Tuesday 9 February 2016

London LOOP - Day 8

Clamp Hill, Stanmore to High Barnet

15.15 miles

Although mooted as the better of the two days weather-wise, the forecast for Sunday had still been poor, with rain and gusty winds threatening. But it was dry and bright with sunny skies as we set out to re-join the LOOP, so again lady luck seemed to be smiling on us.

Entering the woods of Harrow Weald Common

Picking up again from where we left off last night, we entered the woods of Harrow Weald Common, skirted the cottages originally built for the servants of Grim’s Dyke House, and headed on to cross Common Road and enter Bentley Priory Open Space, where morning constitutionalists, dog-walkers and joggers were much in evidence. Bentley Priory was once used as the HQ for Fighter Command in WWII, and is now home to the Battle of Britain museum.

After a short stretch through some more salubrious housing, we crossed into Warren Lane and entered the woods through the car park, stopping for a short coffee break at a handy bench. The woods make for a pleasant place to walk by day, but there was evidence that the car park may be used for a different purpose after dark.  

By and large, though, the scenery was a distinct improvement on yesterday, and the route that wound its way between ponds and beside the playing fields of Harrow RFC was very pleasant.

By Caesar's Pond

Passing the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital without recourse to treatment, we left the woods behind and entered farmland scenery once again, gradually climbing across a wet and muddy field to meet Elstree Road and pass under the M1. Further on, we skirted the edge of Aldenham Reservoir, and took a short break for a quick bite to eat.

Aldenham Reservoir

Beyond Aldenham Reservoir, we crossed more farmland. The sight of a wide, muddy line across the vast field in front of us filled us with dismay, but we battled on, ankle deep in sticky, slippery mud. At least the next three fields were different: this time, there was just wet, sloppy mud to contend with across their broad acres.

Mercifully, someone had built a golf course, and stabilised the quagmire. We felt a huge surge of relief at the prospect of dry land once again, and I can just imagine what Hereward the Wake must have felt on returning to the Isle of Ely after repelling invaders across the fenlands – terra firma at last!

Soon, we reached the road again, and made our way into Borehamwood for tea and cake – the end of Section 15. But not the end of the day for us: having pushed on last night and made an early start today, there was still plenty of daylight left. So we set off again in the sunshine, with High Barnet tube station our goal.

After half an hour or so of road walking, we picked up a path into Scratchwood Open Space. To be honest, I only knew the name Scratchwood from the services on the M1, but the woods are an altogether better experience than the roadside catering.

We negotiated a bit more mud as we dropped into a dip and climbed out towards the A1, where a lengthy southward loop was required to cross the six lanes safely. 

Signpost at the entry to Moat Mount Open Space - Barnet 4 miles away

The Moat Mount Open Space provided a welcome return to quieter walking, with a lovely woodland path rising to farmland followed by a roadside stretch along Hendon Wood Lane.

Totteridge Fields Nature Reserve is special for the variety of its wildlife. Judging by the underfoot conditions, much of it will be amphibian. Roughly two miles of watery slop ensued as we sploshed our way towards the appropriately-named Ducks Island. Now I know it has done little other than rain this winter, so all this mud should come as no surprise, but it does become a bit tedious at times. I’m sure it’s very nice in better conditions, but when solid ground hove into view in front of us, I must say we were somewhat relieved.

Whose turn is it to clean the boots?

The final half an hour took us on tarmac paths through recreational areas on the fringes of Barnet. For the second day in a row, we took our last few steps in the half-light of oncoming evening, finally reaching High Barnet tube station as darkness fell. Despite the mud, we’d had a good day again; the weather had been kind, transport had run to time and we didn’t waste much of the available daylight either. We even managed not to leave too much mess on the train.     

After a spot of dinner at Euston Station, we caught the very busy train home, and somehow managed to bag the last two available seats. Sometimes luck is on your side, and when it is you should never look a gift-horse in the mouth.

You might want to check if its going to be knee-deep in cack beforehand, though ….

Monday 8 February 2016

London LOOP - Day 7

Harefield West to Clamp Hill, Stanmore

12.30 miles

After a Christmas and New Year hiatus it was time to get proper walking again, and what better way to get the year underway than a few more sections of the London LOOP.

We’d last been in this neck of the woods a few months ago, back in late November. Then, we had completed three enjoyable days around the south and west fringes of London. This weekend would see us work our way round to the northern edge of the capital, at the end of which just the final few sections would stand between us and the end of the LOOP.  

After an early start – scarily early, even more so than on a work day – we set off via train, tube and bus to re-join the LOOP at Harefield West, the end of section 12 of the LOOP. Given there are three modes of transport and two changes it’s a fairly slow journey, but by 10.00am we had alighted the bus and were on our way once more.

Section 13 is a 5-mile stretch round to Moor Park, and begins by following a narrow lane behind the posh houses lining the Grand Union Canal before climbing through Park Wood to the rolling farmland beyond Hill End Road. 

Near Hill End Road, soon after setting off

The weather was cool and slightly overcast, but much better than we expected. It had seemed like a great idea when we’d committed to this a couple of weeks earlier, but the forecast in the run up to the weekend had been appalling – heavy rains and high winds, with 30ft waves lashing the coast – and we were expecting the worst.

However, apart from an occasional spell of light drizzle, the rain kept away, and judging by the reports from family and friends across the country who were bearing the full brunt of the stormy conditions, we were very lucky!

Refurbished path at the beginning of Bishop's Wood

We stopped for first lunch in Bishop’s Wood Country Park – it was barely past mid-morning, but with the early start and breakfast at 5.30am we were starving.

In Lockwell Wood

Moving on, we passed through Lockwell Wood and crossed the busy A404 Rickmansworth Road near Ye Olde Greene Manne pub. Picking up a path that once formed the boundary between the counties of Middlesex and Hertfordshire, we exited the woods at Kewferry Road, and walked through the quiet residential area of the Moor Park Estate – a select area of housing in the former estate of Lord Leverhulme – at the end of Section 13.

Section 14 is a 3.80-mile stretch to Hatch End, and begins by crossing the grounds of Sandy Lodge Golf Course. The LOOP passes through a number of golf courses as it circles London, and this weekend we came to consider them a sanctuary – more of which later.

Woodland, then an open area of common land followed, and we took advantage of a well-placed bench to rest and eat second lunch.

After crossing Hayling Road, we entered the woods of Old Furze Field and followed a muddy path round towards Sandy Lane, passing through Oxhey Woods (a 97-hectare Nature Reserve containing Ancient Woodland, possibly dating back to prehistoric times) and crossing Oxhey Drive and Prestwick Road as we went. We found our way well enough, but some of the directions in the notes were a bit vague – simply because there are a lot of little paths to choose from, and few landmarks or waymarkers. I believe others have found this to be a slight navigational challenge, too.  

The notes for the three or four sections we were tackling informed us that there would be a wide diversity of landscape and terrain encountered during the weekend. This was indeed true: an almost infinite variety of muds were traversed along the way, running the full gamut from wet and sloppy to thick and sticky, slippery and shallow to clingy and knee deep.

The section between Nanscot Wood and the Pinnerwood Arabian Stud was a case in point. The notes say that “this farm has 120 acres of grass devoted to grazing and haymaking”. Well, maybe they do; but if so, they must be somewhere else! The acres we crossed were more like paddy-fields, better suited to rice-growing than grazing. In some places, the mud was thick and soft, and we sank up to our calves in it; in others, thick and sticky, with the risk of boot-loss a distinct possibility. Finally, by the farm, the horses had trodden this into a thick, soupy mess about two feet deep. Let’s hope the poor beasts don’t get trench-foot or hoof rot, or something.    

Muddy hell, what a mess

To escape the morass, we climbed the fence into the training paddock. I slipped from the top, landed on my rucksack – squashing our food in the process – and flailed around for a few moments like an upturned tortoise whilst getting my breath back. Hmmm!!!

The farmer (who was watching) was not amused, but said nothing. Good job, too!

After a bit of stomping about and some good old-fashioned swearing we felt much better. The end of the section was nearby, and we set off again in the knowledge we could soon be heading for a bath. But despite the fact that 20 minutes ago we weren’t ever going to set foot on the LOOP again, it was still early when we reached the section end, so we opted to carry on into Section 15.  

Fallen tree near the start of Section 15

After negotiating a fallen tree, we followed the path (making a short detour for rail works – the best quality path of the day!) before coming out on Little Oxhey Lane where, shortly afterwards, we stopped for tea and cake at Carpenders Park Garden Centre: a well-earned rest, we reckoned.

Although barely 4.00pm, the light was already fading a little as we crossed Grim’s Dyke Golf Course, which made the surrounding woods somewhat gloomy. They were also confusing and not-very-well signed, which meant we weren’t always sure we were on the right path. But we came out at more-or-less the right point, and saw the impressive Grim’s Dyke Hotel on the way (the former home of W.S. Gilbert of Gilbert & Sullivan fame, and looking very inviting in the dusk light) which I guess meant we weren’t too far off track. The actual Grim’s Dyke is a ditch constructed about 2000 years ago, probably to demarcate land ownership.

The Case Is Altered pub near where we finished for the day

Emerging on the Old Redding road, the panoramic views across London were impressive, too. We took our leave of the LOOP here, and headed for our digs, garnering some strange looks, and even the odd comment, on the tube (Oooh, look: ramblers!).

On reflection we’d had a good day, despite the filthy conditions and slightly non-descript scenery – not one of the best the LOOP has had to offer, but OK for all that.