London LOOP Stage 9 Part 2: Elstree to High Barnet

Published 20 April 2016

Wooden LOOP directional sign in Moat Mount Open Space
Go that way.

And now the conclusion of my walk which was proving to be the worst section of the LOOP.

I’d had a frankly naff morning and now I wanted a nice hot meal and a pint in a cosy pub. Which was unfortunate, as I simply didn’t have time to do that. The sun would be setting at four, and I had about three hours left to polish off the remaining seven miles before it got dark.

For various reasons (mostly involving a small child who had woken up at 5am and insisted on building a Lego car transporter) I had left my house far later than I had planned. My late start didn’t help, but time pressures had been compounded by my repeatedly getting lost on the way to Elstree which had meant the seven mile stretch in the morning had taken far longer than it should have done. Spending a relaxed hour or so having a nice pub lunch would have been fantastic, but the end result would have been that I would need to navigate by torchlight.

And that’s why it came to pass that I spent a miserable lunch sat at the corner of an Asda petrol station car park eating a frankly diabolical, rubbery flatbread – mysteriously called a ‘Luna’ – that had been microwaved to within an inch of its life. I did contemplate going whole hog and washing down this dire substance pretending to be food, with a hot cup of something that proclaimed itself to be “Seattle’s Best Coffee”, but in the end I decided that the best coffee from Seattle probably wasn’t going to be found at a petrol station on the edge of Borehamwood.

Walking on the road in Borehamwood
Borehamwood. One of the more thrilling parts of the LOOP.

In a way, this depressing lunch fitted in with the general experience of the whole day. Well, when you’re down, why not let yourself get kick even harder? This day on the LOOP was hardly a walk that was the stuff of legends. Most of the morning had been utterly tedious, and the thought of another seven miles of it was filling me with dread. In the back of my mind was the thought that there was a railway station less than a mile away from which I could get a service almost all the way home. I didn’t need to be out here sitting on the edge of a petrol station forecourt next to the Asda pick-up point lockers, or getting lost and frustrated thanks to the LOOP taking an insanely complicated route which wasn’t signposted correctly. I could just simply abandon the whole section and never bother with it again.

That would be saner, right?

It would, but of course I decided to push on. I’d made my bed, and I’d just have to lie in it. With a sigh I dragged myself to my feet, and glumly prepared for the two miles of road walking that the LOOP now had lined up for me to do next.

Entrance to Scratchwood
Somewhat oversized entrance to Scratchwood

When you say Scratchwood, many people will think of a motorway service station on the M1. They may even know that the guns of HMS Belfast – the floating museum moored on the Thames near Tower Bridge – are firmly trained on the services.

Actually since 1999 the services have gone by the less prosaic name of London Gateway, but the original name wasn’t just plucked out of the air. It was named for Scratch Wood, a 57-hectare area of woodland that once formed part of the mighty Middlesex Forest that once spread across north London.

Perhaps it was just sheer joy of finally being off the tarmac, but Scratch Wood proved to be one of the more enjoyable parts of the day. The paths were wide, the trail easy to follow and there were things to look at, including, in a tap in the trees, two giant concrete semi-circles on the ground. There was no obvious indicator of what it had been for, although presumably it was, like most curious concrete structures found in the south-east, related to World War II in some form or other. There are all sorts of random structures all over the place if you know where to look; places where giant guns were placed, or where soldiers were stationed. Who knows what this was, but no doubt it played an important role in keeping the Nazis at bay.

Concrete circle in the ground at Scratchwood
A curious circle in the ground at Scratchwood

I wandered happily in the woods, rustling leaves, and jumping through puddles until it was, sadly, time to leave them and head over the road to another country park; the oddly named Moat Mount Open Space.

Yes, two lovely country parks right next door to each other. What more could you want? Well, for starters, for them to not be separated by six lanes of the A1.

Clearly it had been deemed important by someone to split the two parks by a three-lane dual carriageway. After all, if it hadn’t been important, they wouldn’t have built the six lanes of tarmac in front of me. But at least they’d been considerate and given visitors a way to get between the two parks with relative ease.

Oh hang on, they hadn’t. Yes, despite the fact that Scratch Wood and Moat Mount stared at each other across the lanes of traffic, there was no bridge or crossing to allow people to get between them. People basically had two options: drive, or walk three quarters of a mile down the road to a subway and then walk three up the other side. Not having a car with me, you can guess that I chose the option that required me to spend half an hour doing a dreary half hour trudge just so I could get from from one side of the road to another. I’d cheered up in Scratch Wood, but no sooner had my mood brightened and the LOOP had put me right back down again.

The A1
Who wouldn’t want to spend ages walking down the A1?

Unlike Scratch Wood that had been bustling, when I finally got to Moat Mount, I found it completely deserted. Perhaps it was the time of day, or maybe it was related to the fact that the car park had been closed down and blocked off by locked gates and large concrete bollards. Who could really say for sure? But I didn’t see a soul as I wandered through its trees and grassland.

It was a nice enough place but, as it had for much of the day, my eyes were looking at the clock more than the scenery, and a relaxing stroll through the trees and fields became more of a route march. If only I’d been able to get out of the house an hour or so earlier, how much more relaxing things would all have been.

The last few miles were spent in fields and farmland, walking alongside the young Dollis Brook which arises from within the Moat Mount Open Space, and meanders around for ten miles of so until it joins the River Brent near Hendon. It even has its own walking route, the Dollis Valley Greenwalk, which mostly follows the river. The first few miles of the Greenway coincide with the LOOP, and the whole walk acts as a link path between the LOOP and London’s other circular walking trail, the Capital Ring, should you want to mix up the two up a bit.

The view out from Moat Mount Open Space
Looking off into the distance from Moat Mount Open Space

It took some time before the brook was even noticeable, with the waterway being hidden behind trees. But it was not the absence of water that I noticed most, but the absence of something else entirely.

There were no metal gates anywhere to be seen. There were gateways and fence posts at most of the field boundaries, but no actual gates. They’d all disappeared.

According to a sign placed at one field boundary, the gates had suffered an ‘unauthorised removal’. Or ‘stolen’ as we can probably call it. Yes, someone had nicked the gates, presumably believing that several metal gates would bring in serious amounts of cash at the nearest dodgy scrap metal market. No doubt they’d headed out with spanners one night, piled them up in a van and got, ooh, a fiver for their hard graft. Given how lightweight the average kissing gate is, the scrap metal value can hardly have been large, and I had an image of a metal dealer laughing in their faces as a handful of pennies were counted out in front of them.

Approaching High Barnet
Approaching High Barnet

Slowly but surely houses began to become part of the landscape, and the LOOP rolled on as it walked across playing fields at the foot of a housing estate. The muddy and squelchy track became a tarmacadam path lined with lampposts (scrap metal value no doubt also minimal), and as the daylight began to fade, a stunning sunset came into view behind me. And then, all of a sudden, I was listening to the sound of cars driving and hitting bats inside the simple buildings of the Barnet Table Tennis Centre.

It was there that the LOOP waved goodbye to the Dollis Valley Greenway, and not longer after where I left the LOOP for High Barnet tube station.

For once I wasn’t sorry to be heading home. In fact it was close to being the highlight of the day. The last eight hours had been mostly tedious and I’d had enough. All I wanted to do was pop into a nice friendly pub and have a relaxing pint before I got the tube home. But the LOOP couldn’t even provide me with that. The Old Red Lion pub, handily located for easy access to the tube station, had pulled its last pint; the pub’s signs had been removed, and the windows dark. It had ceased to be. Sad, but somehow the crushing disappointment seemed to fit in with the general vibe of the day.

Fed up and un-refreshed, I let out a sigh and I walked up the road to the tube station, desperately hoping my next walk on the LOOP would prove to be just a little more enjoyable.

Sunset over High Barnet
The sun begins to make its way to the horizon


Mikey C

23 July 2019 at 12:06 am

I would strongly recommend you do part of this walk again in summer, as at this time of year the meadows along the Dollis Valley are beautiful and a haven for insects


19 June 2020 at 8:23 am

The walk between elstree and cockfosters is a fabulous walk. To the west of the A1 was an unexpected joy. Although the A1 bit was unwelcome, once past it, was good. The section from high Barnet to cockfosters was exquisite. The writer should have 1 got up earlier, 2 been a better map reader and 3 probably gone on sunny day, which fortunately we did. I recommend she / he tries it again.

Andrew Bowden (Rambling Man editor)

19 June 2020 at 8:57 am

Harry, if you had actually read my piece properly you will have noted I was up at 5am and that I had intended to leave the house earlier. The fact I didn’t leave the house when I intended to – and why – was noted above as well.

As for being a better map reader, frankly I have managed to navigate myself through a huge number of major walking trails across the whole of Britain. I’ve successfully walked across Yorkshire, the Scottish Borders, regularly through the Lake District, over wild moorland of the Pennines and Peak District, and more. I think I can say safely I’m a pretty good map reader thanks. But when you are in an semi-urban area with lots of paths going in all sorts of directions, and helpful signposts that are wrong or entirely absent, mistakes will be made.

And looking at the photographs, it was quite a nice sunny day for November thanks.

Frankly, I stand by my comment. This was pretty much the worse section of the walk. It was badly routed, badly signposted, and quite regularly as dull as ditchwater.

David Taylor

24 June 2023 at 1:06 pm

Rambling Man … I am loving your journal. Especially the bits where you’re obviously struggling . Love the sarcasm that creeps in, but I do know how you feel , having done a lot of walking myself. Anyway, just wanted to mention one thing. Not sure if you visited this or passed by . On the walk through the woods from Monken Hadley to the Cock Inn , just to the left on a short side trail is Beech Hill Lake ( known also as Jacks lake ) . I have to say it’s one of the most perfect beautiful little stream fed ponds that you’ll ever see , anywhere . A real hidden gem. Certainly would have cheered you up on a section where you were obviously struggling !

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