We hit the north-west, shuttling out on the Thameslink beyond Wembley into that mysterious part of town known as Elstree and Borehamwood. This feels like alien territory, like a village; not London in any way, yet we're still in Zone 6. Elstree is impressive. On Deacon's Hill Road, the typical house has three cars in the drive and probably twice as many bedrooms. We're not in Kentish Town anymore, Toto. Soon the village thins out and we find ourselves high on a hill overlooking the northern fringes of London. From here, the trail leads through the ancient trees of Scratchwood where countless pupating caterpillars dangle from the oaks like proteinaceous candyfloss.
We emerge onto the A1 covered in silk and wriggling lepidoptera. Here the Loop goes all loopy. Thanks to an ill-placed underpass we have to trek half a mile south along the major road, before retracing our steps for half a mile on the other side. Still, with this unwelcome intervention out of the way, the trail opens up to a pleasant ramble alongside country fields and farms. We pass through the outer tentacles of Arkley and onto Totteridge Common, another series of fields and hedgerows. Eventually, we reach the houses at the foot of Barnet Hill. Where is everyone? It's a gorgeous Sunday afternoon, and the housing estates of Barnet lap up against the most verdant fields of North London, but there's nobody in sight. Is it really true that the kids don't play outside anymore? We stop for a drink in Barnet. The town centre is also deserted and the only places to buy a coffee are Starbucks or MacDonalds.
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We pass through the town and on up to St George's Fields, which command impressive views across to East London. The Battle of Barnet, a decisive and confused battle in the War of the Roses, was fought around here in 1471. At the top of the hill sits the village of Monken Hadley. It's a picture-postcard hamlet brimming with history. As well as a battle site, this village also boasts the former home of African explorer David Livingstone and a medieval church with an Armada beacon. The final stretch of the walk takes us through the woodland of Monken Hadley Common and on to Cockfosters Tube Station.
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