WALK LONDON The London Loop[section 14]
Moor Park to Hatch End (4 miles)
This is the shortest stretch of the London Loop, a mere four miles long. It's very woody, so ideal for an autumn stroll. It starts on the Metropolitan line and ends at the Overground. It's almost entirely in Hertfordshire. And I met almost nobody while I was walking it. That'll be Section 14, then. [map]
This walk kicks off at one of the least used stations on the Underground, which is Moor Park. A short parade rises up the street outside, where the moneyed folk of this exclusive estate do their shopping. But the link to the Loop's not going that way, it doubles back underneath the platforms to the "Sandy Lodge" exit. Despite growing up one station up the line I'd never used this exit before, nor even realised it existed. If you've brought your golf bag, it's this way out for the Club House. But ramblers should head right, along the footpath through the beech trees down the edge of the railway. I've never seen anyone walking this way before, not from a passing Metropolitan line carriage, but it's a pleasant stroll all the same. If brief.
Section 14 officially starts here, just before the edge of Northwood, and heads diagonally uphill. First it climbs beneath the pylons, up the scrappy heath the golf club didn't want. But then it crosses the golf course proper, starting by the 17th tee. The owners are very keen that you cross only via the proper path, marked intermittently by posts and signs and polite notices. Occasionally you get to cross the pristine fairway, so watch out for flying balls, but everyone seemed busy putting when I passed. Retired foursomes and business networkers, by the looks of it, because it costs a pretty penny to play here. The course is named Sandy Lodge because the gentleman who founded it wanted to create seaside-style links within reach of London, and found an ideal patch of sandy deposits on this Moor Park hillside. Sandy Lodge Halt opened on the railway line in 1910 to service the golfers' needs, and was later renamed.
Beyond the 5th tee is the walker's way out, then a short stretch of private road leads out of the Moor Park Estate. Things change fairly swiftly. Past the petrol station is the edge of South Oxhey, an overspill council estate of note, which choirmaster Gareth Malone got to sing. Fear not, we're entering via an extensive greenspace, a grassy common speckled by clumps of trees. Motor Cycles, Golf Practice, Horse Riding and Cars are not permitted here, according to a grubby sign erected by Three Rivers Council. I thought the streets ahead looked pleasant enough, until two teenagers in a red car sped by honking their horn, riding in a suspiciously joyful way. Don't worry, the road walk is only brief, disappearing up the end of a cul-de-sac into the woods.
These are OxheyWoods, 100 hectares of ancient woodland on the edge of London, thankfully never destroyed to make way for housing. It's a lovely spot. Twisty paths lead through the trees, at first mostly oaks with a splash of sweet chestnut. They're very muddy paths too, at this time of year, and I had to step carefully much of the way to avoid getting squelchy boots. Thankfully nobody saw me tiptoeing along the edge of the undergrowth, indeed I hadn't seen a single fellow walker on the first half of the route. If I heard a sound ahead of me it was invariably a squirrel, or possibly a distant car. A single crossing of Oxhey Drive intruded, recently blocked to prohibit those on horseback from passing through. And then more woodland, and more blessed leafy silence - does nobody go walking around London any more?
The rambling rush hour finally arrived, in the form of a shaven-headed Dad with his two sons, and three slowly ambling pensioners. But they were walking parallel paths, with the Loop veering (somewhat muddily) to the left. Before long I was very alone again, trudging carefully across the mulch into a beechy clearing. In the far distance I could hear increasingly desperate cries of "Ollie!", as if some dog or child had been mislaid in the woods. I deduced which it was when a hound came charging out from the neighbouring golf course and made directly for me. Encountering an unaccompanied out-of-control dog is pretty much top of my terror list when out walking, and here was my worst case scenario unfolding. Thankfully (and somewhat unexpectedly) "Ollie" suddenly halted, and lost interest, allowing me to pass swiftly (and somewhat sweatily) on.
After nearly two miles of woodland, the Loop finally emerges into open fields. This is the edge of Greater London, into which we now pass via the stud at Pinnerwood Farm. Even though we're miles out, various familiar central London landmarks are just about discernible on the horizon. Be prepared for a squelchy patch outside the main barn, then the path nips round the side of the Victorian farmhouse to avoid the horseboxes. A properly exclusive lane lies ahead, including 18th century Pinnerwood House which has its own stream flowing through the garden. Although most of the path is decently waymarked, at the next junction some idiot has planted a three-way sign showing the Loop in all directions - I had to check my map before turning left. Three final fields follow, the second home to a dozen grazing horses. And the last is rather boggy, especially in the farthest corner where Section 14 officially ends. Tread very carefully to re-enter suburbia via the aspirational avenues of Hatch End.