I won’t lie to you; it has patches of loveliness but this walk is not the greatest in London.

No, it’s a funny walk, this one. It’s absolutely necessary if you want to walk the Capital Ring in its entirety, obviously, but it feels a bit forced. This jangled collection of parks, quiet streams, woodland, and green spaces does contain a few absolutely lovely spots but there’s little in the way of cohesion to sections 10 and 11 of the Capital Ring.

Starting point: South Kenton Tube and Overground station, zone 4.

Finishing point: Highgate Tube station, zone 2, Northern Line (Mill Hill East and High Barnet branches).

Length: 11.8 miles (18.9 kilometres).

Ordnance Survey Maps app route link here

Download the GPX file for this route here South Kenton to Highgate

Capital Ring blaze on a frosty morning, Fryent Country ParkAs per usual London transport was playing silly beggars with the connections between South Croydon and South Kenton, where I left off back in the summer of 2013 – on the day Andy Murray won Wimbledon. I was out the house just after 6am, and on the bus to East Croydon moments later. By the time I reached Victoria I needed the loo but Wetherspoons wasn’t open yet and the change machines were broken so I had to wave a fiver at the Bog Guardian to gain entry. She waved me through for free. I only mention this interlude because the public toilets under Victoria Station are massive. An unexpected convenience labyrinth. Though not a particularly clean one with lots of seats missing and obvious flushing problems. Urk.

There were loads of Chinese people washing their faces too. Which was disconcerting.

Outside Victoria Station I realised I had no idea where my bus to Kilburn High Road was departing from so I indulged in a hot and salty bacon and egg butty from the Victoria Cafe on Terminus Place, under the towering jumble of Portacabins overseeing the massive engineering works on the new Victoria tube station. Highly recommended little cafe.

Eventually I reached Kilburn High Road Overground Station and saw my train pulling out the station – SHIT!

Another pulled in. There were no announcements so when, five minutes later, a man appeared and basically told me off for standing with all the other passengers on the platform I had to restrain myself from shouting back at him. Turns out he was the driver, he evidently thought I was an idiot for standing on the platform when a train was idling with its doors open.

Footsteps in the frosty grass, Fryent Country ParkTwenty minutes later we finally departed, and by 8:50 I was finally at South Kenton.

I mentally flipped off the driver and then adjusted my mentality towards walking mode. Happy times! The air was still horribly frigid but the sun was rising, glaring out coldly from behind an avenue of trees in Preston Park park. An Asian lady said ‘Hello!’ cheerily and followed up with ‘Lovely morning!’ – yes, yes it was.

From the station to the edges of Fryent Country Park it’s only a few minutes of residential streets. I warily eyed up one sketchy-looking character under the railway bridge and kept my senses tuned in to his footsteps but as usual he wanted nothing to do with a beardy outdoorsy-type so I was content to turn off of Uxendon Hill into an alleyway joining into the country park.

Harrow on the Hill from Fryent Country Park

The frost lay thick of the grassy slope up the hill but it betrayed the fact that others had walked here recently. Not many though, only a few footprints disturbed the icy blades.

Into the woods and you can feel the effect of the lee side of the hill and closeness of the trees. There was no frost in here and the mud hadn’t hardened so it gave way underfoot.

At the top of the hill the trees part and embrace the truly lovely Barn Hill Pond. It was iced-over and a log on the surface initially alarmed me because it looked suspiciously like a corpse in a bag. Thank God I was mistaken! Follow the path around the pond and you come to a trig point and bench overlooking Wembley Stadium. At this time of the morning, and in this kind of clear sunny weather it was well worth a quick sit down.

Barn Hill Pond in all its early morning glory, Capital Ring

The Capital Ring turns back almost the way you came up the hill, to go back down again. It’s steep and quite slippery. At the bottom the paths become confused and the signs at the moment do not point the right way. There are also a lot of storm-felled trees scattered around the place precariously. Sometimes there are several path options and the map I had printed off is useless if you are not on a street. So I guessed. Of course I guessed wrongly but when I did emerge from the woods at the apex of Fryent Way I followed it north and picked up the Capital Ring a few hundred metres on.

Me, posing at Barn Hill Pond along the Capital Ring

The path zig-zags through the eastern half of Fryent Country Park. Birds call out their sharp typical warnings from the hedges and dart about the place as if to distract you from where they really live. Thin coatings of ice cracked quickly as I plodded about in the mire but it wasn’t too hard to find where I was supposed to be going until a blaze sent me the wrong way just before the exit to the park. Just at the right moment I found a convoy of dog walkers to follow out.

Frosty grass up close

Underpass along the Capital RingThe main problem with these two sections of the Capital Ring is, as I have said, the link between each green space. There’s no choice but to follow intensely dull streets until you find your next pocket of parkland. Even so I came across a curiously busy little church on the outskirts of Kingsbury. Old St. Andrew’s Church was thronged with people crowded outside the ancient doors. There were even stewards in all the quiet back streets marshalling cars. Judgement Day? The Rapture?! I couldn’t be bothered to stick around to find out, I figured Mr. Christ would come and sort me out eventually if that’s what his agenda entailed. Turns out I wasn’t carried off to heaven or hell later that day so I have decided it might just have been a funeral for a very popular person.

As I entered Brent Cross Reservoir, or Welsh Harp, or whatever it’s called, I immediately noticed that the day was now in full flow. Children were being wheeled around the path overlooking the water, and amongst the coots and geese were several sailing dinghies and even a motorboat puttering about. Motorboat on Welsh Harp, Brent Reservoir, Capital RingIt was still bloody cold and I kept zipping and unzipping myself every few feet. My merino base layer was again providing a nice dry warmth but it was just chilly enough that I needed one of my other two layers done up. But then that made me just warm enough that I began to get uncomfortable. I settled for chilly instead of sweaty and sped up a bit. Which worked.

Again the Capital Ring sign at the end of the park was pointing the wrong way so I was glad to have the map, especially as I was now on streets again. I left behind the River Brent for a little while and didn’t even notice before I came upon the M1. Stealthy! I guess it might be a bit louder with rush hour traffic but I found it weirdly dead this morning.

My word the rest of Section 10 fizzles out in excruciating banality! Just boring street after hum-drum road. I did however suddenly notice the change in religion. Somewhere between Kingsbury and Brent Cross Judaism takes over in a big way. As I walked up Beaufort Gardens a little gaggle of Jews were standing around their car just staring at me as if I were the weirdest thing in the world. I passed by slightly disturbed by how out of place I felt. Not unwelcome, just a curiosity. How strange!

The Tube lines between Brent Cross and Hendon Central, from the Capital Ring

The section ends abruptly at the footbridge over the tube tracks between Hendon Central and Brent Cross. Hendon Park is standard. Though there was a shiny green Pashley bicycle standing all by itself in the middle as if to tempt opportunistic thieves. A couple of stupid streets later you come to the hideous A406 – the North Circular. I couldn’t be less impressed with this bit of road. The smog, though invisible weighed heavily on me as I photographed these strange structures on the River Brent.

Strange structures on the River Brent, seen from the Capital Ring

A robin atop a Capital Ring blazeAh yes, Hello again River Brent! I had now followed it on and off all the way from Brentford. That is the tenuous link that draws the Capital Ring on the map and you continue to follow it here within earshot of the abomination.

To be fair this little wiggle of Brent Park, ‘The Decoy’, is pretty nice I suppose. I saw a robin and didn’t feel like I was right next to one of London’s worst roads so that can’t be a complete fail can it?

The Decoy, River Brent, Capital Ring

I spotted the Dollis Valley Greenwalk blazes before I knew what I was doing and because I hadn’t seen a Capital Ring one for a bit almost just continued north. But it felt wrong in my bones so I deciphered the map and turned east instead beside a playground and following the potentially minging Mutton Brook.

Pollution and security precautions beside Mutton Brook, Capital Ring, Dollis Valley Greenwalk

What a delight!

A swirly pedestrian bridge in BrentAnd then came the A1 just over the grassy bump to my left. For the next several hundred metres. Ye gads I wasn’t impressed here, can you tell?

As the A1 leaves the North Circular it becomes a lot calmer and I started to enjoy my surroundings again. Soon the path weaves in and out of small stretches of trees and the illusion of being out of London returns just a tiny bit. You join Addison Way for a few feet before turning south into Northway Gardens. The next twenty minutes or so pass in relative peace as you navigate a succession of green spaces culminating in Lyttelton Playing Fields.

Here I watched two moron dogs running around each other with tongues slapping through the air, and then tripping over fallen branches. Proper gay abandon really. The blazes at the tennis courts completely pointlessly guide you along a dingy path behind the courts so that you feel like some sort of freak, when you could have just used the main path, but I’m nothing if not disposed towards staying on the correct track wherever possible.

You come around the edge of the park and skirt the playground of a Jewish school – the sounds of a playground full of noise on a Sunday being quite unexpected! Before you leave these playing fields take a look behind you and you see the posh towers of Henrietta Barnett School and St. Jude’s Church.

St. Jude's Church and Henrietta Barnett School from Lyttelton Playing Fields

The Capital Ring crosses the A1 for the last time and takes you into a rather posh area of residential streets utterly typical of Hampstead Garden Suburb and its reputation. There’s little pretension of wealth here, it just IS wealthy. The Ocado delivery van and the glistening 4×4 vehicles with personalised plates parked in front of large houses attest to that fact in another stereotypical slice.

Literally walk through East Finchley tube station and cross the A1000 at the traffic lights, follow the blazes into Cherry Tree Recreation Ground with its ample playground and calm aura. There is a self-satisfaction in this part of town. Everything feels like it’s smugly pleased with itself. I’m not putting it down in any way but compared to the pretence of wealth I saw in Cranford, when in fact it was a sham, this felt a bit eerie and robotic. Odd how you pick up on things that probably aren’t even there.

This feeling was even more pronounced by the time I reached the top of Highgate Wood. This heavily wooded hill is exactly how all of London’s green spaces should be – loved. Very well loved. People, dogs and babies (babies aren’t people really) all trundling around the paths chatting away and simply enjoying being outside. The day was starting to cloud over but that air of satisfaction was still thick and seductive. This really is a ‘lifestyle’ part of town. If you know what I mean? In the same way you now get those gastro ‘destination pubs’ in the countryside where once you would have had a tumbledown local inn. It’s like a promenade for Londoners who don’t want to be jostled on a shopping street. Similar to the yummy mummies I observed and heard all too loudly in Bushy Park recently.

Weirdly enough the adjacent Queen’s Wood was almost completely deserted. Even the intriguing cafe was quiet. The odd jogger pounded the steep slope down to the allotments but otherwise it was just me and the trees again. How odd that only a few hundred feet can lead to something falling entirely out of favour or fashion.

A jogger in Queen's Wood along the Capital Ring

I climbed the even steeper concrete slope out of the wood and followed Priory Gardens around into the back side of Highgate tube station, where I grabbed a lovely warm Americano and some tissues for my streaming nose.

As I sat on the tube, trying not to look as muddy, I pondered the walk and felt like it was a job half-done. It is a stop-start route of several small pleasing spots but there are long stretches that I’d happily napalm. I’m not usually so harsh with my criticism of suburban areas but I just didn’t warm to it. Maybe the girls I spoke to many moons ago who mentioned their dislike of these sections had planted a seed of doubt, Inception-style, but I won’t lie and claim it’s something it is not. If you want a lovely walk in London this is not it. If you fancy a quick walk in a nice bit of woodland then Highgate will serve you well. If you want a slightly out of the way beauty spot then Barn Hill Pond will serve you superbly.

Otherwise, don’t bother.