Monday, 23 May 2011

London LOOP Section 12 Cockfosters - Chingford

Spring Blossom
Considering that I am now trying to complete the sections of the London LOOP furthest from home I reckoned that the next official section from Cockfosters to Enfield Lock was rather too short at only 8.5 miles and looked therefore for another finishing point. I reckoned that extending to Chingford would be a better bet, making for a 13 mile walk instead. The spring weather was continuing to hold steady and it seemed necessary to take advantage while I could!
Entrance to Trent Park
The outward journey was far from easy, taking a considerable time to get from Worthing to Chingford due to the early morning traffic in East London. I found a convenient place to park just across the way from the train station at a point that I expected to finish the walk later on the common. When I made enquiries at the station on the best fare available to get to Cockfosters I was encouraged to buy an Oyster Card, a useful little facility I had never thought about before. This I did for the rather convoluted trip changing twice at Walthamstow Central and then again at Finsbury Park. It took about an hour to get to Cockfosters.
Trent Park Pond
I had been looking forward to this section of the walk, courtesy of a work colleague who had waxed lyrical about Trent Park, the first notable place I would visit today. When I emerged at Cockfosters I immediately noticed how different the stages of spring were here in North London compared to my time in Cornwall. All the horse chestnut trees seemed to be out in full bloom, seemingly about three weeks ahead of schedule. They provided a beautiful avenue of trees alongside a largish cemetery, a rather auspicious start to the walk I thought…
The path then wound around some woodland before getting to Trent Park properly. The park was busy with Easter holiday families enjoying the warm spring sunshine but the café was too good to miss. I picked up some sandwiches and headed on through the park, making my way through woodlands dotted with bluebells (no carpets here such as the woods near where I live). Eventually I came upon the lakes at the centre of the park and decided that this was as good a place as any to have my lunch. While I ate my sandwiches I was amused by the industry of a local coot, swimming backwards and forwards across the lake fetching and carrying good bedding materials for its nest.
Botany Bay View
Eventually I summoned up the energy to get going and wandered up through the parkland away from the main house that the park was once associated with. This is now a campus of Middlesex University, but today there were only glimpses of the architecture as the leaves were starting to come in on all the trees in front. The rest of the park was lovely and fresh looking, with leaves all starting to react to the warmth of the sun. I think that virtually all of them came out during the day!
Apple Blossom

The end of the park was fairly obvious, when I reached a rather unwelcome busy road. Fortunately I only had to cross and not walk along. As I crossed I became aware of a very large obelisk on the edge of the woods. I later found out that it was brought here by the former owner of Trent Park, Sir Philip Sassoon, in 1934 from another park to impress the Duke and Duchess of Kent who were staying at the time. The obelisk has also featured in an episode of Dr Who, although one from 1982 rather than the more recent incarnation of the programme.
Rape Fields
Once across the road I really felt like I had left London behind completely as the path continued around some fields full of crops. All unremarkable stuff but pleasant nonetheless, especially as the waft of spring flowers and blossom helped complete the scene. Rather better than the smell of exhaust fumes and industry! At the foot of the slope down from the road I met the small stream of Salmon’s Brook. This was barely a trickle and yet had had enough energy to carve itself something of a valley, which the LOOP used to get along to Gordon Hill. Away on the horizon was the curiously named Botany Bay, named after the Australian outpost rather than the other way around. Apparently it was remote enough from London to acquire the name, which has stuck ever since! They were the only houses I could see; a remarkable feat considering I was still firmly in the London Borough of Enfield.
LOOP this way
Eventually I came upon yet another main road at Cuckolds Hill. Initially the path did its best not to dump me on the pavement and tracked the road, but eventually I was required to walk alongside the traffic until reaching the Royal Chase Hotel, a rather sumptuous looking place and not the type that walkers would normally frequent. I escaped from the traffic down a very rutted concrete road to Rectory Farm. The farm looked like it had fallen on hard times for many of the outbuildings were derelict and the yard was a dumping ground for old machinery and assorted junk. It was a farm that looked like it probably would a developers dream, although its inclusion in the green belt may have been partly responsible for its dereliction.
Cricket Soon
By now I was starting to get a bit hot and bothered in the afternoon sun and was pleased when at Clay Hill I got some respite when the path dived down into some more woodland. I rounded a very attractive looking cricket pitch that will surely have been in business within days of my passing and then back down into the valley of Turkey Brook that I had met briefly at Rectory Farm. The character of the walk had completely changed in less than half a mile from open agricultural countryside to tended parkland for I had now entered Hilly Fields Park. My ears pricked up as I wandered through the park, for it was here that I heard the first cuckoo of spring, always an exciting moment. Strangely I have never seen one of these birds after all these years of listening out for them!
The path through Hilly Fields Park was slightly annoying in that it did not follow the course of the stream all the way, choosing at one point to climb away from it before returning down towards the Rose and Crown pub. I wasn’t sure of the reason for this, but it could have had something to do with the superior views gathered of the picturesque pub and also a rather out of place looking bandstand stood by the stream in the valley below.
Rose and Crown
Once past the Rose and Crown the path continued alongside the Turkey Brook although its surroundings were no longer parkland but less manicured countryside. I passed the rather odd cut of the ‘New River’ a watercourse originally designed to carry drinking water into London, but now just a forgotten relic. The path continued along through woodland until it came to some very attractive fishing lakes that were apparently once the fishponds for Elsynge Hall, a fashionable house for Elizabethan gentry and allegedly the setting for the famous moment when Sir Walter Raleigh put his cape down over a puddle so that Queen Elizabeth wouldn’t have to get her feet wet. The house has long since disappeared, having been demolished as long ago as 1660.
Elsynge Hall Lakes
Once past the lake I headed up towards a more modern house of note, that of Forty Hall built by Inigo Jones in 1636. This is an architectural gem, but alas my detour today was rather in vain as the whole house was encased in scaffolding and I was very disappointed. All the facilities boasted here were also closed including the café and toilets, although the grounds were thronged with people still having a good time. I headed back to the path and met with the Turkey Brook once again at Maidens Bridge, a rather attractive brick built bridge. The path crossed and re-crossed the Turkey Brook at this point in order to move forward.
Forty Hall
After all my countryside walking today I had to contend with urban walking for the next three miles or so as I had now reached Enfield Lock. After crossing the new course of the New River which passed unseen through some pretty large looking tunnels I then crossed the very busy A10 a little further on by means of a footbridge. This looked over yet another cemetery, this time full of cherry trees now sporting their big puffy looking pink blossoms. This would be the last greenery I would see for awhile as I headed through the built up area of Enfield Lock. This wasn’t a particularly pleasant part of the walk – Enfield Lock is hardly the most salubrious part of London although to be fair it wasn’t the worst section either and it did give me the chance to top up with refreshment.
Enfield Lock
The main problem with Enfield Lock was the rubbish. The poor old Turkey Brook, which had been my companion for some time now was choked with rubbish and one delivery agent had decided that the best place for his pizza flyers were in the stream, which defaced a significant length beside the recreation grounds on the other side. A lonely looking mandarin duck, complete with its colourful and regal looking plumage looked like it was really slumming it in such surroundings!
Lea Navigation
After passing the second of the stations in this area things began to perk up when I reached Enfield Lock on the Lea Navigation, after which this area was named. Any thoughts of the delightful section of canal that I had walked along near Uxbridge were soon dashed. The lock keepers house was derelict looking and a rather nasty looking nightclub type establishment alongside was in a very sorry state indeed. Its name, Rifles, was obviously in recognition of the former works here which produced the famous Lee Enfield Rifle. There is little trace of the works visible from the LOOP and any thoughts of following the canal were quickly squashed when the path changed direction a few hundred metres further on.
Feeder Channel
My route followed the River Lea feeder channel, part of an extensively engineered section of this river. It wasn’t unpleasant but didn’t have anything like the same interest level that a canal would have with its narrow boats and beautiful engineering. Soon I was to leave the waterway behind entirely and cross the Sewardstone Nature Reserve, a rather dull place only notable for the many mileage signs and expensive looking all-weather walking surface.
The Onward Path
As I reached another road the guide book told me to look out for a path leaving to cross fields opposite a pub known as the Royal Oak. Well the pub sign was there, but the pub had long gone! It had now been replaced by a housing estate, so watch out if you are using the official directions! After the built up area it felt good to be out in proper countryside once again and the path headed uphill for the first time in seemingly ages! By now the miles under my feet were beginning to tell and I felt proper tired when I reached the top (more than 100 in a week!). I was compensated though by the view behind me across the Lea Valley and the drinking water reservoirs that dominate the scene. Away in the distance I could once again see Canary Wharf, suggesting that I was once again heading back towards the Thames.
Looking back to Lea Reservoirs
The onward piece of countryside was delightful with rolling hills dominating this particular part of the green belt. I passed by a recently restored Carrols Farm, which I didn’t recognise as the rickety sounding farm described in the guide book. Shortly after I came upon Gilwell Park, the centre of Scouting in the UK. Strangely, although growing up as a Scout and even doing some time as a leader, I had never been here before. Of course now that I have no links with the movement I guess I had no business looking anywhere beyond the front gate, although it was tempting!
Carrols Farm
The last stretch of walk was probably the most enjoyable for scenery as the path found its way through some delightful woodland, remnants of the once more extensive Epping Forest. Truth be told though it was all rather wasted on me as it had been a long day and I was a bit hot and bothered. My feet were also yelling at me to stop – they were sore after carrying me so many miles in such a short space of time. I was relieved to get back to the car park and even more relieved when I saw the ice cream van that had been there when I left in the morning! I had a lemon sorbet cone, which I didn’t expect a lot from but was absolutely heavenly!
Gilwell Park
This is a section of LOOP that is pleasant but doesn’t reach the heights of other sections earlier. The trip from one end to the other by public transport is fairly convoluted but despite the two changes didn’t seem too lengthy. There are various refreshment stops on the way, but it was hard to beat the one in Trent Park for its setting, although it was rather less middle class than I expected! At 13 miles it weighs in a bit further than previous sections, but isn’t too onerous. Only 26 miles left from here…
Entering Waltham Forest

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