MOOR PARK walk to WATFORD Metropolitan
2 1/4 hours
The train line opened originally as a suburban railway line in 1925. London Underground took over the line together with the whole Metropolitan network in 1933, which explains why the Underground runs in this case outside of London borders. There is also a connection between Rickmansworth and Watford but I did not write a route in this case because it is only served at rush hours and is outside of London.
Routing note: This walk connects in Moor Park with walk 7 (the more convenient connection due to the way I wrote the description) and with walk 8.
My route uses unpaved public footpaths and may be muddy after rain.
Please note that Croxley and Watford stations are outside of normal London transport fare zones and that your travelcard might not be valid at these stations. Depending on where you start, you might want to check whether an Oyster card would be cheaper or not than a one-day travelcard valid for all zones.
The station opened in 1910 on the existing train line towards Amersham. It was rebuilt in 1925 when the junction towards Watford was added. Originally, the station was called Sandy Lodge after the nearby golf course and non-golfer traffic was minimal. The name changed to Moor Park & Sandy Lodge in 1923 as a large private estate was being built near the station. The name was simplified to Moor Park in 1950.
The station building is from a large refurbishment project in 1961. It looks very modest and suburban with even wood cladding over the brick walls. This is appropriate considering the wood behind the station but very unusual. In terms of shape, the building as about as exciting as the one in Northwood, which is to say not very inspiring.
Exit the station on the rear side towards the golf courses
Ahead Sandy Lodge Lane
As the name says, the road runs along the golf course. It is one of three golf courses built over the years on the grounds of the local mansion, actually a sizeable property you pass on my route number 8. This one was the first one, completed in 1910, and gave the original name to the Underground station. An exclusive gated community was built in the 1930s around the golf courses.
My pictures give an idea of the rather upmarket style of this suburb, where houses seldom sell under 2 million £. Most of the suburb is actually on the western side of the tracks, not along Sandy Lodge Lane.
The third road to your left is the entrance to the Merchant Taylors’ School and has a pretty flower bed near the crossroads. This is one of the schools set up by the City guilds for charity purposes, in this case in 1561. It moved in 1933 and is now a normal “public” school.
Public schools went through a difficult time in the 1860s because of alleged abuses of pupils and occasional revolts of students. Parliament later passed a law to influence curricula when it became clear that neither schools nor parents cared much about what the students learnt as long as they were admitted to university, which was a given at the time if your parents were rich or influential enough.
After passing the school road (East Drive), you reach a public footpath on your L
Take this short public footpath towards a bend in a major highway
Ahead along the highway for a few yards
Very soon L Footpath towards the river Colne
This is a lovely countryside setting with old Hamper Mill straddling the river. The mill is ancient, being already mentioned in the Domesday Book in the 11th century. It was a grain mill before being converted to a cloth mill and later to a paper mill. It was well known for quality work, which is proven by the fact that it was also used once to forge stamps. It has been a private residence for many years.
The river Colne is a short tributary of the Thames that dug a very useful valley through the high hills of the northern suburbs, enabling the Grand Union Canal to link the Midlands with London with less locks. But the valley bottom itself is prone to floods and the reason it is so useful nowadays is that it is not much built on and therefore an important corridor for wildlife.
The footpath leads along Hampermill Lake towards Brightwells Farm
Hampermill Lake is one of many artificial lakes in the Colne valley. Nearly all of them are former sand and gravel pits dug when it became more profitable to sell construction materials in London than to keep meadows. Waterfowl and fish are of course happy about the lakes; Hampermill Lake is private and you will therefore see few people fishing here.
L into the next public byway after the farm walking along the edge of King George V Playing Fields. You are on Ebury Way.
Ebury Way has its name from Lord Ebury who owned the mansion in Moor Park. The track itself was originally built as a short railway linking Rickmansworth and Watford and used primarily to transport produce like watercress, an important crop in the waterlogged Colne valley. The line was completely separate from the Underground line opened much later and aiming at a connection with existing networks.
Paved Ebury Way crosses under a busy highway
When you reach the next open space, R along the edge of Common Moor
The moor has been drained and is now a heath with low grass but the name shows that the river Gade, a Colne subsidiary, was also prone to flooding. As opposed to the fields you walked past before on Ebury Way, the moor was a common and was therefore not available for improvement. This enables the local authorities to manage it as a nature reserve, the main attraction being the waterside plants along the river.
The footpath ends with bridges over the river Gade and the Grand Union Canal
The canal uses the Gade River valley to lead north towards the Midlands. It is fed by the river but the flow would not be sufficient to ensure navigation and it is therefore separate.
R on the canal towpath past the locks
If you wish to go to Croxley station, turn L uphill on the old access road (Mill Lane)
At the end L on the main highway for the station
The station opened in 1925 with connections to Moor Park, to Watford and also to Rickmansworth. It was originally called Croxley Green but there was a station with the same name on an other train line and it was obviously sensible to change the name, which was done in 1949. The Rickmansworth shuttle service was suspended between 1960 and 1987 but a few trains run again on this line in order to bring commuters from Amersham to the many jobs in Watford.
The station building is a sizeable brick structure with a gabled first floor over the full length. This is in stark contrast to the very modest buildings on the Amersham line. The building looks a little like a shopping parade, which the Metropolitan Railway liked to develop as it was also very much promoting housing in the suburbs on land it had acquired and developed itself.
If you did not go to Croxley station, just continue on the canal towpath after the locks
Canals had become very important for the English economy by the 18th century, carrying goods from the Midlands to the markets in London and to the docks for export to Europe. They were much more reliable than horse-drawn carriages on turnpikes that were often in a bad state of repair and might charge tolls. By the 1780s, large quantities of goods went down the Oxford canal and then down the Thames, but this was very problematic because the river often did not have enough water for heavy loads.
The new canal (called the Grand Junction Canal) shortened the Oxford route by 60 miles and was opened in sections around 1800. It became very busy and very profitable, attracting competition from one of the earliest long-distance railways as early as 1838. The canal survived by carrying heavy materials like coal that were not time sensitive but profit went down. It was nationalised along with the railways in 1948. It is too narrow for profitable transportation of goods as Britain invested much less in canals than Germany, the Netherlands and to some extent France. The canal is quite popular with leisure craft and house boats nowadays.
Pass under a main road and the train line
You reach the Cassiobury lock soon after the train line. Near the locks, you might notice a cress farm, one of very few surviving farms from what has been an important industry in this area. Cress is a small plant that grows best with roots fully immersed in water, explaining why cress farms look a little like ponds. Cress was already eaten in antiquity, but it is only edible fresh and was therefore a delicacy difficult to get away from production areas. When you buy cress in a supermarket, it is enclosed in plastic (shame on you for the un-ecological packaging !) and under light pressure to avoid crushing the leaves in the display booth.
At the next bridge after the train line, cross the canal into Cassiobury Park
Soon after the bridge L on the unpaved footpath (rather than on the paved cycling path straight ahead)
The path crosses several arms of the river Gade in a lovely woodland setting. Do enjoy it because the park you cross afterwards is just plain grass. There is just one flower bed at the top of the park near the car park. Actually, if you have the time, you can take informal paths along the river for a little longer and turn R later up the hill towards the large open space and the car park.
Cassiobury Park was landscaped on the grounds of a major mansion, Cassiobury House, the main residence of the Earls of Essex from the 17th until the end of the 19th century. The house was outdated and the owners sold first part of the grounds for a new suburb (in 1909 although most houses were built in the 1920s in connection with the new Underground line) and the rest to the borough in 1922 in order to pay the inheritance tax burden. The house itself was demolished in 1927 and the gardens were converted to the present grassy expanse.
Continue on the path all the way to the car park
R out of the park and directly L Cassiobury Park Avenue
The avenue leads directly to the station
The station opened in 1925 and is actually located quite far from the town centre. This was not intentional but the town council objected to the original route planned by the company and other routes demanded an extremely expensive tunnel. As services from Watford Junction into London are much faster than those from Watford Metropolitan, the station remains a rather minor terminus.
The station building is quite unusual and looks a lot like a large house in the suburbs. This was intentional, the architect wanting to include the station in the surrounding architecture as advocated by the Arts & Crafts movement. This was becoming old-fashioned by the 1920s but still influenced urban planning and was in line with the style used by the Metropolitan Railway in the suburbs it developed. The building is listed because it is unusual but also because of the original decoration inside.