A walk along the Dollis Brook

I felt the Dollis Valley Greenwalk calling me last week. There’s something about the winter light that I associate with that part of the world that sits alongside rivers, suburbia and Nick Papadimitriou. This would be a walk through Nick country, although I didn’t realise at that point just how literally.

The image I had in my head that inspired these thoughts was of the Mill Hill Viaduct in a winter sunset. I had to get out there if only for a few hours. I may not have bothered making the hour-long journey to Brent Cross to do a 3-hour walk pre-pandemic that would only cover a section of a 10-mile trail. But my attitude has changed over the last 18-months to seize these impulses for the joys that they deliver.

Arriving at Brent Cross tube station on the Northern Line I half-expected to see my old walking buddy Nick waiting for me on the wooden bench in the tiled ticket hall as he has done on a number of occasions in the past. Although I hadn’t told him of my spontaneous decision to walk one of his beloved rivers of the London Borough of Barnet, in his role as genus loci of the area, it wouldn’t have surprised me if he’d sensed my intentions. But today the bench was empty and I used it as a place to set up my camera equipment to film the walk for my YouTube channel.

After suffering a short section of the North Circular I found the path onto the River Brent and the Dollis Valley Greenwalk, near the former location of a series of large houses Brook Lodge, Brent Bridge House and Decoy House. This early course of the Brent feeds into a large pond associated with the grounds of these houses. Over the road was the point where the Dollis Brook becomes the River Brent after its confluence with the Mutton Brook.

Nick Papadimitriou, Southgate 2008
Nick Papadimitriou, Southgate 2008
The Dollis Brook
The Dollis Brook

The walk ahead was everything I’d imagined and more. Sunset kissed 1930’s suburbia, slices of parkland beside the brook with excited dogs scuttling over bronzed leaves, and the beguiling Dollis Brook gently flowing through it all from its source on the Hertfordshire border.

I passed beneath the mighty Mill Hill Viaduct in time to see the sun aligned with the apex of its giant arches and approached Totteridge and Whetstone just after sunset. It reminded me that a visit to this area in 2015 to film the situation on the Sweets Way Estate first alerted me to the existence of the Dollis Valley Greenwalk and I vowed to return to do the walk. And over six years later here I was.

At home that evening I took down Nick’s magnificent book Scarp from the bookshelf. I wondered if the Dollis Brook got a mention. Nick had after all dedicated a significant amount of time documenting the rivers of Barnet and that was his major project when we’d first met in 2005. I opened the book at random and on my second flick of a page landed upon his reference to the Dollis Brook and the role it played in the early years of his life in the 1960’s. “I would go down to the brook with my sister and two brothers and we would walk what seemed like miles along the watercourse in either direction.”

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