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Long-Distance Walks with Mark Moxon

London Loop: Day 10: Moor Park to Elstree

Oxhey Wood
Oxhey Woods

Oh dear, this is a boring walk. I was lucky enough to do it on the hottest and sunniest day of the year so far, a delightful Thursday in April that woke up to blue skies and temperatures in the mid-20s, but even the weather didn't manage to hide the fact that this section of the Loop dragged on and on for me. Sure, the walking is easy enough, the length is about right, and there's plenty of countryside to look at, but before I was even half way through the walk, I wanted it to be over. The reason? Nothing interesting happens on this walk; most of the time you're wandering round farmers' fields, skirting along the outside of uninspiring Green Belt villages, walking through endless beech forest, or stomping along roads. It's not offensive, but neither is it comparable to some of the wonderful walks on the southern half of the Loop, or the pleasantly rural stretches of canal walking in the west. Perhaps that's the problem; this section has no personality.

An Uninspiring Start

Pinnerwood House
Pretty little Pinnerwood House

But never mind; the golf course doesn't last forever, and it isn't long before the track plunges into Oxhey Woods, where things start to get really uninspiring. I normally quite like trudging through English woodland, but Oxhey Woods didn't do anything for me at all. True, it doesn't feel as if you're in London, and it's an English wood, but it all felt a little bland as I tried to follow the irritatingly stuttered instructions, which read more like the instructions to opening a safe than an interesting walk. 'Turn left... bear right... keep ahead... fork left... go right... cross road... keep left... drop down... turn left' reads the book, and all of this is inside a bloody wood! I found myself pining for the delights of the Grand Union canal, where getting lost isn't an option and the guidebook waxes lyrical about coal taxes and mileposts instead of having to devote pages to intricate instructions. I dare say it was as boring to write, as this section was to walk.

Fields, Dumping Grounds and More Golf

The pond where WS Gilbert died
The pond in the grounds of Grimsdyke House where WS Gilbert drowned

The sweet little houses clustered round Pinnerwood Farm were well worth a shot or two, and I thought for a minute that things were going to liven up. Unfortunately the next mile or two was even worse than the lacklustre start to the walk, and this is where I started wishing for a swift run to the end. From Pinnerwood the Loop wanders around some pretty standard Green Belt fields and along the back of some pretty standard Green Belt houses, enlivened slightly by the fact that you can sneak a peek through the fences into suburban gardens that vary from the manicured to the dismal. But from the houses of Hatch End the Loop crosses a field and disappears into a soulless path that squeezes between a wall and a railway for a fair distance, only to be followed by a long stretch of utterly forgettable road walking along the B4542. Not content with the level of boredom this inevitably dumps on the Loop walker, the path then winds through a squalid collection of rubbish-flecked hills that must have been a dumping ground in a previous life, and as a coup de grace it then leads you to another golf course, where you have to walk uphill alongside a fairway, where a sliced ball from the tee up ahead could easily put a premature end to the walk. At least it keeps you on your toes after the last few miles of banality; I was grateful for the mental exercise in dodging the balls, anyway.

Home Stretch

The dam on Aldenham Reservoir
The dam on Aldenham Reservoir, which was built by French prisoners of war

The next segment weaves and winds through to Stanmore Little Common like a drunken teenager, and it's just as irritating. OK, the path has been sent this way to avoid the obvious but boring shortcut along Warren Lane that would cut out all this meandering, but the path twists and turns so much, you have to glue your nose to the guidebook to make sure you don't shoot off in completely the wrong direction. It's a positive relief to end up on a straight northbound path, until you realise that the views over the rolling fields are somewhat marred by the M1 to your right, which you soon have to go under via a bridge, a roundabout and a lot of traffic. Things don't get much better for a while, as the Loop goes along the road until it skirts past the southern end of Aldenham Reservoir, but eventually you get to walk along the reservoir itself, right up to the dam that was built by French prisoners of war in 1795, and which provides pleasant though uninventive views over the reservoir itself.