Skip to content

Crouch End

January 14, 2014

The galaxy of the city at night lay below, pin-pricks of light sketching out the London skyline. A soft mist hung in the crisp air, obscuring the modern constellations of Canary Wharf, the Shard and the City’s surging towers.
It was late for a long run. The weekend had been eaten up by other commitments, leaving me to trace out a route I’d normally take in the light by dark.
Exiting the deserted Alexandra Park I swept through a brightly lit subway and immediately plunged into disorienting darkness again. I slowed to let my eyes adjust, picking out the path in the pitch darkness as I ran along the eastern stretch of the deserted railway.
The city’s nightscape swept into view again over the edge of a viaduct, fleetingly beautiful with all traces of modernity erased. With the exception of the street lights and illuminated windows below, but softened to a gas-lamp glow by the haze.
A flank of bare trees obscured the view once more as the banks of the dirt path piled up either side of me. In the crackling-dry undergrowth I heard one of the city’s night creatures prowling.
Emerging from the dirt path on to the road up to Highgate, I passed streets lined by grand red-brick Victorian terraces. In the distance, a silhouetted fox slunk across the road.
The road climbed, eventually reaching a lung-punishing summit, opening out to reveal Highgate high street lit by strings of white lights stretched between buildings. A couple of weeks past Christmas, but still with a Dickensian festive charm.
The high street was fleeting; I was soon descending towards Hampstead Heath. The ancient countryside of London draped in darkness, its fringes lit by street lamps of Narnian inspiration.
I traced the outskirts of the Heath, sticking to lit roads, passing grand city mansions on slabbed pavements. The bare branches of gnarled trees stretching blackly into the dull night sky.
The peace of the night was pierced by the child-like scream of a fox. As I ran along a fenced edge of the Heath, something the other sides of the panels briefly kept pace with me, urgently crushing leaves and snapping brittle twigs.
Slowly, the road slipped from the edge of the Heath, with imposing buildings lining both sides as it climbed back towards Highgate.
I needed to be out for two hours, so I checked my Garmin to see whether it was time to head home. I looked to be on track, but even as I looked at the screen it flashed up a battery warning before cordially dying. The bloody thing had been left to charge, but was clearly getting old. Perhaps I should have used a tracking app on my phone, but it was too late now.
Passing Highgate high street again, I caught narrow flashes of Crouch End below, through flights of steps that link the streets that run parallel on the steep gradient of the hill. If ever I was looking for a location to remake The Exorcist, this would be my first choice.
Crossing a road at the lights, I ducked into a side road before joining the western end of the deserted railway. To my left, the dark path vanished hauntingly into a disused tunnel; to my right the path was dimly lit by a sole Victorian-style ornate street lamp.
Soon I was back in the dark. The dirt path cosseted by banks of bare trees and bushes was only lit by reflections of the sulphur-tinged sky in the muddy puddles. The uneven ground and uncertain surface slowed my pace, testing my balance against my confidence in my footing.
The noise of traffic reduced to a dull rumble as the path rose above the streets. The only noises to be heard were my footfall, my breath and the rustling of scuttling unseen creatures.
Passing through the abandoned station that marks the half-way point of the path, I paused to check the time on my phone. If I was running ahead of schedule, I would need to weave in a slight extension to my route to build it up to the two hour mark.
My hands were damp with sweat, and the sheen of cold precipitation on the phone’s touchscreen had affected its accuracy. Once unlocked, the phone paused unresponsive for a moment before turning on its camera and then cycling to its screen-facing camera.
I found myself staring at my own face, lit by the dull glow of the phone’s screen. There was a rustle in the undergrowth and something in the railway arches behind me moved. The camera snapped a photo.
Dry branches cracked and then there was the soft thump of something landing, followed by a soft – but unmistakeable – exhalation.
Freaked, I ran as fast as I could, clutching my phone in my hand. There was a commotion of movement behind me, but it faded and I exited the dark path to find a safe-feeling lit street. I was shaking, suddenly cold, but I wouldn’t let myself stop.
When I got home, I checked the photos on my phone.


One Comment leave one →
  1. Ken permalink
    January 14, 2014 5:37 pm

    Been there, done that. I now try to carry my head torch as much as possible even if I don’t intend to run a dark route. Ran this morning along a not very clear path between a lake and a river, with steep drops on both sides and a path that was only two metres wide at points. During the day you wouldn’t even think about it, but in the dark of the woods at 5:30am, running mile repeats, it’s scary as hell… On the odd occasion I meet people it’s even worse. Still, makes things more interesting 🙂

    (FWIW: My Garmin hit the same issue – for ~£60 you can get a Forerunner 305 serviced. Apparently you can also replace the battery yourself with a little bit of skill/effort, but depends on whether you think it’s worth the time/risk)

Leave a Reply to Ken Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: