Thursday 22 September 2016

London Loop 16: Borehamwood - Cockfosters

The bridge over the Pymmes Brook near Jack's Lake on Monken Hadley Common

THIS SECTION OF THE LONDON LOOP OPENS WITH PERHAPS the least satisfactory stretch on the entire trail. A slog through residential streets and along a busy country road is briefly relieved by a mildly notorious woodland site. Then there’s the six-lane barrier of the A1 trunk road, where the lack of a convenient crossing forces a long detour down one side and up the other. But from Moat Mount things improve considerably as the Loop follows the Dollis Brook across meadows and sports grounds. Then a climb through the hidden fields of Barnet leads to picturesque Hadley Common and a straightforward stride through scrubby woodlands to the end of the Piccadilly Line at Cockfosters.

Officially this is another long single section, although there’s an obvious break point at High Barnet station about three quarters of the way along. Indeed, it’s puzzling why this isn’t an official end point, as the following section that would result is no shorter than several others. There are bus stops at several other points, though be aware that the north- and southbound stops at Moat Mount are separated by the ugly walk up and down the A1.

Update November 2017. Though it hasn't yet been signed as the official route of the London Loop, there's now a much better option when leaving Elstree & Borehamwood station, using much quieter streets and off-road paths via Woodcock Hill Village Green, a fascinating green space saved from development by the local community. More here.

Leaving Borehamwood

Ventilation shaft for Elstree Tunnels off Barnet Lane
Heading south from Borehamwood, the Loop climbs back on to the ridge it descended in the last section, up Deacons Hill Road. This was constructed in 1881 by the owner of Deacons Hill House, on Barnet Lane at the top of the hill, to connect with the station. Today it’s a fairly uninspiring stretch lined mainly by 1930s houses and apartment blocks, though look behind you occasionally as you climb for the view north towards Hertfordshire. There’s a short, sharp final climb to the junction at the top.

Busy Barnet Lane is a continuation of the same road the Loop followed in the previous section from Bushey Heath to Aldenham Reservoir. It once marked the boundary of Hertfordshire and Middlesex, but as explained in the previous section, the London boundary receded to the M1 in the 1990s so the big houses set among large plots that line the north side of the road, on land that was once part of Edgware parish in Middlesex, are now all in Hertfordshire. All this area was in line for intensive development in the 1930s, but this was blocked by the consolidation of the Green Belt after World War II, so there are still open fields on the left, sweeping down towards Elstree.

It’s in these fields that you’ll spot the major features of interest on this stretch: two odd stubby cylindrical brick buildings topped by dome-shaped mesh lids, looking rather like a giant condiment set. They crown two of the air shafts serving the twin 968 m Elstree Tunnels through which the Midland Main Line passes under Deacons Hill. The one of the left marks the older tunnel, opened as part of the Midland Railway St Pancras extension in 1968 and now used for fast trains. The other marks the newer tunnel, added to increase capacity in the 1890s and now used for stopping trains. Find out how to avoid walking along so many roads using an unofficial alternative.

You’ll likely feel a sense of relief when the trail at last leaves the road along a strip of grass between back gardens. Where a farm track crosses at the end of the gardens, the Loop encounters the present-day Greater London boundary, which at this point is working its way away from the M1 to rejoin the old Middlesex boundary line a little further down the lane. Crossing it, the trail leaves Hertfordshire for the last time: the rest of this section and all of the next are firmly within London. This is Barnet, the second-largest London borough by population and the fourth by area, at 74 km2. Like all the London boroughs along the Loop, it was created when the capital was expanded in 1964, in this case from five predecessor boroughs and districts in both Hertfordshire and Middlesex: Barnet and East Barnet in the former and Finchley, Friern Barnet and Hendon in the latter.

Scratchwood and Moat Mount

Welcome to Scratchwood. The woodland, not the motorway service area.

Straight ahead of you is the rather imposing wooden entrance to one of the most extensive and valuable public green spaces in the borough. This is Scratchwood Open Space, part of the broader Scratchwood and Moat Mount Local Nature Reserve (LNR). The LNR, designated in 1997, is a scattered collection of woodlands and more open areas including Scratchwood to the west and Moat Mount and Nutwood to the southeast, in turn forming part of a much broader wedge of green belt, not all of which is publicly owned, stretching south from Barnet Lane to Apex Corner.

Once, like the commons in the previous section, this was all part of the Forest of Middlesex, and today there are still patches of ancient woodland, some of which is thought to date back to the last glacial period. Most of the trees are sessile oaks and hornbeams, and there are some wild service trees, a species that indicates very old woods. There are bluebells and anemones in spring, the occasional muntjac deer and more open areas originally used as hay meadows.

Historically the ownership of the wider green areas was split: the band of woodland to the northeast, where you enter, was part of Edgware parish and granted to the Knights of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem (founders of St John Ambulance) in 1331. Fields to the east spilled into Totteridge, then in Hertfordshire. But the bulk of the area was ‘desmene’ land for the manor of Hendon, retained by the lord of the manor for his own management and use, and became part of Hendon parish. The Loop passes from the Edgware to the Hendon section on a footbridge over a brook shortly after entering the woods.

Over the centuries the land passed through various other hands, including those of politician and anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce, who spent his last years, between 1826 and 1833, at what was then known as Hendon Park Farm, part of the old manorial complex and since renamed Mote End Farm, to the east of the site. The Loop has passed reminders of Wilberforce before, and I said more about him at the Wilberforce Oak in Bromley in section 3. By 1756, when the manorial lands were sold, a moated farmhouse stood on the high ground northwest of the farm, thus the name Moat Mount. The house was replaced by a new mansion, and this and its surrounding estate were bought in 1866 by a wealthy local landowner, Edward Cox, who significantly expanded and remodelled it, bringing much of the adjacent land into single ownership.

Scratchwood was set aside as rough woodland for hunting and other country pursuits, while the area around Moat Mount became a private park, with an ornamental lake and exotic woodland plantings. Parts of the estate were sold off in 1906, and what remained was bought in 1923 by Hendon Urban District Council, who developed part as a golf course, now in private hands as the Mill Hill Golf Club, and left the rest as informal public space. Following World War II the adjoining privately-owned land, including the farm, was designated as Green Belt. Barnet council is now responsible for Scratchwood Open Space and Moat Mount Open Space, as the remaining public areas are now known.

The name Scratchwood may already be familiar as it was adopted for the southernmost service area on the M1 motorway, opened to the south of the site in 1969 and since renamed with the considerably clumsier and more prosaic title London Gateway Services (incidentally, the services are also the site on which the forward guns of HMS Belfast, moored in the Pool of London, are targeted). Look at the map and you’ll see the obvious outline of an elevated roundabout junction over the motorway adjacent to the services. As the numbering of the preceding and succeeding junctions confirms, this was to have been the site of the missing junction 3, where a motorway spur was planned to head northeast right across the woodland and the path of the London Loop to join the A1 at Stirling Corner. This scheme was mercifully abandoned as surplus to requirements in the 1980s, but as we’ll see, the LNR suffers enough from big roads even without it.

Scratchwood is locally notorious as a rendezvous for public sex – it features on various websites as a favoured site both for gay cruising (“All ages up for all sorts of action,” advises one) and heterosexual dogging. The struggles of the council and police to manage the issue have even been featured in the national press. While I’m personally not prudish about such activities, I do have some sympathy with the council trying to run a site that should also be attractive to young families – and the difficulty is that the features that make the woodland valuable and attractive as a green space, like good access, tree cover and overgrowth, are the very same features that facilitate less socially-approved uses.

The field that opens up to your right as you continue on the Loop is better-known as a venue for less controversial forms of recreation: it’s known as the Model Aeroplane Field and is a favourite with local hobbyists. After another stretch of woodland, the path emerges into a former hay meadow with the main car park beyond. The park café, a wooden chalet-like building overlooking the meadow, has struggled in recent years and was squatted for a time before being relaunched in 2014 under the unlikely name the Django Lounge in honour of the Quentin Tarantino film Django Unchained.

The Loop doesn’t pass the café but turns south along the edge of the meadow and back into thick woodlands, following narrow and sometimes muddy paths to emerge at unarguably the least attractive feature of the LNR, the A1 Barnet Way, which has bisected the site since 1927. This is another of the succession of ‘Great North Roads’ leaving London which I introduced when the Loop crossed the M1 in the last section, built as part of a lengthy bypass of the old coaching route via Finchley and Barnet and subsequently widened further.

Worst example of a missing crossing on the London Loop: the A1 Barnet Way between Scratchwood and Moat Mount.

This is the worst example of where the London Loop is severed by a major road. Across the tarmac, a few hundred metres along to the right, you can see the entrance to Moat Mount, but blocking your way are six busy lanes of fast traffic, most of it ignoring the already generous 50 mph speed limit. The nearest crossing point, a subway provided principally for golfers to link both sides of the course, is almost 900 m to the south, and the Moat Mount entrance is then another 600 m back north along the other side of the A1. That’s an additional 1.2 km of trudging the pavements alongside one of the London’s busiest roads, with the additional frustration of having virtually to retrace your steps.
...and one of London's most littered laybys.

The tall mesh fence installed in the past few years along the central reservation is evidence that a significant number of walkers (including the present author) previously took their lives in their hands by crossing the road informally along the desire line. Such measures are always an admission of defeat in pedestrian design. Really there should be a footbridge or controlled crossing here, which would not only make life easier for Loop walkers but would go some way towards reconnecting the two halves of what was originally a continuous green space. Doubtless the designers of the Loop hoped such a crossing would rapidly follow, but so far such hopes have been disappointed. So you’ll simply have to set your jaw and follow the official route, past one of London’s most disgustingly littered laybys and the main part of the golf course, through the subway and back the other side.

Through the woods at Moat Mount
This unpleasantness is hopefully soon forgotten once you’ve entered Moat Mount Open Space. As an information board by the entrance attests, this is the starting point of another trail, the Dollis Valley Greenwalk, of which more later. The trail heads back into the woods along a handsome avenue of trees installed during the Cox family’s occupancy, then traces a line of earthworks and a small and very attractive stream, a remnant of the old moat. The buildings and campsite you can see through the trees are part of Moat Mount Outdoor Centre, originally a council initiative but inevitably now privatised and run by a charity. It provides accommodation and outdoor activities for schools and young people’s groups.

Leaving the woodland, you also leave the LNR and emerge into the open fields of Mote End Farm, Wilberforce’s old property: at a major junction of paths you’ll see the farm buildings off to your right. Long after Wilberforce, the site was owned by Sydney Box (1907-1983), a producer and executive for Gainsborough Pictures and the Rank Organisation, who renamed it from Hendon Park Farm when he bought it in 1948, and sometimes used it as a filming location. Still in private hands, since the early 2000s it’s largely been used as a livery stable, but retains the look of an old rural landscape, crossed by several public paths.

The Dollis Valley

Source of the Dollis Brook at Mote End Farm

From the junction near the farm, the trail follows ancient hedgerows down a shallow valley to reach a pond on the left. This is the source of the Dollis Brook, which runs for about 10 km, first heading east towards Barnet then curving south and southwest via Finchley to Hendon. Here it joins the Mutton Brook, which rises in East Finchley and runs partly underground, and the combined streams become known as the river Brent, flowing a further 26 km roughly southwest to join the Thames at Brentford. The name is of obscure origin, perhaps related to the word ‘dole’ which originally meant a share of land, or the same Brittonic Celtic route that gives us modern Welsh dylif, ‘flood’.

Like several other rivers encountered on the Loop, most of the immediate margins of the Dollis have been left undeveloped for flood management reasons, creating a green corridor. In 1992, Barnet council used this as the basis of a continuous signed walk, the Dollis Valley Greenwalk, which is happily still maintained today, following the Dollis and a section of the Mutton Brook for around 16 km from Moat Mount to Hampstead Heath. The Loop and the Greenwalk share the same alignment for the first 6 km of the latter along the upper reaches of the Dollis, although there’s no public riverside access at first, so you’ll need to walk straight past the pond and continue northwards up the other side of the valley.

Over this first stretch of the Dollis, you cross another old boundary: this was where Hendon, Middlesex, ended and Barnet, Hertfordshire began although both are now part of the London Borough of Barnet. This explains the name of the small woodland ahead of you, Barnet Gate Wood, another remnant of ancient forest largely made up of venerable mature hornbeams, now managed by the council as a public space. It’s named after the adjoining hamlet of Barnet Gate, the first settlement within Barnet on the road from the west. The trail doesn’t go through the wood, instead heading east towards Hendon Wood Lane, but it’s worth a minor detour.

Totteridge Fields Local Nature Reserver
At the bend in Hendon Wood Lane the trail happens on the brook again, running under a petite brick bridge, but there’s still no riverside access, so follow the lane a little further to reach another attractive Local Nature Reserve (LNR), Totteridge Fields. These fields have been managed for centuries as hay meadows, and are particularly noted for spring flowers, butterflies and birds. They’re criss-crossed by old hedgerows and dotted with patches of ancient woodland. Protected as Green Belt, the fields are now owned by the council though managed by the London Wildlife Trust. The westernmost 7 ha portion of the site, through which the Loop enters, is the designated LNR, but it’s part of a broader 97 ha area recognised as a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC).

Contrast these meadows with the field to the north, a little further on: this would once have been managed in the same way but is now the Old Cholmeleians Sports Ground, neatly mowed for cricket and similar activities. Old Cholmeleians are former students of Highgate School, an independent school founded as a charity in 1565 by Roger Cholmeley, thus the otherwise curious name of its alumni association.

Dollis Brook through Totteridge Park Fields.

Beyond the sports ground, through another damp meadow, the trail at last reaches the side of the brook and turns to follow it through a succession of green spaces. At first these are rural fields, now under council ownership and known as Totteridge Park Fields, but then the Loop crosses to the other side of the brook and the surroundings, though still green, are more formal: expanses of mown grass designated as recreation grounds, with rows of houses beginning to appear across the grass to the left and drawing ever closer. I can’t help thinking this environment, though spacious and airy, is just a bit too bland and underexploited. Here and there are play areas, and curious patches of concrete and tarmac where structures once stood. Otherwise only the brookside, and the hedgerows and mature trees that survive from more agrarian days, add interest.

First, once you’ve crossed to the north bank of the brook, is Quinta Open Space, then the Grange Playing Fields, a strip of ground between the brook and the housing estates. Eventually the trail reaches a street, but only touches it briefly before continuing through the irregular strip of Dollis Valley Open Space, now on a surfaced path. To the north here is the Dollis Valley Estate, developed as social housing by the council from the late 1960s on the site of a former sewage works: a long planned regeneration aimed at turning it into a “smart garden suburb” was just beginning when I last visited. Finally, the Loop crosses a road and runs through the car park of Barnet Table Tennis Centre to a path junction in Barnet Playing Fields, where the Loop and the Greenwalk part company. The southern section of this space is one of the King George V Fields discussed elsewhere.

The Dollis Valley Greenwalk continues ahead and soon turns south with the brook, providing a convenient signed link with the Capital Ring, which also shares a stretch of it between Hendon and Hampstead Garden Village. This is also a relatively straightforward way of walking into the West End, via Hampstead Heath, the Belsize Walk and Regents Park. And from Hendon the Capital Ring and other paths track the Brent in a southwesterly direction.

But the Loop turns north away from the brook, through the playing fields. Looming ahead is the Underhill Stadium, originally opened in 1907 as a home for Barnet Football Club, nicknamed the Bees, founded in 1888 and now playing in League 2, actually the fourth rung of the English football league. In 2013 the club relocated to the Hive Stadium in Canons Park, in Harrow Borough, and Underhill is now largely used by the London Broncos Rugby League club and non-league Edgware Town FC.


Site of the Old Red Lion on Barnet Hill in May 2016.
Barnet first appears in the written record rather late, when in 1199 King John granted it a charter to host a weekly market. It became one of the most important market towns close to London, not only with a rich agricultural hinterland but with a direct line to the capital via the Great North Road. The original nucleus of the town grew up around the junction of this road with Wood Street, the continuation of the road from Watford and Elstree which our route has either followed or paralleled for some time.

The charter was renewed by Elizabeth I in 1588, who also granted Barnet the right to host a cattle and horse fair twice a year. By the end of the 16th century the town boasted the biggest meat market serving London, although it was eventually overtaken by Smithfield on the edge of the City. The horse fair, with its associated races and entertainments, became so famous that ‘barnet’, from ‘Barnet fair’ for ‘hair’, is still one of the best-known remaining examples of Cockney rhyming slang.

Thanks to the road, Barnet was also an important coaching town, and upmarket houses began to appear in the area from Georgian times. The arrival of the railway in 1872 and subsequent transport improvements saw the town growing into the far northern suburb of London it is today. This status was confirmed in 1965 with the enlargement of London and the creation of the London Borough of Barnet, though for a while the borough’s name was undecided and it almost ended up as Northern Heights.

Its current name likely means a woodland clearing created by burning, and there are several different places in the area that bear it. Used on its own, ‘Barnet’ either refers to the borough or to the market town, but the latter is known more fully as Chipping Barnet or High Barnet. ‘Chipping’ is an indicator of a market, related to ‘cheap’ which once referred to markets, as in the City of London street names Cheapside and Eastcheap. The prefix ‘High’, referring simply to its elevated location, came into use in the 17th century and today the names are used interchangeably.

New Barnet is the residential suburb that grew up to the east after the first station in the area was opened on the Great Northern railway in 1850: this was originally known simply as Barnet even though it was a long way from the historic town, but was renamed New Barnet in 1884. Before the creation of the London borough, this eastwards extension fell within a separate Urban District known as East Barnet, and this term too is still in use. Friern Barnet, some way to the southeast around today’s New Southgate station, was a separate rural parish considered part of Barnet even though it was in Middlesex rather than Hertfordshire: it was once known as Little Barnet, and its current name derives from French frères, ‘brothers’, referring to the Knights of St John who once owned the manor.

Barnet is also famous for the Battle of Barnet during the Wars of the Roses in 1471, although, to add to the confusion, this didn’t actually take place in Barnet, but in Monken Hadley, a little further along the Loop to the northeast, and traditionally in Middlesex, so I’ll say more about it then. Compared to Hadley, Barnet was a much more well-known place already, and also had the advantage of alliteration, so has enjoyed the association ever since.

The Loop reaches the Great North Road in the locality known as Underhill, as it’s at the foot of Barnet Hill, which the road climbs towards the town centre. Underhill was the original site of Barnet Fair, on the slopes south of Mays Lane now occupied by the stadium, the recreation ground and the housing estate, and on meadows to the other side of the main road. The fair still takes place, though only annually in September and at a much smaller scale, on a site to the north of Mays Lane.

Until very recently, a large pub, the Old Red Lion, stood right by where the trail emerges along Fairfield Way. A coaching inn occupied the site since at least the 17th century, previously known as the ‘Lower Red Lion’ to distinguish it from the other Red Lion in the town centre. The Red Lion where Samuel Pepys ate “some of the best cheese cakes of my life” in 1667 was almost certainly the lower one. Rebuilt several times, it had a long history of serving visitors both to the fair and, later, to the football stadium, but after Barnet FC quit the latter, the owning brewery, McMullen of Hertford, declared it unviable. It was demolished early in 2016 to make way for a residential development, with only an empty pub sign holder left as a forlorn reminder.

The road itself is the second iteration of the main highway from London to the north of England and Scotland, in the 13th century succeeding what’s now the Cambridge Road, further along the Loop. It ran from Clerkenwell along several major Middlesex high streets – St John Street, Upper Street, Holloway Road, Archway Road, Highgate Hill – via Finchley, Barnet and Hatfield to rejoin the older route towards Stamford, Darlington, York, Durham, Newcastle and Edinburgh.

As with other strategic roads, prior to the 18th century its maintenance was the responsibility of local parishes and was inadequate for the weight of traffic. In 1413, Barnet High Street was “'so blocked with dung, dung heaps, pigs, pigsties and laying of timber trunks and other filth that the transit of men was much hindered and some had sustained much damage by falling with their things and harness there.”

In 1712 the Whetstone Turnpike Trust took on the section between Highgate and Underhill, and what you see today is partly the Trust’s work, as the road was not only originally narrower but followed a more curvaceous course up the hillside to the south and west of the present alignment. It presented a challenge not only for horses and livestock but, more importantly in official eyes, for marching troops on their way to repress troublesome Scots. The road was straightened in 1812, then realigned again in 1823 on a landscaped causeway that reduced the climb.

The earthwork on which this sits is still obvious today, falling away on the west side as a steep grassy bank. Such was the importance of this route that when national road numbering was introduced in 1923, it was labelled A1, and became a sort of prime meridian of the numbering scheme. Only a few years later, it was superseded as a through route by the lengthy bypass we encountered earlier, and in the mid-1950s received its current designation, the almost as impressive-sounding A1000.

The London Loop also contrives to bypass central Barnet, but you will get closer to it if you climb partway up the hill to break at High Barnet station, and I’d recommend that if you have the time you make the effort to climb the rest. Though you’re unlikely to be troubled today by dung heaps and timber trunks, you might be bothered by the traffic, but aside from this, the town still preserves some of its past as a market and coaching centre and is now partly a Conservation Area.

St John the Baptist church, which still dominates the original nucleus at the junction, was rebuilt around 1400 on mid-13th century foundations, though was unsympathetically altered in Victorian times. There are also a handful of remaining coaching inns, including the Grade II-listed Mitre (or “Ye Olde Mitre Inne” as the sign has it), now much smaller than it originally was but retaining its 17th century timber frame and still genuinely atmospheric. It numbers Samuel Johnson among many famous former customers.

High Barnet station was opened to the east of the road on its own levelled-out section of the hill in 1872, at the end of a branch of the Great Northern Railway from Finsbury Park via Highgate. It still retains some of its original country branch line-style brick architecture. As London grew, the line proved inadequate, and in the 1930s it became a centrepiece of the ambitious Northern Heights scheme to extend London Underground’s Northern Line.

The branch line was improved, electrified and connected to the existing Northern Line to Archway via a new tunnel to Highgate, reopening in 1940. As recounted at the intended site of the never-built Bushey Heath station in the previous section, much of the rest of the Northern Heights scheme was eventually shelved, and the section of line from Highgate to Finsbury Park is now the Parkland Walk footpath and cycleway, used by the Capital Ring.

The Loop runs under the Northern Lane rail bridge then across the Great North Road to follow a very old road, Potters Lane, its name a reminder that the clay round here was particularly suitable for pottery. Then you walk along the side of a pretty meadow, Potters Lane Open Space, a remaining fragment of an expanse of fields on the east of the main road once also used as fairgrounds.

The view back across King George V Fields, on the Hadley/Barnet boundary.

A brief dodge through residential streets leads to a much more extensive agricultural remnant, King George’s Fields, so named as it’s one of the many open spaces claimed for public use as a memorial to George V after his death in 1936. Many of these are plain, flat recreation grounds, but this one is a rich patchwork of grassy meadows, thick hedgerows and woodland patches dotted with mature trees, rolling down a steep slope from Hadley Green. It’s one of the nicest little surprises along the Loop.

Monken Hadley

Pond on Hadley Green. No battle in sight.

Shortly after entering King George’s Fields, the Loop crosses a brook which once carried the boundary of Monken Hadley parish. Prior to 1889, you would have crossed again from Hertfordshire to Middlesex here, but in that year Hadley was transferred to the former as part of the piecemeal smoothing out of what was once a very convoluted county boundary. Once Hadley was a part of the manor of Edmonton, but in 1136 it was granted to Walden Abbey in Essex, thus its ‘Monken’ prefix. Big houses for rich Londoners began to appear in Georgian times, and it’s now one of the most select parts of the capital, though often curiously overlooked as a picturesque example of a London ‘village’.

At the top of the hill you emerge opposite a section of Hadley Green, actually only a few steps away from Barnet High Street and the Great North Road. Crossing the Great North Road has brought us into the area of Enfield Chase, a part of the Forest of Middlesex converted during the 12th century into a royal hunting ground. But Hadley Green, then a very boggy area, was excluded from its bounds and has been a village green since at least the 14th century. A whipping post, stocks and a cucking stool survived on the green until 1935 when they were accidentally burned down in the bonfire celebrating George V’s silver jubilee.

The green is the traditional site of the Battle of Barnet, though historians are divided on the actual site, which may have been even further north. The battle was a key engagement in the Wars of the Roses between the houses of Lancaster and York for the throne of England. Kind Edward IV, the Duke of York, had been overthrown the previous year by supporters of the Lancastrian Henry VI, led by Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. Edward fled to Flanders, then part of the Duchy of Burgundy, to drum up support for a counter-invasion.

The two sides clashed here on 14 April 1471, a foggy day which was destined to be Neville’s last. An obelisk, now known as the Hadley Highstone, was erected some way to the north of our route, near the junction of Kitts End Road and Great North Road, in 1740 to mark the spot where he supposedly fell, although there’s no good evidence for this. Edward followed up his victory by defeating the remaining Lancastrian forces at Tewkesbury on 4 May. Henry was later assassinated and 12 years of Yorkist rule followed. The conflict was only finally resolved, though, with the victory of Henry Tudor, a Lancastrian, at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485: as Henry VII, he established the Tudor dynasty.

Livingstone's Cottage, Hadley Green.
The trail traces the edge of the green, passing ponds and some fine houses. Nearing the road junction, look out for Livingstone Cottage, a white stuccoed late 18th century house with a prominent central dormer window, now Grade II listed. A plaque identifies it as a former residence of David Livingstone (1813-1873) who lived here briefly in 1857 after returning from his journey across the African continent from Luanda to the mouth of Zambezi.

A Scottish missionary and explorer, Livingstone is best known for his last and unsuccessful expedition to find the source of the Nile, which turned out to be the death of him. When contact was lost, he was tracked down by American journalist Henry Morton Stanley, who greeted him in Ujiji, Tanzania, in 1871 with the now-famous words “Dr Livingstone, I presume?” While his success in achieving his missions’ immediate goals was mixed, Livingstone’s work contributed significantly to European geographical knowledge of Africa, facilitating the imperialist ‘Scramble for Africa’ which began later in the 19th century.

A little further along, on the corner as the Loop turns, are the Wilbrahams Almshouses, built in 1616 as a local charity bequest to house “six decayed housekeepers.” It then passes St Mary the Virgin church, largely built in 1494 on a site that had been a chapel at least as far back as the 12th century, but was tweaked significantly in 1850, with a row of Gothic cottages next door. The white gates beyond this, originally planned to prevent wandering livestock, mark the western entrance to Monken Hadley Common.

The common was originally a part of Enfield Chase, which I’ll say more about in the next section. Locals had traditionally used some of this open land for grazing, so when the Chase was inclosed by an Act of Parliament in 1777, the area adjacent to Hadley was declared a common and placed in the hands of a board of trustees elected by the ‘commoners’ – those local residents who had grazing rights. This arrangement persists today, now the remaining 70 ha space is the only remaining uninclosed section of Enfield Chase, and largely covered with woodland. Today your walk is likely to be a quiet one, but from the late 19th century, ‘Hadley Woods’ as it’s sometimes known, became hugely popular with Londoners as a destination for days out, with over 40,000 visitors over one Whitsun bank holiday Monday in 1953.

Through the trees of Monken Hadley Common.

The trail runs just inside the trees, parallel to a lane known as Bakers Hill. This dwindles into a public bridleway, the only one in Barnet borough, at a car park, where information boards introduce not only the Loop, but also the Pymmes Brook Trail, of which more later. A little further on, the bridleway crosses a substantial bridge over the East Coast Main Line railway line, constructed for the Great Northern Railway under the supervision of William Cubitt and George Turnbull and opened between London and Peterborough in 1850. Initially the line served a temporary London terminal at Maiden Lane (now York Way), to the north of Kings Cross, before that terminal opened in 1852.

Further on, the striking building just visible through the trees on the right is the Jewish Community Secondary School (JCoSS), which occupies the site of Folly Farm, somewhat ironically a former pig farm and slaughterhouse that also once housed a funfair and tea rooms. A comprehensive school was built here in 1961, and relocated in 2008. It was replaced in 2010 by the current building, designed by RHWL Architects, the first cross-denominational Jewish secondary school in the UK and the most expensive British state school ever built, though some of the money was raised privately.

The path leads across an unusually decorative red brick bridge with four pillars beneath which a stream rushes. This is the Pymmes Brook, named after William Pymme, a 14th century landowner, and it’s a sign we’ve crossed a major watershed. While the Dollis Brook, not all that far back, drains via the Brent into the Thames at Brentford, the Pymmes Brook is a tributary of the river Lee, one of the largest rivers in the Thames basin, which joins the major flow considerably further downstream, at Leamouth near Blackwall. The brook rises as two streams a little to the north of here, the Monken Mead Brook and the Green Brook, in the suburb known as Hadley Wood, and runs for around 15 km via Palmers Green and Edmonton to join the Lea at Tottenham Lock.

The brook is the basis for yet another London riverside walk, the 16 km Pymmes Brook Trail, established in the 1990s by Barnet and Enfield councils and the Lee Valley Park. As the very uppermost part of the brook is largely inaccessible, this route has two start points at more convenient trailheads: Bakers Hill car park, as we’ve already seen, and Cockfosters station. The Loop borrows both of these linking paths but eschews the main riverside section, which follows a rather squashed 90° arc from west to south to connect with the Lea Valley Path at Picketts Lock.

In the 1880s, this sliver of the common was rented by Charles Jack, owner of Beech Hill Park, an estate to the north that had been carved out of the former Chase following its inclosure. He incorporated the area into his own private parkland, thus the elaborate bridge. Just a few steps to the north, and worthy of a detour, is another of his additions, a placid fishing lake officially dubbed Beech Hill Lake, but still known locally as Jack’s Lake.

Jack's Lake,, Monken Hadley Common

Though there was probably some sort of lake or pond here in the 17th century, Jack had the area of water significantly enlarged by channelling and damming the two brooks. The lake straddles the boundary between the common, in Barnet, and Beech Hill Park, which is now Hadley Wood Golf Course, in Enfield, and is the largest of three lakes, the other two within the golf course. Jack was also responsible for developing the suburb of Hadley Wood itself, to the west and north of Beech Hill Park.

From late Victorian times until the 1960s, this was a public boating lake, and a well-known landmark in the common’s recreational heyday. In the 1950s it was a notorious rendezvous for teddy boys, the moral panic-inspiring youth cult of the day. The common’s official website quotes a verse current at the time:

If you go down to Hadley Woods today, you'd better go in disguise,
In drainpipe trews and fancy shoes and something intense in ties.
Don't bother to wash - it's sure to rain;
Remember your cosh and bicycle chain;
Today's the day the Teddy boys have their picnic.

Over the following decades, the lake fell into disrepair, but in 1982 it was licensed to Hadley Angling and Preservation Society (HAPS), who cleaned and restored it as a fishing lake. In a clear sign you’re in multicultural London, the rules and regulations governing fishing licenses are displayed in a variety of languages including Bulgarian, Polish and Romanian.

The eastern end of the common narrows, and the path eventually merges with a street, Games Road, which runs along its south side. Through another set of white gates, you’ve left not only the common and the old Monken Hadley parish, but Hertfordshire as it was between 1889 and 1964, the designated area of Watling Chase Community Forest (entered at Carpenders Park in the last section) and the London Borough of Barnet.


In Anglo-Saxon times, the biggest manor in this northeast corner of Essex was Edmonton, another of the lands assigned to St Albans Abbey by Offa in 790, with its nucleus some way to the south, on Roman Watling Street. By the time of the Norman invasion, part of the Forest of Middlesex in the north had become a hunting park, later known as Enfield Chase. By now Enfield itself, a little off the Roman road to the north, was significant enough to be noted in the Domesday Survey, and in 1303 it became a market town. The area was gradually developed after the 1777 inclosure of the Chase, and was populated enough by 1894 that it became an urban district of Middlesex. In 1965, it was put together with Edmonton and Southgate to create the current London Borough of Enfield.

To most Londoners, Cockfosters is merely the place with the snigger-inducing name at the northern end of the Piccadilly Line. For centuries there was nothing here but a lonely road running from Southgate, the main southern gate of the Chase, northwards to Potters Bar. But the name is recorded locally as far back as 1524, and there are records from 1714 of the sale of a house called Cockfosters, possibly on the Hadley side of the road. A foster is a forester, one of the people who managed and supervised the forest, and ‘cock’ was sometimes used to mean ‘chief’, so there’s speculation that the house was once the residence of the chief forester. After 1777, a small settlement developed largely as an estate village for Trent Park, which I’ll discuss more in the next section, and there were enough people living locally by 1839 to justify a new church.

Growth remained modest until 1933, when the Tube arrived, prompting the urban sprawl that had already engulfed Southgate to spread north, filling the gap between Trent Park and Hadley Common. Cockfosters Road became a suburban high street, complete with modestly art deco shopping parades. This development would have spread further, but as elsewhere on the London fringe was halted by World War II and the Green Belt. So today, appropriately for somewhere on the extremity of a Tube line, Cockfosters is one of those places where the built-up area of London simply stops. There’s no significant building on the east of the road once past the station, though a couple of sprouting streets and single houses line the west side as far as Hadley Wood.

The trail passes a big pub set back in its own grounds, the Cock, originally opened to serve the growing settlement in the late 18th century but now in an early 20th century building. Further along, past the cricket ground and bowling green, is the aforementioned 1839 Christ Church. It was extended in 1898, which necessitated reconfiguring the interior so that now, unusually, it faces west rather than east.

Cockfosters Station, not just the silliest name on the Tube map.
If you don’t want to break your walk here, you can reduce the total walking distance a little by heading straight from the Cock to Trent Park, but you’ll miss the church and the station. The latter in particularly is worth seeing, as its building largely survives from the opening of the Piccadilly Line extension from Finsbury Park in 1933. It’s the work of celebrated Underground architect Charles Holden, who designed an elegant, low-profile structure in what was then the modern European style. The main entrance on the east side of the road, in red brick and glass, is echoed by a bus shelter and subway entrance opposite, while the train shed makes impressive use of reinforced concrete. It’s a worthy gateway to the delights of Trent Park which Loop walkers can look forward to in the next section.

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