Back in the 1980s, a patch of derelict land, saved from development by local campaigners, was opened to the public as Camley Street Natural Park, an inner city nature reserve.
Roughly the size of a football pitch, it runs alongside the Regent’s Canal, and supports a range of habitats including woodland, grassland, ponds and reedbeds. Wildlife includes kingfishers and reed warblers, newts and frogs, as well as bats that hunt for night-flying insects and moths. In short, it’s a pretty darn magical place.
Although small, the value of urban nature reserves was reflected in a 2015 report that demonstrated how the park, which attracts upwards of 20,000 visitors a year (including thousands of children from schools in Camden and Islington), contributes a whopping £2.8m of natural benefits to the local economy each year.
The King’s Cross area has, of course, changed beyond recognition over the last three decades. So it won’t come as too much of a shock to most that Camley recently had a huge spruce-up to create what they’re calling a “world-class nature and learning hub”, thanks to support from National Lottery players.
Regulars to the park will know that the old visitor centre, installed back in 1984, was charming in its lo-fi wooden structural way. But the new one is pretty stylish 2022-stylee.
In the adjoining café, there’s artisan coffee, juices and a decent bagel lunch menu (think vegan falafel, pastrami, gherkin and chedder, smoked salmon), with a large covered outdoor seating area (see pic below), as well as high tables right alongside the canal.
And the views from the park back over Coal Drops are absorbing – and, if you’re a CDY regular – refreshingly different, too.
The new visitor and learning centre also provides facilities for the thousands of children and adults to take part in inspirational activities each year, as well as for those who simply wish to visit and enjoy the reserve.
It includes a multi-purpose learning space and education studio, with webcams revealing birds rearing their young in nearby nest boxes, as well as the underwater life of the nearby canal.
In short, as it has been for nearly four decades, Camley Street is still a lovely, unexpectedly leafy spot for a weekend stroll. And now you grab a coffee or lunch, too.