The first hour of this walk is dismal, and is probably the least interesting section on the entire Loop, but persevere and the rewards are there. The last three miles from Barnet to Cockfosters are sublime, so if you're not too fussed about completing the whole Loop and fancy a good long day walk, you could do worse than start at High Barnet station and walk all the way through to the end of day 12. It's one way of chopping out the first bit, anyway.
The reason that the first hour is so dismal is that it's almost all along roads, and not terribly interesting ones at that. OK, so the first bit through Elstree is interesting enough if you like walking through suburbia, and it looks like a pleasant part of the planet to live in, but the problem is that it's about a mile before the Loop leaves the tarmac, and then it's only to pass through the relatively small Scratch Wood. The wood is pleasant enough, but it isn't long before the screaming A1 spoils the party; this is without a doubt the Loop's most irritating road crossing, because you have to walk half a mile south along the side of the carriageway before coming to a grotty underpass, and then you have to walk another half a mile back up the other side. It's a right pain in the arse.
But there is an upside to this annoying plod along the roadside. The next section wanders through the pleasant woods of Moat Mount and through the fields to Dollis Brook, which takes you all the way to Barnet, and after the roaring A-road and the endless miles of concrete and tarmac, it's utterly beautiful. Whether it would be so enchanting without the appalling start to this walk is hard to say, but I thoroughly enjoyed this part of the Loop. I walked it in November as the leaves burned a fiery red and turned the woods into oil paintings, and once the screeching of the A11 disappears into the distance, you're most definitely out in the countryside again.
Unfortunately the rural plodding alongside the trickling Dollis Brook doesn't last forever, and Barnet gets in the way. The houses of outer Barnet appear pretty suddenly and the Loop has to go right through town to get to the treats on the other side, but although this is a pretty long suburban section, it's not without its interesting side. Remember day 7 when the Loop passes through the entire British class system as it winds from Kingston to Donkey Wood? Well, the Loop section through Barnet is similar but in reverse, and it's over a much smaller distance.
It starts off in graffiti-laden south-west Barnet, where the Loop squeezes between Dollis Brook and the houses of a large estate. The most impressive shock of Barnet's outskirts is the amount of rubbish that suddenly chokes the poor brook, and even with the rolling grassy fields and open spaces of the nearby football pitches, this is a part of town that's most definitely got grit.
Things change pretty suddenly once the Loop leaves the sports ground, and the houses start to take on a much more middle class air. As you head north over the main road the Loop ducks into serious commuter belt, which is hardly surprising given that High Barnet tube station is just down the road. Small but perfectly formed flats line the road, and after a short section through more middle class suburbia the Loop climbs up into King George's Fields, a pleasant but featureless park that gives good views back to London.
The biggest treat is yet to come, and as soon as you step out of King George's Fields you just know you're in the realm of the landed gentry. This is Hadley and it's utterly charming; it's also utterly posh, and the houses are large, expensive and to die for. There's a lovely green, complete with swans swimming on a picturesque lake, and every other house is stunning. There's Livingstone Cottage, where the famous explorer stayed on returning from his first African trip in the 1850s, and on the corner are Sir Roger Wilbraham's Almshouses, which ooze history.
It gets better, because beyond the church the path skirts the edge of Hadley Common, a lovely wood that's lined with the largest and most decadent houses of the entire walk. This is where you live if you've made it, and it's fascinating to think back over the last mile or so and how these mansions compare to the estate on the other side of town. Hadley Common is a pretty place to walk through, especially when the winter sun is low and lights up the reds and golds of the autumn. It's worth popping up the steps to check out Beech Hill Lake, a popular fishing spot, and after passing a few more decadent, if more modern houses, you suddenly reach Cockfosters station, and it's time to stop gawping at the rich and go back to reality...