Could it be possible to go beyond hiking? All that safe outdoor socializing might be healthier, but last week – as I slithered with a friend through black ice patches in the dark, the paper cups of mulled wine sloshing and I couldn’t even hold onto each other to keep upright – I realized I felt a little jaded. However, there is one walk in York that never gets boring: my regular ride to the dump. Not the actual landfill, but just above it, the disused one. You enter an unexpected wonderland: the nature reserve of St. Nick’s. Walking through the industrial area, past Lidl, a hardware store and the recycling center, and then down a bushy path by the council vehicle depot. These 9.7 acres were a smelly, rat-infested wasteland until 1974; the site was polluted with asbestos and heavy metals, with levels of contamination above the levels of national hazard.
The region eventually filled up with songbirds, insects and plant life, closed and left to its own devices.
Environmentalists who ensured the protection of existing trees, planted thousands of new ones, and seeded the region with wildflowers were shielded from growth in the 1980s. Thirty years later, it is a beautifully preserved labyrinth of narrow paths full of flora and fauna: finches, titmice and wrens flow through the undergrowth, in summer there are 20 species of butterflies, and baby rabbits loll about in front of passing dogs – and none of this is unrelated to their past. The charity managing the site runs an award-winning recycling program for the area, while the many gnarled, still-fruit-bearing apple and pear trees are believed to have grown from fruit waste discarded by the candy factory of the Rowntree. When I think of the creativity and dedication that turned a toxic wasteland into a sanctuary, I get a little emotional. Buds poke through the mulch even at this wet, unpromising time of year.
Beauty will come from waste; there will be better days.