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Scratchwood's Surprising Open Space

An ideal point to stop and stretch the legs if you are driving along the A1 or about to join the M1.

Distance 2 miles (3.2km)

Minimum time 1hr

Ascent/gradient 98ft (30m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Gravel paths and forest tracks

Landscape Woodland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 173 London North

Start/finish TQ 207949

Dog friendliness No problems

Parking Car park off northbound carriageway of A1, 1 mile (1.6km) north of Apex Corner

Public toilets At car park

1 As you'll see from the information board, there are three marked trails here: red, blue and yellow. You can choose your own route or follow this one, which is a combination of the red and blue trails.

2 Head for the track at the far, right-hand corner of the car park, near the kiosk, and follow this path, part of the London Loop, through a metal gate. Take the right-hand fork, cross a footbridge over a ditch and follow the path uphill along the central path ahead.

3 A few paces further on, the path swings to the right and then descends, crossing another path and a footbridge before dipping and ascending once more. Follow the path to the right as it crosses another footbridge. About 50yds (46m) further, at a wooden post marked red, turn left along a path that later narrows and descends gradually. Here you will see large clumps of rhododendron.

4 At a clearing leading down to an embankment, turn left. A little further on you'll pass more wooden posts, marked blue. As the path rises again bear sharp left at another post and turn right down steps and over a brook. Continue ahead as the path rises to another post and some more steps leading to a footbridge.

5 The path passes three more posts and after the last, it rejoins the London Loop. The field to the south of the entrance was once a hay meadow, used for feeding some of London's large number of horses. At the footbridge, turn right along the limestone scalpings track back to the car park.

The ancient woodland of Scratchwood can be traced back to the last Ice Age, when it was part of the Middlesex Forest. Although it first appeared on maps from the 16th century, other documents name it at least 300 years before that. Many landowners built large houses in the area. In 1866 the Cox family bought a 1,000 acre (405ha) estate, which included Scratchwood. The area was used for game-rearing and field sports. Later the woodland management focused on producing oak timber. The relatively small woodland area of Scratchwood that you see today is mostly a result of the incursion of the A1 Barnet bypass, which, in 1927, sliced through the site separating it from Moat Mount, on the opposite side of the dual carriageway.

The rhododendrons were introduced, but, given half a chance, grow at a tremendous speed and have a tendency to eliminate all other ground vegetation. Careful woodland management, undertaken by Barnet borough council, has been necessary to enable other species to survive. Elsewhere the ancient ground cover - such as bracken, bramble and ivy - can be seen. Most of the large trees in these woods are oaks, but you will also see other typical English woodland trees including hornbeam, hazel, birch, holly and wild cherry.

If you are walking here in the summer, you may hear the call of a jay. You may also catch the sound of a woodpecker - three different types have been spotted in Scratchwood. There have also been regular sightings of nuthatches and treecreepers on the tree trunks. The rough, bushy areas attract warblers and, in winter, redwings feed on berries. Insects too are attracted by the wide variety of habitats in Scratchwood, where on bright, sunny days you will see large numbers of butterflies and dragonflies. Be careful not to tread on any of the giant stag beetles you may see scuttling across the path; they are now a protected species.

While you're there

If you are a model plane enthusiast, take yours with you for the route takes you past a field where model aircraft are sometimes flown. The grass is kept short, by a combination of rabbits and mowing.

What to look for

Spare a thought for London's woodlands while walking through Scratchwood. For 5,000 years tree numbers fell consistently, making way for farms and land to grow crops. But, due to increased industrialisation and a shift towards city living, England now has as many trees as it did in the time of Robin Hood. That's roughly 25 trees for every man, woman and child in the country. The devastation seen after the 1987 storms made many people realise how much they took the landscape for granted. In fact, earlier in the 1980s the Forestry Commission was spending just £800,000 per year on planting new trees, but by 2000 this had risen to £9.7m. Robin Hood's merry men wouldn't find it difficult to hide in this area of woodland.

Where to eat and drink

Less than 2 miles away (3.2km) is the village of Arkley and, by a roundabout off the A411, is the Arkley Arms. Despite its bland exterior it is well worth the short detour. It's relaxed - more like a hotel lounge than a traditional pub - with a mix of chairs, armchairs and sofas, and open fireplaces that have logs stacked symmetrically at the side. Subtle lighting, off-beat paintings and a warm colour scheme add to the designer interior. The menu is varied too with a good selection of wines, and the ubiquitous Fullers' London Pride on draught.

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