The Fairy Bodyguard Of North London

The Fairy Bodyguard Of North London
Photo: Matt Brown

An abandoned railway line can be a creepy place to walk alone at night...

Overgrown vines. Forgotten railway infrastructure harkening back to a lost era. The smell of spray paint lingering in the air. These are all things that make the Parkland Walk between Finsbury Park and Alexandra Palace a little bit magical. But there's something else unsettling at play here.

Just beyond the disused platforms at Crouch End Station, are railway arches that host an amazing sculpture. Despite its size this artwork is easy to miss, crawling out of the darkness. You might have seen this giant woodland sprite before, but do you know what it depicts? It's called a Spriggan: these are mischievous creatures from Cornish folklore, known for thieving, but also for their part-time roles as fairy bodyguard (even mythical creatures need to make a living).

And the story behind this sculpture is a fun and spooky tale.

Before we go into the inspiration for the sculpture, it's useful to understand why the sculpture exists at all. An arts officer had a dream of turning the abandoned railway line into a sculpture walk. But only one sculpture was ever commissioned, this Spriggan by Marilyn Collins.

But why put a creature most associated with West Penwith in Cornwall (if Wikipedia is to be believed) in the middle of north London? There are believed to be two sources of inspiration. The first is a tad eerie. Collins was inspired by an urban legend that a ghostly 'goat-man' haunted the walk in the 70s and 80s. Children supposedly dared each to walk the Parkland Walk alone at night to see if they'd run into the beast. These urban myths were also possibly an inspiration for Stephen King who wrote a a short story entitled Crouch End in 1980.

The cover of Stephen King's Crouch End

The second inspiration for the sculpture is a bit more relatable to the Crouch End of today. Collins has said that the Spriggan was conceived to reflect Crouch End's status as the home of permaculture in London. The area hosted the first permaculture talk in the UK, and the first urban forest garden in Britain was also here.

So depending on who you want to believe, the Spriggan is either an ode to Crouch End's greenness, or a callback to a children's ghost story. Whichever it is, it's a characterful edition to one of London's best walks.

Last Updated 03 May 2019