Weekend Walks: Tracing North London's Moselle River

David Fathers
By David Fathers Last edited 43 months ago

Last Updated 26 November 2020

Weekend Walks: Tracing North London's Moselle River

Start: Queen's Wood, Muswell Hill Road  — nearest tube station: Highgate

End: Tottenham Marshes — nearest rail station: Bruce Grove

Distance: 7.25 miles (11.7 kilometres)

Terrain: Paved and mainly flat (once beyond the slopes of Queen’s Wood)

The River Moselle is a famous Rhine tributary that winds its way, for 440 miles, through France, Luxembourg and Germany. Its fertile terraced vineyards have produced a great many internationally renowned Rieslings. North London also has its very own, more modest River Moselle that rises on the slopes of Highgate and Muswell Hill and heads eastward for six miles, through Hornsey and Wood Green, to ultimately join the River Lea Navigation in Tottenham.

But let us not underestimate this particular north London stream. Unlike many of its London counterparts (Fleet, Walbrook and Hackney Brook) this stream was never press-ganged into becoming a sewer and is still visible in numerous places. And surely it's possible that vines could be planted on the slopes of Alexandra Palace to produce north London’s very own Moselle wine. After all, there is a vineyard at Enfield. The name Moselle is probably a corruption of Muswell (Hill) from where several of the tributaries rise.

1. Queen’s Wood

This walk starts by the gates of Queen’s Wood on Muswell Hill Road. Pass the café on your left-hand side and where the path splits, take the right-hand fork. The stream, often a damp or dry indentation, is easy to see and follow. There have been attempts to culvert the stream here and these clay pipes are now exposed in places. Queen’s Wood is an ancient, sloping woodland that was once part of the Forest of Middlesex. Follow the path downwards to a long retaining wall just before Wood Vale. This wall acts as a dam in the event of a flash storm.

2. Shepherds Cot

Cross over Wood Vale and follow the Greenway for a few metres before turning right towards the cricket pavilion. Turn left and follow the roadway. This path mirrors the route of the stream through the tennis courts and cricket field. Early 1960s maps show the river to have been still exposed at this point.

3. A dip in the path

At the end of Abbeville Road, just before it enters Priory Park, there is a pedestrian cut-through on the left hand side. There is a quite visible dip in this path where the Moselle runs in a conduit just beneath. The culverted river hugs the western side of Priory Park and joins with a tributary, the Etheldene, as it meets Priory Road.

4. St Paul’s fountain

On the route of another hidden tributary, the Cholmeley Brook, within Priory Park is a fountain. This oversized granite feature was, in 1880, located within the grounds of St Paul’s Cathedral. However, 19 years later the City of London donated it to the then Borough of Hornsey, who placed it in Priory Park. Sadly today, the fountain no longer does what fountains should do.

5. The Moselle heard (but not seen)

Make a short detour up Rectory Gardens and immediately after the first bend, Alexandra Palace can be seen up on the hill (views of the Palace are to be seen quite frequently on this walk of the Moselle). Further down Rectory Gardens is a cast-iron man-hole cover, on the road just outside number 43. Watching out for traffic, stand over the cover and you should be able to hear the Moselle flowing below.

6. The New River

The route of the Moselle now goes under the New River and several streets named in connection with this man-made waterway, which was constructed in the early 17th century to supply the City of London with fresh drinking water.

7. Moselle Avenue

The Moselle winds under the streets of Wood Green. Gone but not forgotten, for here in the Noel Park Estate the river is remembered by the street name, Moselle Avenue. The subterranean river flows and forms the estates’ northern boundary. A glimpse of an aerial map below reveals how the garden lengths are dictated by the meanderings of the stream.

Turn left off Moselle Avenue into Vincent Road to see a small brick parapet that once straddled the stream. The Noel Park Estate was constructed as a garden suburb in the late 19th century.

The parapet over the Moselle in Vincent Road and a street sign on the Noel Park Estate

8. Lordship Recreation Ground

Once through the gates of Lordship Recreation Ground the Moselle becomes visible again, flowing first into a pond and then as a stream. When this park opened in 1932, the Moselle was routed through a concrete channel. More recently this has been removed and the river given a more natural make-over with grasses and reed beds. Unfortunately, the river had a milky appearance at the time of our visit, probably as a result of the waste pipes of domestic appliances being incorrectly plumbed. Warning signs are located asking people not to swim or bathe in the water. Once on the eastern side of the park, look back over the route taken and view the potential vineyards of Alexandra Palace in the distance.

9 Broadwater Farm Estate

This area was once marshland. The flat terrain was prone to flooding, especially after heavy rains over Muswell Hill and Highgate. A local Victorian saying was ‘Hornsey’s rain, brings Tottenham Pain’. A former farm that once straddled the Moselle was known as Broadwater Farm. The name was passed onto the housing development that was constructed on the site in the 1960s. Because of the risk of flooding all the residential blocks are built up on stilts. The river, flows under the estate, in a conduit.

All Hallows Church by Tottenham Cemetery

10. All Hallows Church

The route back to the Moselle goes past the splendid All Hallows Church, on the boundaries of Tottenham Cemetery. This Anglican place of worship was built in 1150. The structure has been added to and amended over the many years with a myriad of building materials. The grounds contain yew trees that are claimed to be over 1000 years old.

11. Tottenham Cemetery

The Moselle surfaces again when it merges with the Lesser Moselle and heads through Tottenham Cemetery. The stream now flows within a concrete channel, though the walls are largely obscured by ivy. At the western end of the cemetery is a pond that is fed by a spring, which in turn feeds into the Lesser Moselle. Beyond a row of trees, just north of the cemetery, is an allotment. Could this also be another suitable place to locate vineyards?

12. Tottenham High Road

As the river (now subterranean again) approaches Tottenham High Road there are several further reminders of its existence. Two more streets and a house are named after the Moselle. As Tottenham grew in the late Victorian era, the river was culverted and re-routed with several storm drains being added to reduce the risk of flooding.

Opposite the new Tottenham Hotspur football stadium is Coombes Croft Library. Just inside the foyer is a small glazed portal in the floor, through which the Moselle can be viewed (There is an electric light within the shaft — ask the librarian to turn it on).

13.  Carbuncle Ditch

Follow the route of the river down the High Road, where at Landsdown Road, the channel splits. The original river runs south to Markfield Park just beyond Tottenham Hale, while a storm drain runs east towards the Lea Valley. Follow this route along the delightfully named Carbuncle Passage and over Shelborne Road to the railway footbridge. Just before the stairs is an open concrete chute that carries the Moselle under the lines. Follow the grassy path eastwards across the reclaimed marshes and head towards the metal railings that denote the edge of Pymmes Brook. The tall grass in front of the fence, at this point, is usually trodden down. Descend the bank and peer through the railings. The waters of the Moselle can often be seen draining into Pymmes Brook, which then joins the River Lee Navigation further south at Ferry Lane.

All maps, illustrations and photographs © David Fathers

David Fathers is author/illustrator of London’s Hidden Rivers (Frances Lincoln). And can be followed @TheTilbury.