The blue whale is thought to be the heaviest creature that ever lived, weighing as much as 15 double-deckers. It comes as something of a surprise, then, to find the remains of one such beast standing beside the 107 bus route in Barnet.
This pair of jaw bones on Wood Street have a combined weight of a ton-and-a-half. The resulting arch, despite its size, is almost invisible during the warmer months, thanks to a thick cloak of foliage. We walked right past on our first attempt to find it. Pass through this unusual gateway and you find yourself on a drive down to a Grade II listed 19th century house, itself called The Whalebones, standing in Whalebone Park.
The jaw-arch was installed in 1939, when a team of workmen sank the bones into six feet of concrete. The whale had been killed in the South Seas, from where its remains were shipped to Norway and thence London. By all accounts the jaw stank of rotting nerves and blood vessels. The contractors had to use their vehicle to pull the offending material out of the bone.
Why was this gruesome portal erected on one of London's tallest hills? The short answer is that it replaced an earlier set of jawbones that had eroded to the point of collapse. The name Whalebones first appears on maps in 1872. The namesake house is a half-century older, however, so the tradition may stretch further back.
Several decades on from their erection, the bones are still holding strong. Cracked in places, and carpeted in moss, they are easily mistaken for tree trunks. Nevertheless, it's a Barnet custom to make a wish as you step through the maw of planet Earth's greatest beast.