Date: 30th January 2022 (with Clare).
Weather conditions: Faultless. A marvellous day of sun and blue skies, and not cold. So far in 2021-22 it cannot be said that Britain has had that much of a ‘winter’ in the usual sense.
County Top bagged: Bushey Heath, which at 501 feet/153m, is the Top of the historic county of Middlesex. This summit is marked by a spot height which is located at approximately TQ152939.
This point lies right on the border with Hertfordshire, and on first consulting the map I thought that the Top lay on the higher ground nearby to the north-east: there are covered reservoirs here which exhibit contour lines of 155m. These are inaccessible, hidden behind private housing and the gates of the waterworks.
However, that doesn’t matter, as the border of Middlesex (now Greater London: see “The Area” below) runs up the A409 at this point and these reservoirs, and contour lines, are in fact on the Hertfordshire side of it. In which case, the Top is actually on the pavement of the A409 just near the crossroads with the A4140 (Bushey High Road) at the grid reference cited.
Middlesex has not existed since 1965, and this summit now lies (just) in Greater London, which has higher ground on its southern edge, at least. Bushey Heath is therefore a historic Top only. It ranks 82nd of the 91 historic Tops by altitude, and 151st on the full list.
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Start and end point of walk: Started at Hatch End railway station, which is on the (overground) line between London Euston and Watford Junction. Finished at St Peter’s church, Bushey Heath, from where we caught a #142 bus to Stanmore station, which is the terminus of the (underground) Jubilee line.
At a leisurely pace, the walk took us just under three hours. It could be done the other way around but refreshment options at Hatch End looked limited, whereas there’s plenty in Bushey Heath, including…
Pub at end: The Three Crowns in Bushey Heath. Highly recommended — arguably, this pub was the best thing about the walk. Excellent beer, friendly staff and stupendous food, and Clare insists I point out this was true of her lunch and not just my own. I type this hours later and I still have a food-baby.
Distance walked: 5.75 miles/9.25km approximately. Should you want to do so, the walk could be shortened in various ways, as the map makes clear.
Feet of ascent: By our route, 460 feet/140m approximately.
Difficulty: ★. It’s been very dry lately which will have kept down the mud levels, but though some parts of this walk might be a bit slimy in certain conditions I cannot see that hiking boots would ever be necessary wear.
Ease of access: ★★★★. Can’t quite offer five stars as there is a need to change onto suburban trains to reach both the start and end of the walk. All the same, this is not a difficult place to get to, and if you really wanted to try, could probably be done in a day trip from most of England, at least.
Scenic qualities: ★★. At some point on this blog I rather scathingly predicted that this walk would be a definite one-star award. In the end it turned out to be not as wholly suburban as all that, though it certainly starts and ends that way, and there’s no real summit. However, the woodlands of Harrow Weald Common are pleasant and it probably has enough going for it to gain the second star.
The area: Middlesex was a county of great antiquity, as its name indicates. The ‘sex’ at the end is not a biological reference, but links it with other county names like Sussex (the kingdom of the South Saxons) and Essex (the East Saxons). In other words, these were the guys in the middle, and they’d been there since at least the 7th century AD when the place was recorded as Middleseaxon in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The county was small — of the historic counties of England only Rutland was less extensive — but rich enough due to its proximity to London, which it served as an agricultural hinterland.
And so things went on until the Victorian era, when, thanks to the building of the metropolitan railways, the UK’s capital began an inexorable, vast expansion that swallowed up Middlesex whole. Administratively, it was the first of all the historic counties to disappear. Most of those that were erased went in 1974, but Middlesex was gone from 1965 when it was formally absorbed into the newly-created Greater London. John Betjeman, Poet Laureate (and a native of the historic county) wrote in Metroland:
Dear Middlesex, dear vanished country friend,
Your neighbour, London, killed you in the end.
Middlesex lives on in some ways. It’s still one of the 18 first-class cricket counties, and there’s a University of Middlesex. Within its former boundaries are the headquarters of English football (Wembley stadium), cricket (Lord’s) and rugby union (Twickenham). But otherwise, the non-initiate would be unable to distinguish it from the rest of Outer London these days.
Map: This was a walk with good signposting, but without many views to offer points of orientation, it probably is worth bringing along OS Explorer 173: London North in some form, just in case you go wrong somewhere.
On this summary map the starting point is to the bottom left, and the summit lies near the crossroads to the left (west) of Stanmore Common.
Route: While in no way a hillwalking expedition, considering the highly suburban location, this could be worse. There’s a reasonable amount of pleasant countryside, and some views that do confirm you are up in the air, although the last couple of miles are less attractive. I wouldn’t travel great distances to do the walk but it made for a pleasant Sunday morning stroll to end a weekend in London.
From the entrance to Hatch End station, go up the stairway and then turn left at the top, to cross the railway line, before turning left down The Avenue. If this seems like suburban hell, rest assured there is worse to come. Carry on until turning right down Royston Park Lane. Where this ends, turn left along the road for a short while, then go right, down the lane to the golf club, which is signposted as a public footpath to ‘Old Redding’.
Credit to the golf club who have done their best to erect signs that guide walkers through the fairways and greens without incident. You mostly continue straight ahead, and noticeably uphill. Passing the practice tees in their concrete blockhouse (pictured), you come to a track at the top of the last fairway, where turn right.
Just before this ends at a locked gate, look for the first of the day’s “London Loop” signs, directing you left, up a path into the woods. The London Loop was fully defined in 2001, and is a 150-mile circuit of the capital; today’s route uses it for the next 2½ miles or so, and ample signposting makes it easy enough to follow.
Where this path crosses the road again, there is a car park and an advertised view point. The panorama from here is OK (see the picture further up the page) though don’t expect sight of Buckingham Palace or anything. Carry on to the strangely-named The Case Is Altered pub (a possible lunch stop if walking later in the day than we were), then turn left into the woods of Harrow Weald Common.
Keep following the London Loop signs which lead you down a straight avenue then direct you to the right near houses, and eventually across a road and into the grounds of Bentley Priory. This was the HQ of RAF Fighter Command in World War 2, which explans the pillbox (pictured). Nowadays the place has been converted into premium housing, although there is a Battle of Britain museum here which, if you have more time than we did, may be worth a visit.
Follow the path to an obvious junction, where turn left. This way emerges into the ragingly posh gated estate of Priory Drive, whose residents have erected plenty of signs that basically say “Piss off, walkers: you are only allowed here because we are legally obliged not to set our Rotweillers on you”. As an old anarchist, this is the kind of place through which I just want to rampage with a spray-can of paint and/or a large dog with a continence problem.
Anyway, after negotiating these clipped acres, you come out on the A4140 near one entrance to Stanmore Common. It would be nice if there was a way through this land to the north-east but evidence suggests otherwise, so after this point, the remainder of the walk is all on roads. Turn left, proceed until reaching the traffic lights, then turn right, and at some point just after the junction you will attain the Top of Middlesex. Not that you would know this, but in some directions (south and east), it is 25 miles at least before there is any higher ground. All you see to mark this spot, however, is a newly-built housing estate and a radio mast.
From this point Stanmore tube station is about 2 miles away. However, not quite realising that we had already reached the summit (see the notes above), we completed a near-circuit of the large waterworks that occupy the top of this hill, heading via Clay Lane and then Windmill Lane, back onto the A4140 near Bushey Heath town centre — see the map. Heading north-east along this road then leads you past plenty of cafés and take-aways and, eventually, to the Three Crowns pub outside St Peter’s church, from where you can catch a bus to Stanmore, and which is as good a place to end the walk as any.
Commentary: This is the fourth CT walk out of my last five (after Manchester, Doncaster and The Wirral) to be a low-altitude and relatively suburban stroll. Perhaps I should be loftier with my ambitions. But this variety is one appealing feature of this project, and I have plenty of all kinds of walk left to do yet. Clare and I had come down to London for the weekend and with the sun resolute in its desire to not stop shining throughout January, it was a good way to occupy the Sunday morning. Lunch at the Three Crowns was spectacular, worth walking nearly six miles for, and we needed little to fully fit the stereotype of the suburban hikers, unable to get that far out of the metropolis on a Sunday, but desirous of some exercise, and not being any good at golf.
Today these things can’t even be attributed to my adding all the modern Tops to my list back in spring 2020. Middlesex was dead and gone before I was born, yet will never lose its status as one of the original historic 91, a true county that had lasted for well over a thousand years before the 20th century could no longer resist its desire to reorganise it out of existence.
I know I’m not the only person to have set out to bag all the historic CTs — there are guidebooks — so how many people in the past have wandered up Bushey High Road with their OS maps in hand, attempting to triangulate all the available data and establish just where it is that the former kingdom of Middlesex reached its culminating point? In 2022 this spot is now, more-or-less, located at the entrance to yet another new gated estate, an architectural form which seems dominant in the area. Perhaps the Middle Saxons would have sympathised, evolving as they did into constituents of a nation that’s built the occasional fortress.
Either way I doubt they foresaw London becoming the biggest city in the world at one point in history — and even now, the fourth biggest in Europe (after Istanbul, Paris and Moscow, I believe) — and thereby eating up their former kingdom. I do basically like the place, and London has accommodated us pleasantly this weekend. Whether it’s truly representative of ‘the UK’ is doubtful — but I should say more about this in a fortnight’s time, when I am scheduled to return here and bag the Tops of Kent and Greater London, lying to the south of the city, on the North Downs. Another low-altitude and (possibly) suburban one, but hey.
That’ll do for now. The weekend is done and it’s back to work tomorrow. Will Boris Johnson, the party animal, survive in office as Prime Minister until I return to the metropolis? If he doesn’t, will his replacement be any less of an overly entitled, ideological Tory twat? Do I even care? The sad thing is, probably not.
3 thoughts on “44. Bushey Heath, Middlesex”
That could definitely have been worse.
I live near the Greater London and Kent county tops. Have driven over the first which i am guessing doesn’t count. Not been up the second which I understand is technically in someone’s garden.