Award-winning Oak Hill Park in East Barnet is one of our largest local parks and offers a broad range of facilities, but, as well being ideal for a relaxing walk or tiring out children, it provides a beautifully pastoral image of the past.
Oak Hill Park has been of particular interest since I discovered that East Barnet is the oldest local settlement and the original Barnet. In the sunshine earlier this week I took the 184 bus to East Barnet Village take a closer look at this historic area as well as to explore the park. Cycling along the Pymmes Brook Trail last summer we past through the park, but I still needed to take a look at it properly on foot.
Walking up the hill alongside the park towards St Mary’s Church you realize how elevated the original settlement was, quite a lot higher than Pymmes Brook. (You can read more about the history of the area and the Barnet place names here.) It’s worth having a nose around the atmospheric churchyard to get a sense of going back in time. Some interesting buildings are clustered around, along with Church Farm swimming pool (not so interesting, but it least it’s still open to the public, so this is another good school holiday option).
Returning to Church Hill Road, the huge sweeping view across to Oak Hill (a theological college since 1928) gives an idea of how the area must have looked centuries ago when these kind of large estates dominated the area.
Like nearby Trent Park and Enfield Chase, Oak Hill Park is parkland that has existed since at least the 11th century. Some of the magnificent oaks dotted around the park are descendents of trees used in the building of St Albans Abbey due to the renowned quality of oaks from the Pymmes Brook valley. This land fell within Hertfordshire and was controlled by the abbey.
After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536 large estates were created as the land became privately owned and imposing mansions were built. Oak Hill is one of the area’s last remaining mansion houses, along with Osidge House. In 1930 East Barnet Council purchased the land from the previous owners, the Baring family, and the park was opened to the public in 1933.
Within the park is Oak Hill Wood conservation area and a 5.5 acre nature reserve managed by the London Wildlife Trust and this ancient woodland includes tall oaks, hornbeam and ash and is apparently a great place for spotting bats – you can see them swooping here and across the meadows on summer evenings.
The park also features a bowling green, cricket pitch, tennis courts, multi-sports pitch, selection of play areas for children of different ages and an outdoor gym. As well as the Pymmes Brook Trail there are many other paths that make it scooting heaven. What’s more, there’s a friendly family-run café serving a broad range of home-made food including Polish specialities where I paused for some very tasty pierogi (and this is where you book the tennis courts).
After exploring all these different aspects of the park I got back on the bus and made the short journey home. As much as I enjoyed strolling around on my own, Oak Hill Park is ideal to keep in mind for the school holidays. Special place.
Church Hill Road, East Barnet EN4 8JP