diamond geezer

 Sunday, October 13, 2013

NORTHERN: Totteridge (and Whetstone)

Up at the northern end of the Northern line, one stop before High Barnet, lie Totteridge and Whetstone. One is a commuter settlement built around a coaching inn on the great North Road. That's Whetstone, with its Waitrose and its Griffin pub, a pleasant enough place to live. But the other is something else, a medieval village made good and a bolthole for millionaires. That's Totteridge, the last syllable of its name describing its position on a crest between two valleys. Part of Hertfordshire until 1965, it was swallowed up somewhat grudgingly by the new borough of Barnet. An aspirational location surrounded by rolling farmland, it's easily the most rural place in Greater London to be served by the Underground.

For Totteridge turn right, not left, outside the station. The road leads down to the Dollis Brook, the main watercourse hereabouts and (further upstream) the northern perimeter of Totteridge proper. One day I'll walk the Greenwalk from source to Hampstead, but on this occasion let's continue on up the other side past the Totteridge Garden Chinese takeaway. That's it for shops, this short parade, they don't sully the village proper with a retail outlet. Totteridge Lane climbs slowly from the affordable end to the less-so, past multi-car households and a defunct library. In a nice touch, the larger houses announce their names and numbers via a series of curved posts dug into the verge - not always easy to read but consistent and cohesive.

Entry into the village proper is signalled on a wooden board labelled "Manor of Totteridge", because it once was. Some of the luckier houseowners reside around the triangular village green, blessed with just enough trees to make a game of cricket impractical. A glance at a satellite photo of the immediate neighbourhood reveals a majority of back gardens boast gleaming blue swimming pools - unseen from the front drive, but always hinted at. Divert up Pine Grove or Northcliffe Drive to enjoy a run of Tudorbethan detached houses, the very pinnacle of suburbia, oh so very Chorleywood. Or more likely stop at The Orange Tree by the pond, the sort of pub that has "Sparkling Thursdays" rather than "Curry Wednesdays", and maybe enjoy a pint outside on the lawn.

For a glimpse into why folk like to live round here, divert off behind the pub to explore the valley below. No public footpath sign is obvious, because this isn't one, but keep the faith and stroll brazenly through the gate into The Close Private Estate No Parking Warning High Speed Crime Response Force. And don't be put off by the lamppost further down, with three security cameras, two motion detectors and a reversing mirror. A path leads straight on to the edge of a field, and from here a 30 metre descent with woody views to the south. Much of London might look this glorious had suburban sprawl not covered it with streets and gardens. Indeed the valley slopes in neighbouring Woodside Park have suffered precisely this fate, but Totteridge's golden grassland provides a pointed reminder of the swallowed past.

At the foot of the hill is Darlands Lake Nature Reserve, a ring of green around a shallow dammed pool. A footbridge leads across the Folly Brook, the minor stream marking Totteridge's southern edge, then a circuitous path heads off around the lake. Only rarely does it scrape the water's edge, but the vegetation is lush and brimming (in places) with wild pink orchids. To return to Totteridge proper a path leads northwest up the feeder stream - a minor earthy channel for much of the year, but enough to make mudbaths of the adjacent ground at others so choose your footwear with care. Pass fields recently-harvested, follow tracks rarely trod, to complete the optimum Totteridge dog-walking loop.

You'll emerge opposite Totteridge's white-towered church, which you could alternatively have reached via a short stroll from the pub. St Andrew's goes back 750 years, while the yew in the churchyard is said to date back over 1000, making it (reputedly) London's oldest tree. Inside is a broad lofty space, with bright hand-sewn kneelers hanging from the back of four ranks of pews. Outside are the remains of the village pound, built for 16th century miscreants, marked by a small plaque. And just round the corner, on a triangle of grass that's the nearest Totteridge comes to a roundabout, stands a slender cross-topped war memorial.

To find the most expensive homes in the village, continue west along the ridgetop. There would be excellent views of central London, less than ten miles distant, except a string of properties along the southern side of the road hog the panorama for their own. Ditto views of Barnet to the north, the fields beyond blocked by cottages, then villas, then mansions. Arsene Wenger lives in Totteridge, and Cliff Richard and Des O'Connor once did, it's that kind of place. The only gap in the fences and high hedges comes at the Long Pond, an appropriately named artificial pool located at the highest point in the village, where the fishing is Private Members only. And that's probably as far as you need to walk, as this linear village finally peters out after two long miles. Best catch the regular 251 bus back to the station... not, one suspects, that Totteridge's genuine residents use it much.

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