Back on the London Outer Orbital Path again and section 17 easily leaps into my top 5 London walks

Start point: Cockfosters Tube station, zone 5 Piccadilly Line.

End point: Enfield Lock railway station, zone 6, trains to Tottenham Hale and Liverpool Street.

Distance: 8.96 miles / 14.4 kilometres.

Ordnance Survey Maps app route link here
Download the route as a GPX file hereĀ Cockfosters to Enfield Lock railway station

This stretch from Cockfosters to Enfield Lock Station looks, from space, like it will be pleasant enough but with some of the route curling around edgelands I wasn’t entirely sure if it was going to be machete season or not. Last week I walked from Chesham to Amersham in a deep crescent, and found lots of paths of pain, with nettles and brambles taking over. Happily I soon discovered that this LOOP section is well cared for and pretty much entirely safe to explore.

I had always planned to start this walk on this day, and to go as far as Chigwell if it wasn’t too roasting, but when I woke up at 4:45 due to stress and nonsense I decided to kick myself into action right away. As the tube pulled in to Cockfosters’ distinctive station at about 6:30am I had already decided that this would be a sub-10 miler and that I wouldn’t even reach the ‘official’ end point at Enfield Lock but that I would pull off early and aim to be in the bath at home by 10:30am.

Leaving any end of the line Tube Station is a fairly weird affair because you know you are at a vaguely historic end point for the whole city. They are a statement of possession. Places like the aforementioned Metropolitan Line stations in Buckinghamshire are stretching that to the limit but it does very much feel like London’s smokey tendrils are poking into places where they aren’t quite sure they should be, but very much want to be. The new Oyster Card and Contactless pay regions down as far south as Gatwick are other manifestations of this phenomena. Cockfosters is one of those places that people hear about, snigger at, but have never been to deliberately. Maybe a post-pub slumber carried you all the way there but you surely awoke in a panic, prayed that this was not the last service and hoped that you would soon be far far south again.

Today was the second time I’d been to Cockfosters because I had already walked over here from Elstree and Boreham Wood some time ago. I’d seen the pleasant residential streets to the west of the station but I was not really prepared to love Trent Park as much as I did, despite its good reputation. Come out the Tube and take the little fenced path from the car park. Soon you pass through a tree shaded hole in the hedge and you are left like Mr Benn in a different world, one of rolling valleys and bunnies. Oh so many bunnies.

Wabbits

This place is great! It seems to go on forever and I can imagine that it’s very busy after 10am each day. When it’s this early you will see almost nobody. I found one man and his dog strolling along but not another pedestrian human shape here or anywhere else for the next four or five miles. I did see a tent in the Country Park and envied them, but otherwise, nothing.

Trent Park dips and rises, curves and revels in its constituent parts. A meadow, a towering airy wood, a pond, a lowering dark and menacing claustrophobic forest, a bloody obelisk for heaven’s sake! I hope to come back here some time and have a proper explore because it seems to be one of the best parks in all of London.

Obelisk in Trent Park

The north border of the park is the fairly busy Hadley Road but you are only on it for a matter of minutes before you take a path beside fields into a valley. Lots of flies, as is normal for high summer whatever time of day, but nothing too awkward to circumvent. One fallen tree and some half-hearted brambles that you could almost sneeze out of your way. You follow the bottom of this shallow valley for a couple of miles of well signposted dinks. Butterflies marauded all around me as I shocked them out of the long grass, and at times it felt like I was being followed by one in particular who was flexing and provoking me like a drunken fool who thinks you’ve looked at him funny.

Trolls along the London Outer Orbital Path

These troll-like trees remind me very much of Nikolai Astrup’s paintings.

The noise of the A1005 is ever-present by the time you start to climb up the other side of the valley and it feels a bit like the magic is fading from the walk. A glance at the map and you see the rapidly approaching suburban fringe. Your stomach drops. But then you come out of a little patch of dingy woods at the top of the valley and you are blessed with one of those long views of London which form, for me, a very large part of the reason why I bother with them at all. The field drops off about one hundred metres away and rises again in a couple of distant ridges, and then beyond the furthest ridge you see the grey fangs of the City poking into the hazy sky. A little further to the right you see the distinctive hulking bulk of Alexandra Palace and its radio mast. Right now you feel as if you are truly on an orbit around London with the road rushing nearby, at this early hour, thronging with workers being sucked into London’s awesome center of gravity.

Tumble lane near the A1005Of course the spell is tarnished a little when you actually try to cross the A1005, AKA ‘The Ridgeway’. It’s an unpleasant affair where you have no option but to wait for a significant gap in the closest stream of traffic, stride visibly and slowly into the middle of the damn road, and then watch for a glimmer of recognition from the second stream as they may or may not deem you worthy of making it to the other side. Today I was lucky.

The day was barely starting for most people but I was already sweaty and plastered with pollen. I could feel my skin prickly with it. The road made me feel dirtier but you don’t stay on it for more than a few minutes. The first real turning to the left is indeed the one you want to follow and you find yourself gazing down a gently undulating grey ribbon of paved track dipping into another valley. Birds began to replace the noise of the road behind me and a curious vividly-red chested wee fella decided to eyeball me from a wire above me. I think it’s a linnet? I’m very shit at birds. It quickly felt rural again here…

Linnet bird

At the bottom of the hill there’s a terrifying ruined farm. Roof caved in, toilet with its door to the yard long gone. Echoes of a deep south horror film transplanted to Enfield. The row of residences next to it surely keeping a watchful eye for anyone trying to move into the land without permission, but the paddock with strange horses barely caring at all about me. Obviously far more concerned about the insects trying to drain their blood.

Tilting upwards again the path crosses a rail line and touches the edge of another farm. This time I found a paddock with a lone foal standing under a tree. I said ‘Hello Sir’ to him or her, I didn’t check, and stood still. He stared at me for a second and then decided that I might have food on my person. Cuteness abounded as her head popped through the fence towards me. I was more than happy to receive this greeting and gave him a bit of a rub along her nose, but no food of course. It’s not often I get to stroke a horse before 8am and this little encounter made my morning all the better.

Foal face

The LOOP enters a final period of prolonged greenery now. Short stretch of woodland is followed by entry into the appropriately names Hilly Fields Park, the latter with the most stunted goal posts I’ve seen. I’m either not properly thinking about what kind of sport they play on this hideously sloped pitch where crows are big enough to be goalkeepers, or they’ve been there for centuries and the lower half of the football goals are buried along with hordes of Roman coins and bubonic plague.

White sprayThis park is unexpectedly cheery. I finally started to see humans here. Pedestrian, dog-walking human beings. I even got a few quiet ‘Good morning’ noises from them as I strode on along meandering tarmac paths. Cross a road and take the path to the right of the Rose & Crown pub, Under New Management dontchaknow, then follow it along the edge of a field full of sheep. It then starts following the Turkey Brook, stay on the south side as there’s another path on the other bank. A primeval pond replete with swirling multicoloured algae will appear to the right and from time to time you’ll see, or perhaps only hear, the crash of joggers with dogs as they burst out like startled wildfowl.

Eventually you find yourself walking down an alley flanked with bushes and overhearing a weary mother refusing to answer her son’s arithmetic questioning, then you cross the Not-So-Great Cambridge Road (the A10) by bridge and the next alley is flanked with those huge metal spears. Your gut knows now that you’re coming into a suburb. This is how all towns start and end.

A tree further down this final alley is festooned with flowers and tributes, none of which I read, and all of which I tried to avoid looking at too closely. I suspect that someone may have been murdered here. It looks through the metal spears and into the overflow carpark of the local cemetery.

Here is the town. Like a flash you’re in a residential street with people up and out, ready for work. The path takes you towards the high street and a Council litter collection patrol gamely clearing out the stream culverted to the left. On the high street Greggs the bakers were still stocking the fridge by the door with salad boxes, which looked surprisingly tasty but not as tasty as the Greek patisserie across the road. I managed, somehow, to avoid both shops and despite my growling belly took on today’s last reach of London Outer Orbital Path Section 17.

Enfield Lock Station

I watched a large number of horny pigeons showing off to each other, warbling, cooing, and spinning like Sufis. Then I crossed the crumbling footbridge over the rail line and turned north past an old lady in a dressing gown, towards Enfield Lock railway station. The level crossing was blaring warnings so I had only moments to wait until a train appeared. I sat down and fell asleep within seconds, jerking awake again at Tottenham Hale because my brain yelled at me that I was a fool for forgetting the Victoria Line goes there. Just like that I whizzed across and under all of London. The Victoria Line is great. I popped into Sainsbury’s but was still home and in the bath before 10:30am.

What a great morning!