diamond geezer

 Wednesday, September 18, 2013

NR400: 1613 - 2013
5: Enfield → Wood Green
(5½ miles)

My walk along the New River Path continues, following the artificial aqueduct that's been providing water to London for 400 years. Today my walk passes from Enfield to Wood Green, through an increasingly built-up suburban hinterland. And blimey, most of the time it's ever such a quiet path, with barely a soul around.

After a characterful wiggle through Enfield town centre, the New River Path heads purposely south. Beyond Chase Side there's a rare dilemma - well-trodden paths track both sides of the channel, so which to choose? It turns out that both lead to the same place, but the true path's on the left bank, running along the edge of Enfield's Town Park. This remains resolutely fenced off until you reach a narrow footbridge, then opens out to share its umpteen green acres. This bit of the path is rather lovely, raised on a leafy embankment beside the water... except it's a dead end. The New River exits the corner of the park without any parallel access, so where to go? It took me a while to realise that the fingerpost at that footbridge had been twisted to point the wrong way, and the correct route was up the hill. What follows is the New River Path's most brazen diversion, abandoning all pretence at following the river while that winds through a housing estate. Instead a shortcut leads along a lane through the heart of a golf course, a very private golf course as signs at regular intervals insist on reminding you. It makes for an elevated change in scenery, but doesn't feel quite proper.

From the golf course you emerge into the well-to-do suburb of Bush Hill, where there's another wrongly pointing fingerpost on the pavement descent. Pick the right route and you'll return to the New River at Bush Hill Sluice, a small white 18th century building still squatting over the watercourse. Do pause shortly afterwards when the path ejects you back onto the roadside. On the opposite side of the road, poorly labelled, is the oldest surviving feature on the New River - the Clarendon Arch. This was built in 1682 to carry the river in aqueduct over Salmons Brook, the local stream, which passed through a short tunnel underneath. A more modern aqueduct later replaced this set-up, but the brick arch survives, complete with carved inscription and a commemorative stone plaque above. When Thames Water restored this feature in 2000 they created a small viewing gallery above, with a flight of steps leading down to a better vista. Marvellous, except the gate was firmly locked and presumably has been for some time, so this New River treat went unseen.

Ahead at Mason's Corner is the start of London's longest street - Green Lanes. This is an old drover's road running seven and a half miles south to Stoke Newington, and the New River tracks it fairly closely all the way down. But not that close. What follows is a lengthy spell spent walking between the backs of houses through several successive suburbs. First up is Winchmore Hill, heralded by a genteel cricket club and a more frenetic backyard car wash. I spotted two lads here breaking the "no fishing" byelaw, but their line was firmly caught in a tree so that was justice enough. Past Highfield Road Pumping Station the banks are especially wide, then us walkers are turfed off so the residents of River Avenue can hog the waterside instead. Watch out for a series of mini pumping stations, squat brick buildings dated 1993 or 1994, of which there must be a half a dozen or so between here and Hornsey. And yes that's Palmers Green Mosque by the recreation ground, where a set of rarely-trodden steps leads back up to a riverside embankment. So quiet.

Back on Green Lanes the New River Path has to divert around three sides of Southgate Town Hall. This used to be the local seat of government and now hosts the library, although certain parties would prefer a free school lodged inside. Across the car park are concealed steps leading to a curving aqueduct. I had a hunch I'd meet nobody here, and I was right. Here the original New River followed a long narrow meander west and east to negotiate the valley of the Pymmes Brook. Look down from the embankment, past hogweed and convolvulus, and you should spot a dribble of stream flowing beneath through a concrete culvert. The next barrier to negotiate is the North Circular. A metal comb scrapes away leaves and detritus before the water disappears beneath the dual carriageway, while walkers must follow a more indirect route (or risk dashing across the traffic).

Our next suburb is Bowes Park. This is a pleasant-looking residential area, although lager cans, pizza boxes and a pair of trousers discarded on the towpath hint at a darker side. Ahead, at the end of a long dewy cutting, is the area's sole listed building. It might look like a bridge, but is actually the entrance to the Wood Green Tunnel, a 1km-long brick-lined conduit. This was dug in 1859 to knock off yet another New River meander, this time burrowing in a straight line beneath a built-up area. Last year it was properly cleaned out for the first time, with workmen removing 1740 tons of silt, two guns, three bicycles and a skateboard (Caroline has a fascinating account of the full operation here). If walking the New River Path, make sure you stop to investigate the Bowes Park Open-Air Gym above the tunnel entrance on Myddleton Road. Not for the exercise bike and ping pong table, you understand, but for the excellent series of information boards arrayed along one wall. These were put up to commemorate the tunnel's 150th anniversary and are particularly rich in maps and photographs. Highly recommended.

Thanks to the tunnel, the next 15 minutes will be spent walking on top of the New River. A series of recreational green spaces follow, essentially a segmented linear park. First up is the Myddleton Road Community Garden, a dead end, but delightful. Next comes Finsbury Gardens, with its bright blue basketball scoop, then the 'Hidden River Path'. Even with such hints, you have to wonder how many of those walking, jogging or dog-walking through here fully realise what's beneath their feet. At Bounds Green Road in 1931 the New River had to be protected in a steel pipe to allow for construction of the Piccadilly line extension underneath. Beyond is the wedge-shaped sweep of Nightingale Gardens, starting with an abandoned rose garden. And finally the paved way leads to Avenue Gardens with, ah, the New River emerging through a less ostentatious arch at the southern end. Alexandra Palace station is to the right, Wood Green a little further to the left, if you want to bail here. Alternatively, there are just seven miles further to walk...

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