I love to walk whenever I can and I am fortunate that I live pretty much on the last street of the huge sprawl of London. I might not have as much as I want but I do have countryside almost on my door step so when I have time this is one of my favourite local walks and this time I took my camera, well my Ipod touch with its rather limited photographic facility.
The first notable thing I come to on my walk is the Leavesden Green WW1 War memorial which I have previously written about on my special blog on Armistice Day.
Following that it is a short walk up the street to the first true fields. For many decades there has been a very curious object just feet from the main road and I often wondered what it was. Sadly the very time I wanted to take its photo, it had been removed to make way for new housing adjoining the new WB Leavesden film studios and Harry Potter tour. Happily I found it on Google Street view below:
My curiosity perked I did a little research and found out it was an Anti-Tank defensive weapon. During WW2 when a German invasion was expected, much of the country was fortified by bunkers, ditches and fortifications both to defend London and to bog down invaders on their march northwards to allow time for a counter attack. This strange looking giant golf-ball was packed with explosives and was effectively a giant mine and part of Outer London Defence Line A. For anyone interested in this then I refer you all to the ‘Defence of Britain’ project viewable in Google Earth for many hours happy browsing!
A few hundred yards up the road brings us to Leavesden Country Park. The south side is laid out in more formal gardens whilst the north side is au naturale.
At the centre of the park though fenced off from everywhere else is a plush set of apartments. However they are actually in the buildings of a Victorian Insane Asylum along with a Canadian hospital for the infirm, injured during WW1.
150 odd years ago big village Leavesden of today was then little more than a manor house and farm and was considered remote from London even though it is all but connected today. The hospital at Leavesden was where many of those diagnosed as mentally ill ended up, often until the end of their days.
This cemetery just outside the park is at times of the year beautiful and at others eerie. Inside are the burial places of many mentally ill people from the 19th and 20thC. Most have unmarked graves as they were penniless and usually had families who had disowned them. Some have tiny headstones with labels on them, described in the records as imbeciles, idiots and such other demeaning terms. Of course for their time the Victorians led the world in everything including medicine based on new sciences but also strict old fashioned British and Christian disciplines that would often be thought of as cruel and ineffective today. One of the residents of the cemetery is thought by some to be one of the chief suspects of one of the most famous serial killers of all time, Jack The Ripper.
Following the lane round we come to a mill store, notice the beam of wood and the door on the first floor from which grain could be lowered by rope onto a horses cart.
Now we enter the open countryside at last. The air is fresh and a variety of birds from cute little robins, sparrow and black birds to giant Kites circling overhead.
The walk starts to take us up a slight hill, we are here on the edge of the Chiltern Hills, some of the highest and most beautiful countryside near to London. Proceeding further though we begin to hear the din of traffic until it is deafeningly loud. Here we cross a pedestrian bridge over the M25.
Once outside the M25 which rings London, we’re considered to be properly in the countryside. The noise of the traffic soon subsides and we find ourselves on a rather picturesque farm.
This being so close to London there are security cameras and signs warning people not to be light fingered however as a designated pathway, perhaps centuries or in some cases millennia old, we have the right to walk right through the middle of it.
The walk continues away from London and ever upwards through a meadow that is particularly beautiful later in the spring.
Suddenly the open grass gives way to woodland, specifically Jobs Wood. It is totally quiet except for the rustle of leaves on the ground and occasional tap tapping of a woodpecker.
We’ve reached the highest point of our walk and soon the most distant also. This is the village of Bedmond, birthplace of the only English born Pope, Nicholas Breakspeare. More interestingly for walkers we go right past a very old English pub.
Taking an immediate left down a lane we start heading back to home but by a different route than what we came. Often the woods around the lane are alive with rabbits, foxes and hedgehogs. Some of the lanes are centuries if not millennia old and often the current road surface is 6 feet or 2 metres below the surround land due to countless generations of dust and dirt and trees and hedges.
Another 10 or 15 minutes walk down the lane and once more the M25 looms. This time though we don’t go over it but instead under it. Sometimes you feel it might be safer to run across the road itself depending who might be lurking inside!
The tunnel is very dark inside and as it has 10 lanes of tarmac above it is quite long. Most times it is perfectly safe but every now and then you encounter some weirdo in it. Mind you, I am sure they think the same about me.
Once back through in the fields again we come to one of several WW2 bunkers. It really is amazing how many of them there are if you know where to look. Many defences have been long since removed but you can still see where they were and how they were once used. This one though is almost entirely intact though I haven’t yet found a way in or more precisely I haven’t gone in as I don’t know how I’d get out again.
Before the M25 was built this WW2 bunker would have afforded great views of the valley and protected by woodland it would been quite an obstacle to anyone using the lane or the valley itself come to that. It is 5 sided with slots from which machine gun and other ordinance could be fired.
We are nearly back home now just a little bit more lovely countryside to enjoy.
Finally back in Leavesden itself and I’ll finish this walk off with a photo of a traditional English signpost. These are known as finger posts as they point the way.
Further away from London there are still some very ornate carved finger posts but this one looks like a relatively modern replacement. Many of them were pulled up in WW2 to stop invading troops from knowing where they were going, others were cunningly tampered with so the signs pointed in wrong directions. Most posts were lost or replaced with modern metal signs but happily those remaining are now well looked after and some modern signs are being replaced by old looking finger posts in the country.
I hope that you enjoyed my 2 hour plus walk through 7 or 8 miles of my local countryside.