Pleasant, but prosaic, the Piccadilly’s Line northern terminus offers little more than its jocose moniker.
When explaining the concept of Beetle’s Eye View, there is always one Tube station at the tip of fans’ tongues. One station that brings our inner immaturity to the fore. One station whose name is indomitable. That station is, of course, Cockfosters. But, is there more to Cockfosters than a jokey nomenclature? Should it be known for ulterior reasons? Well, I finally decided to go and see for myself.
Being the northern end of the Piccadilly Line, Cockfosters is one of 33 termini on the London Underground network. A terminus does not necessarily mean the back o’ beyond – think the populous hubs of Brixton, Wimbledon and Stratford – but travelling the nine miles out to the Enfield / Barnet border was eerily sombre. Not only was my carriage completely devoid of life some 15 minutes before disembarking, but the neighbouring carriages were vacuums too. Cockfosters may well be renowned, but it’s celebrity seemingly fails to entice visitors.
Cockfostersites are clearly a well-heeled bunch, if their high street is anything to go by. An array of patisseries, fishmongers and vets. Coffee shops, chocolate shops and even a floral design boutique are mainstays of the short promenade south of the station. Towards the end of the high street were a troupe of banners claiming that the nearby Chicken Shed had been “making ground breaking theatre in Enfield for over 40 years”; first destination solved.
As the name suggests, the theatre comes from the humblest of beginnings. Aimed with the vision of ‘harnessing creativity in everyone and anyone’, the theatre company gradually transformed a fowl enclosure into an arts megaplex with multiple theatres (the largest seating 300), dance studios and an ever-growing list of socially-inspired projects; diversity and inclusiveness remaining the bedrock of its existence.
After being given a protracted history of the Shed, I finally had a chance to ask the Question: turns out the area garners its inimitable name from the estate granted to the chief (Cock) of the foresters (Fosters) of Enfield Chase. Where was this Enfield Chase? Ceased to exist centuries ago. However, if it was alluring parkland that I was after, I should head to Trent Park.
A relatively uneventful stroll later – taking in such cultural behemoths as the Trent Park Golf Club, the Southgate Hockey Club and a burnt-out Citroen Saxo – and we were face to face with the illustrious Trent Park. Bequeathed to George III’s doctor in 1777 after he saved the life of the king’s brother in Trento, Italy (hence the name), the Mansion has clearly seen better days. Used as a special German prisoner of war camp in the Second World War, the ‘Cockfosters Cage’ had been home to eighty-four German generals in its heyday (hidden microphones affording the British invaluable insight into German military know-how) before playing host to the Middlesex Polytechnic campus between 1947 and 2012.
Yet, a fascinating past does not necessarily correspond to a fascinating present and it seems little has happened to the House in the last five years, bar the erection of some flimsy scaffolding and the arrival of squatters. A sign informed us that Trent Park’s grounds will soon be transformed into much needed housing, but ‘soon’ may be a tad fanciful given the of level of construction activity on show.
Funnily enough, Trent Park is also a park. A 320-acre country park, whose serenity stems from the paucity of its offering, with little to its bow besides a Go Ape zip-wire centre and a Wildlife Rescue and Ambulance Service hut. Given the number of overweight dogs waddling back from the latter’s doors, it would appear that the obesity crisis stretches far beyond the school gates. One of the mutts even had a pram.
The park may not have been inspiring, but it was certainly thirsty-work and with no-one about to ask, we googled the nearest pub: the Cock Inn. Trust pubs to always champion the innuendo; I was certain we’d stumble across the Cock and Pussy later in the day.
The Inn itself is a rather formidable building: formerly just the Cock, it has been here since the 18th century and the exterior promises a drinking hole steeped in heritage.
The exterior could not have been more perfidious. Inside it was part hotel lobby, part wine bar. Swirling, curling, sick-inducing carpets were beautifully complemented by the emetic quotes splashed across its walls. “Time to drink champagne and dance on the table” was particularly galling.
Already bemused, we shouldn’t have been surprised when our half-pints of Weiss Belge de Bruxelles (£2.40) were served in thin flutes. The place was overkill. We were still baffled by the tackiness of the establishment until we turned out the car park and encountered the plethora of swish motors, personalised plates and elaborate electric gates that constituted the Cock’s immediate neighbourhood. Fitting.
In stark contrast to the vulgarity, we soon found ourselves at the start of the Pymmes Brook trail: a peaceful, yet highlight-lite, walk; a description that would suit the area as a whole. The trail took us alongside the quaint Beech Hill Lake, where fervent members of the Hadley Angling and Preservation Society were wooing perch with their tackle, before emerging in the urban hub of New Barnet. Like its neighbour, East Barnet Village, the enclaves were not what you would call thriving, unless you determine prosperity by the number of worshipping hotspots on offer.
Leaving the Village, our eye was taken by the unbeatable ‘two meals for £11.49’ available at the Prince of Wales. In we went. I plumped for a pint of Rat Race (£3.50), which I would recommend to those partial to drinks that somehow manage to be bland and bitter at the same time, and a uncomplicated vegetable risotto (£5.75). I was contemplating the texture of the latter, when my esteemed companion informed me about a hidden pub rule, which plays on British politeness. Apparently, when you inevitably mutter ‘yes’ (no matter your real feelings) to the perennial ‘is your meal ok’ question, you have entered into a verbal contract, where you can no longer send your food back. Fussy people and scrimpers take note.
I must admit, Cockfosters had not stirred much in us. It may have the funniest name on the Tube Map – that is unless you add the suffix ‘r’ to Marylebone – but there is little else to recommend it. Except if you like golf. Whereas open space is a precious commodity in Central London, the reverse is true up here, allowing four courses of varying difficulty to saturate the area. With our budget in mind, there was only one choice for us – the superb Grovelands Pitch and Putt (£7 for a round).
Down past Southgate station and the Priory – of celebrity-drug-addict fame – we paid our green fees and proceeded to produce a masterclass of slicing, over-hitting and swearing. The crowd went wild when yours truly sunk a monster putt to win on the last. Cockfosters was redeemed in my eyes.
Time: 5 hours