Known by my family as Coldfall Woods or ‘our woods’, Coldfall Woods is the back garden of the once notorious council estate Coldfall Estate which teeters on the border of Friern Barnet and (yeah!) Muswell Hill, North leafy ‘knobs”ill’ Muswell Hill London. Territory well and truly marked now for this my dissertation.
My sister and I planned to go there for a picnic today. She booked a day off work and I went along to my local shop “Koza Extra” for crusty rolls, yoghurt and all picnic delights. I’d often put in my diary to join BCTV volunteers on cold mornings to clear brambles and prune holly. Hmm. There’s a bird habitats’ walk there on Saturday, 30th April …8am yep 8a.m. You must book with Friends of Coldfall Wood.
We started our jaunt in Barrenger Road and I found the alleyway leading into the coolest pleasantest green canopied, leaf-moulded secret garden but of course not secret as it’s inhabited by friendly dog-walkers. The place is the same as in the fifties according to my memory. Yes, the BCTV volunteers have cleared and chopped but the essence is there; the wooden bridges over tiny brown brooks, tree after tree, nettles, holly, blue bells and ‘Lovers Lawn’. Lovers Lawn is having plenty of TLC as the grass is parched in places. Lovers Lawn ,eh?
We picnic-ed. We dined on shrimp and plenty of cheese wrapped up in a plastic foil!
Trotting on we found the unmarked way into the vast playing fields backing Barrenger Road. Oh my! Massive lush green grounds. Only a couple of boys were kicking balls. It is Easter holiday so I expected all the estate kids out but is the estate full of youngsters? I don’t know.It is a quiet quiet place cut off from shops and main roads. Soon the terraces will be called cottages as the outward appearances of the houses are only diferent from the stock 1950s look by double-glazed windows, and modern white doors in some cases.
Well much of that playing field was a council dump in the fifties and marsh flowers grew in abundance with huge scary teasels, hollyhocks, and blackberries amongst burning coke slag and rubber stench. In the background we’s see the crematorium chimney chuck out its smoke as the fields back onto the huge St Pancras and Islington Cemetery. Further away across the dump in days of yore, there were remnants of apple orchards and ruins of pigsties. Ah those days! It was a dump as in “Stig of the Dump”. It was the urban scenery for “Kes” .
We checked that our memories of places were correct, by noting the grave markers through the fences, saw the bricks and rubbish brazen on the cracked dry ground where grass struggled to disguise it, saw the big dip where dad used to chop firewood from huge tree trunks from where? I used to go with him on Saturday mornings in my Gipsy flared skirt and my wellies. Another sister used to be a great runner. She’s say to me “Stay there. I’m just gonna run round the field.” Well in those days bigger siblings ruled. I’d hug her cardigan, watch her run far away, be very afraid in case the open expanse of sky fell down on me and be terrified of the giant teasels. I never let on or she’d call me a scaredy cat in public. Shame. There was another time when we ventured too near the cemetery end and a boy joined us from nowhere. He was exposed but I thought it was a pink hammer. (!) My older sister was in charge of me and directed whispered stage-asides, “Walk faster”. When he finally left us and I was quite shaking with an unknown fear and from walking and breathing quickly, my stern sister told me the hammer was his willy and don’t say a word to mum or we’ll never be allowed to the dump again. Imagine, home from school, Popeye on telly, peanut butter sandwiches and “Mum, can we go and play over the dump?” “Keep together and don’t stay long”. That must have been when she made more babies!
Today my sister and I checked her old route to school, then called William Grimshaw, now the Fortismere School. There were slight changes to the path as various buildings had encroached into the Woods. We decided to check the 4 houses we lived in on the estate. Oh my! No. 107 was where we had the chimney fire: Errgh bad memory. No 35 was where Marguerite daisies flourished. No 100 was the house of nightmares with weird neighbours. The door was open. We bravely went up to the mother of the house which stank like Theatre Royal Stratford east. Four kiddies hung around her and the stairs just as we hung around our fat mum whenever she answered the door. We were not invited in. That would have been a bonus. There was more to say but Corrie’s on.
O Heavenly day!