WALK LONDON The London Loop[section 16]
Borehamwood to Cockfosters (10½ miles)
Ten years ago, I walked my first section of the London Loop. Exactly ten years ago I wrote about it. Today I'm rounding off the project with an account of my final section of the London Loop, the last of the 24, which I walked last week. I didn't walk them in order, I nipped around the edge of the capital on a whim, so I'm not ending up with Rainham to Purfleet. Instead my final section is the longest section, from Hertfordshire to Enfield via Barnet, which I've never walked all in one go before. However I have previously blogged about two chunks, so there'll be less about those in what follows and more about the remainder. Let's end this. [map]
Almost nobody exiting Elstree and Borehamwood station is planning to walk to Cockfosters, but today I am that nobody. Up the steps by the Barbara Windsor information panel, back across the railway and turn left at the Asda garage. Deacons Hill Road is not a thrilling start, a flush commuter avenue which takes a full half mile for the house numbers to reach 100. But that's nothing compared to Barnet Hill at the far end, a proper millionaires row, one residential fortress along which is rightly famous. Simon Cowell grew up in Abbots Mead, an eight bedroom gabled pad, so he was hardly poor when he got his first job as a runner at Elstree Studios. But the blue plaque on the gatepost isn't his, it commemorates Stanley Kubrick, to whom the Cowells sold the house in 1965. The London Loop doesn't actually go this way, by the way, I was just feeling nosey.
Yomping east along Barnet Lane isn't thrilling either, unless you get excited by the sight of ventilation shafts for the railway tunnelling underneath. The pavement slog passes several more hedge-hidden bastions, until finally a red postbox comes into view which is the signal to (finally) follow a footpath. A short distance down, where the vegetation improves, the path crosses from Hertfordshire into Greater London, and a short distanceafter that reaches some accidentally famous woodland. Scratchwood became well known when an M1 service station was shoehorned in on the western side, and an even more sizeable chunk was eaten away by Mill Hill Golf Course in 1927. What's left is ancient woodland, Barnet's finest, being mostly sessile oak and hornbeam with a scattering of wild service trees. Had M1junction 3 ever been completed, a broad stripe of Scratchwood would been lost forever.
Instead enjoy a fine stroll under the canopy and over the occasional would-be brook. At one point the path breaks out into a broad clearing, then back into the trees, then out again into more of a park. Every litter bin here had had its contents scattered across the surrounding grass, either by a really specific whirlwind or more likely by organic scavengers - I considered foxes, tramps and/or the police. A previous Loopwalker had warned me to watch out for prowling men, Scratchwood being a prime dogging spot, with the thickets around the car park presumably the carnal focus. I spotted nobody, but that's weekday mornings for you. Instead I revelled in dark meandering undulations through the subsection known as Thistle Wood - which is well named - and then Clump of Trees Wood - which isn't.
Next comes easily the worst mile on the entire London Loop. What the path wants to do is continue into Moat Mount Open Space, a couple of hundred metres ahead, but in the 1920s a four-lane dual carriageway was plonked in the way and pedestrians shall not pass. Often a bridge or a traffic island or an underpass is provided, but not here. The A1 Barnet Way has a tall metal barrier running the entire length of the central reservation so a 20 minute diversion, down to a distant subway and back, is alas required.
A special mention for TfL's Bus Stop Naming Department, who've called the bus stops on both sides of the road 'Moat Mount Park'. That's fine southbound, the entrance is barely a minute's walk from the entrance, but northbound it's not possible to get across the road without taking that lengthy diversion. Indeed you have to walk all the way back to the previous bus stop, The Fairway, before you can duck under the dual carriageway and walk back. I doubt there's any other bus stop in London named after a publicly accessible feature you can't reach in under 15 minutes.
The next section of Loop 16, from the former Moat Mount car park to Barnet Playing Fields, perfectly matches the opening three miles of the Dollis Valley Greenwalk. Having posted about that before, I'm not going to post about it again, save to say it's the best bit of the walk. The remote brookside haymeadows below Totteridge are usually a delight, although on this occasion I made the mistake of walking through after their annual mowing so some of the lush diversity was absent. I can also confirm you don't have to cross the stream where the big signpost says, it's OK to walk one footbridge further on, which avoids sight of the adjacent housing estate for a crucial extra few minutes.
The London Loop veers off the Dollis Valley Greenwalk just past the table tennis club in Barnet Playing Fields. Here it's time to start the slow climb up to Monken Hadley, starting by passing the kickabout turf and the basketball hoopzone before exiting to the nearest road. It'd be more direct to take the alley up the side of Underhill, Barnet FC's former football ground, which was supposed to have been knocked down and turned into a school by now but is still sitting untouched because planning in Barnet is weird. What has changed since my first visit is The Old Red Lion at the foot of Barnet Hill, closed 18 months ago and now reborn as six particularly ugly brick townhouses, overpriced, and which I'm pleased to say don't seem to be selling.
To continue, climb Potters Lane, breaking just before the summit to take steps down to acres of open space beside the railway. Had the Northern line required more sidings at its High Barnet terminus, all this lot would have gone too. Instead I passed a lady with a bucket brimming with blackberries, very-locally sourced, and a couple of couples taking a shortcut from the neighbouring estate. Meadway is a typical suburban avenue with Metroland semis and faux-timbered bungalows, which must be descended before reaching an unpromising looking alleyway. Fear not, a splendid green ascent up King George's Fields lies ahead, this the very last half mile of the London Loop I still had to walk.
Someone's been busy with a lawnmower. A broad strip of cut grass marches upwards between trees and thicker meadow, even occasionally a mass of harvestable brambles. The gradient's just about right to be challenging but not knackering, rising eventually to a point where you can turn round and see rather a lot of north London laid out beneath. I fancied a seat, but the sole bench had already been taken by two gentlemen necking Eastern European lager so had I to make do with standing behind them, somewhat awkwardly. And at the top of the slope, at Hadley Green Road, my ten-year 150-mile circumnavigation of outer London was finally over. I very much liked the fact there was a Loop information board here, possibly the oldest on the circuit, complete with 0181 phone number to ring for more information.
I'd walked the rest of section 16 on a Winter Wander, one of Walk London's guided walks, back in 2013. The weather had been so inclement that Paul our guide had decreed this hill too muddy, so the group walked up via Barnet's shopping streets instead. But we did all the remainder, through the village heart of Monken Hadley and along the Common before ploughing into Hadley Wood. One particular quagmire then took us five minutes to walk through, so it was amazing on this occasion to see it as a solid clearing, immaculately grassed, and no obstacle whatsoever. Having written about this at the time I'll not blog it all again, save to say that if this section of the London Loop is a bit too long, at least the last bit is well worth walking. Cue Cockfosters, cue tube home, Loop complete.