On previous arrivals at Stanmore station I've always turned either left or right, never walked straight across the road. This is a pity, because it turns out the homes behind the hedge are Modernistjewels decked out with flat roofs and rounded staircase towers, built in the late 1930s and part of the Kerry Avenue Conservation Area. They're also London's last hurrah before the Green Belt begins, behind the gate at the top of the rise, on former farmland snapped up by Middlesex County Council in 1940 and safeguarded from development. Since then Stanmore Country Park has been overgrown with trees, mostly oak, beech and sycamore, becoming a prime example of how secondary woodland can take hold in a couple of generations. It's large enough to get lost in, so (unless you like QR codes) best download the nature trail before you arrive.
For the best bit, keep walking through and up until you reach open meadow. This is Wood Farm, formely a pig farm owned by a British heavyweight boxing champion, then used for landfill, and now a gorgeous open space. A carpet of thick bramble scrub covers the hillside, at this time of year resplendent with multi-coloured wild flowers, mown through with broad sweeping footpaths to provide public access. But the best bit comes at the summit, where a gravel circle marks out the best place to stand to enjoy the so-called 'London Viewpoint'. From here the skyline's clear all the way round from Alexandra Palace (105°) to the Heathrow Control Tower (212°), with Wembley, Harrow-on-the Hill and the BT Tower featuring prominently. Docklands and the lower half of the Shard are shielded somewhat by Hampstead Heath, but I'm definitely adding this to my shortlist of "safe places to stand and gawp in awe if aliens ever park a mothership over central London".
I briefly admired the wedge of gabled brick mansions on the brow of the hill, that is until I walked up to Wood Lane and discovered they were newbuilds, part of a gated community shoehorned into a super-prime location. Ten fortunate families will get the chance to live up here overlooking sparrowhawks and the London Eye, enjoying "contemporary luxury living in an exclusive, picturesque setting" and paying three million apiece for the privilege. Alas, the developers have only managed to sell half of their luxury cluster despite them being on the market for over two years, but it's up-front cash from the project which has allowed the rest of Wood Farm to be spruced up for the rest of us to enjoy. This open hillside is a peaceful delight... and if you'd like more details/pictures then the official website is here, and Ian's Visited here.
Last year when I reported on London's artificial hills I missed one, or at least I included one in my list I'd never visited. That's Belmont, formerly Bell Mount, a substantial pile of earth dumped in the early 18th century to act as the focus of a landscaped view. The beneficiary was the 1st Duke of Chandos, whose stately home at Cannons (near Stanmore) was the wonder of its age.
Coupling Palladian and Baroque styles, tourists flocked to Cannons to enjoy the collection of artworks on display, and to walk in the extensive water gardens. The western vista was terminated by the aforementioned mound, well over a mile from the mansion, and topped off by an elegant summerhouse. Even George Frideric Handel was the resident composer at Cannons for a couple years, such was the place's fame. But the South Sea Bubble burst the family's accounts, and after the Duke died in 1747 the building and all its contents had to be auctioned off to satisfy debts, leaving not a brick behind. The estate eventually became the suburb of Canons Park, the North London Collegiate School occupies the site of the great house, and the ornamental mound was absorbed into Stanmore Golf Club.
Some golf clubs don't mind public footpaths weaving through, but Stanmore is not one of these, and tolerates its public right of way by confining it to a six-foot fenced off corridor. This footpath kicks off from a dogmess bin on Vernon Drive, rising fairly steeply between a pair of spacious semis and climbing into scrappy woodland. The summit comes quickly, 105m above sea level, and is surrounded on its various flanks by three tees and four greens. The trig point sits beside the tee for the 3rd hole, while the tee for the 7th hole has the best view, not that the golfers seem to like being overlooked by hiking non-members. How brutally the footpath divides the course in two, with only one pair of unlocked gates halfway down the other side to provide groundsman's access, but how marvellous the rest of us can still climb the Duke's belle mount and view the pleasure grounds beyond.
Pinner Park Farm
Back in the golden age when councils had money, which would be about ten years ago, Harrow produced a series of five full-colour family-friendly fold-out Heritage Trails. I bought the set, because they were excellent, but until yesterday had never followed the Hatch End loop. I knew the leaflet was out of date when Point Of Interest Number 6 was supposed to be the LetchfordArms pub, but reality was a row of six 3 bedroom townhouses, with the inn sign preserved apologetically outside. Thankfully the next Point of Interest remained intact on the other side of the West Coast mainline... a 212 acre dairy farm, somehow still undisturbed.
Most of Pinner Park Farm is off-limits unless you're a farmer, or a cow, but a single footpath crosses centrally allowing public access. Across the fences cattle graze, along with the occasional horse, producing the expected aroma. Some of the hedges are supposedly medieval, from when this used to be the Archbishop of Canterbury's deer park. Stacks of silage bales line the track, concealing part of the 18th century farmhouse from view. The unusual rotunda building in the farmyard was once a milking parlour. There's very much a working feel, and every chance of catching a truckload of pedigree Aberdeen Angus bullocks being taken off to market. The one oddity carving through is George V Avenue, a demure tree-lined 1930s dual carriageway once intended to reach Watford, but which terminates just up the road three miles short.
Three years ago landowners Harrow Council proposed replacing the working farm with a country park, 'to improve public access', with luxury housing shoehorned in around the farmhouse to help pay for restoration and renewal. Their consultation offered two options, neither of which included continuing agricultural use, but 53% of respondents completed their forms demanding that the farm remain. The council of course decided to press on with their plans regardless... but the newsmedia and the Friends ofPinner Park Farm have since fallen silent, so maybe the entire project's stalled. It seems the public would rather have a farm they can walk through than a country park they can roam, however ultimately realistic that may be.