So here we go. One sunny day in September 2009 I set out, with my friend Carole. The first part of the walk was very familiar, from my house to Hampstead Heath. A walk that I have done hundreds of times. I live in Archway, in Islington, not far from the Holloway Road,  And I plan to walk every step off the way to my mum's house in Stornoway, on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.

Well, every step of the way apart from when I have to get a ferry!

View Archway to Hampstead Heath in a larger map

It is about fifteen minutes from my flat to Hampstead Heath. But even this fifteen minute stroll is far from without interest, passing the gates of Highgate Cemetery, a fascinating place where long ago, I used to work.

The route passes the Eastern Cemetery which is not the most interesting bit. Still it can boast the grave of Karl Marx and George Eliot amongst others.

And then past we walk past the pocket gothic wonderland that is Holly Village.

We cut through the Holly Lodge estate and passed a guy who, strangely, asked were we were going. No one ever stops to chat like that in London and it was was wierd that someone did when rather than, just for a walk on the Heath, I was setting off for Stornoway.

The day is getting hotter. And most of the trees are still the green of high summer, but here and there the leaves are turning, Autumn is not so far away and I wonder how far I will get this year.

Then the wonderful Hampstead Heath. The balm of the city bound walker in North London.

 Past the Highgate Ponds where I have been walking for three decades and where Carole and I often go to check out the bird life.

Apart from the ducks and grebes there are always a few "squeakers" ring necked parakeets making a horrible din.

View Hampstead Heath to the Dollis Valley Green Walk in a larger map

No green woodpeckers to be seen today though. Not at first, at least.

 the only trouble here was that it is a bit too familiar and instead of navigating properly we were chatting, so I got slightly lost west of Kenwood.

And then slightly more lost in Sandy Heath looking for a quick cut through to the Heath Extension. I am not so familiar with this part of the Heath and I was not paying proper attention as, well, it is only the Heath. Still,
half an hour from home and I get  us lost.  Six hundred miles and more that I don't know at all to go! A great omen.

Sandy Heath is fun though, with steep slopes to scramble down. Probably these depressions were left by the sand extraction that used to go on here.

We found the way through to the Heath Extension eventually though and got distracted on the playing fields of the extension by a female rugby team processing by.

Having got lost three times in the first and most familar part of the walk I concentrated here, but there was no real need as the next stage, The Dollis Valley GreenWalk, was announced by a handy sign. Well, I say a handy sign, it was spectacularly badly designed as it did not actually show the route of the walk. Still it beckoned on to Big Wood in Hampstead Garden Suberb.

Or Posh Twit Wood as we soon christened it after a daft woman, too busy honking at her friend, failed to notice that her half blind and senile dog followed us instead of her. We had to go back a hundred yards to the junction where she could be seen in the distance still honking away oblivious to the fact that her poor little old dog was utterly lost. But before we lost it she turned round and came charging back.

Unfortunately she decided it was time to go home and that was our way so we were still entangled with her until we finally escaped from Posh Twit Wood.

A bit of Garden Suberb later came Small Wood with a sweet little open air theatre in it.

But then we were skirting the North Circular and things became more posh, much more rubbish strewn and a lot more polluted with traffic noise. Still we had picked up the brook and were walking in woods. Apart from crossing the Finchley Road our route took us under the North Circular and A1 and soon we were away from the traffic and into the Dollis Valley Walk proper.

This proved to be fantastic. It had looked good on the map, a think green line through North London. But it was better than good in reality. The trees in leaf masked any sign of Suburbia for most of the way. Sometimes we went through parks or allotments but these just made for a break from the corridor of woodland flanking the now clear stream.

Hungry we nipped out around Mill Hill East and found a greasy spoon for lunch, next to the most exotic butchers I have ever seen. Actually the meat looked conventional enough but there were adverts for alligator, bison, zebra, kudu and all manner of exotica. By now it was getting very hot for September and I was not too pleased to find I had left my camera in the cafe and had to go back for it.

View The North Circular to Mill Hill Eastish in a larger map

But soon we were in cool woods again. I got a bit confused because there are no road names on the OS map and, of course, I had not had the sense to bring my A to Z. According to the map we had to leave the brook and woodland for a brief detour through some suburban streets. But when we got to where I thought that point was there was a gate beyond and more grass and trees. A cyclist was coming out and saw me puzzling at the map. He said something like "It's that way" and made a positive gesture. So we went on through the gate.

This was of course completely stupid as the cyclist did not know where it was we were going. After a couple more miles of pleasant streamside corridor I was getting seriously worried. The map did not seem to agree with the terrain. Finally we wandered into a little nature reserve where the permissive path brought us right round in a circle. There was no doubt we were lost.

But it was hard to see how. After all, London is not that rich in open countryside. There were only a couple of places that we could possibly have been. We asked some passing walkers who wer of limited help, but did tell us the name of the place further down the valley.

View Mill Hill Eastish to Totteridge in a larger map

This seemed impossible to me as it was a reserve in the country bit round Totteridge and Whetstone, miles out our way. But eventually signs convinced me that this was where we were. Hot and pretty tired now we trudged uphill at least sure that we were going North by the position of the sun.

We hit the road just by a beautiful pub - The Orange Tree - complete with green and duckpond, the interior modern in a blonde wood sort of way, perfectly set off by expensive looking women. A couple of pints of soda water and lime later, off we set down the road to Totteridge and Whetstone Station where we picked up the Dollis Brook and Dollis Valley Walk once more.

We were hot and tired now. I was amazed that Carole had not bailed as she had started out claiming that she might not get past the farmers market at Parliament Hill Fields, which is to say before we had even crossed Hampstead Heath. But she was going strong.

The way opened up now as we passed through parkland and then playing fields and finally up a passage by the side of Underhill - the ground of Barnet FC which Carole added to her tick list of foodball stadia. Now we were on familiar ground. Indeed I used to walk down this road daily to be picked up the gardener I worked for once. But the map showed a better way to make High Barnet Station so we went round the other side, up a little lane and through a field or two before finally coming to High Barnet station.

View The Orange Tree to High Barnet in a larger map

The ride back to Archway was as short as it was pleasant. We hoped to see the beautiful viaduct we had walked underneath en route, but then realised that it must be on the Mill Hill spur. Worth a tube trip some time I would say.

But for now, the first stage of the walk is completed. It was a short one to begin with and one look at the map showed quite what a tiny proportion of the way we covered. Never mind. Onwards and upwards.

Next stage - High Barnet too... Well I am not exactly sure. I think I might just set off from High Barnet tube and see how far I get.


  1. JaneGS said...

    My envy is going to reach new bounds--love the fact that you got lost several times during the most familiar part of the walk. Kudos for Carole for going the distance, and enjoyed the description of the surroundings, especially the butcher shop.  

  2. Hil said...

    Hey Spencer, this looks like a fun thing to do :)  

  3. The last voice heard said...

    I was transported back years by this entry - and I really like the pictures. I used to live in this neck of the woods.

    A treat indeed. Do you intend to bivouac over the coming winter months?


  4. Spencer said...

    Hi Hil!

    Paula, I intend not to do very much in the winter months. If I can I would like to get to Leicester by the end of Autumn and then I will probably wait until Spring.

    I am going to the Lakes at the end of October. And as for winter walking, if I have time I would much rather go up to the Highlands of Scotland in search of real snow than trudge through the Midlands in rain and sleet.

    I will have to sleep out later on, though I am sure. I just intent to put it off as long as practical.  


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