A rich nature reserve squeezes into a long narrow gap between two railway stations, and after several years of being closed to the public, the Camley Street Natural Park has at last reopened.

This part of King’s Cross was the heart of the dirty industry of the area, with the canal to one side, the coal yards to the other, and railways all around, and it fell into dereliction in the 1970s/80s. Plans to redevelop the back of the station ahead of the Chanel Tunnel rail link’s arrival saw a campaign to turn this patch of land into a nature reserve as an educational facility for local schools.

After securing funding from the GLC it opened in 1984, although its long term future wasn’t finally secured until the 1990s as the Chanel Tunnel rail link was due to run over part of it until the route was changed.

As a local educational resource run by the London Wildlife Trust, it had to close in 2017 as the visitor centre was in need of urgent and expensive maintenance. Fundraising meant that instead of repairs, they were able to build an entirely new visitor centre and cafe, while also maintaining the nearly 40-year old nature reserve behind.

It reopened to the public a couple of weeks ago.

The entrance gate used to sit within a high wall of trees, but the recent addition of a new footbridge across the canal has stripped away that solid green wall and in doing so now makes the natural reserve much more obvious to see, with the pavilion and cafe something you can see from the outside, and being more likely to attract casual passing visitors.

There’s still work going on the day after it reopened, and the entrance courtyard still has the airs of an unfinished building site, with the soil piled up behind a stone wall in need of planting and a pond waiting for water. Give it a few months to settle in and overwinter, and it’ll be a lot more appealing. Also appealing is how in the middle of the stone wall, blocks have been filled instead with wooden logs to create “bug hotels”.

The entrance is dominated now though by the new pavilion, with slate tiled roof and wooden shuttering. And do look under the eaves to spy the bird boxes. The school classroom was still having last licks of paint added, but the cafe is already open and pulling in a few curious visitors to see what’s there.

What you want to do though is go around the back of the pavilion and into the nature reserve.

A deep water-filled valley lined with raised walkways on either side and dotted around the place, signs to explain what’s here, seating both new and old and lots of soft paths to discover in the woods at the far end.

Possibly because not too many people have walked along them for several years, the walkways have a lovely springy step in them that gives the effect of a deep rich carpet to walk over and it’s tempting to remove shoes and feel the softness underneath.

Being right next to the canal, the park is fed by an ample supply of water, and at one point, wooden decking creates a water feature and you can walk over the link between the man-made nature reserve and the man-made river canal. You want to keep on going, as down here is the hill, a steep pile of old rubble and soil that you leads to one of the park’s better-hidden delights.

Over the top, and don’t be put off by thinking you’re at the forgotten end of the park, but walk along the narrow path along the beautifully laid brick wall to find a delightful little spot. This is the viewing point, a wooden deck floating in the canal with a trio of corten steel-clad seating areas to relax and watch the canal boats chugging past.

There’s also an experimental slab of white concrete along a wall, part of a test to design a wall cladding that’s more “bioreceptive” to plants and wildlife to take up residence. An idea that if it works could be used on buildings near parks to improve biodiversity as an alternative to the difficult to maintain green walls that are sometimes used.

It’s a long narrow space for the nature reserve, but thanks to a clever use of winding paths and the hill at the end it feels so much larger than it really is. The modern sounds of city life aren’t far away, but the high wall of trees on one side and the canal on the other keep them pleasingly distant, an echo rather than something overly noticeable.

Back up at the pavilion, coffee and bagels are offered, and a chance to sit on the courtyard watching the boats go past on one side, and trains rushing off to Paris on the other.

Camley Street Natural Park is open Wednesday to Sunday 10am – 4.00pm.

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3 comments
  1. Tim says:

    It used to be lovely and wild

  2. Jennifer says:

    Oh how fabulous. I must visit! Even when I worked in KX between 2012-14, I could never find out how to get in there no matter how much I walked around the area, to the canalside, to Granary Square, etc. It sounds like it’ll be much easier to access.

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