When I walk up from the London tube to Muswell Hill - and both up and hill really is appropriate - I always take the way through Highgate Wood which runs parallel to Muswell Hill Road, an old Roman road. Though one of course can see and hear the traffic one nevertheless is almost is in pure nature which feels really relaxing after a day in the city of London or some evenings in the Alexandra Palace.
Till now I never really thought about - but this year I finally realised that such a real forest in the middle of suburb of one of the biggest cities of the world is rather unique. So I decided to investigate a little bit and it turned out that the history of the wood is even more special then I though.
Highgate Wood is very old - one found relics which prove that even 7000 years ago humans hunted here and that already at that time some kind of wood existed. Of course the Romans have been here as well and had build up same potteries here. In the 1960's shards and kiln were found during excavations. To be sure the Romans did some kind of forestry. Around 200 years after the Romans had left the wood came into the possession of the Bishop of London and the hunting and silvicultural land use went on. A speciality was the coppicing - the hornbeams were cut all 15 to 20 years to meet the needs of young wood while for example the oaks were allowed to grow. Those were mainly used for shipbuilding and probably some of the ships which fought against the Spanish Armada were build from Highgate wood.
During the 18. Century a lot of woods disappeared when the cities started to grow but Highgate Wood survived. It survived the building of the railroad as well because people became aware at that time how important such areas were for men and nature. In 1886 due to the influence of a local politician the city of London bought the wood with the requirement that it would stay like this for ever.
Of course it didn't stay like this till in our time. It was first some kind of Public Park and the entire visitor did a lot of harm. Now-a-days one better knows how to handle it - small parts of the wood are for some years locked by natural grown hedges so that the flora and fauna can recover and so today you can find there a lot of animals and plants, beside of course the birds and the to be sure everywhere in London to be found foxes several kinds of bats and rare insects have found refuge. Thanks to the work of keepers and biologists blue bells and anemones are back as well though of course there will always some problems when people searching for recreation and the interests for nature protection clash.
But should you ever travel there don't miss the way through the wood - you'll not be able to do this often in a city. And you can still see the same trees which have grown here at least till the time of the Romans - Oaks, Hornbeam and Holly, though I doubt in those times as many dogs were around.