Tuesday, 22 March 2016

A Suburban Wander from Harefield to Moor Park, following the London Loop

As mentioned in my previous blog post, a Suburban Wander from High Barnet to Cockfosters, having seen it sign posted I hinted that I would one day undertake a more structured walk, as opposed to a drift, along the London Loop route. Well, this event has happened far sooner than I ever anticipated it would. I won't go into the reasons here but needless to say I was delighted to find myself with an opportunity to at least make a start on this circumnavigation of the London suburbs.

Living about an hour west of London, on the Berkshire/Hampshire border, we decided to start our first leg as close to home as possible, and travel there and back by car, as opposed to travelling in and out of London by public transport. The route, it would seem from the London Loop guide book we read, is aimed at people living in London who may not necessarily be aware that there is countryside just on the city's doorstep, so travelling to and from the walk makes sense with a zone 6 rail card. After having read this, and given that we live in the countryside, I was not sure whether the route would have the same effect on us, as we really are spoiled for access to the great outdoors here. However, we were not disappointed and the edgelands mix of urban, suburban and rural landscapes worked perfectly.

The location closest to us was Harefield, which has a secondary interest to me as I grew up in Ruislip and this was somewhere I used to go canoeing with the Sea Scouts when I was about 11 or 12, although I moved to the Cotswolds shortly after that so did not canoe there for very long and was hard pressed to pinpoint exactly where I used to go. So, off we set, down the M4, across on the A404 to join the M40 and on towards London, turning off to Harefield not long after the M40 turned into the A40. Our starting point was the Grand Union Canal on a rather grey and dreary day, which was a little disappointing after the previous days of sunshine.

Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk

Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk

Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk

Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk

The section of the route we walked was well sign posted on the whole, but there were a few parts later on when we navigated our way between electricity pylons before we reached Moor Park where some new markers had just been put up by a warden which seemed to point in the wrong direction. Fortunately our gut instinct and guide book helped us find the right path, plus the fact that one sign in particular was pointing at something quite impassable.

Waymarker for the London Loop Recreational Walk, near Harefield
Waymarker for the London Loop Recreational Walk, near Harefield

Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk

Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk

I'd never heard of Braunston, and even an internet map search took a while for me to determine exactly where it was. It seems to be almost in the middle of nowhere, sat diagonally between Coventry and Northampton. There's a marina there which would explain the mile post and in fact it's at the junction of the Grand Union and Oxford canals, so at one time quite an important junction for commercial, canal traffic. From the little internet reading I did, it still seems to be a bustling marina but now serving more of a recreational purpose.

Mile post for Braunston, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
Mile post for Braunston, on the London Loop Recreational Walk

Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk

Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk

Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk

Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk

Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk

Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk

Not long before the route crossed the canal and headed up into the fields and woods that eventually took us to Moor Park, the River Colne weaves its way close to the canal.

River Colne, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
River Colne, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk

River Colne, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
River Colne, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk

River Colne, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
River Colne, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk

Spotted this little curiosity in a tree by the side of the canal.

Discarded child's toy, hanging from a tree, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
Discarded child's toy, hanging from a treeon the London Loop Recreational Walk

Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk

It was a little early for lunch, so we just stopped for a quick drink at the Coy Carp before crossing the Grand Union canal and heading north east across fields in the direction of Batchworth.

Coy Carp, Grand Union Canal, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
Coy Carp, Grand Union Canalon the London Loop Recreational Walk

Oddly located in the middle of a bluebell wood were these two gate posts, presumably from a former time when a fence ran through the land.

Old gate posts, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
Old gate posts, on the London Loop Recreational Walk


After walking through woods and fields, we eventually came out on the Harefield Road, by which time we were in need of lunch. Fortunately the Rose and Crown pub was still serving and we had some wonderful sweet potato soup and a pint of local ale from the Paradigm brewery before continuing on our journey. Not only did we leave the pub with our bellies full, but the sun also decided to show itself.


Heading across fields towards Batchworth, London Loop Recreational Walk
Heading across fields towards Batchworth, London Loop Recreational Walk

Country Park, London Loop Recreational Walk
Country Park, London Loop Recreational Walk

Electricity pylon, London Loop Recreational Walk
Electricity pylon, London Loop Recreational Walk

Electricity pylon, London Loop Recreational Walk
Electricity pylon, London Loop Recreational Walk

Electricity pylon, London Loop Recreational Walk
Electricity pylon, London Loop Recreational Walk

And as has been a common theme of my last few wanders, a village pond in Batchworth Heath. I did spot a pond much earlier in the walk, but the sky was so grey that the pond just looked like a roadside puddle, so that one has been omitted from this account. This one is much nicer too.

Village pond at Batchworth Heath, London Loop Recreational Walk
Village pond at Batchworth Heath, London Loop Recreational Walk

An interesting sign, but alas we were beginning to worry about running out of time so missed out on the exotic dancers.

Prince of Wales pub, Batchworth Heath, London Loop Recreational Walk

This white post was an interesting feature, and not something I had ever seen before. It's a coal tax post. Dating from the 1860's, apparently there are still 210 of these remaining out of the original 280 coal posts on the outskirts of London, marking the points where taxes on coal were due to the Corporation of London. Sadly the picture is grainy as I had to zoom in as the road was far too busy to risk standing in the middle of the traffic to take a better picture.

Coal tax post, Batchworth Heath, London Loop Recreational Walk
Coal tax post, Batchworth Heath, London Loop Recreational Walk

From Batchworth Heath, the loop took us into the Moor Park Estate. I have blogged about this before in my Suburban Wander around Moor Park post so I won't include any pictures or commentary of the incredible mansions there. Instead I have included a couple of photos of an area that I had not previously seen, which was a very narrow road passing beneath the Metropolitan Railway line, just south of Moor Park station.

Railway bridge carrying the Metropolitan line, near Moor Park, London Loop Recreational Walk
Railway bridge carrying the Metropolitan line, near Moor Park, London Loop Recreational Walk


Railway bridge carrying the Metropolitan line, near Moor Park, London Loop Recreational Walk
Railway bridge carrying the Metropolitan line, near Moor Park, London Loop Recreational Walk

The section of the London Loop that we decided to do continued north eastwards from Moor Park but we had to get back to Harefield where we had left the car. Tempting though it was to take the tube back to Harrow-on-the-Hill and then back out to Uxbridge we, perhaps foolishly, decided to make a loop of our day's walking and walked a long, long walk back to Harefield. All-in-all it was just over 12 miles and almost dark by the time we returned to the car. I didn't take many pictures on the return journey as we were moving at quite a pace, but this building was worthy of a quick picture, and a bit of a breather. It's the Countess of Derby's alms houses. What wonderful chimneys.

Countess of Derby's alms houses, Harefield
Countess of Derby's alms houses, Harefield

So, our first experience of the London Loop was exhausting but fascinating. We're now trying to find a slot in the diary to return to start again from Moor Park, but perhaps next time we won't make a 12 mile loop of it and then have to drive home. The thought of staying somewhere on the loop, or perhaps in London and travelling to and from the start and finish by public transport appeals.
A much longer post than usual, but appropriate for the length of the walk I feel. So, I'll leave you here until next time ... but will next time be the London Loop or somewhere different? How come I am changing my mind already? Well, the answer to that question is Marshland, Dreams and Nightmares on the Edge of London, by Gareth Rees, which I have just started reading, and has already making me think I should get out to Walthamstow, Hackney and Leyton and explore what's left of the marshes.

    






Friday, 11 March 2016

A Suburban Wander from High Barnet to Cockfosters, London EN5, EN4

Hot on the heals of my Suburban Wander from Mill Hill Broadway to Mill Hill East, and taking continued inspiration from a number of recent reads, of which Psychogeography and Scarp are but two, I headed out once more towards the outer reaches of the London Underground Northern Line, this time to the end of the High Barnet branch.

The journey from central London is underground until East Finchley, after which it stays above ground until the end of the line at High Barnet. As the train passes through Finchley Central and on into Finchley West, there's a very real feeling of leaving the city and heading out to the country. Stations with names like Woodside Park and Totteridge and Whetstone are not reflections on the past, like some inappropriately named modern cul-de-sacs called Tall Trees, which no longer have a single tree in sight. They are still aptly named.

I had a destination in mind, Cockfosters, at the end of the Piccadilly line, but had no firm plans of the route I would take to get there. Instead I just ambled off out of High Barnet station with a vague notion that I'd go north, then east, then south.

My journey however very nearly took a different path altogether. I have recently been reading about the London Loop, and almost as soon as I exited High Barnet station I saw signs marking the Loop. But somehow this seemed too easy. Walking the loop, section by section, is on my to do list, but today was not the day to start that. Instead I walked past the temptations of the signage and headed north out of High Barnet, stopping briefly for a sustaining coffee and cake, and then headed to Hadley Green.

Almost as soon as I left the High Street in High Barnet the surroundings changed and I could see London's borderlands spreading out in front of me. Just before Hadley Green is the first of several village ponds. So many of the towns either at or towards the end of tube lines still have these wonderful features: Mill Hill, Ruislip, High Barnet, and I am sure many others.

Village pond, Hadley Green, near High Barnet, London
Village pond, Hadley Green, near High Barnet, London EN5

Village pond, Hadley Green, near High Barnet, London
Village pond, Hadley Green, near High Barnet, London EN5

Continuing along Hadley Green Road, the houses became increasing more impressive and grandiose the further I ventured. I could have photographed many more, but a couple examples can be seen below.

Entrance and clock tower, Hadley Green Road, EN5
Entrance and clock tower, Hadley Green Road, EN5

Hadley House, Hadley Green Road, EN5
Hadley House, Hadley Green Road, EN5

Less ostentatious, but beautiful nevertheless, were these smaller dwellings, possibly former alms houses?

Cottages, Hadley Green Road, EN5
Cottages, Hadley Green Road, EN5

Cottages, Hadley Green Road, EN5
Cottages, Hadley Green Road, EN5

St. Mary the Virgin, Monken Hadley
St. Mary the Virgin, Monken Hadley

The village feeling continued as I passed further outside of the London suburb, deeper into Hertfordshire, leaving Hadley Green Road and entering Hadley Common.

Houses on Hadley Common, EN5
Houses on Hadley Common, EN5

Apart from the dreary, grey sky, this picture has everything. A beautiful, decaying clock tower, still intact but beginning to be overrun with rogue creepers from some plant or other (alas I am not knowledgeable enough to suggest which one).

Disused clock tower, Hadley Common, EN5
Disused clock tower, Hadley Common, EN5

Pond on Monken Hadley Common, EN5
Pond on Monken Hadley Common, EN5

After passing so many spectacular houses, I longed for some sort of diversion, to take me somewhere different, and not much further along the road I came across a footpath leading back into suburbia. This footpath was pure Edgelands, filling that undefined area between the town and the country.

Footpath leading away from Hadley Common to Tudor Road, EN5
Footpath leading away from Hadley Common to Tudor Road, EN5

As the footpath came to an end, shortly before emerging on to Tudor Road, I spotted a football club hut. Whilst it looks boarded up and disused, I do wonder if it's opened up at weekend when, or indeed if, New Barnet FC play their home games.

New Barnet FC
New Barnet FC

New Barnet FC
New Barnet FC

I was unsure what to make of this next find. Neatly parked half in and half out of a suburban garage, it would seem to be a project.

Old van, Tudor Road, Barnet EN5
Old van, Tudor Road, Barnet EN5

Although I had no formal route in mind, I knew that to get to Cockfosters I would have to cross the main line route out of King's Cross at some stage. I could see the trains rushing past from some distance away but it was not immediately obvious how I could cross the tracks. Fortunately there was a convenient, graffiti adorned, subway.

Subway under the main line from King's Cross, north of New Barnet
Subway under the main line from King's Cross, north of New Barnet

Subway under the main line from King's Cross, north of New Barnet
Subway under the main line from King's Cross, north of New Barnet

The path of the subway then continues above some derelict ground.

Continuation of the subway path above ground
Continuation of the subway path above ground

After going beneath the railway line, the path continued over some derelict ground to the right.

Derelict land, New Barnet, London
Derelict land, New Barnet, London

 ... and something quite spectacular to the left. Regular readers may know I have many guilty pleasures, one of which is gas holders, or gas towers. I'm sure this one must be mentioned in my copy of London's Lost Power Stations and Gasworks, but I need to check. I think in my subconscious I may have known that one existed here, but as I exited the subway it took me by complete surprise and it is absolutely enormous.

Albert Road gas holder, Barnet, London
Albert Road gas holder, Barnet, London

Albert Road gas holder, Barnet, London
Albert Road gas holder, Barnet, London

Albert Road gas holder, Barnet, London
Albert Road gas holder, Barnet, London

I had no reason for taking this picture other than that it vaguely amused me after what was becoming a long and weary walk, still suffering from man-flu and feeling ever so slightly sorry for myself.

Road closed ... fortunately, near Cockfosters, London EN4
Road closed ... fortunately, near Cockfosters, London EN4

And finally, as my suburban wander came to an end, as I wandered wearily up the hill towards Cockfosters tube station, I was rewarded with a splendid view of the Christ Church.

Christ Church, Cockfosters, London EN4

This was a great suburban wander. Perhaps next time I'll head north and then west.

    

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