a larger park — this small space feels more like a large traffic island than a haven of tranquillity. Head down Hampstead Road toward Euston and just before you get to Marylebone Road find the narrow alleyway that takes you to Tolmer’s Square, a former reservoir so well hidden that it feels like a secret garden.
West of Euston, the newly developed Regent’s Place provides a stylish outdoor stop off with a few trees, but for anyone looking for some serious nature, one nearby spot cannot be beaten. Keeping north of Marylebone Road you will, in a few minutes hit the edge of Regent’s Park. It’s the largest of the inner-city parks, stretching from Euston to Baker Street and St John’s Wood to Camden.
It’d be an overambitious stroll to make it to the far side and back in a lunchtime, but you can easily do a southern loop with time for a sit down and a sandwich. The inner circle offers fine rose gardens that in a few months will be an effusion of colour and scent.But my personal recommendation would be to strike for the first bridge over the lake, which is home to the best (non-native) wildfowl in all London. Sure, head to Barnes and spend a day not seeing a snipe, but for guaranteed sightings of scaup, red-crested pochards, rosy billed ducks, Ross’s geese, or a smew, then the ornamental wildfowl collection of Regent’s Park can’t be bettered.
Even if you think you’re not that interested in ducks and geese, I challenge you to not be won over by the red-breasted geese — a striking, charming, and (in birder speak) confiding bird.
It’s not all about the ornamental ducks and geese though. If you ever needed convincing that birds are living dinosaurs, herons and cormorants are easy to spot around the lake. Herons terrorise the frogs and fish of the lake, and even young ducks and moorhens from the water’s edge.Cormorants, with their oily black feathers glistening green and purple like shiny scales, swim low in the water diving for fish, and then hauling out onto islands and low trees to perch with their wings spread out to dry. Both these birds, imposing modern-day relatives of velociraptors, nest in the park.
Elsewhere, on and around the bird feeders on the islands in the duck pond and fenced paddock, you might spot – as a handy pictorial guide shows – goldcrests and long-tailed tits (dumpy year-round residents); or hear blackcaps and whitethroats, drab but vocal warblers who visit only in summer.
As you head back to Euston, keep an eye out for other wildlife — if you can see it in London, Regent’s Park is as good a place to see it: from rats, squirrels and foxes to kestrels, tawny owls, peregrine falcons, and even the occasional buzzard.