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Northwood - Harefield - Rickmansworth 4.5 to 9 miles (7 to 14 km)

The north of Hillingdon is the most rural part of the Borough and this walk takes in some of the best scenery, passing through the ancient Ruislip Woods and then pleasant open country, with fine views over the Colne valley to the west. It begins at Northwood, the last station on the Metropolitan Line still within a London Borough, visits the old village of Harefield, then crosses over the border into Hertfordshire to end at Rickmansworth (on the same line). Flat terrain, easy walking from Northwood to Bayhurst Woods, hilly around Harefield then flat to Rickmansworth.

Checked August 2010

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Distances

Northwood to Harefield 4.5 miles (7 km)
Harefield to Rickmansworth 4.5 miles (7 km)
Total 9 miles (14 km)
Three hills of about 30 metres (100 feet)

Travel

Northwood and Rickmansworth stations are on the Metropolitan Line, and Rickmansworth is on the Chiltern Line from Aylesbury to Marylebone. Passengers on the Chiltern Line need to change on to the Metropolitan Line to reach Northwood.
Watford trains on the Metropolitan Line serve Northwood. Amersham/Chesham trains serve Rickmansworth, but usually do not stop at Northwood (change at Moor Park or Harrow-on-the-Hill).
It is possible to leave the walk at Harefield by catching the 331 bus for Northwood and Ruislip from the stop just uphill from the White Horse pub, or the 331 or U9 for Denham and Uxbridge from opposite it. For the R21 for Rickmansworth (Mon to Sat) continue further up the road and turn right into Breakspear Road North. 
Detailed travel information for the whole of this area is available from the Traveline South East website www.travelinesoutheast.org.uk or telephone 0871 200 22 33.

Ordnance Survey Map

This walk is on O.S. Explorer Map 172, Chiltern Hills East.

Refreshments

There are several cafes and restaurants in Northwood, and the Misty Moon pub.
The Harefield and the Kings Arms in Harefield village (and The White Horse, on the route, but closed when we checked in August 2010).
The Coy Carp (on the route) at Harefield Lock.
The Café in the Park at Rickmansworth Aquadrome.
Many refreshment places in Rickmansworth, including the Fox & Hounds pub in High Street (on the route), several other pubs (e.g. Mill House Tavern and The Pennsylvanian, both in High Street, and The Feathers in Church Street, next to St Mary's church), coffee bars and restaurants. 

Please always be considerate about muddy boots in pubs etc; either take them off, or cover them up. Never eat or drink your own provisions on pub premises (including the garden, if there is one).

Route

Northwood to Harefield 4.5 miles (7 km) Harefield to Rickmansworth
Click Here

From Northwood station exit, turn right down Station Approach and left at footpath sign R19** up a driveway (opposite the footbridge on your right) to a footpath leading to Hallowell Road, with St John's Church on the left (this was used as a VAD - Voluntary Aid Detachment - hospital during World War 1).

(**Many new footpath signs in Hillingdon borough now bear the number of the footpath, prefixed by a letter for the former local government area, R for Ruislip and U for Uxbridge.)

Turn right into Hallowell Road and then right again after ¼ mile (0.4 km) into Highfield Road, which goes over the railway and then winds down to Rickmansworth Road (with Highfield Crescent opposite).
Cross over, go left and then right down New Farm Lane, continuing down an enclosed path with gardens on the left, to a footpath junction with a 3-way signpost (R29, R36, R37) at the edge of a golf course.
Follow the footpath ahead across the golf course (watch out for golf balls) to a 3-way signpost at the approach to trees.
Go ahead on a boardwalk through the copse then over a small stream to reach a display board for Ruislip Woods Nature Reserve on your left.

Ruislip Woods National Nature Reserve was one of the first natural history reserves in southern England, and the first site to be granted NNR status in Greater London (in May 1997; the only other NNR in London is Richmond Park). The woods are recorded in the Doomsday Book in 1068 and there are many species of plants and flowers that are only found in ancient woodlands. There are extensive areas of hornbeam coppice and common or sessile oak, and the remaining woods contain oak, birch, aspen, beech, hazel and sweet chestnut. Ruislip Woods was made a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in 1950.
The woods consist of five principal areas - Poor's Field, Mad Bess Wood, Bayhurst Wood, Park Wood and Copse Wood.
(English Nature. www.english-nature.org.uk)

Bear right past the display board, go ahead at a crossing with footpath R28 (staying on R37), following a path between fences with a small pond on your left, to a kissing gate on the left.
Go through this gate (if the path is flooded here, try going round the other side of the pond, via another section of boardwalk and through a squeeze gate) and follow the path round the far edge of the pond.
Ignore an isolated signpost pointing slightly to the left and continue ahead to a bridleway crossing.
Continue for a further 150 yards between trees, then turn right just before a bench and where the land opens out on the left, to follow a very short path leading into Copse Wood.

Copse Wood (part of Ruislip Woods National Nature Reserve) was formerly known as Coppice Wood, after the extensive coppicing of hornbeam and other trees for use as firewood and to make pea and bean sticks, furniture and tools.

Enter the woods at a gate then follow a path ahead as it climbs through trees, bearing slightly left after 130 yards, to reach a cross path after a further 70 yards.
Go left for 170 yards to a footpath crossing, then ahead for a further 140 yards to join the Hillingdon Trail (HT) at a wooden waymark post on your right.
Bear right for 100 yards to another Hillingdon Trail post at a plank bridge over a ditch.
Go ahead here (still on the Hillingdon Trail) through the SW corner of Copse Wood, going past rhododendron bushes on your left, until you reach Ducks Hill Road.
Cross half left (with care: this can be a busy road and the footpath emerges directly onto the road) and continue on the Hillingdon Trail through Mad Bess Wood, keeping straight on as indicated by Hillingdon Trail signposts.
Turn left at the sixth signpost, where the Hillingdon Trail sign shows you turn left.
Follow Hillingdon Trail waymark posts as the path winds downhill fairly close to the western edge of the woods on your right (but not as close as has been shown on Ordnance Survey maps), then after 280 yards turn right to cross a small stream.
Continue past another Hillingdon Trail post to a stile at Breakspear Road North.
Cross half right and continue up a driveway (footpath U86, signposted "RuislipWoods") leading into Bayhurst Wood.

Bayhurst Wood Country Park was once a part of the Great Forest of Middlesex and is known to have been in the possession of the Hospitallers (Knights of St. John Hospital, Jerusalem) in the 13th century. The land was then granted by the king in 1542 to Robert Tyrwhit who shortly after sold it to the Newdigate family (lords of the manors of Harefield and Moorhall). It is now in the Ruislip Woods National Nature Reserve. Principal trees include common oak, sessile oak, hornbeam, common beech, aspen, and sweet chestnut. It covers an area of 90 acres and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
(Source: Colne Valley Park Visitor Centre.)

Follow the driveway round to the right, past a green gate ahead (where the Hillingdon Trail loops away through the wood, rejoining our route further on) and under a high green barrier into the car park.
Cross to the far side of the car park and enter the woods on a footpath that runs roughly parallel with the right-hand edge of the wood.
Continue through the woods, after 120 yards reaching a small clearing with picnic tables on the left.
Continue straight on through trees for a further 250 yards to a signpost for the Hillingdon Trail (where it joins from the left, having looped through the woods).
In another 50 yards you come to a small clearing with a Hillingdon Trail display board.
Continue ahead in the wood, after 110 yards merging briefly with the bridleway on the right (where a branch of the bridleway also goes left).
Go ahead at a Hillingdon Trail signpost then, in 50 yards, take the right-hand path between fences (the other path is the bridleway) to pass a stile (which you do not cross) on your right after a further 100 yards.
Continue ahead on a stony track, then uphill to a line of hedging going off to the left. Within this is a bridleway that was once the drive to Breakspear House (see below). Ignore this and fork right at a Hillingdon Trail signpost.

Breakspear House takes its name from William Breakspear, who was in Harefield at the end of the 14th century. The estate was then held by the Ashby family for over 400 years, subsequently passing through various hands until it was acquired by the county council in 1942 as 'green belt' property. In 1956 the house was opened by the council as an old people's home and has now been converted to modern flats.

Go on through the wood (beyond the end of the fencing the house can be seen half right through trees) to emerge at a stile with an open field ahead.
Go straight on, with woods on the right, up to the top of a hill from which there is a good view looking back to the SE.
Cross over two stiles (one ahead and then another to the right), and continue on the Hillingdon Trail, ignoring any gaps in the hedge on the right.
Keep to the left of the hedge/fence, away from the wood edge, and continue up to the brow of the hill, from where the Colne valley can be seen to the left.
At a 3-way signpost in the corner of the field (U23, U24, U32), go left on U24 down to another Hillingdon Trail signpost.

Go left, down through woods to a broken kissing gate and on past some ponds on the left and right until the path finally emerges at Harefield Church.

The Church of St. Mary is an ancient structure with a square tower and three bells. It contains four early brasses (the earliest dated 1444) and also tombs of important Harefield landowners: the Newdigates, Ashbys and the Countess of Derby (for whom Milton wrote his "Arcades" whilst residing in the neighbouring village of Horton).
Source: "The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland" (1868)

Go down the path ahead alongside the wall (ignoring a footpath to the right), to come out at the front of the church. Alternatively, go through a gap in the wall on the left and cross the graveyard to the right of the church.

This area is known as Church Hill Fields. The Australian Military Cemetery, where there are many ANZAC war graves, is at the far end of the churchyard. During the First World War, Harefield Park house became an Australian hospital and an Australian cemetery was laid out in the churchyard. An obelisk was erected in 1921 and the archway and gate in 1924. Every year since 1921 a commemoration service has been held here on Anzac Day.

From the front of the church, turn right up the driveway to the main road, cross straight over (visibility is best here) and continue to the right up Church Hill, past the Countess of Derby's Almshouses opposite (founded in 1637) and the White Horse pub on the left (closed in August 2010).

It is possible to leave the walk here by catching a bus (see Travel above for details)

Continue uphill and turn left along Bird Lane at a Hillingdon Trail signpost (just before a bus layby).

250 yards ahead is The Harefield pub, with the King's Arms and other refreshment opportunities a little further on.

Harefield to Rickmansworth 4.5 miles (7 km)

Follow Bird Lane down to an enclosed path that leads downhill to a 3-way signpost U17, U18, U22 (may be wet at the bottom in winter).
Continue up the other side (ignoring the style on the right) and at the top turn left at another Hillingdon Trail signpost, to continue on the Hillingdon Trail.
Follow the ridge, with fine views of the Colne valley to the left, before descending through trees to a stile.
Continue half right down the hill on the other side to a stile and a Harefield Locks display board in the far corner by the Grand Union Canal.
Go ahead on a track then left over the canal bridge at Black Jack's Lock (the mill used to be a restaurant but now offers bed & breakfast accommodation), then continue on the towpath to the right (crossing an overflow channel, where you briefly leave Hillingdon Borough) as far as the Coy Carp pub.
Cross the canal bridge to the right (care, no pavement) and follow Coppermill Lane past Royal Quay (formerly the copper mill) then turn left up Summerhouse Lane and, after converted industrial buildings (originally sited here to make use of canal transport), turn right into Bellevue Terrace.
Go ahead past cottages on your left to an enclosed path to the left of Parkwood Farm Kennels, and follow this up through Park Wood to Hill End Road.
Turn left, go through the small village of Hill End (ignoring the signpost at Plough Lane on the right) and follow Springwell Lane (no footway, but the road is quiet) to where the road goes left at Cripps Farm Bungalow.
Go ahead to a farm gate labelled "Georges Yard" and through a smaller gate to the right, then straight ahead on a grassy path that meanders through varied countryside. This is one of the most rural parts of the whole Borough, close to the Hertfordshire border.
After a left turn and just before a wooden kissing gate there is an old cast-iron post by the side of the path, at the boundary between Hertfordshire and the old county of Middlesex (now the border with the London Borough of Hillingdon).

This former coal tax post has recently been restored and attractively painted in white, with the arms of the City of London picked out in red and black (you will pass another when you cross the canal, 600 yards ahead).
From mediaeval times the City of London Corporation collected taxes ("metage") on coal and other commodities being brought into the city. Money from the coal tax was used for the rebuilding of St Paul's Cathedral, the Guildhall and Newgate Prison. In 1861 the London Coal and Wine Duties Continuance Act led to the setting up of new coal and wine tax posts.
The funds from this system were used to pay off debts and for the building of new bridges over the Thames, the Thames Embankment and many other construction projects in London. With the growth of canal and railway traffic, extra collecting points for taxes had to be set up outside the City boundaries and posts were erected by canals, railways, tracks and roads into London, forming a circle roughly 20 miles from the General Post Office in the City of London.
The tax was finally ended in 1889 but more than 200 of the posts survive - many of them Grade II listed.

Continue into the next field (now in Herts) and at the far corner go through a kissing gate then left on a track leading down towards Stockers Farm.
At a Colne Valley Trail waymark sign before the farm entrance, turn right up a short rise then go through a kissing gate and turn left to continue downhill to another kissing gate then a short path to the farm access road (where there is a wartime pillbox in the vegetation opposite).
Bear left here, then right after a wooden barn.

Some scenes of Children of Men (based very loosely on a novel by PD James) were filmed here in October 2005.

Follow the track away from the farm to rejoin the canal at Stockers Lock.

There is another boundary post on the other side of the canal, immediately to the left of the bridge in front of Stockers House, though the Hertfordshire/Hillingdon boundary now crosses the canal 600 yards further west.

Cross the canal bridge and continue ahead, past Stockers House on the left, then through a kissing gate to follow the path as it curves to the right, past the entrance to Stockers Lake Nature Reserve on the left.
At a path junction, turn right through gates into Rickmansworth Aquadrome and follow Colne Valley Trail markers to a boathouse on the left.
Where a Colne Valley Trail marker points right, continue ahead (to the right of the boathouse) to the edge of Bury Lake, then go right to follow a grassy track to the far end of the lake (where the Café in the Park is behind the trees to the right).
Continue around the edge of the lake to the left and then fork half right on Route 61 Cycle Path. (ignoring a gravel path further to the right), to stay on the Colne Valley Trail; Batchworth Lake is on the right.
At a footpath junction, turn right along the north edge of the lake and then after public toilets (not always open) turn left to cross a footbridge over the River Colne, to emerge onto Riverside Drive.
Go left and then cross at the zebra crossing, continuing for a short distance on the other side to a gap in the wall on the right.
Go through into Ebury Road and continue past Ebury Approach on the left, then go left on a footpath between houses (numbers 58 and 56).
Follow this between car parks, go to the right of Marks & Spencer, cross High Street, with the Fox & Hounds on the right (and many other possibilities for refreshments in the town), and continue up Parsonage Road opposite.
Follow Parsonage Road round to the busy Rectory Road and turn right under the railway bridge to Rickmansworth station.