Saturday 14th January 2012
5.8 miles including station links
Toilets: Hendon Park; Lyttelton Playing Fields; Cherry Tree Wood; Highgate Wood; Cafe at Queens Wood; Various pubs in Highgate.
We’d been doing the Capital Ring mostly in a clockwise direction, but had missed out the Hendon to Highgate bit due to a substantial diversion there. I can confirm that the diversion is no longer in place, and that all the roadworks are complete at Henlys Corner.
After a short walk through Hendon Park, past the Millennium Wood, we reached the corner of Brent Street and the North Circular Road. A block of flats stands on the former site of the Brent Bridge Hotel, and these gazebos are all that remain.
I feel bad for slating the walk, but it has to be said that this section wasn’t exactly the most exciting one we’ve done so far. Between Hendon Park and East Finchley, it really felt like the path was only there to link up the more interesting bits.
After crossing Brent Street we walked through Brent Park. This photo makes it look like your average urban riverside walk. What it doesn’t convey, however, is that it’s on a narrow strip of land right next to the North Circular Road, which has the wonderful claim to fame of being the noisiest road in Britain.
It also goes past The Decoy, where ducks were captured in the past. The ducks seemed quite happy that day, and in no apparent danger of being eaten.
Later on we passed the point where the Dollis Brook and Mutton Brook meet, becoming the River Brent. We then went through this tunnel under the North Circular, with signs warning us that we were being watched by CCTV.
Crossing the road at Henlys Corner was a novel experience. In the past, it’s been one of the most dangerous road junctions going for pedestrians to cross. Throughout 2011, £8 million was spent on long overdue roadworks to sort the whole thing out. For the first time in my life, I was able to cross the road there without worrying about being run over. I’ve never felt so safe at such a notoriously dangerous road junction. The guide book still says “Cross Finchley Road carefully”, a complete understatement in relation to the old road layout.
After another section of unremarkable riverside path we emerged into Hampstead Garden Suburb, which has a different atmosphere altogether with its huge houses. Originally founded by Dame Henrietta Barnett as a way of getting rich and poor people to live side-by-side, it can surely be regarded as a spectacular failure as it’s now one London’s most affluent suburbs. Having walked through the area many times, I still can’t work out which houses were supposed to have been the more affordable ones. It does look like a lovely place to live, though, and all the front gardens are still separated by hedges rather than fences, which is a nice touch.
We continued through Lyttelton Playing Fields, where the playground is currently being redeveloped. We stopped to use the toilets, found at a side entrance to a nursery building. The doors didn’t lock, and there was no paper available. If you’re considerably overweight, you might have trouble fitting into the cubicle.
At the next major road junction we encountered part of a Volkswagen that had clearly seen better days.
Things improved after passing through East Finchley Station, guarded by its statue, The Archer.
We continued through the Cherry Tree Wood, a small remaining patch of the ancient Forest of Middlesex. It’s a pleasant place that I’ve rarely visited even though I know the area quite well. There was a children’s playground, a kiosk selling drinks, and toilets in a slightly less disappointing condition than the ones at Lyttelton Playing Fields.
The next stop was Highgate Wood, which always provides an enjoyable walk.
On the other side of the road we went into Queen’s Wood, which the guide book describes as “Less visited, much hillier and an altogether wilder atmosphere” than Highgate Wood. We passed Queen’s Wood Cafe.
Round the back of the cafe was an environmentally-friendly organic garden, complete with solar panels and rainwater recycling. It was open to the public. I liked the fact that there were signs on everything to explain what they were doing. I even liked the fact that it looked a bit messy; having grown my own vegetables in the past, I know it’s easy to feel under pressure to make everything look beautiful, when the important thing is to produce tasty food and keep intruders at bay.
After a pleasant meander through the woods, the walk finished at Highgate Station.