diamond geezer

 Thursday, November 24, 2016

Greater London contains around 2000 National Grid squares, each 1km by 1km in size. I've taken to picking one of these at random and visiting it to see what I might find, and over the weekend I did it again. Last time I got Hounslow, and the time before that I got Barking and Dagenham, and this time I got Barnet. Specifically a square just to the south of High Barnet station, and teeming with outer suburban variety. There's little reason for TQ2595 to ever appear in Time Out, but that's not a reason not to visit, indeed there's tons to see. [aerial view, 1939]

20 Things To Do In Grid Square TQ2595

1) Enjoy the panorama from Barnet Hill
If you know the original town of Barnet, specifically Chipping Barnet, you'll know it perches at the top of a long hill leading up from the southeast. The bottom of that hill is in grid square TQ2595, the section where the road opens out to reveal a grassy embankment beneath and the rooftops of several housing estates beyond. This area's called Underhill, a name which forms the basis for most of the grid square to the west of the railway line. That's leafy Totteridge you can see in the distance, and the floodlights in the foreground belong to a former football ground, of which more in a moment. Don't look the other way, because that's a van hire yard piled high with containers in front of the railway, and less than scenic.

2) Sit on the railway bridge awaiting a platform
The Northern line approaches High Barnet on an embankment, then in cutting, before emerging briefly to cross the foot of Barnet Hill diagonally on a low bridge. Trains often pause here, above the traffic, waiting for a platform to become clear at the station a short distance ahead. If you're sitting in one of the front two carriages you might get a decent view over Underhill at this point, as well as mildly frustrated.

3) Follow the Great North Road
The Great North Road passes through Barnet, one horse-change from London, which helped bring the location to economic prominence. Climbing Barnet Hill often proved problematic, so in the 1820s Thomas Telford remodelled the ascent with a gentler gradient, the original road having run through the primary school now in position at the foot of his embankment. Barnet was comprehensively bypassed in the 1920s, so the A1 now runs elsewhere, but a broad mostly residential road still runs up from Finchley.

4) March up the hill and march down
In 1471 the Battle of Barnet, one of the more decisive engagements of the Wars of the Roses, was fought (three grid squares away) to the north of the town centre. But to get there the Duke of York had to march his men up Barnet Hill, and after victory he got to march them down again, which is either the direct inspiration for the famous nursery rhyme, or more likely one of many alternative fictional derivations based on several Dukes from several eras in several unconfirmed locations.

5) Mourn the loss of The Old Red Lion
Opened in the 1720s at the foot of Barnet Hill, this coaching inn once provided stagecoaches with an extra couple of horses to assist them on the ascent. These were known as a Hercules pair. Telford's reconstruction reduced demand, but a pint was always welcome, and the pub was rebuilt in the early 1930s to serve newly laid out estates. Alas the number of customers declined significantly when the local football ground closed, so the pub shut for good in February last year and is currently re-emerging as "a collection of six contemporary homes", for which read stark 4-bed split-level brick semis with prices starting at £895,000.

6) Mourn the departure of the Bees
Barnet FC once played their home matches at the Underhill Stadium, a bijou low-res operation whose pitch boasted one of the steepest slopes in professional football. The stadium opened in 1907, but never really proved satisfactory when the team were promoted to the Football League, and in 2013 they moved out following disagreements with the local council. That's the short version, anyway. Barnet now play in League Two at The Hive stadium, which is not in Barnet, and Underhill Stadium is used by the London Broncos rugby league club for training. If you've ever wanted to watch the Under 19s play I understand you can still get in.

7) Mourn the loss of Barnet Cricket Club
I don't know if you're spotting a pattern here. Barnet Cricket Club closed down at the same time as Barnet FC moved on, their pavilion now fenced off, and the pitch roughly unkempt and uneven. There are big plans for the football stadium, cricket pitch and adjacent greenspace to become an academy, but purchase of the land by the Education Funding Agency stalled, the proposed opening date has slipped back to September 2018, and as yet no works on site have taken place. A bit of a fiasco all round, really.

8) Play ping pong at the Barnet Table Tennis Centre
Thank goodness some sporting activity is still available in TQ2595. The BTTC is based at the foot of the playing fields in a large brick hut on the banks of the Dollis Brook. Coaching nights and practice tables are available within, a summer league takes place annually, and quite frankly it sounds like just the kind of social facility many a London neighbourhood needs, but doesn't have.

9) Run amok on Barnet Playing Fields
A large area of undeveloped meadow survives as Barnet Playing Fields, a sweep of green leading down to the river that's a cut above your average rec. A play area and an outdoor gym are provided, as well as a basketball zone and copious space for a kickabout. For centuries this was the site of Barnet Fair, a Michaelmas mass gathering visited by Samuel Pepys, founded in 1588 and once described as 'three days of pandemonium'. Horse racing was held up the hill where the tube terminus now stands, and even though that aspect has faded away a slimmed down equine fair is still held on the meadows upriver at Mays Lane each September.

10) Walk the Dollis Valley Greenwalk
11) Walk the London Loop (section 16)
The Dollis Valley Greenwalk is a ten mile path following Barnet's finest river from almost Edgware to nearly Hendon. Only 500m passes through TQ2595, but it's not bad, following the gentle meanders of the brook's middle course at the foot of the playing fields, then bending south towards the Brook Farm Open Space. The banks are leaf-strewn and occasionally deeply-banked, and magnets for dogwalkers and joggers. The London Loop arrives the same way, but breaks off after the Table Tennis Centre to climb the fields towards the railway bridge, then proceeds up a ratrun lane on the other side. As this is the only section of the Loop I haven't completed, I'll say no more for now.

12) Ride London's shortest bus route
Here's a cracking reason to visit TQ2595, a chance to ride the only TfL bus route less than one mile long. What's more it's this grid square which creates the need for the 389's brief run, specifically the long thin Grasvenor Estate sandwiched between the playing fields and the railway, and with no way out except the way you came in. Buses depart the Spires shopping centre and run down Barnet Hill, turning off at Underhill to make a hail and ride circuit down to Western Way and back. Officially these count as two different directions, it being 1.1 miles down and 0.9 miles back, a duty generally completed in ten minutes flat. What's more buses only run between 10am and 3pm, hourly, six days a week, making this the third least frequent bus in London. Catching a 389 is tricky, but I succeeded, and was impressed how full of shoppers it was, fully justifying the vehicle's existence. Indeed the trip down from Barnet had the feel of a pensioners' outing about it, with most of the passengers known to one another, and a collective conversation underway. By listening in I learned lots about Joyce, she used to work in Pearsons, they found her body you know, such a shame. I was also treated to a heartwarming spectacle when the lady at number 72 flagged down the driver to ask if anyone had found her keys, she thought she'd probably left them in Santander but they might be on the floor under the seat behind the door, could everybody check. Not quite heartwarming enough that the keys were found, alas, but I got a real sense that the 389 is a happy community service that helps support several elderly residents in their own homes. Short, and sweet.

13) Track down the old Middlesex border
Before 1965 most of what's now north London was in Middlesex, and a small adjacent patch was in Hertfordshire. Barnet was a bit of an anomaly, a irregular finger of Herts intruding into Middlesex, and almost completely surrounded by it. The point at which the Great North Road passed out of Middlesex was a few yards south of the junction with Lyonsdown Road, now a neighbourhood of interwar courts and aspirational but slightly dated apartments. Confirmation of the area's administrative transition comes in the name County Gate for a cul-de-sac of executive semis leading down to the railway, but the boundary is otherwise unmarked.

14) LOL at Pricklers Hill
Ha, yes, the section of the Great North Road leading up to Underhill is known as Pricklers Hill. The name comes from the Prittle family who once lived in one the few medieval houses hereabouts, later known as Greenhill Grove. A milestone partway along the main road, still extant, marks the point that's precisely 10 miles from central London. Another oddly-named local resident with a street to their name is Lancelot Hasluck, whose demolished property is now covered by a string of near-£million semis along Hasluck Gardens.

15) Feed the ducks at Greenhill Gardens
When Greenhill Grove's estate was residentialised, two fish ponds at the bottom of the garden were protected from development. The smaller pond was filled in and grassed over, but the larger lake remains and the pair now form a not inconsiderable recreational resource. Ducks, drakes, geese and waterfowl of all kinds colonise the waters at Greenhill Gardens, and strut around on the muddy banks - I interrupted several on my five minute circuit. All credit to East Barnet Council for having the foresight to protect this land in 1928, and there's an even better example up the road, which I'll get to at the end of the list.

16) Pass your driving test
I thought I'd seen a lot of learner drivers on my wanderings around TQ2595, and when I stumbled upon Raydean House I realised why. This drab long block - the kind of building that gives the 1970s a bad name - is Barnet's driving test centre, and a Job Centre too for good measure. Even on a Saturday afternoon teenagers were nervously reversing their vehicles close to the kerb by the verge up the road before setting off on yet another tour of the surrounding quiet three-point-turn-friendly avenues.

17) Watch a movie in Art Deco splendour
The Odeon Theatre opened on the Great North Road on Wednesday 15th May 1935, with a columnar Moorish design across its frontage and over 1500 seats in its auditorium. The interior decoration continued the north African motif, with jazzy Art Deco detailing and alternating red and blue upholstery, but no organ because the Odeon chain didn't believe in that kind of thing. I can tell you what the first film was, if you're interested, and also the names of the three architects. In 1974 the cinema was subdivided into three screens, later to become five, and in 1989 the building was given a well-deserved Grade II listing. Then last year the long connection with the Odeon brand ended and Everyman took over, and it's their name which now glows out front in gold 'neon'.

18) Eat in style at Fresh Fry Fish and Chips
Listings magazines may be full of smart bistros and pop-up diners, but the average Londoner's average meal out is a more ordinary affair. A quick lunch at Fresh Fry Fish and Chips, for example, the end-terrace unit at Western Parade, where top quality maritime cuisine is de rigueur. I sampled the fresh fried chips from the takeaway, lovingly stacked in a plastic tray and sprinkled with non-brewed condiment. For many local couples, however, it's the fish, chip, bread, butter and tea combo at the adjacent sit-down restaurant which calls, competitively priced at £6.50 - an ideal treat. Other nearby dining options are of course available, including authentic Thai at the Rice Terrace, or pie, mash and liquor from the Hole In The Wall at the Meadow Works down the road.

19) Go for a drink at the Weavers Arms
The Old Red Lion may have been levelled but the Weavers Arms endures, at the far end of the shopping parade beside the butchers. A chalkboard outside announces that this is a 'traditional pub', and the beery blokes lingering out front with a fag certainly confirm this assertion. Upstairs is a Bed and Breakfast, should you ever be in the area without either, but perhaps avoid Friday when the function room is taken over by karaoke. Alternative alcohol opportunities are available beside the BP garage at the Queen's Arms, cavernous enough to have once coped with coach parties, and where 2-4-1 Peri Peri Chicken is always on the menu.

20) Follow the tree trail round Highlands Gardens
Here's a little treasure to end with, another preserved back garden lovingly maintained for communal good. Highlands House was built in 1897 on the high ground above Leicester Road for a wealthy stockbroker, and boasted an oak staircase, Crittall windows, and a copper dome on the roof for stargazing. The house was sold for flats in 1930, and the council bought up the garden as an ready-made park. It's gorgeous, with a pergola walk, several almost-convincing rock formations, a couple of rustic bridges and a tumbling water feature twisting down to an artificial lake. It reminded me of a Bournemouth chine, for some reason. And because this is a rich Victorian's garden the trees are both varied and mature, which has enabled the creation of a Tree Trail up to the top of the grounds and back again, with a dozen specimens labelled for inspection. I found the yew and the medlar, the maidenhair and black walnut, a palm and at least three different species of oak, plus a similarly diverse selection of leaves artfully spread around each. A lovely hideaway for the residents of Barnet Vale to have on their doorstep.

And all this is to be found in just one square kilometre of our capital, randomly selected, and appreciatively enjoyed. London is an amazing city, even the bits that used to be in Hertfordshire, with so much to explore if we only think to look.

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