Every week, hundreds of pilgrims make their way through the Pokrovskoe-Streshnevo woods, clutching a variety of containers in order to collect water from the "Tsarevna Lebed" spring. This week's walk joins them, starting where last week's ended, crossing the park and the canal and going on by tram to the fast-disappearing "Sokol Village." What better time and place to witness what Pushkin called " the splendid withering of nature" than these hilly November forests? 1. Getting off the train at Voykovskaya, turn right and go up the stairs, turning right again in the subway to come out by a small market. You see red-roofed stalls heaped with bunches of fresh herbs and autumn grapes, head through them away from the main road. From a stall to the right, you can buy tea for eight rubles. Go on past shops and trees ahead, away from the metro and along the 2nd Voykovsky Proezd. At the end, take the path diagonally ahead to the right, leading to another leafy road between small shops and a school playground. At the end of this road is a railway bridge. Go on under this into the Pokrovskoe- Streshnevo Park.
2. Follow the main tarmac path past a café; the gol den-leaved silver birch groves that could have been taken straight from Tolkein's Lothlo rien. Keep on round to the right past a playground and between two lovely lakes, towards the end of which a stony path forks right to enter the trees ahead. This path very soon reaches a crossroads with a tarmac track; keep going and, just before a second crossroads, branch right along a smaller path, coming out near a bench where you follow the path straight on. From this point, keep on as straight as possible for about twenty minutes, across numerous crossings, fork right at a colored post and continue until you come out at a meeting point of several paths at the top of a ravine.
3. Take the path that goes straight on, to the right of the ravine, passing between a wooden playground and a shelter to reach a flight of steps. As you go down the steps to the spring, you can see metal tracks for pulling up heavy bottles of water. An inscription on your right at the bottom tells you that the spring produces 60,000 liters of water every 24 hours - water that is still clean enough to drink and is always six degrees, winter and summer. It may be partly these qualities of purity and of constancy in a grimy and changing world that lead some people to ascribe healing properties to the spring: a little further to the left, vases of flowers and icons among the rocks and trees demonstrate a grateful reverence.
4. In summer or frozen winter, you can walk down to and along the river Khimka, but at this time of year, it is more advisable to go up and over the hill ahead of you just beyond the icons, coming down a steep muddy track on the far side to a sandy path running right through the woods to the houses now visible through the trees. This path brings you to a picturesque bridge over the river which carries you safely to the higher ground of a nicely-landscaped duck pond just below the Pokrovsky Hills estate. Turn left along Beregovaya Ulitsa and, soon after, right and right again around the outside of the Anglo-American School. Now walking alongside the Moscow Canal, you come to a bridge on your left.
5. Cross over this bridge, admiring the imposing architecture of the enormous locks on either side of the bridge; built by gulag prisoners in the 1930s, the Moscow canal connects the city to the White, Baltic, Caspian, Asov and Black Seas, making it the "port of five seas." On the far side, take Ulitsa Dolgova leading straight ahead, but turn left after block number one and then right through a park to the bus stop. From here you can either walk straight on for ten minutes to Tushinskaya Metro, catch the tram north (right) directly to Skhod ne nskaya, or catch the tram left to Sokol, which is the recommended option.
6. The route of Tram 6 to Sokol sometimes feels like a trip through a textbook of twentieth century architecture, adjacent blocks representing successive decades. Across the busy Volokolamskoe Shosse, you can also catch a glimpse of the red brick
towers of the nineteenth century Pokrovskoe-Streshnevo estate. Those who chose to get off at the "Pok rovskoe-Glebovo" stop and go under the underpass for a closer look can do little more than peer through the locked gate, guarded by a noisy dog, but the neighboring church is open for all to appreciate its frescoes and woodland setting. When you reach the terminus at Sokol, the metro is straight ahead along Leningradsky Prospekt, but it is worth making a detour first to the right, through the arch to the right of Arbat Prestige, along the road and over the Maly Peschany Pereulok to see what is left of the "Sokol Village." Founded by artists and intellectuals in 1923 as a cooperative settlement, the old wooden houses and vegetable gardens are increasingly being bought up and demolished to make way for expensive mansions surrounded by high metal fences, but there are still enough of the old cottages left to reward a stroll before heading to the metro.
Family friendly features
1. There are several playgrounds tucked away in the Voikovsky and Tushinsky suburbs, but the best ones are at the start and end of the Pokrovsky park.
2. The tea stall in the market at Voykovskaya also sells ring doughnuts (ponchiki), produced by one of those old-fashioned machines.
3. There are lots of interesting details along the way that could appeal to the kids - don't miss, for instance, the quirky garden full of animal sculptures and miniature buildings at number seven on the 2nd Voykovsky Proezd.
4. Watch the huge locks fill up or empty, to raise or lower the equally impressive sea-going barges. It can make compelling viewing.
5. The tram journey is one of the most entertaining in the city; the tracks run through tunnels, over bridges and through woodland.