London LOOP Stage 10: High Barnet to Enfield

Published 4 May 2016

View of High Barnet station and sidings, from a hill near the station
The tube trains of High Barnet

I always try to look on the bright side of things, but it’s hard when you are standing in a field above High Barnet station, staring intently at a footpath that you’re supposed to walk on that can best be described as a mud-bath.

“Well at least the field’s not flooded,” I told myself in a desperate attempt to not appear too negative.

It was the twilight period between Christmas and New Year. Storms had battered the country. On Boxing Day I had sat in my parents’ conservatory in the suburbs of Manchester, watching rain hammer down on the roof in almost biblical quantities. Homes were ruined; businesses destroyed. All things considered, I couldn’t really complain about having to walk through a muddy field in the north of London. The worst that could happen to me was not that I’d lose all my possessions, but that I’d fall over in the mud and get covered in brown gloop.

See, there really is a positive side to every scenario. You just have to look hard enough.

Large houses in Monken Hadley
In need of a grander home? Why not check out Monken Hadley?

I was walking to Enfield and rather hoping this section of the LOOP – mud or not – would be a tad more fun than the last bit of the LOOP I’d walked. Well, how could it not? The last bit I had walked had been a dull, tedious nightmare but today I’d get to go through Enfield Chase, visit Cockfosters and have a pub lunch. What more could you want?

First order of the day though, was the village of Monken Hadley.

From the size of the houses, it was pretty obvious that the residents of Monken Hadley had some serious cash. Most of the houses I walked past were just a tad larger than the average three-bedroom semi. Later that day I casually searched online, curious about local property prices and found a house that I’d walked past. For a mere £7.9m (because a round £8m would not have been a bargain) a seven bedroom house could have been mine. Well, if I could have afforded it.

These were the “grand old houses of old”: large, dominating, imposing, with oversized rooms, and plenty of them. One I managed to sneak a look through the window of, had a dining room as big as my whole house. Who could afford this much space? And why did they even need it? Still, that’s the thing about money. It doesn’t matter how much of it you have, you’ll always find ways to spend it if you try.

White gates on the edge of Monken Hadley
The white gates of Monken Hadley

A pair of white gates on the village’s main street marked my entry onto Monken Hadley Common. As part of the mighty royal hunting forest, Enfield Chase, this was an area that once housed 3,000 deer, available for the royal family to kill, should they wish, at a whim.

Like other deer parks in London, changes in tastes and fashions saw the decline in hunting and Enfield Chase grew into a neglected wilderness before the land was finally split up and sold off in 1777. Despite the sell-off, a small section was given over to local residents to graze their livestock on; the white gates installed to stop the animals escaping. Grazing continued until the 1950s, although these days you’re more like to find the locals walking their dogs, than tending to their sheep and cows.

Path going through Monken Hadley Common
Weaving my way through Monken Hadley Common

Initially the LOOP stayed on the road that ran along the Common’s bottom edge, but soon headed off into the trees, with some muddy paths allowing me to enjoy some good slipping and sliding as I walked. When the LOOP returned to tarmac a few minutes later, I certainly wasn’t complaining. I’m normally grateful to get off a paved surface, but who really would turn down the tarmac in favour of the brown stuff. A nice, firm path to take me to Cockfosters? Bring it on was all I could say.

Ah Cockfosters. Fnar, fnar, or something. Yes, yes, it’s a London suburb with the word ‘Cock’ in its name. Ha ha, that’s so very mature. I am above such things. As was my faithful companion, the LOOP guidebook, which told me that ‘fosters’ was probably a corruption on ‘foresters’. For some reason though, it chose not to expand on the ‘cock’ bit, but, as I’m sure you well know, ‘cock’ is an old word used to describe a leader or chief. Hence, Cockfosters is probably named for the house of the head woodsman (or Cock Forester) of the royal forest. So you really can stop being so immature back there.

The Cock Inn, in Cockfosters
Oh do grow up.

I sauntered up to Cockfoster’s high street, noting that no one was sniggering as I walked past the town’s tube station, and set off for Trent Country Park, getting there by following a narrow strip of grass between a cemetery and the tube station car park.

The park also sits on another section of that royal hunting forest; a bit that was given to King George III’s favoured physician, Sir Richard Jebb, in 1777 in thanks for the doctor saving the life of the King’s brother, the Duke of Gloucester. On his new estate, Jebb built a grand house, and named it after the city of Trento in Italy where the Duke’s life had been spared. In that ever-familiar tale, the manor house found new uses in the early 20th century, including as a base for a secret listening post during World War II, before entering the education sector as a campus building for Middlesex University. After a brief period rather curiously owned by a private medical college based in Malaysian, it had recently been sold for conversion for housing.

Like many former manor houses – many of which the LOOP had taken me through as I’d walked along it – the surrounding land was thrown open to the public as a park, with Trent Country Park throwing open its gates to the public in 1973.

Tree lined path in Trent Country Park
In the trees of Trent Country Park

It was a popular spot, positively heaving with people enjoying the work-free void between Christmas and New Year. Some had ventured little further than the bustling cafe that sat at the edge of the car park, but others had gone further afield and the park’s tree lined paths were full with large families groups trying to burn off the turkey and Christmas pud.

Young children raced through the trees and splashed in the mud, whilst dogs yapped excitedly, with everyone thoroughly enjoying themselves, at least until the heavens briefly opened and the ran began to fall. Being a trouper, I pushed on. Besides, what else could I do? And anyway the rain soon petered out, stopping just as I arrived at the park’s northern boundary near an insanely large obelisk, presumably erected by someone with far too much money, and not enough things to spend it on. It appeared to have no real purpose other than to dominate the skyline, poking over the trees. Still, looking on the bright side, actually building it would have created a few jobs at the time.

Muddy path, officially known as Rectory Farm Road
Mud, mud, glorious mud?

Outside the park the LOOP took a journey along the side of farmer’s fields; a reminder yet again that London, especially on the edges, can be a far cry from the urban sprawl most imagine it to be.

If I’d thought the paths had been muddy earlier, that was nothing compared to what I now faced. Fenced in next to a substantial hedge, the path – if you could call it that – was like a mudslide. Any notion that this was a useful place to walk along had long been discarded, and the best you could hope for was that when you slipped, you wouldn’t end up head first in it all as you gingerly crept along.

There were occasional provide recovery points; areas where the fence allowed the path more space, and where the mud gave way to grass, thus allowing a brief respite, but it was always short-lived, and generally any hopes of my boots remaining nice and clean were quickly discounted.

St John's Church in Crews Hill
St John’s Church in Crews Hill

I was banking on my boots being presentable as I was planning a visit to the pub for some food, and let’s be honest, no pub landlord really wants customers who coat their floors with copious amounts of mud. But thankfully, a mile before I got there, the LOOP joined a Hilly Fields Park, at the village of Crews Hill. Its series of tarmac and concrete tracks gave me ample time to clean myself up and by the time I’d arrived at the doors of the Rose and Crown public house, only the dried mud on my trouser legs gave any real indication that I had been doing anything other than strolling round the local park.

Almost immediately I recognised the interior of this 300 year boozer from my failed attempt to walk the LOOP some ten years earlier. With small rooms and wooden beams, the pub’s nooks and crannies simply oozed character, especially the galleried upstairs seating area accessed via a small wooden staircase.

Rose and Crown pub, in Crews Hill
Anyone fancy a pint?

A large banner outside the pub proclaimed the pub was under new management, although the barmaid’s tales of “I remember it was heaving last Christmas” gave – rightly or wrongly – the impression that not everything was currently perfect. Still I hadn’t needed to worry about making a mess of the carpet; most of the floors were stone or wood, and what little carpet there was, was well worn and perhaps rather overdue for replacing.

The pub did appear a bit faded, perhaps in need of some love and care. On the other hand, as it was not part of a pub chain, so boasted no homogenised food offering, no wipe clean and certainly no feeling that you were in a generic pub that could be anywhere. No, the Rose and Crown felt rather cosy, although my hazy pint of London Pride – so cloudy that it looked like I was drinking a pint of the same mud I’d just been walking through. Thank goodness the burger and chips (well, okay, sweet potato fries) were in far better condition.

The Turkey Brook, flowing through Crew's Hill
The young Turkey Brook, as seen in Crews Hill

I’d first met Turkey Brook whilst walking through Hilly Fields Park just before lunch, and with my stomach lined, it was time to follow it once more. And just beyond the Rose and Crown was an interesting point where the brook was crossed by the New River. The New River has perhaps one of the most inaccurate names going, as it’s neither new, nor is it actually a river. And for added complexity, this bit of the New River wasn’t even the New River any more. The bit I walked by was the New River (Old Course), and whilst the first two words of the name are as misleading as they come, those in brackets are, at least, pretty accurate.

First opened in 1613, the New River is an artificial waterway that syphons water out of the River Lea and sends it down to London. As the Lea itself also goes to London, you may wonder why bother doing that. The answer is drinking water. By the time the Lea proper arrived in London, its waters were too polluted by river traffic and waste. But by diverting cleaner water off closer to the source of the Lea, the New River could be used to supply the homes of London with something to drink. It’s a job it continues to do to this day.

Originally winding its way rather slowly through Enfield, over the years the New River was straightened with new cuts, leaving sections of the original route unused. One of those sections was that that crossed the Turkey Brook. Water still flows, but its importance had greatly decreased.

Whilst there are paths alongside the New River, the LOOP stuck it out with the Turkey Brook as that river made its way to the point that it joined into the Lea at Enfield. It didn’t have long to go, and nor did I.

London LOOP sign in Enfield
The LOOP hits the highlights of Enfield

After a couple of miles of walking through parks and then down alleyways and streets, I found myself stood at Enfield Lock railway station, a short distance before Turkey Brook’s own journey came to end.

Despite the early mud, it had been a fine day. The misery of the previous section of the LOOP had been left far behind. The sun had been shining, there’d been sweet potato fries (one of your five a day too!) and I was feeling good. Me and the London Outer Orbital Path were friends once more, and I couldn’t wait to return.

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