WALK LONDON The London Loop[section 13]
Harefield West to Moor Park (5 miles)
With the good news that TfL have finally recreated all of the downloadable maps for their seven strategic walking routes, I'm back on the London Loop. Section 13 is a remote beast, threading through only-just-London and barely-Hertfordshire, via woods and fields and a famous sitcom homestead. It's also notoriously muddy, or so the comments section on the Walk London website advised before TfL pulled the plug. Remembering this advice I waited until it had barely rained for three weeks and then set off, fully booted, for ultra-north-west London. [map]
To reach Harefield West, deep in the Colne Valley, you take the U9 bus out of Uxbridge. I had a memorable journey in which the driver first turfed off a teenager for trying to pay with a £5 note ("cash was banned over a year ago," he lied), then launched into a strop with an elderly Harefield resident. Braking sharply caused her shopping basket to fall over, sending a frozen shepherds pie skidding towards the door. Our driver hopped out to rescue it, then noticed the old lady was drinking from a can of lager so grabbed this and threw it outside, deliberately littering the pavement in the process. And I mention not this because it has anything to do with the walk ahead, nor to get the miserable bastard into trouble, but merely to reinforce what great entertainment an outer London bus journey can be.
The bus drops you at a turning circle near the bottom of the hill, where one of Walk London's metal plaques foreshadows section 13, and advises you to ring an unobtainable phone number for further information. The walk sets off up an access road above the river, past some light industrial units being transformed into "contemporary canalside living", then heads up a hillside path in front of some almost-pretty cottages. That's a cattery on the right (no kittens were evident), then the contours steepen on the climb through Old Park Wood. Give it a couple of months and this ancient woodland will apparently be ablaze with bluebells and marsh marigolds, I suspect a local treasure for the handful who live nearby.
Ahead is London's most northwesterly hamlet, with the unexciting (but appropriate) name of Hill End. The approach is past a strip of mishmash allotments over which flutter various threadbare football-related flags. What used to be the village pub became what used to be the village nursery, but is now vacant, leaving a small playground across the road as the only toddler-friendly facility hereabouts. Plough Lane beyond looks almost suburban, until the stile at the end reveals that that we are only three fields from the edge of London. Field one features a suspiciously long shed, and a surprising huge number of geese waddling around a muddy pool. Field two opens up a broad gently rolling arable vista, before field three dips gradually through harvested stalks to a small notched stream. It isn't how you'd picture Hillingdon at all, and is all the more charming for it.
Hertfordshire begins with a stud. On the next farm live equine folk with a penchant for collecting old vehicles, hence the path tracks between grazing horses and the decaying remains of an old army ambulance. Walking down their drive I spotted Rickmansworth's hilltop Waitrose on the horizon, barely a mile distant, but the Loop gives that a miss and instead turns up Woodcock Hill. This is one of those awkward pavementless sections, requiring repeated sidesteps onto the verge to avoid oncoming traffic, or if you're unlucky the two-hourly bus. At a T-junction in the middle of nowhere lies the Rose and Crown, described online as "Real ales and classic fare in a wisteria-clad, 17th-century pub with open fires". It sounded lovely (and looked it too), but alas a sign stuck to the door announced the place's very recentclosure (seemingly post-Valentine's), and what should have been a bustling beer garden stood wistfully empty.
From here a footpath strikes off down the edge of Bishop's Wood, affording brief views over one of Moor Park's lesser golf courses. A field's edge gave the first hints of potentialmudbath conditions underfoot, thankfully unrealised at present, before the risk evaporated completely ahead. Three Rivers Council have upgraded the main track through the wood over the past few weeks, casting a trail of unnaturally clean aggregate in a broad wiggle all the way to the car park. The works have also refurbished a footbridge mid-wood, but without replacing the London Loop sign thereon, which means this is the first point where you could get horribly lost. You'd never think of taking the minor footpath beside the brook otherwise, nor following it into the trees through increasingly unclear and unkempt undergrowth. Ah yes, here's the muddy stretch, and it must be boot-covering after a downpour.
For reasons that are probably coincidental, the last mile of section 13 follows (almost precisely) a line of electricity pylons. They're well disguised by trees, on the whole, which also blot out sight of Mount Vernon Hospital (which lies just across the road). Further yomping brings you out onto BatchworthHeath, one of my grandmother's favourite picnic spots, though I wouldn't lay down a tablecloth at present. One of the pubs overlooking this traffic blackspot is the over-vowelled Ye Olde Greene Manne, ideally suited to the moneyed clientele at the adjacent Moor Park Golf Club, while across the road the down-at-heel Princeof Wales requires a flashing red 'Open' sign in the window to attract somewhat seedier punters.
The next footpath, from the Coal Tax Post onwards, followed the exact boundary between Middlesex and Herts, and still marks the very edge of the capital. It's a peaceful undulating affair, past white blossom and a pile of rubbish that might be flytipping or could possibly be someone's home. And at the end of the track you emerge into Kewferry Road... a name which stirred a nugget of trivial recognition within me. Isn't this...? I reached for my phone and Googled, confirming with some delight that the very ordinary-looking house two down on the right was indeed incredibly famous. 55 Kewferry Road is where Tom and Barbara Good lived, or at least where all the exterior shots were filmed for The Good Life back in the 1970s. The front garden's no longer ploughed for vegetables, and there's now a Landrover Defender parked outside, but this is very definitely self-sufficiency central, and that's still the Leadbetter's gaff nextdoor. Found you at last!
From borderline Northwood the Loop heads up a gated private road into the exclusive Moor Park Estate. Here the avenues are wide and the houses are big, each set in a plot of at least a third of an acre, and divided from its neighbour by hedges rather than walls or fences. Don't worry, they still get an electricity pylon for their trouble, but I doubt it depresses house prices too much. It was here, amid a land of multi-vehicle front gardens, that I met the first pedestrians I'd seen since leaving Harefield - the byways of Loop 13 aren't busy. And almost immediately I reached the low bridge beneath the Metropolitan line where this section terminates. Section 14 heads off across the golf course, but I instead took a wooded stroll alongside the tracks to Moor Park station, my walking boots still impressively presentable.