It is easy to take things for granted when you see them every week – Trent Park mansion is no exception. Until the summer of 2012 it was used by Middlesex University as part of its Trent Park campus. Students in the mid-1990s would marvel at its facade and wish their class was taking place in one of its grand rooms instead of in a nearby stable block. No doubt if they had spent more time exploring, they would have heard then about the mansion's colourful past and discovered the wonderful woodland walks.
The Roaring Twenties
In its heyday in the 1920s, the mansion was a hub for society parties where guests included Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin and even T E Lawrence (of Arabia). Also, it is believed that the late Queen Mother got engaged here. Built as a small villa in 1778, Trent Park was extended when one extravagant owner, Philip Sassoon, inherited the property along with others in Bombay, Brighton and Park Lane. His father had been a merchant banker and married into the wealthy Rothschild family. Much of the brickwork is from Devonshire House in Piccadilly, which Sassoon bought, together with the window frames, when the house was demolished. He liked to impress: an obelisk in the grounds at the back of the house was erected when the Duke and Duchess of Kent visited during their honeymoon in 1934. Records show that Sassoon would order fresh fish each day from Billingsgate Fish Market to feed the 100 or so pelicans and flamingos that decorated the large lake, created when three streams on the estate were dammed.
Flowers in the house were changed twice a day and the ones in the rooms of female guests would match the colour of the dress they wore the previous evening. There was always plenty to drink - in fact 25 bottles of wine were ordered for each guest to consume over a weekend. With that amount of alcohol it's a wonder anyone could recollect the weekends at all, which might explain why only three people went to the funeral of Philip Sassoon when he died in 1939.
Secrets and spies
During World War II the mansion was used as an interrogation centre for high-ranking German officers. Rudolf Hess was seen here after his mysterious flight to Britain in May 1941. One prisoner of war recalled being offered a glass of whisky and a cigar before chatting to a British officer for 30 minutes. Perhaps because of this relaxed approach it should not come as a complete surprise to discover that this was one of the first places to be bugged by the Germans.
From the car park in Trent Country Park, off Cockfosters Road, take the London Loop path to the left of the information board by the Forest Café. The path meanders through trees before it swings to the right and later runs along the left edge of a field.
For a short detour from the main route, enter the wooden gate opposite to follow a nature trail. Otherwise, continue along the path, which then dips and rejoins a wider path 50yds (46m) ahead. A few paces further, the path bends to the right above a lake. Continue ahead to a public footpath sign to Hadley Road and take a few paces along the next path on the right for a good view of the imposing Trent House mansion high above the lake. Retrace your steps and keep ahead into the woods towards Camlet Hill.
After 100yds (91m) ignore a left fork and keep ahead to leave the London Loop path. The track soon curves right before reaching a path junction. Ahead is Hadley Road and a toilet block.
At a junction turn right along the bridle path, pass a barrier and cross two tracks by water taps. Pass another barrier and follow the path ahead through Ride Wood as it runs parallel with Hadley Road before curving right.
Go through two kissing gates in quick succession and head uphill. At a footpath junction, go through two more kissing gates and continue as the path runs beside a field. Keep ahead as it joins a tarmac track to pass beside a barrier to the right of a house.
Bear left to continue along a grassy recreation area that lies adjacent to a golf course, then join a narrow path by a fitness trail signpost. This soon reaches an opening where you should join the tarmac track to the right.
At the T-junction ahead, turn left in the direction of the animal centre and cafe, bearing left a few paces further into a wide path that passes a column erected in memory of the Duchess of Kent. Just after this is the park's Wildlife Hospital and Animal Sanctuary, a charity that rescues and rehabilitates sick and orphaned animals. Its adjacent tea shop also has information and memorabilia on the mansion. Continue along this long, straight path, passing a pond on the left. Turn right along a narrow path opposite a Treetop Adventure sign to return to the car park where the walk began.
Mainly woodland tracks
Grassland and woodland
Keep on lead near Trent Park Animal Centre
OS Explorer 173 London North
Trent Park car park off Cockfosters Road
At both car parks on route
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
About the area
Discover Greater London
Greater London is one of the world’s largest urban areas; 33 boroughs stretching north to Enfield, south to Croydon, east to Havering, west to Hillingdon and with central London at the heart of it all.
Greater London was officially created in 1965, but the boroughs themselves all have their own histories going back much further. Greenwich is home to the Prime Meridian, which all clocks on earth take their time from, while Hounslow contains Heathrow Airport, one of the busiest airports in the world. Greater London contains a multitude of parks and green spaces, from the six Royal Parks (including Richmond Park, Green Park, Hyde Park and Regent’s Park) and other huge open spaces like Hampstead Heath and Clapham Common; to smaller community spaces like Clissold Park in Stoke Newington and Burgess Park in Southwark.
The centre of London has its quiet spaces too, like Coram’s Field by Great Ormond Street, and Camley Street Natural Park, a stone’s throw from King’s Cross and St Pancras. One of the city’s most impressive features is the London Underground. Beginning in 1863 as the Metropolitan Railway, it took commuters into The City from the suburbs of Middlesex. It was the first underground railway in the world, and now consists of 11 lines, 270 stations, and 250 miles (402km) of track. It’s estimated that nearly five million journeys are taken every day, and there are nearly one and a half billion riders each year. At peak times, there are more than 543 trains whizzing around the Capital.