It’s difficult to imagine, but one of the best views of London, and a wonderful park to walk through are but a few minutes from the Jubilee line.
It is also truly a hidden delight, for to see more than a handful of people in the woodlands and meadows is to be in the rush-hour of a visit. It is shockingly empty of humans.
Not of animals, of which the small insect variety dominate the open spaces surrounding you with the racket of their chatter, or in the woods birds flit decoratively around the head as they are disturbed by the rare human visitor.
I live and work locally at the moment, and walk through most lunchtimes, and it really is rare to see more than a few people. This morning, I spend nearly two hours in the park, and managed a record-breaking 9 people.
The park is actually two spaces — the Stanmore Country Park, a woodland that has built up on former farmland since the 1940s, and further up the hill is a recently acquired farm which has been given over to a wondrous meadow with a maze-like walkway running through it.
If coming up on the Jubilee line, then just head out of Stanmore tube station and walk straight ahead, over the road, and up a short straight road lined with 1930s modernist housing, and here, barely a few minutes from the station is the start of the park.
There are signs at the entrances to show the routes around the wood, and wooden markers in the woods, but if you are planning a long wander around, I’d either print off a copy, or take a photo of the map with you — as it can be all to easy to get a bit lost in here.
However, to get to the view, head straight up the path you are now on, past the “cottage”, that’s actually an electricity substation, and through a number of glades
The wood is on London Clay, which is wonderful for tube tunnels, but maybe a bit less so if its been raining, although at the moment, it is almost entirely solid and dry.
A narrow path heads sharply up, and suddenly you are into Wood Farm, a steep meadowland that doesn’t yet appear on the entrance maps and is a striking contrast to the woodland behind.
Although the wood is managed, it looks wilder, but here there are wide avenues mowed through the meadow offering a number of routes to the summit — of which, turning right is the best — but whichever way you go, all paths lead onwards and upwards.
Paths that are deep canyons within the wildflowers and tall grasses. A riot of pale browns of drying grasses, lilacs, yellows and purples.
A set of red brick houses at the summit are new, and in fact, their redevelopment has in part paid for the meadowland you’re now walking around. House purchases presumably needing wallets as deep as the views are expansive.
However, avoid turning around too much as the best bit is to come, and up here, a gravel circle is the viewing point you’ve huffed your way up to see, and blimey, what a view it is.
A helpful sign points out what to look for, which on a hazy day can be a big help. Yes, the hills of Hampstead get in the way, but you can make out the tops of the Canary Wharf skyscrapers. Over there is the Shard, BT Tower, the London Eye, some of the Vauxhall towers are more obvious now. Up close, naturally, the Wembley stadium dominates, but on a really clear day you can make out the control tower at Heathrow.
That line of hills on the far horizon are the North Downs, which mark the southern border of the M25 — so on this high hill not far from the northern side of the M25 you are looking right across the entire expanse of London.
This isn’t quite the very highest spot in the park though, as a mound lies a bit further to the north. Not really climbable, unless you have good shoes, closer inspection shows it to be cleft in half and has a very child-friendly canyon to race through.
For those who prefer such things, there is also a car park up here [map link].
If you’ve come straight up from the tube station, there is still the woods to explore. My favourite route being to head back down towards the south-east end, and if you find it, a small set of steps down to the woods again.
Here, a deep stream runs almost all the way to a pond close to Stanmore town centre that is in places almost primaeval in nature. It really does need some small badly designed Victorian concrete dinosaurs along its banks.
Deep into the woods, paths diverge — heading north again along a cutting created by the digging of a gas main in the 1960s and since replanted.
You might wander along a path leading back to the tube station and pass by a deep depression in the land — the empty remains of a reservoir created in 1720.
On occasions other remains can be found, the slowly rotting wooden fences from when this was farmland. And dotted around looking like bizarre alien plants, the warning signs of the gas mains running under your feet.
It’s remarkable how wonderful and little-used this woodland and meadow are, but I suspect that in part its due to the area being mostly houses with gardens. People lack an incentive to leave their back gardens, whereas if the area were more densely built-up blocks of flats, the woods would be full of people enjoying the space.
Stanmore town centre is hardly a delight, but the woods and parks that surround it, such as this one, or the Bentley Priory park are a rare pleasure.