From bandstands to BBQ, Highbury Fields is the perfect spring spot to watch the world go by.
A sizeable 29 acres (11ha), Highbury Fields is the biggest patch of green in Islington, ringed with grand villas where Victorian politician Joseph Chamberlain grew up and artist Walter Sickert opened a studio in 1927. You’ve probably been there for a rally, open air gig, circus or to meet friends, but it’s also a great place to relax or get fitter. How well do you know the fields?
LOVE THE TREES
Huge London planes provide welcome summer shade and their nuts create strings of natural baubles. There’s also an avenue of horse chestnuts near Christ Church to keep conker bashing alive. A replacement chestnut – grown from a cutting taken from the actual tree that Anne Frank used to look at during her incarceration in the secret annexe – has recently been planted thanks to a donation from the Business Design Centre.
Crossing Highbury Fields how many sports can you spot? Look out for meditative walking, pushy mums training with baby and buggy, tai chi and tough boot camp workouts.
ANYONE FOR TENNIS
As Wimbledon approaches the 11 courts get busier. Join the Highbury Fields singles or doubles league, ask the resident tennis coaches for a lesson or two, or book a court for a knockabout (7am-9pm). www.better.org.uk/leisure/highburyfields
It’s not just dogs who enjoy running on Highbury Fields. At 9am every Saturday runners meet for a timed 5km run with breakfast afterwards in the White Swan at Highbury Corner or have a cheeky lolly when Tina de Freitas’ ice cream vans turns up. www.parkrun.org.uk/highburyfields
COFFEE AND CAKE
Locals recommend Oasis in the park, Little Gem on Corsica Street (Tues-Sun) and Le Péché Mignion, 6 Ronald’s Road. Or head up Church Path to Highbury Barn’s cafés, or back to Highbury & Islington tube past the Boer War Memorial to the cafés at Highbury Corner.
A BIT OF HISTORY
George Orwell used to push his adopted son in a buggy to the lido, which is roughly where Highbury Pool & Fitness Centre is now (and soon to be extended). The large field is almost certainly the place Orwell had in mind when writing the final meeting of Nineteen Eighty-Four’s unfortunates, Julia and Winston.
Back in the day courting couples would head to Highbury Fields for hanky panky, as books like Rosie Hogarth by Alexander Baron reveal. Nowadays you’re more likely to spot a smoking BBQ which hasn’t been put in the special disposal bins.
There are now two 20p toilets – one at Oasis café and the other by Highbury Pool.
LOST IN THE GRASS
Find the mini mazes and secret paths behind the playground that take you to perfect picnic spots. Take a rug and a book for a relaxing afternoon.
FANCY A DRINK?
Highbury Fields used to be a hay meadow so it’s not ringed with pubs. Close by are the Lamb Beer & Liquor, 54 Holloway Road, the Highbury Barn, and a new craft beer brewery Brewhouse & Kitchen on Corsica Street – opposite one of Orwell’s favourite pubs, the Hen & Chickens.
Meet people who love Highbury Fields:
HIGHBURY FIELDS ASSOCIATION
The Highbury Fields Association aims to encourage community participation in all matters affecting the character, amenities, use, management and development of the Fields and its surrounding neighbourhood. Founded in 1975, largely in response to the dire threat of Dutch Elm Disease, the association has broadened its remit to everything Fields related. www.highburyfieldsassociation.org
HIGHBURY COMMUNITY ASSOCIATION
These Fields aficionados are busy on twitter @highburyCA, sharing info with residents living near Highbury Fields. Its AGM is at Christ Church on 16 April, 7pm. www.highburycommunity.org