An unusual route is the Gerald Colton Way, but cleverly worked out. It was devised in 1994 by Gerald Colton, a founder member and long-time Walks Organiser of the Hampstead Ramblers, to mark the first multi-racial elections in South Africa that year. He named it the ‘Mandela Way’ and it ran from a statue of Nelson Mandela by the Royal Festival Hall, out to the Boer War monument on Combe Hill in Buckinghamshire. It has no other connection with South Africa though and so after Mr Colton’s death the next year, the Hampstead Ramblers renamed his route in honour of its inventor.
The Gerald Colton Way passes through four counties, beginning on the Surrey bank of the Thames before crossing to Middlesex. It crosses almost due north all through Middlesex, then looping through Hertfordshire and Middlesex again before following the Misbourne Valley through the Buckinghamshire Chilterns.
One thing significant about the route is that it solves the problem of how to run a walking route from the Hertfordshire countryside through to the heart of the conurbation without spending all the time on tedious pavements, and it does so by picking a way from rural Mill Hill along the Dollis Brook and a series of little open spaces to Hampstead Heath, and thence the Royal Parks. It is that achievement that recommended a section of the route to be incorporated into one of the latest, and the most ambitious so far, of the ‘Downing Street Walks’: from Penrith to Downing Street.
I am not aware of any guide book to the route (I will add a link if anyone finds one). The deviser did though write lengthy notes for the benefit of his fellow ramblers, which I will not attempt to reproduce here.
The Gerald Colton Way has a sense of whimsy to it: it loops out of the way when it need not, and it even includes a prescribed walk around Queen Mary’s Garden in Regents Park. It is in the cause of a pleasant walk though. Also the route has some hard-nosed practicality by including several railway stations along the route.
We begin then on the South Bank, by the Royal Festival Hall (the first building of the South Bank Complex and the only one that is not begging for a wrecking ball). The wonders of metropolitan Surrey must be left though, crossing the Thames by the Hungerford Bridge (whose cantilevered pedestrian walkway is a great improvement from Gerry Colton’s day). Through Whitehall then and across Horseguards if open and to St James’s Park, then Hyde Park, Regent’s Park and Hampstead Heath, minimising the street sections. North from leafy Hampstead, the road emerges into countryside by Mill Hill, where it meets the Middlesex Greenway (the next loop could be cut off by following the Middlesex Greenway to Bushey Heath). This is a rural place despite its proximity to the murmuring city, and long may it remain so. There is garden centre in a farm location here which the route passes (where I had a much needed jam-and-scones stop when walking the Greenway). We pass but go north though.
North of Mill Hill across the Folly Brook we enter Hertfordshire and coincide with part of the Hertfordshire Border Walk into Totteridge, making good use of the manorial lands, and still north to another section of the latter walk from Arkley to cross the motorway-grade A1 (on the long foot- and horse-bridge which I remember complaining about for being in the wrong place for me).
Thereafter the route runs deeper into Hertfordshire, to Radlett, then south again to Bushey plunging south to Stanmore Common, where it again meets the Middlesex Greenway briefly before finding its own way to the Oxhey Woods and Rickmansworth.
From Rickmansworth, the Gerald Colton Way shuns the Chess Valley Walk to follow the other side of the Chess through Croxley Green and Sarratt, before crossing into Buckinghamshire at Chenies, and after Amersham following the Misbourne as far as it will go and thence up the dip of the Chilterns to the top at Combe Hill – after which the route runs down (following the last charge of the Resignation Way) to the station at Wendover.
Overall, and ignoring a loop to Kentish Town station, I make that a route of 65 miles, or of several station-to-station day walks.
The route might be done with standard Landranger maps, though the additional detail of an Explorer map is very helpful.
In the Explorer, 1:50 000 series:
- Explorer 173: London North
- Explorer 182: St Albans and Hatfield
- Explorer 172: Chiltern Hills East
- Explorer 181: Chiltern Hills North