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.
Despite the lack of excitement in the walk itself, there are some good stories to be discovered on the way, and there's at least one good pub. But these are all in the second half of this section, so try to keep them in mind as the Loop weaves its way through the rather insipid first half. Things kicks off with a golf course – hardly the most exciting walking environment – but try not to get too wound up as today doesn't just start off on a golf course; no, you have to cross another half way through the walk, and you finish on one too. Hurrah.
An Uninspiring Start
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.
I managed to scrape through the wood with the promise of a view over 'much of London' soon after the end of the woods. I thought this would be a great spot for lunch, but in the event the view turned out to be practically non-existent. A solitary spire on a distant hill was obviously Harrow-on-the-Hill, but the rest of London was invisible despite the clear weather; instead of a leisurely lunch overlooking the capital, I found myself defending my sandwiches from the inquisitive horses who lived round the viewpoint with no view, and I eventually decided that moving on had to be my best bet. Unfortunately I was wrong.
Fields, Dumping Grounds and More Golf
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.
Luckily the Loop picks up a little bit from hereon in, though only in comparison to the previous part of the walk. At the top of the golf course is Grim's Dyke, an ancient earthwork that nobody really knows much about and which is pretty imperceptible these days, but at least it's a point of interest, as is the rather dilapidated pond that the Loop now winds round. WS Gilbert, the lyricist who formed one half of the amazingly successful partnership of Gilbert and Sullivan, once owned this pond. Here, in the grounds of Grimsdyke House, Gilbert created a beautiful little paradise, a spot so enticing that he declared that when he passed away, he would like it to be in his garden here, on a summer's afternoon. Unfortunately his wish came true, though a little early; he drowned in this pond in the summer of 1911, which adds a certain poignancy to the decaying grot that chokes the place today.
After a wander through the – woo! – beech forest of Gilbert's erstwhile estate there's at last a viewpoint that actually has a view, and a little way up the road is the kind of pub that's lovely enough to forgive all the tedium of the preceding miles. The Case is Altered (for that is the pub's name) is a cracker, and I highly recommend a pint or two here, if only to get you through the next block of woodland, which is (surprise, surprise) not the most exciting stretch of forest on the planet. Luckily it soon gives way to woodland that's no more interesting, but at least it hides a secret, for tucked away behind the undergrowth, and practically invisible to the walker, is Bentley Priory, the headquarters of Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain, and still a functioning RAF base. The woods also give up after a bit, giving way to much more pleasant grassy slopes that eventually lead into the sort of suburbia that is so obviously expensive it doesn't even try to look like a nice place to live.
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.
By this stage I could sympathise with the poor French POWs who were forced to build this dam – though I was impressed that they managed to do such a bad job that the dam leaked until the invention of concrete, a great piece of getting your own back – and I walked like a zombie through yet another collection of fields, across Watling Street, into another field, into another golf course, and, at last, into Borehamwood. It's hard to believe that this section is only 10.5 miles; it feels a lot longer...