Have you ever noticed a fairy door? You know, like the one above, down at a tree's base, or affixed to a wall.
I’m not sure I knew that fairy doors were ‘a thing’ before having kids, but now I discover them everywhere. You’ll find them nestling in housing estates, local parks, dense woods and even the poshest bits of Islington. I don’t know who exactly makes them, but it’s such a simple, joy-spreading idea.
There are probably thousands of fairy doors across London, and only a tomfool would try to map them. But some of the best examples I’ve found are up on Monken Hadley Common near Barnet.
For those who’ve not had the pleasure, the Common would be a worthwhile destination for anyone seeking a bit or natural exploration. It’s one of those idyllic rural pockets that hang so copiously around London’s belt. This one’s swapped allegiance multiple times over the years, being formerly in Middlesex, then Hertfordshire, before coming within the jurisdiction of the London Borough of Barnet in 1965.
It’s a beautiful wood, with towering oaks, hornbeams and beeches stretching over a mile and a half between Barnet and Cockfosters. Paths are wide and well maintained, though mostly unmarked. It’s like a less-tamed, less-famous version of Epping Forest, and it’s a joy to explore. You may have skirted its edge if you’ve followed the London LOOP. But the woodland interior is a space enjoyed mostly by the locals.
And those locals apparently include the fairyfolk. The supernatural denizens seem to cluster along the major east-west path through the woods. We discovered about a dozen habitations, from simple doors-in-trees to little wooden chalets skulking behind log piles.
Most of the doors open, to reveal hidden figures. Behind a few, children had left offerings for the fairies, including a couple of sequins and - bizarrely - a white chocolate Lindt ball. Now that’s generosity.
The absolute joy this fairy trail brought my kids was beyond anything they’d have got from a day trip to an expensive theme park. It’s a simple and free pleasure that gets kids exploring the natural environment. And those woods are huge. Who knows what magic might be lurking down the pathways we didn’t have time to investigate?
Monken Hadley Common can be reached via Cockfosters or High Barnet tube (with a bit of a walk). Local parking is free on Sundays.