The first page of the Dollis-Mutton-Brent notebook. And we’re up in the northern-most reaches of the River Brent’s catchment following the Dollis Brook as it descends a shallow valley through the wonderfully named Whetstone Stray Open Space between Totteridge & Whetstone and Woodside stations.
Machen’s tale, like so much of his writing about London, is concerned with borders and borderlands, the point at which the underlying fiction of the city breaks through to the surface, disrupting our experience of reality, and also the point at which the city reaches its suburban perimeter and becomes something quite different, a liminal zone in which the rules governing the centre no longer apply. Here the city becomes something unformed and incomplete, a landscape whose seeming anonymity, in which all traces of the past appear to have been erased or displaced, may in fact conceal its true nature as a repository of unexpected mystery and delight. […] Machen was to realise in his endless journeys through suburban streets, on foot and alone, that if the fabric of the city was to be transformed, what was required was a transmutation of perception, an act of imaginative reconstruction in which the commonplace topography of everyday experience could be made strange, defamiliarised, by seeking out that single image to experience that might radically alter one’s perception of the landscape.
Walking Inside Out ed. Tina Richardson Chapter Six The Art of Wandering Arthur Machen‘s London Science by Merlin Coverley
This area was originally called Tataridge in the 13th Century.
The ridge is the high ground between the valleys of
the Dollis Brook and Folly Brook.
Taterugg, Titerege (xiii and xiv cent.); Tateryche, Thariges,
Taregh (xv and xvi cent.); Tatteridge (xvii cent.).
The parish of Totteridge is entirely separate from the rest of the
hundred, and lies about 10 miles south of Hatfield. It was till
1892 a detached chapelry of Hatfield parish, being an outlying
part of the possessions of the Bishops of Ely, lords of the manor
of Hatfield. It adjoins the parish of Arkley on the north, and on the
south, east and west is surrounded by the neighbouring parishes
of Middlesex. The Dollis Brook forms the eastern boundary.
The parish has an area of 1,603 acres, of which 20 acres are
arable land, 1,424½ acres permanent grass and 2 acres wood.
The subsoil is London Clay.
The land attains a height of 400 ft. in the centre of the parish,
from which it falls towards the north and south to a little
under 300 ft., and in the east, towards the Dollis Brook, to
about 230 ft. The road from Whetstone to Mill Hill runs
through the parish from east to west along the central ridge,
and the long and straggling village of Totteridge follows its
course. At the eastern end is Totteridge Green, which runs
south from the road, towards Laurel Farm. A short distance
further up the hill westwards is the church of St. Andrew, on
the north side of the road, and Copped Hall, with an
extensive park, on the opposite side. Near the hall is a
17th-century timber barn with a tiled roof, and a similar barn
is near the church. Further west along the village street are
the Grange, the property of Sir Charles Nicholson, and
Totteridge Park, on the site of the old manor-house, the
residence of Mr. A. Barratt. Poynter’s Hall (formerly when
in the possession of the Paget family called Poynter’s
Grove) is the residence of Mrs. Harmsworth; the old house
called the Priory that of Miss Foss.
Richard Baxter, the Nonconformist divine and author,
lived for a time at Totteridge after his discharge from
prison in the reign of Charles II. Rachel Lady Russell also
had a house in this parish where she sometimes resided
after the execution of Lord Russell.
The nearest railway station is that of Totteridge and
Whetstone, a short distance beyond the eastern
boundary of the parish, on the High Barnet branch of
the Great Northern railway.
(The text above drawn from: ‘Parishes: Totteridge’, in A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 3, ed. William Page (London, 1912), pp. 148-150 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/herts/vol3/pp148-150 [accessed 23 September 2015].)
I decided that the best way to get to grips with the river was, well ‘to get to grips with the river’. An initiation without extensive background research or maps, just get out there and seek water. Explore. Take a look around, and be open to what I found. So on Sunday afternoon as the sun came out, and with talk of an ‘Indian Summer’ we stabbed a finger at the map above, found the nearest tube station and set off.
The following four maps show our route from Totteridge & Whetstone station, across the road and left (downstream) along the Dollis Valley Greenwalk. We initially kept the stream to our right hand, later crossing to the other bank by a neat iron bridge.
The greenway cuts a swathe through thorough-going suburbia. A sinuous route. A gut of land defined by a meandering brook. Despite the fact that the brook, at this point girdled and staked in a three-planked channel, seeming placid enough today, it must at times summon sufficient potency to see off the avaricious developers who must be sorely tempted to pipe the brook, and out-of-sight-out-of-mind] and develop the land for housing.
Crystal clear water. That surprised us, though I’m not sure why, so lens-like in it’s clarity that every detail of the debris in soft silt was sharp-edged. Old tea coloured. A ginger brook. Rusty.
Photo-diary of the Walk
According to the ‘Broken Barnet’ blog, Maddox Brown described this sketch as:
“a mere brooklet running in most dainty sinuosity under overshadowing oaks and all manner of leafgrass,’ he noted on 1 September 1854 ‘Many beauties and hard to chuse amongst for I had determined to make a little picture of it.”
In the mornings he would paint the brook and in the afternoons work on another local scene, ‘Carrying Corn’ set nearby in the fields of Grass Farm, between the brook and Hendon Lane.