WALK LONDON The London Loop[section 17] Cockfosters to Enfield Lock (8½ miles)
London doesn't stop at Cockfosters, you know. The M25 and the border with Hertfordshire are a few miles to the north, across a number of surprisingly rural Green Belt valleys. London Loop section 17 explores this open space, across what remains of the royal deer park of Enfield Chase, from one side of the London borough of Enfield to the other. Enjoy the gap.
It's an inauspicious start. A badly signposted footpath leads off from the station car park at Cockfosters, and if you've not got a map you'll likely be lost in minutes. But the meadows around Church Wood are a welcome sight, and from here on the greenery continues non-stop. It's not long before the Loop crosses the drive up to Trent Park, which I told you all about earlier in the week, and was the main reason I was out this way. But the official route skirts the perimeter, passing through Trent Country Park, and is secure from any future closure the sale of land hereabouts might bring. On a sunny day it's a busy spot, with couples snogging in the long grass and families playing by the ornamental lakes. Ahead is the first hill climb, a gentle ascent into Oak Wood, where a ring of murky water lurks in the trees near the summit. This is Camlet Moat (pictured), a medieval earthwork which may have surrounded a hunting lodge or may be purely ornamental. A little further along (but off the official path) is a more obvious monument, a tall stoneobelisk, brought here in the 1930s to celebrate the honeymoon of the Duke and Duchess of Kent.
And then things get much much quieter. Across the summit road lies the valley of the Salmon's Brook, almost entirely undeveloped and given over fully to agriculture. The land's council-owned, and currently home to fields of mostly ripening wheat. The path descends swiftly to the river, which is nothing special, but lined (at present) by a marvellous display of hawthorn blossom. Spend a mile or so following the brook, not that you can really see it, and admire the buttercups bringing a blaze of yellow to the meadowed slopes [photo]. So away from it all is this landscape that the occasional double decker red bus on the ridge is the only hint you're not in the middle of the countryside.
These streams run west to east in parallel fingers, and there's another ascent and descent to reach the next. On the way you'll pass through Brooke Wood, planted in honour of a local councillor 20 years ago, and already a densely shaded habitat. Near the stile on Cuckolds Hill there's a brief view directly into central London. That's the tiny Shard cluster over there, and that's the BT Tower far far further across the horizon than you'd ever expect. Down a long track you pass through Rectory Farm, with its clay pigeon shooting business, and which has probably the only "No Galloping" sign in the whole of London. The stream here is the Turkey Brook, which the Loop then roughly follows all the way down to the Lea. Then beneath the railway, absolutely nothing impressive, to touch the edge of civilisation again.
There are several greenhouses hereabouts, part of the horticultural cluster around Crews Hill. There's a cricket pitch to circumnavigate, where gents in white might be taking an entire day of ball-chucking terribly terribly seriously. And there's a marvellous park - Hilly Fields Park - which is a municipal treat for residents fortunate to live round about. The Turkey Brook is at its heart, much more scenic now, wiggling and meandering in lengthy shoals. Step off the tarmac path beneath a canopy of oaks to enjoy the pebbled shallows, or to let your dog get splashingly wet (if you've brought one with you). I'd say the enclosed grassy slopes of Hilly Fields Park exude a genuine charm that Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park can never hope to emulate.
Near the Rose and Crown, at the entrance to the park, is one of the original London Loop signboards, erected before early funds for the project ran out. Across the road (a rare road, thus far) you'll stumble across original route of the New River, the artificial channel driven from Hertford to Islington, severed and empty. But you're still following the Turkey Brook, along the "Mile and a Quarter Footpath", where beer-chested men sit with rods in flagrant breach of the fishing close season. The path ignores Forty Hall, the most interesting old mansion round these parts, but there is a brief glimpse of its chimneypots across the grass. And eventually you reach MaidensBridge, which legend says is where Sir Walter Raleigh laid down his cloak for Queen Elizabeth. No, if you've ever stood here, just no, this is more a narrow bridge with traffic lights kind of location.
And that's the good bit over, sorry. The next passageway passes the New River proper, but it's buried. The A10 has to be crossed via a giant footbridge, which completely wrecks the rural ambience of the last seven miles. Alongside Turkey Street, the brook runs in a less than natural urban ditch. The main drag of Enfield Wash is a real shock, all takeaways and tanning salons, but thankfully the Loop turns swiftly left opposite the road where my Mum was born. You'll follow the Turkey Brook one last time along the northern edge of Albany Park, now a deep deep concrete channel to protect adjacent terraces from flooding, but still somehow a verdanthome for wildlife. And at the railway line, that's it, the delights of Enfield Lock will have to wait for the start of section 18. The delights of Enfield Chase, however, will long remain.