Head north from Barnet, and you’re immediately in countryside. Traditional farming may be in decline, but the overall effect is still of largely unbroken greenery between London and the towns and villages of Hertfordshire. Except for agriculture and a few exceptional uses, no development has been allowed within the Green Belt since 1955. This stretch belongs to Hertsmere Borough Council, but it forms Barnet’s natural northern border, so it matters a great deal to us.
The scenery may not be breath-taking, but it provides delightful respite for the traveller, valuable farmland, a haven for wildlife, a reservoir of carbon and a filter for pollution. And it’s full of quiet delights, which you can enjoy on the fourth in our short local walks recommended by Owen Jones, author (with David Ely) of the Society’s Rambles Round Barnet.
The landscape hasn’t changed much for centuries. At Saffron Green – the focus of this walk – archaeologists believe the field patterns are pre-Roman, and possibly even Bronze Age.
In the 1700s the owners of Wrotham Park and Dyrham Park built grand country houses in the heart of this area. Wrotham (1754) is an unusually pure version of the villas that Palladio had built two centuries earlier for wealthy Venetian farmers, and Dyrham has a particularly elegant Adam-esque main gateway of c.1790. The Classical style conferred prestige on both owners through its association with ancient Greek and Roman power and learning.
In both cases, parks were artfully designed around the houses to resemble Arcadia, the mythical landscape of demi-gods, conferring a superhuman aura on their owners. They owned much of the surrounding farmland too, and by blurring the distinction between their pleasure-grounds and the working fields beyond with skilfully planted tree belts and ha-has, the whole countryside became a visual expression of their influence.
These days, new rural uses are replacing former arable and livestock farming. An enterprising example is Lewis of London’s Ice Cream Farm in Galley Lane. This family dairy farm was forced to diversify by falling milk prices. In 2014 it began making ice cream from its own herd, and pre-Covid was selling 25 flavours to shops, cafés, pubs, restaurants and museums. In 2016 it opened a farm shop for sale to the public, which recently reopened after lockdown.
Also in Galley Lane on a former farm is the London Horseplay Centre, a charity that’s been teaching equestrian and life skills to challenging and vulnerable young people since 2016. For students with learning disabilities or disaffected by conventional education the experience of working with animals in an outdoor environment helps them manage their emotions and gain new confidence in their own abilities.
The big estates have also adapted. After financial difficulties in the 1930s depression, Dyrham Park was sold to the Council. In 1960 it became a Country Club “offering every modern luxury” and “glimpses of a stately past”, and turned much of its 200 acres into a golf course.
Wrotham Park’s 2,500-acre estate is still owned and partly occupied by the Byngs, the family that built it. But although much of is still in agricultural use, the house and park can be hired for private and corporate events and as a location for advertisements and films such as Gosford Park. And the estate has actively marketed and developed parts of its land, most of which lies within the Green Belt.
Which brings us back to those threats. They take two main forms.
The first is housing, which Hertsmere needs to meet government targets, and which cannot be met (it argues) without building on the Green Belt. Hertsmere is soon to publish its draft Local Plan, and potential housing sites on Green Belt land have been identified, as shown on the map below.
The most significant housing sites would be:
• Major expansions onto farmland north-east of Borehamwood and south of Potters Bar as far as the M25.
• The creation of Rabley Green & Redwell “garden villages”. “Garden Villages” are being promoted by the government as new, discrete and well-designed settlements.
• Around 50 new houses on two sites at Ganwick Corner (near The Duke of York pub on the A1000).
Properly planned, the Potters Bar & Borehamwood expansions might be good solutions. But whether Rabley Green, Redwell and Ganwick Corner would include the employment and transport links to make them any better than high-end commuter estates is yet to be seen.
The second major threat is a 28-acre complex for Sky Studios on Rowley Lane, east of Borehamwood, and subject of a planning application that will be decided on 8 July. It would comprise 12 sound stages and associated facilities on a 28-acre site. The site was formerly Green Belt, but Hertsmere recently re-designated it for employment development.
These threats vividly illustrate our dilemma. If we resist new housing at places like High Barnet Station and the Victoria Quarter, there will be even greater pressure to build in the Green Belt.
Furthermore, in our post-Brexit and post-Covid world we need new jobs as well as housing. Sky is promising to create 1,500 of them and generate £3bn of investment over the first five years of operation, as well as boosting Britain’s creative sector.
Is the Green Belt worth sacrificing for these schemes? And if they go ahead, what’s to prevent other parts of the Green Belt being built over in the name of economic necessity?
Short walks in Chipping Barnet – no.4: Galley Lane to Saffron Green
(A basic circular walk is 1 mile long, but can be extended to 4 miles as described below.)
Note: The gentle countryside around Saffron Green is not directly threatened by the developments described above. But it is only half a mile from the Sky Studios site and less than one mile from the Potters Bar and Ganwick Corner sites. Owen writes,
Walking along Wood Street, away from Barnet, then right at The Arkley pub, will take you north down Galley Lane. Car-users may find a parking space in the lay-by opposite the London Horseplay Centre. Continue past the Lewis of London Ice Cream Farm on the right, then immediately look on the left for a public footpath sign rather hidden in the hedge.
Don’t be put off by the restricted route through the hedge. You will come into a field that is used by (friendly) horses. As I write the surface is currently rock-hard and very rutted. Walking boots might prevent a twisted ankle. Turn right and walk round the edge of the field to a way-marked route in the far corner, where there is a gate and stile.
The public footpath on the left of the hedge in the second field will take you in the general direction of the four transmitting aerials visible roughly north-west. Continue along this footpath to kissing gate in far hedge, and turn right. Cross the ditch by the metal footbridge. You will now be in a third, smaller field with another kissing gate visible in opposite hedge which will lead you into a wide public bridleway.
Turning right here will bring you back to Galley Lane, where right again will lead towards Wood Street and Lewis’s farm, where you started this walk. Or maybe you will decide to retrace the route you took across the fields to this point.
Before you do this, it will be worthwhile to turn left along the bridleway and have a look at the information board a short distance away at Saffron Green. The young woodland here was planted as part of the Watling Chase Community Forest in 2003. At the same time a cycleway was created and some of the public footpaths were realigned, so OS maps predating them are no longer entirely accurate.
Longer walk 4A: to Arkley and Galley Lane
The clear map on the board may persuade you to continue on to Arkley Lane, which runs southwards for about 1 mile. You can then turn left along Oaklands Lane and thus back to Galley Lane. Turn left if you arrived by car or right for straight back to Wood Street.
Longer walk 4B: to Trotters Bottom
A more adventurous way to extend the basic Saffron Green walk is to turn left (northwards) on Galley Lane and shortly afterwards, at a back gate into Dyrham Park, turn right (east) into woodland along Public Footpath 62 to Trotters Bottom. The first bit is unpromising, with a strong fence on your left. But the woodland beyond is almost enchanted.
On a cloudless summer’s day sunbeams positively rain on upon you as they penetrate the canopy, while on an overcast day the feeling of gloom and mystery is quite astonishing when one sees on the map what a narrow strip it is.
After half a mile, you emerge from the woodland and cross an iron bridge over the Mymmshall Brook onto the golf course. Skirt it northwards until you see Dyrham Park’s grand main gateway ahead. FP 62 turn right back into the wood briefly before meeting a broad track. Turn left and you reach a gateway, which you can bypass via a path and dilapidated stile to its right.
David Ely wrote up this walk (albeit travelling in the opposite direction) and you can find more details of the route on our website. Just click on Rambles Round Barnet Updates at the foot of our News page, and it is the Update dated May 2016.
At this point, if you have walked enough, you can either back-track through the woodland or complete your tour of Dyrham Park’s boundary by turning left (west) along Trotters Bottom, which eventually returns you to Galley Lane.
Longer walk 4C: to Dancers Hill
If you still have stamina, cross Trotters Bottom and St Albans Road at the roundabout. Immediately north is a sign to FP 72 to Dancers Hill Lane. The narrow footpath makes social distancing impossible on some sections, but is pleasantly secluded. After 300 yards it meets a tarmac road with Laurel House on left. Follow the road round to the east, then south to Dancers Lane and back to the roundabout.
See our website for the previous three walks around Whitings Hill & Wood, Barnet Gate Wood and the Dollis headwaters.