Although this isn't one of the most stunning walks on the Loop, it is pleasantly rural, and it does have a couple of highlights that make it worthwhile. When I walked from Cockfosters to Enfield Lock the long, hot summer of 2003 had taken its toll and the normally green spaces the walk passes through were dry, dusty and brown, but with a little imagination it wasn't hard to see how pleasant this part of the world must be in kinder climates.
Perhaps the best aspect of doing this part of the Loop is that it forever changes the way you think of Piccadilly line tube trains. Most eastbound Piccadilly line tube trains have 'Cockfosters' on the front, and until I did this walk I never even stopped to think what Cockfosters might be like; I'm happy to report that it's a lovely part of the world, and now when I'm standing on the platform, getting ready to crush myself into the mass of commuters heading into town, I think of the London Loop and the pleasant fresh air of this section. It's much more pleasant than thinking about the rush hour...
Into the Greenery
Right from the word go this walk is a rural one; if you're looking for a pleasant stroll for you and your dog, you could do a lot worse than this section. From Cockfosters tube station the Loop takes about two minutes to slip into the countryside, starting off with a woodland wander through Trent Country Park, which has a pleasant café that would be a perfect resting place if it wasn't so early on in the walk (if you're stringing days 11 and 12 together into one long day, then this would make a great lunch stop). Assuming you'd rather build up a thirst before taking a break – and there's a great pub later on that's spot on if you do – the Loop dives into Enfield Chase, a pretty country estate that's halfway between being manicured and wild. As you walk up the hill after the lakes, don't miss the corridor that links the house of Trent Park on your right and the obelisk on your left. It might be pointless but it's pretty, and just up the hill are some pleasant wooden benches that provide a good view of the estate, and make a good spot for a bit of contemplation; if you've already had a long journey to get to Cockfosters then this is a good place for lunch.
Coming out of the Chase and across the Hadley Road, the vista opens up to reveal a valley that's unfortunately not that inspiring to walk through. The path is easy to follow and there's precious little sign of urban sprawl, but for a mile or two you follow the edges of farmers' fields and shadow Salmon's Brook, which sounds a lot more interesting than it really is. The view back from Brooke Wood is worth turning round for, but this isn't up to the heady standards of day 5 and the views from Farthing Downs.
Never mind, it's not far before things start getting interesting again. The Loop crosses the busy Ridgeway A-road and passes the Royal Chase Hotel, and after a left turn and a walk past the barns of a farm it meets the Turkey Brook for the first time. The Loop follows this brook on and off until the start of day 13; sometimes it's charming and sometimes it's horrible, but for the moment it's just a small stream that's pretty unremarkable. March uphill, past the Red House and through some light industry, and turn right into Hilly Fields Park, and there's the Turkey Brook again, a lovely stream in the middle of a park full of hilly fields called – you guessed it – Hilly Fields Park.
Hilly Fields Park is pretty and has an odd little bandstand that sits alone at the bottom of the hill, and make sure you read the Loop information board at the far exit to the park; it contains some interesting stories about the New River and Elsynge Hall, which you'll come across in a minute. First, though, the Rose and Crown pub across the road is a great place for a refreshing pint, especially as by now you're well over halfway through the walk.
From the pub the path follows the Turkey Brook once more, and although it's easy to take the wrong turning (as I did), if you make sure you keep the brook to your left you can't go far wrong. You have to navigate your way over the New River, a manmade river that was dug in the early 17th Century to carry water into London, but it's worth the effort because after walking through some dank fishing pools you come out of the woods and there, to your right, is Forty Hall. The Loop goes straight on, but I highly recommend the short detour to explore Forty Hall; it's arguably the highlight of this section, even though technically it's not on the Loop.
This area is steeped in history. The Elizabethan stately home Elsynge Hall was built somewhere round here – nobody knows where – and this is where Sir Walter Raleigh was supposed to have thrown his cloak over a puddle so Queen Elizabeth could walk over it without getting wet. Forty Hall itself dates from the 1630s and is utterly charming, with a very pretty pond reflecting the symmetrical architecture of Inigo Jones in its water. There's also a café here, and the gardens are well worth exploring.
Make the most of Forty Hall, because this is where the walk starts to deteriorate. Not far from the stately home's gardens a bridge crosses a river and into the suburbia of Enfield, and the Loop crosses over the New River again (which runs underground at this point), over an A-road, past a cemetery, through some forgettable suburbia and into Albany Park, where the Loop continues to follow the Turkey Brook. By this stage, though, the brook is hemmed in by steep walls, and it's choked with rubbish and shopping trolleys as it oozes along the back of a row of houses. This is not a great part of the Loop, but escape is close at hand; go over another railway, turn left and there's Enfield Lock station, with regular services to Liverpool Street.