This walk traces the life and work of a man who lived and taught in Mill Hill. Sir James Murray was fascinated by words. He educated himself and became a bank clerk and later, a schoolmaster. Murray began teaching at Mill Hill School in 1870. He considered his 15 years there to be his ‘golden age’. It was during this time that he was asked to edit the Oxford English Dictionary. The task was massive and with help from a dedicated team of assistants, it took five years to reach the word ‘ant’. He left Mill Hill in 1885 for Oxford to devote more time to the project. Although he died before the dictionary was completed, Murray was responsible for compiling at least half of the work.
The Murray family thought Mill Hill’s ponds, old inns and rows of cottages were charming and enjoyed their time here. They lived in a large white house in Hammers Lane called Sunnyside, which has recently been changed to Murray House in his memory. He didn’t have far to travel to work as Mill Hill School is a few minutes walk from the house.
Murray was well-known for his pranks. He once drew a life-size skeleton on black paper and hung it in the dark to scare three boarders from the school when they returned after a night out.
The route of this walk may have been familiar to Murray and many of the students as much of it remains unaltered. In fact Totteridge Fields are a London Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve and some of London's last remaining tracts of traditional countryside. The hay meadows are lined with hawthorn and blackthorn hedgerows. Due to their elevated position they also offer good viewpoints and are home to many rare beetles and spiders.
As someone fascinated by the meaning of words Murray would have been interested to know that Sheepwash Pond at the start of the walk is so called because it was used to clean sheep before they were taken to London markets.
With Sheepwash Pond on your left, walk along The Ridgeway passing the buildings of Mill Hill School on the right and a row of quaint cottages on your left. Continue along The Ridgeway as it bears left, past a long, white-timbered former Quaker meeting house and later, the imposing National Institute for Medical Research.
Turn left into Burtonhole Lane. Stay on this as it swings to the left, past Eleanor Crescent, to descend gradually. Turn left opposite Hillview Road, by a public footpath sign to Totteridge, along a narrow path that later bends to the right and passes a garden centre and sports field before arriving in front of the gates to Folly Farm.
Turn right here by a public footpath sign to follow the route of Folly Brook. Keep ahead and turn left before a kissing gate to follow an enclosed path between hedgerows. Follow this path all the way to a metal gate and go through this and head for the road, with Long Pond on your left. Cross Totteridge Common, bear right, and follow the path by a wood for 300yds (274m).
Turn left into Horseshoe Lane, along a path signposted ‘Mays Lane’, which becomes a track lined with tree cuttings as it approaches the last house, Fairlight Cottage. Climb the stile and continue on a gently descending path across the left-hand edge of a field. Keep ahead through a hedge gap and continue along the left edge of the next field. The path becomes hedge-lined before emerging by a waymarked sign. Climb a stile, keep ahead across the field following the line of telegraph poles to a public footpath sign.
Turn left before a footbridge, signposted ‘Dollis Valley Greenwalk’. After 100yds (91m) turn right through the trees, and then cross a plank footbridge. Walk ahead, across the field, through the hedge gap and across the next field, later along its right-hand edge. Go through two kissing gates and follow the path on the right-hand edge of a field, staying to the left of Dollis Brook. Go through a double set of kissing gates on either side of the footbridge. Keep ahead along the right-hand edge of a field and go through a gate. Then continue as the path veers to the right along an enclosed path. Go through a hedge gap, and then along the right edge of a field. Cross the footbridge ahead to the right of a stile and go up the steps. Now follow the waymarked path along the left edge of a sports field. In the corner you will come to a post marked London Loop and Dollis Valley Greenwalk. Keep ahead along the left-hand side of a meadow of Totteridge Fields and go over a footbridge. Cross another meadow and go through a kissing gate leading to a road junction.
Cross the road and join the footpath ahead through Highwood Hill, signposted ‘Mill Hill’. Go through a kissing gate followed by two more separating paddocks and finally another pair on to a road. Cross the road – take care here – and turn left at the public footpath sign to The Ridgeway, which later rejoins the main road. After 0.25 miles (400m) you can bear right into Mill Field for good views across to Wembley Stadium. The path runs parallel to the road and then passes the Old Mill House and the former village post office. The original village pump is also situated here. To see Murray’s former home turn right along Hammers Lane. Otherwise continue ahead. The Three Hammers pub is on the right and almost opposite this is Belmont Children’s Farm. Sheepwash Pond where the walk began is a few paces further on.
Cross-field paths, very muddy after rain
A variety of open fields, woods and rural roads
Keep on lead across fields as many are farmed
OS Explorer 173 London North
In front of Sheepwash Pond
None on route
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.