London Loop Walk 16:
Hatch End to Elstree

23 September 2006

Today Stephen did the sixteenth of his  London Loop walks, once again with Ellie for company. George's damaged pad is looking much healthier, and we have mostly dispensed with the socks, but he isn't ready for a long walk yet.

After rejoining the LOOP, we have a longish enclosed walk along the backs of houses before we reach open fields with a view across fields of lots of horses - possibly connected with the Pinnerwood Arabian Stud we saw last time.

We then cross the West Coast Main Line with a Pendolino heading north at high speed

After a walk along the suburban Oxhey Lane we reach open country again - Ellie pauses as we climb away from the main road - following the instructions in the guidebook which says to go straight on from the end of Oxhey Lane, whereas the printed leaflet says to go right there and then left past the clubhouse. Both are public footpaths, so I'm not sure which is "right", as I didn't spot a LOOP waymarker at the end of Oxhey Lane, but the route we followed was the one shown on the May 2006 Ordnance Survey 1:50 000 map. Generally the signing on this section was excellent, particularly in the woods later on, where I was never in any doubt about the right way to go.

We then have a traverse of the Grim's Dyke Golf Course

And then reach Grim's Dyke itself, perhaps better known as Grim's Ditch. The exact date of construction is unknown but is likely to be late Iron Age, perhaps around 300 BC. Unfortunately none of my photographs of it are much good, with it being so dark in the woods, but there is an impressive bank and parallel ditch. Exactly why it was built is also unknown - perhaps as a boundary marker as it is unlikely to have been very effective as a defensive structure.

In the woods of Grim's Dyke, Ellie on top of an impressive rock outcrop

We continue through the woods of Harrow Weald Common. The undulating terrain is as a result of the gravel extraction carried out by the commoners in the 19th century, which eventually contributed to the passing of the Metropolitan Commons (Harrow Weald) Supplemental Act 1899, which removed most of the commoners rights and put the commons under the control of a Board of Conservators, which still exists.

We emerge from the woods by Old Redding to find a spectacular view south across to Harrow on the Hill

Looking back to the woods of Harrow Weald Common

We pass The Case is Altered pub - the name deriving from the Spanish Casa Alta, or "high house", it being perched on the edge of the escarpment high above the land seen two photos above.

After further walks through more of Harrow Weald Common, we now reach Bentley Priory Open space. Bentley Priory itself is owned by the Royal Air Force and was the Fighter Command Headquarters for the Battle of Britain.

Ellie at the spot where we had the first half of lunch

A pill box still protecting Bentley Priory

But perhaps more effective is the double row of barbed wire topped fences, with floodlights between them. The trees mean that only small glimpses of the present RAF activities are to be seen.

We then reach a bit of very posh housing - another of those suburban roads with no pavements and very expensive houses. But just look at the quality of the grass verges - they are absolutely immaculate, with exceptionally green grass, mowed into ruler-straight lines, with edges which are so tidy they must have been done with scissors.

After crossing Warren Lane for the second of three times, we pass a cricket match

And then walk around this delightful lake known as Fish Pond

One of the two ponds on Stanmore Little Common, sometimes known as Caesar's Ponds.

We cross Warren Lane for the third and last time, and pass the National Orthopaedic Hospital before we reach more open country.

We make fast progress across the middle of this large grassy field as the traffic on the M1 rushes by.

We pass under the motorway, then there is a very tedious trudge along the A411, where the footpath is much too narrow, particularly given the heavy traffic going too quickly. We pass an industrial estate on the right

And eventually are much relieved to be able to leave the road and find the tranquility of Aldenham Country Park and its reservoir. Aldenham Reservoir was built as a condition of permission to construct the Grand Junction Canal. It was to be fed with flood water, and supply the River Colne to compensate mill owners for any water diverted into the canal. It was completed in November 1795, and then enlarged in 1801-2. The original was constructed by French prisoners from the Napoleonic War. The dam repeatedly slipped: although it has been suggested that this was due to poor workmanship by the prisoners, the main reason was that the clay soil used for the dam cracked in dry weather. A protective layer of sand and gravel was added, topped with soil and grass. Today the dam is additionally protected by concrete on the water side.

Ellie on the dam of Aldenham Reservoir.

We then crossed Aldenham Road and made our way through Aldenham Park

A disused iron kissing gate in Aldenham Park

Horse Chestnut trees turning brown in Aldenham Park

We cross the A5183, once the A5, and thus make further progress around the sequential road numbering of London. The route was originally an ancient trackway created by the Celts, and was paved by the Romans who knew this section as Inter II. The Anglo-Saxons named it Węcelinga Stręt , literaly "the street of the people of Węcel", where Węcel probably means foreigner, i.e. the Celts of Wales in this context: subsequently, that name morphed into "Watling Street", by which it is often known today. The route was repaved by Thomas Telford in the 19th century as part of his London-Holyhead road. Following the building of the M1, this section of the A5 was renamed A5183 in an attempt to make it seem less important and deter traffic.

We make our way across fields liberally sprinkled with signs saying "all dogs must be kept on a lead", which we treated with the contempt they deserved - the requirement for a dog on a public highway (such as this public footpath) is for it to be under close control, not on a lead. And with Ellie, the difficulty is often getting her far enough away from your feet that you can see her - whenever she has "disappeared", it is because she is trailing at my heels.

We then cross our second golf course of the walk, Elstree Golf Course, where the route was clearly signed but bore little resemblance to the instructions in the guidebook.

After a walk through trees, with a final rest on this bench, we reached Allum Lane again, and short walk along the road brought us to the end of Section 15.

Today's walk was more interesting than last time - particularly Harrow Weald Common, its history, and the views from the edge. The woodland on this walk was among the most pleasant on the LOOP so far. Aldenham Reservoir was lovely too as was Aldenham Park; but the two roadside walks were not pleasant, particularly along the A411 Elstree Road. Only about 32km to go to reach Enfield Lock - unless plans change, only two more walks remain.

London Loop Section 15 Hatch End to Elstree: 14.7km, 4 hours 20 minutes (including 70 minutes stopped), 233 metres of ascent.

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Unless otherwise stated, all images copyright (c) Stephen and Lucy Dawson