The origins of the ancient woodland of Scratchwood can be traced back to the Ice Age, when it was part of the Forest of Middlesex. Although it first appeared on maps from the 16th century, other documents name it at least 300 years before that. Many landowners built large houses in the area. In 1866 the Cox family bought a 1,000-acre (405ha) estate, which included Scratchwood. The area was used for game-rearing and field sports. Later the woodland management focused on producing oak timber. The relatively small woodland area of Scratchwood that you see today is mostly a result of the incursion of the A1 Barnet bypass, which, in 1927 sliced through the site separating it from Moat Mount, on the opposite side of the dual carriageway.
An unlikely nature reserve
Now designated as a nature reserve, its 140 acres (57ha) of ancient woodland that incorporate a rich variety of woodland and plant life, makes for a walk that is genuinely surprising and wonderfully rural. At first you could be forgiven for thinking that there could be little to attract you to Scratchwood, a name which is, after all, synonymous in many people’s minds with the nearby M1 service station of that name (although this has now been renamed London Gateway Services). But, don’t be put off. Scratchwood Open Space seems far removed from the rush of the 21st century. Indeed, within a few short steps of setting out on your walk, the roar of the traffic will have faded to a distant murmur and will have been replaced by the warbling of birds, such as the nuthatch, lesser whitethroat and cuckoo, and the breeze rustling the leaves of the oak, hornbeam, birch, hawthorn and sycamore trees beneath which your walk will meander.
There is a car park (closed until further notice) but you can also reach the start point by taking a 292 bus from Edgware Station towards Borehamwood and there is bus stop directly outside the car park. Once you have finished your walk, you can either take the same bus to Elstree and Borehamwood mainline station, or walk to nearby Stirling Corner and take the 292 back to Edgware Station.
There are three marked trails here: red, blue and yellow. You can choose your own route or follow this one, which is a combination of the red and blue trails.
With your back to the A1, follow the path (part of the London Loop) that runs from the right corner of the car park, passing the picnic benches to the left. Keep ahead through a metal gate and go straight, passing a red- and blue-topped post on your left. Follow the path as it descends and passes over two footbridges and then ascends. When the path divides take the right fork and keep ahead to pass a blue-topped post on the right. Follow this path as it meanders and undulates through the woodland.
Once past a red-topped post, the path goes over a small bridge and ascends again. On arrival at a tree in the middle of the path turn left and keep ahead to pass another red-topped post to your right, after which follow that path as it narrows and descends gradually. Here you will see large clumps of rhododendron. These were introduced, but can grow at a tremendous speed and have a tendency to eliminate all other ground vegetation. Careful woodland management, undertaken by Barnet Borough Council, has been necessary to enable other species to survive. Elsewhere the ancient ground cover – such as bracken, bramble and ivy – can be seen. Most of the large trees in these woods are oaks, but you will also see other typical English woodland trees including hornbeam, hazel, birch, holly and wild cherry.
On arrival at a clearing that leads down to an embankment, where ahead of you a set of steps descend to the left of a tall tree, turn left. Follow the path as it descends steeply, passes over a ditch, ascends and veers left uphill. Keep going, ignore the descending path you pass on the left, and keep straight to follow the path as it bears right past a blue post. After the post descend the steps, go over a brook and up the steps on the other side. If you are walking here in the summer, you may hear the call of a jay. You may also catch the sound of a woodpecker – three different types have been spotted in Scratchwood. There have also been regular sightings of nuthatches and treecreepers. The rough, bushy areas attract warblers and, in winter, redwings feed on berries. Insects too are attracted by the variety of habitats in Scratchwood, where on bright, sunny days you will see large numbers of butterflies and dragonflies. Be careful not to tread on any of the giant stag beetles you may see; they are now a protected species.
Keep ahead through the woodland as the path descends once more, passes over a brook, and swings sharp right to rejoin the London Loop and emerge beside the field you passed earlier. This field was once a hay meadow used for feeding some of London’s large number of horses.
Trace your footsteps back to the car park.
Gravel paths and forest tracks
OS Explorer 173 London North
Car park off northbound carriageway of A1, 1.25 miles (2km) north of junction of A41 and A5109
None on route
At time of writing the car park was closed until further notice
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.