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 [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

Totteridge & Whetstone tube station is on the High Barnet branch of the Northern line, between Woodside Park and High Barnet stations. The station is on the northern side of Totteridge Lane (A5109) a little to the east of the Dollis Brook (the traditional boundary between Totteridge and Whetstone) hence is in Whetstone…
The Dollis valley falls away from the station with the brook crossing beneath the Totteridge Road 100m to the west.
The valley floor and Dollis Brook…
The clear waters of the Dollis… are there any fish???
Although titled ‘The Brent at Hendon’ 1854-55 this sketch by Ford Maddox Brown is likely to have been made along the Dollis Brook… as he lived in the area.

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.

Carrying Corn 1854-5 Ford Madox Brown 1821-1893 Purchased 1934
Carrying Corn 1854-5 Ford Madox Brown 1821-1893 Purchased 1934
A sinuous weave beneath sycamore trees…
Spotted on the path, an enigmatic painting, it a ‘5 MILE’ marker for the mid-point of the Greenway or is it an entreaty to ‘SMILE’ or both???
Red pipe, red river…
Fin on gulley-watch, numerous smaller watercourses enter the Dollis as it descends, many were in water, whilst others, hard to spot, were dry-bedded indentations…
The Beagle marks the spot (quite literally!) where we cross the Dollis to the western bank…
A perfect moment for ‘Pooh Sticks’…
First weir-let…
The Laurel Way Bridge, mid-point of the walk…
Discovering ‘secret’ bridges amongst the oaks, beech and crack-willow…
The pivotal point of the walk. The near picture-perfect tranquillity of the spot is pointed up for me by the incongruous presence of the car tyre in the middle of the pond!
Reds, ochre, Burnt Umber…
Almost too wide for Fin to straddle!
A short story in it’s own right, park bench in a wood by a brook, I wonder how it got there???
Pointing the way ahead, and another walk another day…
Woodside station and the Northern line…
Picture postcard station…



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