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Trent Park: from House Parties to Education

A gentle stroll around Trent Country Park, where there is something for the whole family.

Distance 3 miles (4.8km)

Minimum time 1hr 45min

Ascent/gradient 230ft (70m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Mainly woodland tracks

Landscape Grasslands and woodland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 173 London North

Start/finish TQ 283971; Cockfosters tube ¼ mile (400m)

Dog friendliness Keep on lead near Pets Corner

Parking Trent Park car park off Cockfosters Road

Public toilets At car park

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1 Take the London Loop path to the left of the information board by the café in Trent Country Park car park. A further 400yds (366m) after the picnic tables the path swings to the right and runs alongside a field. Continue for another 300yds (274m) and cross a footbridge over a ditch.

2 At the end of the field bear left beside a hedgerow. To follow the nature trail, enter the wooden gate opposite. Otherwise, continue along the path, which then dips and rejoins a wider path 50yds (46m) ahead. A few paces further, the path bends to the right above a lake. Ignore the next path on the right and continue into the wood towards Camlet Hill.

3 After 100yds (91m) ignore a left fork and soon the track widens and swings gently to the right before passing the Hadley Road car park (under the trees).

4 Turn right at a junction and, a few paces further on, cross a track by a water tap (beware of cars heading for the car park). Follow the path through Ride Wood, as it runs parallel with a bridle path and Hadley Road before swinging to the right.

5 Go through a kissing gate, cross a brook and go through another kissing gate. After 200yds (183m) there's a house on the left and a road; follow this for 100yds (91m).

6 Turn right into the Middlesex University car park and follow this to the end. Turn left into the box-hedged gardens (known as Wisteria Walk) and continue towards the stables and clock tower on your left. With the mansion behind you, take the path to the right, which joins a wider road leading to a gate. Bear right along this towards a column in the centre of a mini-roundabout.

7 A further 50yds (46m) on is Pets Corner and the visitor centre with a fine selection of wooden rocking horses. Continue along this long, straight path, passing a pond on the left. Turn right along a narrow path, just before a stone monument, back to the car park where the walk began.

It is easy to take things for granted when you see them every week - Trent Park mansion is no exception. It is now used by the Middlesex University as part of the Trent Park campus. As a mature student in the mid-1990s I would marvel at its façade and wish my class was taking place in one of its grand rooms instead of in a nearby stable block, where I attended a weekly module before dashing off to another, less striking campus. No doubt if I'd spent more time exploring, I would have heard then about the mansion's colourful past and discovered the wonderful woodland walks.

In its heyday in the 1920s, the mansion was a hub for society parties where guests included Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin and even T E Lawrence (of Arabia). Also, it is believed that the late Queen Mother got engaged here. Built as a small villa in 1778, Trent Park was extended when one extravagant owner, Philip Sassoon, inherited the property along with others in Bombay, Brighton and Park Lane. His father had been a merchant banker and married into the wealthy Rothschild family. Much of the brickwork is from Devonshire House in Piccadilly, which Sassoon bought, together with the window frames, when the house was demolished. He liked to impress: the obelisk in the grounds at the back of the house was erected when the Duke and Duchess of Kent visited during their honeymoon in 1934. Records show that Sassoon would order fresh fish each day from Billingsgate Fish Market to feed the 100 or so pelicans and flamingos that decorated the large lake, created when three streams on the estate were dammed.

Flowers in the house were changed twice a day and the ones in the rooms of female guests would match the colour of the dress they wore the previous evening. There was always plenty to drink - in fact 25 bottles of wine were ordered for each guest to consume over a weekend. With that amount of alcohol it's a wonder anyone could recollect the weekends at all, which might explain why only three people went to the funeral of Philip Sassoon when he died in 1939.

During the Second World War the mansion was used as an interrogation centre for high-ranking German officers. Rudolf Hess was seen here after his mysterious flight to Britain in May 1941. One prisoner of war recalled being offered a glass of whisky and a cigar before chatting to a British officer for 30 minutes. Perhaps because of this relaxed approach it should not come as a complete surprise to discover that this was one of the first places to be bugged by the Germans.

What to look for

In early spring look out for the daffodils in front of the mansion, originally planted by Philip Sassoon for the visit of Stanley Baldwin, a known fan of Wordsworth's poetry. The university has recently raised funds to maintain this colourful tradition. Although you can take a walk around the grounds, the mansion is not open to the public.

Where to eat and drink

Ferny Hill Farm in Ferny Hill, Hadley Wood has a tea room and a farm shop. Inside are neatly arranged boxes of carrots, turnips and cabbages and, on the counter, cartons of eggs. This is a wonderful hotch-potch of a place with carvings made by the local wood-turner and locally made jams for sale, as well as a selection of cards and paintings. The tea room serves the usual snacks and fresh filled baguettes.

While you're there

The Nature Trail is just over 1 acre (0.4ha) in size. It includes an area of hazel that was planted by a children's wildlife club ten years ago. This traditional wood was chosen because it's pliable and grows up to 12 inches (30cm) each year, so it is useful for hedge-laying. In spring the trail is carpeted in bluebells.

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