Camley Street – A Revisit

Don’t look back. You can never look back”

Don Henley

1- camley

Me loitering outside my previous place of work before the restraining order

If you ever find yourself in London, baffled, as I am, by the sheer vibrant greyness of it all (no that is not an oxymoron), then it’s worth reminding yourself that in amongst all that grim, concrete hustle and bustle, London is one of the greenest capital cities on the planet. Indeed, if you’re rolling straight off the Eurostar at St Pancras then right there, a short stroll from the platform, is one of the best examples of the tiny little green nooks and crannies that exist throughout the frequently overbearing behemoth of England’s capital – Camley Street Natural Park.

I apologies that this post my have begun with all the tepidly verbose prose of a Lonely Planet review. No, I have not taken to heart all the frequent pleas from readers to be ‘less curmudgeonly’. But I do think Camley Street is something worth shouting about.

A brief admission of self-interest here: Camley Street is somewhere close to my own heart, just as it is close to the very heart of London (oh good grief man, listen to yourself would you?). A lot of my formative experiences in urban conservation and outreach occurred there. I volunteered and later worked at the site. My Logan’s Run themed 30th birthday was held there (I did, indeed, ‘renew‘). It is a great example of what I’d phrase ‘shop-front conservation.’ There’s some interesting bits of natural habitat, even the odd notable species, but it is a site most definitely managed with public engagement at its core. This is no bad thing. In fact it is an ideal use of the space. But now, it’s becoming something different.

I recently revisited the site and realised all was not quite as I remembered it. The hills were higher when you were young, and all that. Perhaps it was because I worked and volunteered there with some great people who are no longer there (I’m sure the new volunteers and staff are great, but they are mostly strangers to me), but it seemed less alive and full of possibilities. I found myself ambling around the site pointing at things and saying to myself ‘I made that’ and then picking out the inadequacies in my own handiwork.

It’s possible memories and subsequent experiences have slightly detracted from the place for me, it’s possible I object to the artistic viewing platform that’s been installed at the southern end, it’s possible I’m royally peeved that my kingfisher bank has been flattened a year before it would have finally offered a suitable habitat for the occasional visitors that make it even to this darkened corner of the Regent’s Canal. It’s possible I’m annoyed that there isn’t yet a blue plaque with my name over the gate.

There’s been a major development going on in the old warehouses the opposite side of the canal. The area has well and truly shaken off its rather dubious reputation. Very soon, a footbridge will link the new development to the north of Camley Street. A new visitor centre will replace the ‘charming’ and somewhat ramshackle old cricket pavilion that currently performs the role. Will Camley Street keep its character? No doubt the levels of footfall will increase immeasurably. More people will through-route from the London School of Arts buildings to the railway stations. More people will discover this wonderful sight and the wonderful work the London Wildlife Trust do there. But it will never be the Camley Street I remember. That’s the nature of urban reserves like this and I should be glad.

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