K♠ Cheshunt/Enfield Had the Herbert Commission had their way, Cheshunt Urban District would have become part of Greater London, whereas in fact it stayed in Hertfordshire (and is now part of Broxbourne). That leaves Enfield, today the northermost part of the capital, its boundary following the line of the M25. I've been out walking within a mile of the motorway to visit six of the lesser known settlements across the top of Enfield, some of which you might never have known were there. Click on the placenames to read the Hidden London summaries of each.
Beyond Cockfosters the northwestern quarter of the borough of Enfield is mostly fields, and rather attractive fields too. Botany Bay is the single settlement on a long ridgetop road between Potters Bar and Enfield, part of a landscape carved by two tiny brooks to either side, and part of what was once the royal forest of Enfield Chase. It's more hamlet than village, and doesn't stretch as far as a church (although there is a lowly shed called The Shack which local Christians are hoping to turn into a 24/7 prayer venue). At the centre of the string of houses lies the Robin Hood pub, which must rely on passing drivers rather than residents, and whose pre-book festive menu inexplicably runs from 1st November to 31st January. At Botany Bay Farm they're already ready to flog you pumpkins, plus almost-locally sourced sausages for Bonfire Night.
One thing Botany Bay has plenty of is open space, with a cricket club and a rugby club crying out for new members on posters attached to numerous walls and gates. The clubhouse appears to double up as a venue for almost anything, including the North London MG Club (every Monday), Googlies Jazz Supper Club (every Tuesday) and Big Boppa's Rock'N'Roll Club (every Wednesday). East Lodge Lane is very much Beware of the Dog territory, with angry hounds champing behind many a fence should a rare pedestrian walk by. I also surprised a lone pony in the next field, who leapt with brief delight to have company, then switched to indifference when it became clear I had no food.
This garden centre mecca is the northernmost settlement in London, assuming you can spot the houses among the retail sheds. Crews Hill is an entirely atypical location, essentially a collection of horticultural corrals subdivided into smaller units which'll flog you almost anything for your house or garden. Rattan, turf, bonsai, paving, resin, koi, rockery, fireplace, granite, trellis, lantern, sapling, rug, shrubbery, reptile, bench, mirror, decking, gnome, incense, jacket potato - it really is all here. One of the larger sites is a Wyevale, complete with pretend windmill, but most of the other businesses are as independent as they come, perhaps just a shed selling stone cherubs or a hut packed with New Age tat. On spring weekends hundreds queue in their cars to find a parking space, while on autumn weekdays a few pensioners find solace with a hyacinth and cuppa.
Given the nature of the goods on sale arriving by car or van is all important. You don't want to have to rely on the bus (the W10 is the 2nd least frequent bus in London), and while Crews Hill station has a pretty good service, it's also bleak and somewhat poorly used. Venture beneath the railway bridge to discover the eponymous hill and a few gated mansions, plus a golf course advertising several special offers should any individual, group or society fancy a round. But most visitors venture no further than the small business boulevard, perhaps topped off with a lager and an at-scale meal in The Plough, then spend a lot of time in the garden when they get home.
Whitewebbs Lane runs east from Crews Hill, parallel to the M25, and packs several fascinating features into its remote mile and a half run. First up is London's other transport museum, the Whitewebbs Museum of Transport, open Tuesdays and one Sunday a month. Its collection would best be described as eclectic, with various sheds and old vehicles outside and numerous smaller exhibits inside an elegant two-storey building which used to be a pumphouse for the New River. [my previous visit][Ian Visits visit][Londonist visit]
I kept walking, past a smallholding guarded by two angry rottweilers, to the edge of Whitewebbs Wood. It's large and dark, and somewhat oppressive, with muddy bridleways to follow should you choose to venture within. Keep going and it morphs into Whitewebbs Park, a slightly less dense patch of woodland almost nobody in Enfield lives anywhere near, complete with tarmac paths and the occasional lake. Half of the former Whitewebbs estate has been given over to a golf course, as is the modern way, but the grand mansion at the centre survives. Initially it was repurposed as a Home For Aged Men, but has recently become London's most architecturally impressive Toby Carvery. Sub-£7 diners feast within its sweeping wings, while the smell of gravy wafts out across the ornamental garden.
The carvery has competition from a 16th century pub back on Whitewebbs Lane, The King and Tinker, which claims to be one of England's oldest pubs. Its name comes from a fabled encounter between James I and a pub regular over an ale, after the incognito King slipped his courtiers after a hunt. As if that's not enough history for one spot, Whitewebbs Farm across the road is the site of a key meeting in the Gunpowder Plot. In October 1605 Guy Fawkes visited the house which used to stand on this site for a meeting with his co-conspirators, to discuss how Catholic peers might be spared the upcoming explosion. An ill-advised letter on the subject later blew their cover, rather than blowing up Parliament. Pop down to The King And Tinker and you can enjoy a pint in the Refreshment Garden's and a jump on the bouncy castle while reflecting on this remote spot's unlikely backstory.
At the eastern end of Whitewebbs Lane, within sight of the M25, a Premiership football team has bedded in. Tottenham Hotspur's training ground used to be a lot further up the A10, but this new state-of-the art site allows them to practice their ball skills in all weathers a little closer to home. Your best chance of catching sight of a top player is at the main gate on Hotspur Way, waiting for the blue and white barrier to raise. Elsewhere the perimeter is securely fenced off with a row of fast-growing shrubs immediately behind to inhibit paparazzi or over-zealous fans.
The hamlet of Bull's Cross can be found surrounding a mini-roundabout close by. It's been here a while. The Pied Bull pub claims it was once owned by James I as a kennel for his hunting dogs, which seems plausible given how much the king enjoyed living at Theobalds Palace close by. Bull's Cross is also home to the agricultural college at Capel Manor, and to Myddleton House, both of which have super-splendid gardens, and both of which I always urge you to visit whenever I write a post about the neighbourhood.
Bullsmoor is less lovely. This residential district is strung out between the new A10 and the old A10, squished into the last gasp of the Lea Valley conurbation before it slips into Hertfordshire. It has a peripherally arterial feel, with unpleasantly wide roads to cross and pylons stalking through the middle, and plenty of petrol stations and drive-thru takeaways to cater for the just-off-the-M25 market. Four separate shops in the local parade take the Bullsmoor name, the most appropriate of which is definitely the Bullsmoor Butchers, although that appeared to be shuttered and closed when I passed by... maybe something to do with its recent rockbottom Food Hygiene rating.
(there is one feature of particular note here, but I'll come back and tell you about that tomorrow, because it deserves a post of its own)
What a fantastic name for a London suburb. Freezywater can be found straddling the Hertford Road, the former A10, immediately to the south of Waltham Cross. It's been here a while too, with several avenues of late Victorian terraces tucked in between the main road and the railway, and some rather tasteful cottage villas scattered within. I searched in vain for the Freezywater Shopping Centre promised on Enfield Council's fading signs, but maybe a betting shop, chippie and Turkish food cash and carry suffice. I did however find a peculiar pocket park with contoured benches and artistic metal gates, apparently called Painters Lane Neighbourhood Park.
Freezywater is named after a marshy pond near the River Lea, which used to ice up in winter, but this disappeared a long time ago when the Rammey Marsh Sewage Works was built in it place. Now this too has vanished, replaced by the Innova Business Park in the late 1990s, a sprawl of distribution warehouses and low-key office units. Its streets have Blairite names like Kinetic Crescent, Velocity Way and Power Drive, a bit rich for the reality, but the central reedy lake is a nice throwback to the original Freezy Water. Enfield Lock station lies nearby, should a fast getaway be required.