Main walk 14.1km (8.8 miles)
a) With short cut to lunch deduct 1.3km (0.8 miles)
c) Longer walk to Barnet 18.1km (11.2 miles)
d) Longer walk to Cockfosters 19.8km (12.3 miles)
e) Totteridge to Cockfosters short walk 8.5km (5.3 miles)
Main walk 2 out of 10. Longer walk 3 out of 10
OS Explorer 173, OS Landranger 176
This walk, reachable by Underground, explores an area of greenbelt that would have been engulfed by the 1930s expansion of London's suburbia but for the resistance of local residents. The result is a large chunk of countryside that intrudes into London on the so-called Northern Heights - the hills above and behind the more famous ones of Hampstead and Highgate. At one point on this walk you can actually look down on Alexandra Palace and Highgate Hill, and have the illusion that everything in between is still countryside.
Traditionally this area was haymeadows, providing fodder for the horses used for transport in London. These meadows are now the subject of benign neglect for the most part. Some are even returning to woodland, though others are still cut annually and produce some wild flowers in late spring. At one point on the walk you can see grazing cattle, and you visit two villages that still manage to retain their character despite suburban London lapping at their doorsteps. There is also some woodland and the former boating lake of a grand house, now turned to a wooded wetland.
This is a good walk at any time of year, but is particularly nice in early spring when the woods around Darlands Lake have wood anemones and extremely rare wild snakeshead fritillaries growing. Early April sees the many blackthorn bushes on this walk erupt into white blossom, though catching this at its best is tricky as it only lasts a couple of weeks. In late May and early June the fields after lunch are awash with buttercups, and also in June the wooded wetland has huge giant hogweed flowers and in autumn there are lots of sloes to pick. From November to March the paths can in places be very muddy - the underlying soil here is clay, which retains water.
One other caveat: though this is a proper rural walk, urban noises do intrude a little bit. Depending on the wind direction and atmospheric conditions you can sometimes hear traffic noise from the (largely unseen) suburbs over the hills. In the middle part of the walk the (also unseen) A1 creates a background hum if the wind is westerly, though not if it is easterly. In addition the area is under the Heathrow flight path, though the aircraft are fairly high here and you may not notice them at all. Again this depends on wind direction, easterly winds being better.
There are five ways to vary the main circular walk:
a) Short cut to lunch. This takes a more direct route to the lunch pub in Mill Hill, missing out a hill climb, but also the interesting view down onto Alexandra Palace and Highgate Hill from the top. It reduces the morning of the walk from 7.6km (4.7 miles) to 6.3km (3.9 miles).
b) Ending via Totteridge village. This alternative ending takes you up into Totteridge village to the Orange Tree pub, a possible tea stop, and then across Totteridge Green and down suburban roads to Totteridge station. Its main function is to give walkers a pleasant pub stop before the end of the walk and to introduce the village, which still retains quaint rural touches (albeit with a busy road through it). It is the same length as the main walk.
c) Longer walk to Barnet . This extension takes you back into suburbia for a while and then up a pleasant hill to Hadley Green, a pretty green space surrounded by fine houses and the site of the Battle of Barnet in the War of the Roses. You can then loop back into Barnet for tea, returning from High Barnet station on the Northern Line. This makes a total walk from Totteridge of 18.1km (11.2 miles)
d) Longer walk to Cockfosters . Branching off from option c), this route continues across the wooded Monken Hadley Common to Cockfosters, on the Piccadilly Line. This makes a total walk from Totteridge of 19.8km (12.3 miles).
e) Short walk from Totteridge to Cockfosters . This route takes you directly from Totteridge station to the route of option c) and then d) above, cutting out the main walk route entirely. It makes a short walk of 8.5km (5.3 miles).
For ways to shorten the walk with buses, see Transport below.
The walks start from Totteridge & Whetstone station, the penultimate stop on the High Barnet branch of the Northern Line of the London Underground. The station is in zone 4. Aim to start at about 10.30am from the station to get to the lunch pub in time.
Alternative endings finish in High Barnet or Cockfosters (Piccadilly Line), these stations are in zone 5. Oyster or contactless payment will usually be the cheapest option.
The main walk is well served with London Transport buses, all of which run every 13 minutes or so on weekdays and Saturdays, though only every 20 minutes on Sundays. The 240 goes from Mill Hill, the lunch stop, to Mill Hill East station and Edgware. Meanwhile the 251 links various points on the main walk route to Totteridge & Whetstone and Arnos Grove stations. You can also use the 251 to get to the lunch time pub by getting it to the Holcombe Hill stop, and then climbing the steep tarmac path up the hill signposted "The Ridgeway". At the top carry on along the road and the Three Hammers pub is in 350 metres on the right.
The Three Hammers in Mill Hill, 020 8959 2173 www.emberinns.co.uk/the-three-hammers-hammers-lane/ . 7.6km (4.7 miles) into the walk (6.3km/3.9 miles by the short cut) is the recommended lunch stop - an efficient chain pub run by Ember Inns, which serves food all afternoon. It has a variety of seating areas, including a small glassed-in patio and garden, and should be large enough to accommodate a group.
For an alternative to the pub, the Belmont Farm Cafe in Mill Hill (more or less opposite the Three Hammers) is a large, but somewhat basic, cafe in a children's farm offering sandwich and simple hot options. You can access it without paying to enter the farm.
Another cafe, just before Mill Hill on a) Short cut to lunch (see paragraph 42 on page 7) is The Summer House, which is the tea room of Finchley Nurseries. Situated 5.7km (3.5 miles) into the walk, this does baked potatoes, soup, cakes and hot drinks and has both pleasant garden seating outside and some inside tables. It is open till 4.30pm Monday to Saturday and 4pm on Sundays.
Another possibility, just beyond the Three Hammers on a short diversion off the main walk route is the Rising Sun 020 8959 1357 www.therisingsunmillhill.com offers "rustic Italian food" in a slightly upmarket table service restaurant with a small outside patio. It is closed on Monday but does lunch 12-2.30pm on Tuesdays to Saturday, and all afternoon on Sundays. This is not a large place, however, so it is a good idea to phone and make sure they have space.
For picnics, the park just beyond the Three Hammers in Mill Hill has a view over the north west of London and several well-placed benches. When the ground is dry in spring and summer, the greenbelt fields throughout the walk also have numerous pleasant places to stop.
On option e) Short walk from Totteridge to Cockfosters the Monk Pub on the edge of Hadley Green (see below) is a possible lunch stop.
In Totteridge village the Orange Tree is a popular village pub which had an upmarket makeover some years ago. Late in the afternoon it is usually quiet enough, however. It has some outside tables by a duck pond, but also next to a rather busy road. It is possible to do all the rest of the walk from this point in the dark (possibly skirting around Totteridge Green).
Tea options by Totteridge & Whetstone station include The Waiting Room tea room 020 6445 0424, 50 metres up the hill from the station on the lefty, which is open Tuesday to Saturday to 5pm and Sunday to 4pm. Alternatively if you carry up the hill from the station for 250 metres to the high road there is a Costa Coffee, open till 6.30pm Monday to Saturday and 5.30pm Sunday, with Coffee Culture just beyond it, open until 7pm Monday to Friday, 6.30pm Saturday and 6pm on Sunday.
On option c) Longer walk to Barnet, Ye Olde Monken Holt is a pleasant, cosy pub which has a garden at the rear. The best tea option is probably the Patisserie Joie de Vie, open till 6.30pm daily, which has an excellent selection of cakes and pastries. A more traditional place, but popular with locals, is The Coffee Bean in The Spires shopping centre, which has nice cakes and seating in an open courtyard, and is open until 5.30pm Monday to Saturday but only 4pm on Sunday. Otherwise there are two Costa Coffees (the Spires one open to 6pm Monday to Saturday and 5pm on Sunday; the other one open half an hour later), and a Caffe Nero (open until 7pm Monday to Saturday and 6.30pm Sunday).
On option d) Longer walk to Cockfosters, the Cock Inn is a modern but also very comfortable pub, with a back terrace and a garden. It serves hot drinks and very tasty food. The pub operates a "smart/casual policy at all times", but also says it is "casual before 7pm": walkers with muddy boots might still have problems, but we have been accepted there in the past. However for a more traditional tea an even better option is the Trent Park Cafe, a popular local haunt which has an excellent selection of cakes and other food. It is open in spring and summer till 7pm "if it is busy" (which it invariably is), but in winter closes with the park at dusk.