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A Web of Words in Totteridge and Mill Hill

A look at rural north London, which left a lasting impression on the editor of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Distance 4.5 miles (7.2km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 262ft (80m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Cross-field paths, very muddy after rain

Landscape A variety of open fields, woods and rural roads

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 173 London North

Start/finish TQ 225928

Dog friendliness Keep on lead across fields as many are farmed

Parking In front of Sheepwash Pond

Public toilets None on route

1 With Sheepwash Pond on your left, walk along The Ridgeway passing the buildings of Mill Hill School on the right and a row of quaint cottages on your left.

2 Continue along The Ridgeway as it bears left, past a long, whitetimbered former Quaker meeting house. Beyond the imposing National Institute for Medical Research turn left into Burtonhole Lane. Stay on this as it swings to the left, past Eleanor Crescent, to descend gradually. Turn left opposite Hillview Road, by a public footpath sign to Totteridge, along a narrow path that later bends to the right and passes farmland and a nursery. When you reach the gates of Folly Farm, turn right by a public footpath sign to follow the route of Folly Brook.

3 Turn left before a kissing gate to follow an enclosed path between hedgerows. At the end of this path go through a metal gate and head for the road, with Long Pond on your left. Cross Totteridge Common, bear right, and follow the path by a wood for 300yds (274m). Turn left into Horseshoe Lane, along a path signposted 'Mays Lane'. This becomes a track lined with tree cuttings as it approaches the last house, Fairlight Cottage.

4 Climb the stile and continue on a gently descending path across the left-hand edge of a field. Keep ahead through a hedge gap and continue along the left edge of the next field. The path becomes hedge-lined before emerging by a waymarked sign. Climb a stile, keep ahead across the field following the line of telegraph poles to a public footpath sign. Turn left before a footbridge, signposted 'Dollis Valley Greenwalk'. After 100yds (91m) turn right through the trees, and then cross a plank footbridge.

5 Walk ahead, across the field, through a gate and across the next field, later along its right-hand edge. Go through two kissing gates and follow the path, on the right-hand edge of a field, staying to the left of Dollis Brook. Go through a double set of kissing gates on either side of the footbridge. Keep ahead to another kissing gate and continue as the path veers to the right along an enclosed path. Go through a gate, a hedge gap, and then along the right edge of a field. When you reach a stile to your left, go through the gate on the right and up the steps.

6 Now follow the waymarked path along the left edge of a sports field, then turn left through a hedge gap. Go through a kissing gate and turn right at a fingerpost along the right-hand field edge, later bearing right to go through another hedge gap and a kissing gate, before reaching a further kissing gate on Hendon Wood Lane. Go through, turn left, and at the crossroads, join the footpath ahead through Highwood Hill, signposted 'Mill Hill'.

7 Go through a kissing gate followed by two more and finally another pair on to a road. Cross the road - take care here - and turn left at the public footpath sign to The Ridgeway, which later rejoins the main road. After 0.25 mile (400m) you'll pass the Old Mill House and what was once the village Post Office. To see Sunnyside, with its blue plaque indicating Murray's period of residence, turn right along Hammers Lane. Otherwise continue ahead for about 50yds (46m) to return to Sheepwash Pond.

Sir James Murray might have followed in his father's profession and become a draper were it not for his fascination for words. As a child in the 1840s he was rarely found without a book in his pocket. His belief that 'knowledge is power' led him to educate himself and get a job as a bank clerk and later, as a schoolmaster. Murray began teaching at Mill Hill School in 1870. Remaining there for 15 years, he considered it to be his 'golden age'. It was during this time that he was asked to edit the Oxford English Dictionary, a job that took considerably longer than anticipated and stretched him beyond belief. The task was massive and with help from a dedicated team of assistants, it took an astounding five years to reach the word 'ant'. Murray kept two tons of source quotations in his workroom, which he called the 'Scriptorium'. He left Mill Hill in 1885 for Oxford to devote more time to the project. Although he died before the dictionary was completed, Murray was still responsible for compiling at least half of the work - he set the standards and created the original model.

Where to eat and drink

Half-way round you will find the Red Lion, an attractive pub dating from 1575, with a flower-filled front terrace, a beamed bar with log fires in winter, real ales and an extensive bar menu.

What to look for

A visit to the Church of St Mary the Virgin, which dates from 1180 and features Roman bricks incorporated into the walls and buttresses, will reveal simple, 13th-century wall paintings and a fine and unusual organ from about 1770.


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