Start and Finish: Mill Hill East underground station, Northern Line, fare zone 4, London borough of Barnet
Distance: 3 miles / 5 km (7,462 steps)
Time: 2 hours (max)
Map: OS Explorer 173 London North.
Chambers dictionary defines a fairway as “in golf, the smooth turf between tee and putting green, distinguished from the uncut rough and from hazards.” This circular route from Mill Hill East tube station twice comes close to a fairway; we can see it and hear it but we can’t legally walk on it. Other parts of the route run along the edge of playing fields, where, if a match is in progress we can linger and watch a bit of soccer, rugby or cricket. However, most of this walk runs through broad strips of woodland which have no connections with sport at all. A small part of it might even be classified as “uncut rough”.
When the sun is shining through the oak leaves it can impart a certain magical quality to the light. For much of the way this walk is beautifully quiet and relaxing, with bluetits chirruping, kestrels hovering and butterflies flitting. It should be noted that there are no benches, toilets or shops on this walk.
If you are in a wheel chair then this route is just made for you: what could be flatter and smoother than a disused railway line? BUT, sadly, access is a problem. There are steps a foot high as you join and leave the ‘Old Railway.’ If you have a good pusher with you then you may be able to make it. They should definitely walk ahead on the sections by the two bridges then come back and let you know what they think. An alternative would be not to use the tube at all but to come by car to the car park at the point where we leave the railway. This is off Champions Way.
Mill Hill East station is on a branch line of its own. If you are coming out of London get the Northern Line that ends in High Barnet, and change at Finchley Central. There are no steps there and you emerge at your destination at street level too. Mill Hill East station has no loos. Turn left along a main road called Bittacy Hill. (Unless you want some provisions, in which case turn right under the railway bridge to Waitrose [loos: yes; café: no.])
Walk from the station up to the first bus stop and turn left into Sanders Lane. Soon turn right up a cul-de-sac called Brownsea Walk (not shown in my street atlas). Instead of going ahead up into Bittacy Hill Park turn left between a nursery and an allotment. At the grassy patch keep right, close to the allotment fence/hedge.
Follow the path into the wood and down some sleeper steps to a disused railway line where we turn right. (Possibly problematic for wheel chair users – see note in Introduction.)
[Mill Hill Old Railway was opened in 1867 and discontinued in 1964. It connected Edgware to Highgate on the Parkland Walk (walk no. 4 on this blog).It is now a 2.3 hectare Grade II Nature Reserve, and is noted for its slow-worms.]
Pass under the Devonshire Road bridge. About 15 paces on the left after the bridge, a couple of steps lead to a pavement which goes up to road level. (I only mention this because there is a convenience store over the bridge across the road and turn right.) If you are in a wheel-chair and this incline is a no-no for you then stick to the railway track: both paths end up in the same place anyway.
We follow the tarmac footpath which goes up the bank from the railway line and turns right parallel to it. We shortly reach a wooden kissing gate and a seven-bar metal gate where we turn right and carry on parallel to the railway lines. (We shall be coming back through the gate later in the walk.) After about 100 steps notice a 5 bar wooden gate on your left. Make a detour through here: the path is reasonably clear and we shall shortly be back on the main track as the path veers to the right. For me this plantation of young oaks is one of the most attractive parts of the walk. You can hear, if not see, a fairway on the left.
We continue in the same direction until the disused railway line is crossed by a tarmac road with metal gates and gate posts. A car park can be seen to the left. Head towards it looking for a dirt track a few feet along on the right. This is our patch of “uncut rough”! Follow it, and on reaching what appears to be an abandoned car park turn left into the playing fields of Mill Hill Rugby Club. (By the way the disused railway line ends a short way on, at a busy main road.) Head along the edge of the field to the club house on the right and go through the gap in the hedge on the other side, i.e. on the left, that is in line with the building. Cross the brand new road, called Champions Way, which isn’t named in my street atlas. Its name presumably has something to do with the Saracens rugby team, whose stadium, Allianz Park, which opened in 2013, is along here. Cross the road at the speed hump and turn left along the pavement.
100 metres or so along on the right is a field entrance with bollards, planters and a 6-bar gate. Go down into this meadow and follow the mown swathe of grass along to the left, keeping close to the hedge. In the second field where another path comes up from the right go through the hedge on the left to the Copthall playing fields beyond. Pleasant as those meadows were they are rather blighted by the racket coming up from the elevated M1 not far away. In the playing fields go right along the boundary footpath then left at the corner. At the next field the path’s surface is paved as it leads down to Greenlands Lane. Keep close to the hedge on your right all the way and on reaching the lane cross over and go to the right a little to follow the next line of trees in the same general direction. At the far right hand corner of this playing field turn left and follow the course of Dollis Brook, now on your right, along to the left corner of the field.
A clear earth path leads up to the stadium entrance and, our route, a car park to the right. Passing the electric car charging points arrive at a strip of woodland featuring a wide earthen track. The number of golf balls lying about indicates two things: we’re close to a fairway again and some of the players can’t aim very straight. When did golf balls stop being white and turn yellow anyway? Out of curiosity I checked out where the path to the right ran. I was a bit surprised to find it ended at an allotment with a sign on the gate warning trespassers to keep out. Another sign on a tree said there was no unauthorised access to the golf course. So we’re stuck with the wide path to the left which is fine because it’s a pleasant enough path and it leads us back to the tube station, joining the disused railway line by the seven bar metal gate we passed earlier.
When you reach that point turn right and retrace your steps along the railway. However do not turn left up the access path we used earlier but carry straight on. On reaching a disused railway arch don’t go under it but bear left up the bank then right onto a road with bollards on it. This is Sanders Lane again. Go out to the left past the houses to Bittacy Hill and turn right down to the tube station.
Returning to the subject of dictionaries, this walk reminds me of Dr Johnson’s famous definition of a net as “anything reticulated or decussated at equal distances with interstices between the intersections.”
“I hope you enjoyed this walk around the interstices as much as I did!”
Peter Turner (September 2020)
Message: Hi Peter,
Last Sunday my friends and I did the above walk in Mill Hill and the whole way we were complimenting you on the excellent directions, details, pieces of information and just helpful hints to enhance the walk. Everything we needed to know about directions, turnings, even finding yellow golf balls was so well thought out.
I am, therefore, writing to thank you for going to such trouble to ensure our enjoyment of the area we live in – none of us knew about this particular walk, so we learnt something.
We’re determined to follow some of your others.
Wishing you well and thanking you again for helping to expand our knowledge.
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(Photos to follow)