Event designed by Peter O in June 2014, led by Martin T.
Attendance: 16, 15 men, 1 woman, 2 people new to GOC.
Time: start 11:18, end 16:10, lunch 34 minutes
Terrain: pavement, woodland track, grass, gravel track, dry mud
Elevation: start 133m, high 158m, low 68m
Weather: clear blue skies throughout, warm 18°C, light/no breeze.
This was a 9.9 mile circular walk from Harrow Weald Common, ENE to Stanmore Common, NW to Bushey Heath, W to Bushey, SSW to Watford Heath, S to South Oxhey, and E to Harrow Weald Common.
Designed to an all-weather route, this walk took in a wide variety of terrains in metroland, revealing the greenery of London’s northern urban areas within a diverse patchwork of architecture, design, the occasional field of horses, a posh house, a council estate and a motorway.
Our start point was the Harrow viewing area of Harrow Weald Common, from which a great view of west London is possible (more details below). On the day, it was clearer at the end of the walk than at the beginning. Our route took us north-east into the Common’s woodland. Being a sunny early spring day, the woodland had only just started to come into leaf, giving us a glorious combination of speckled light on the forest floor and lots of colours.
After crossing the A409 - a challenge, until one of us did a Neo-of-the-Matrix-thing, stopping the traffic before it ploughed into him - we entered grounds of Bentley Priory, a Georgian stately home. A nature reserve occupies a portion of the original site, through which the public footpath runs. It is also a site of special scientific interest, cited because it is a rare combination of unimproved terrains in the London area.
Leaving Bentley Priory, the public footpath took us into a private gated community of the most conspicuous and ostentatious wealth. This was the Priory Close development, with properties ranging from mock-Tutor in the Arts and Crafts style (possibly built recently to look like a 1920’s creation) to more modern twists of neo-classical Georgian.
After some road walking, we headed north, converging with the M1 motorway. Passing a specialist hospital and a horse-riding school, the terrain changed again. We were now on footpaths alongside horse fields and scrubland, the typical zone of wasted land alongside a noisy road. The last field immediately adjacent to the motorway looked (and felt) like it was a former landfill site: a gas collector station belonging to an energy company sat at the edge of the field, and the field’s geography seemed inconsistent with the preceding terrain.
The scrubland ended as we entered the urban area of Bushey. A 1950/1960s housing estate greeted us at Mendip Road. The properties grew older as we marched deeper into the town, passing through the green-flagged King George Recreation Ground. A short walk along Bushey High Street took us to our lunch point, the Bushey Rose Garden.
The rose garden was originally designed by Thomas Mawson for artist Hubert von Herkomer in 1912 and is now owned by Hertsmere Borough Council (having been bought by Bushey Urban District Council in 1937 from Herkomer’s estate). The Friends of the rose garden set out the garden’s history. Obviously not yet in season for roses, the garden continues to have some plants in flower in early spring. Plenty of seating made for an ideal lunch place. We took our group shot here, in front of the garden’s grade II listed drinking fountain or monument.
Bushey was originally a pre-Domesday settlement, but its population grew quickly upon the opening of the railways. The High Street seems to have been particularly developed during the 1920s, with nearly all of the buildings exhibiting traits of the Arts & Crafts movement, in particular the mock-Tudor decoration of Red Lion public house.
Immediately after a lunch, a treat for celebrity hunters! A celebrity church! The list church of St James’s has been used as a backdrop for numerous shows, including EastEnders (Peggy and Archie’s wedding, Pat’s funeral, and so on), Holby City, and Mr Selfridge.
We briefly blundered into Watford Borough, over the delightful and homely Watford Heath (no stopping at Load of Hay!), and marched alongside West Coast Main Line, into South Oxhey/Carpenders Park. Carpenders Park is another 1950s/1960s arcaded housing estate, extended in 1970s, demonstrating a wide variety of housing architecture, complete with “improvements” done by residents over the years.
We managed to walk past a garden centre, with neither mutiny nor adjoining triffids. Only one member paused momentarily, peering hesitatingly into the car park, before continuing with the walk.
We passed some wasteland containing huge amount of flytipping (we have reported it to the Council), then proceeded into Grims Dyke Golf Club, a public club catering for all skill levels of golf. This is always a risk; today, we got away without being hit by aimless golf balls.
Our final terrain of the route was to enter the prehistoric earthwork of Grim’s Ditch. The glorious woodland of Harrow Weald Common showed yet more superb lighting and colours, this time with a redder sun typical of a mid-afternoon.
Ending at the start point, we saw that the air had cleared and that we could see over the entire London Thames Basin of west London. Our range was from the Wembley arch (east) to Heathrow Airport (west), from Harrow on the Hill (near), to the northern edge of the North Downs (far). The metrics of the view - for those interested in details! - were:
Spire of St Mary’s Church of England, Harrow on the Hill, 3.21mi, 170°
Wembley 5.42mi away, 146°
London Heathrow control tower, 11.4mi away, 206°
Foothills of the North Downs, northern edge 24mi away, 180° (just south of Leatherhead, Surrey).
Highest peak of the North Downs, northern edge 29mi away, 180° (just south of Dorking and Guildford).
This walk also demonstrated the usefulness of GOC for networking. One new member sought to widen his social circle as well as to enjoy the countryside, and ended up with three social offers!
Words by Martin T. Pictures by Peter O.