The Boroughers 03/02/18: Barnet Everybody needs a 303

Eh up. It’s an annoyingly sunny Sunday morning as I write this, the 4th instalment of a series of posts collectively called The Boroughers - a 30+ strong compendium of visits to each Borough of London in search of culture, inspired by the Mayor. I’m going to detail what happened when my girlfriend Helen and I spent a Saturday in the only borough which means “hair” in Cockney rhyming slang: Barnet.


Barnet. We’ve evened out the north/south balance, venturing way above the Thames into NW London. This confuses me, since despite being a lifelong Londoner the nature of the Northern Line’s schematic branch splits mean I’ve always considered Barnet to be much further east than it really is.

What is not even is the matter of effort. Only two-thirds of London’s boroughs have entered a bid to be the inaugural “Borough of Culture” and Barnet, like Harrow before it but unlike the two South London boroughs we’ve thus far visited, haven’t bothered. But to me, finding out what’s so bad is as much fun as finding out what someone else is proud of.


  • Charles Dickens used to drink in the Red Lion at Barnet Hill...maybe
  • The World Cup winning 1966 England squad watched “Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines” in Hendon on the eve of victory
  • In 2014 the Conservative administration spent over £82 million pounds on the “One Barnet” programme. This was not in their election manifesto.

I’ll leave as an exercise in flexing your imagination how often Helen says “if you shut up this will be over quicker” to me in bed, but those were the words she uttered on Friday when reading out an interminable list of Barnet borough facts. I reacted unfavourably to the loooooong list of things which were not in the election manifesto of the Tory council; seems the man from the Barnet Eye blog may have a bee in his bonnet.


But, anyway. We’re going to Barnet. Being a Saturday I buggered off to Parkrun, while Helen checked out the weather forecast.

Oh. Bugger. I mean it was pretty rainy and cold down our way but not that bad. Bleurgh. Surely it can’t be as bad as our last outing though, right? Upon my return from putting my legs through 8km I’m told to go get showered and changed, the words “I’ll pack a lunch” ringing in my ears from the kitchen as I ascend the stairs. Clean and dressed in civvies, I want to get going but am told I’m not allowed back downstairs just yet. What? A couple more minutes and the all clear is sounded. Right, come on, let’s get this show on the road.

Oh! Right, I hadn’t heard “I’ll pack a lunch” - it’s an alpaca lunch. Fanastic. Yes, the food for the train is a paper plate full of cheese and carrot sandwiches made in the shape of alpacas, complete with sesame and pumpkin seeds for eyes and noses. Awesome!

With disaster just about averted when a random arm flail knocks the plates out of my hand, but cling film saving the day, we’re on the train and I’m snarfing down the food. They taste great.

Citymapper and Google maps both told grim tales of how long our journey was to take. With no Thameslink trains from Wimbledon we can’t stay above ground, instead needing to go to Waterloo and a couple of Northern Line stints to our first Barnet venue. The internet said the whole journey was likely to take us upwards of 2 hours. Bleurgh.

Few people want to go as far north as us. Two women strike up an immediate friendship opposite us, discussing the NHS march and stuff, so engrossingly that the marcher misses her stop. With all the interesting stuff on the Northern Line being in the middle, once we’re beyond Camden the train becomes mostly empty. Once we’re done conjuring up puns for a future borough I reminisce, in excruciatingly boring fashion, about my Morden to Finchley commute for 6 months back in 1998.

Mill Hill East is a fucking dump. There’s a bus stand and a bus stop and a small car park and some recycling bins and a large desolate building site. That’s it. It’s cold and raining, but our bus doesn’t take too long to turn up.

Surroundings get a bit nicer as we progress up a hill - Mill Hill, we assume, especially since our bus stop is in Mill Hill village. We go past a remarkable array of religious stuff - a large Jehovah’s Witnesses place, something called Adam & Eve, the “Daughters of Charity” and a church labelled the “Brotherhood of the Cross and Star”. There’s also medical research labs around here. What the hell is going on?

Interjection: while Helen was proofing this article, I looked things up. As far as I can tell it’s the UK HQ of the Jehoavah’s Witnesses; The Brotherhood of the Cross & Star are a bonkers Christian cult, who don’t believe in medicine; the Daughters of Charity are an evangelical Catholic sisterhood; and the Adam & Eve is a pub.

Our bus stop is called The Three Hammers, which is a large chain pub that doesn’t look hugely inviting. But the farm across the road does, and is in fact our first scheduled stop. Hello, Belmont.

Walking through the car park there’s a couple of animals around, like this unfriendly deer.

Into reception they assume we’ve turned up just to visit the cafe, but no, we want to see the animals please. After paying, getting a bag of “large animals” feed, and fondling a scarf, we go through the “to the animals” door and straight into the building where the small animals are. Here’s some cockatiels and stuff.

I’m taking photos of birds and this degu. Is it a degu? I think it’s a degu. Let me look it up. Yeah, it’s definitely a degu.

But Helen’s already a couple of steps ahead and waving at me, pointing into the next enclosure. What’s the hurry? What’s so special? There’s plenty of good animals to look at, no need to OH MY GOD THERE’S GIANT RABBITS.

Two giant rabbits in fact, one on top of another. Fantastic. I’d been mentioning en route how much I like rabbits, the bigger the better. I had no idea there’d be bona fide giant ones here!


They’re awesome, aren’t they? Look at the bloody state of them.

Well this zoo is already a great place to visit. Up next, beautifully coloured, neat guinea pigs... as well as the daft scruffy guinea pigs.

Then, more rabbits. Not as giant, and therefore not quite as good.

That said, one of them wants to stand up and talk to me when I’m leaning over to take a photo, and that’s hellishly cute.

There’s a tortoise but he’s hiding in his hut, and presumably if he woke up he wouldn’t be coming out very quickly. Numerous other animals are also in hiding, and one last rabbit gives us a weird look.

But we bought large animal feed, not small animal feed, because we want to see the large animals. As soon as we step outside and around the corner, some sheep spot us, eye up the bag in Helen’s hand, and come over to demand food. Oh, OK then.

The sheep on the left is a clumsy oaf and in its eagerness, loses its footing on the fence. The other one remains sanguine about the affair.

Next door, a goat with couple of weird little tufts coming out of its neck.

There are more sheep with much better face markings, and another goat.

On the other side there’s a load of big cows. They’re all just lying there, under cover, staring at us and the handful of other visitors. Between them and us is evidence that cows don’t shit where they eat, rather they shit near the humans and eat undercover.

There’s another greedy goat. Helen’s hands are getting disgustingly slobbered on by all the hoofed animals.

There’s a deer here as well, but he’s not getting much luck because the goat is all “no, fuck off, it’s mine”.

Further round is a chicken coop.

Chickens, eh? They’re OK, I guess, but they’re just chickens. Nothing special. Don’t really know why there’s a racial divide between ground and branch though.

The previously unfriendly deer from near the car park is now friendly. Perhaps he’s been instructed not to go and hang out with people who haven’t yet paid the entrance fee, or more likely has learnt that those people won’t have food whereas over on this side they will.

Another goat with utterly marvellous beard, colourings, and face is next. He eats mostly by extending his long tongue to slurp up a bunch of feed into his mouth.

It could be more pleasant for Helen. But seriously this goat is awesome.

But look, all these other animals, as excellent as they are, are a distraction. Helen found Belmont Farm and placed it as the centrepiece of our visit to Barnet because fuck yeah alpacas. There are alpacas. That’s why we had alpaca shaped sandwiches. Alpacas, right? Graceful, handsome, serene animals that they are.

Excuse me. Struggling to write at the moment, distracted as I am by my own laughter at the daft bastard above. I might not get as excited about it as Helen but I do think they are cracking animals, and it’s cool that they’re so friendly. There’s three in this field, and want to feed them all. Helen kicks off the interaction by having a word with this lad.

The second nearest one notices, and comes along as well.

But then he gets a bit aggressive. Not with Helen, but with his mate - he just keeps barging him out of the way. The poor third one can’t even get a look in. MINE! THIS FOOD IS MINE! ALL MINE! Hey now, play fair.

Eventually I stop taking photos and instead grab a handful of feed, so that everyone gets a bit. The slobber is ticklish and disgusting and hilarious.

It’s not a loop, just a one way path, with alpacas the end of level boss. We’re almost out of food and give the last bit to the wonderful bearded goat. Actually, we try and give some to his companion which is a much smaller animal who can only just get his mouth at the top of the fence, but beardy just barges him out of the way and we can’t even get a pic. Back past the goat and deer combo, the former headbutts the latter. Oi! Don’t be nasty!

Beyond the cows and sheep and toilets there’s another section. First up is an empty enclosure in which there are meant to be some chickens, but there’s no sign of anything. Oh well. Around the corner, a ferret is asleep in a hammock.

Then, more chickens.

The rooster is angry about bloody photographers and comes to chastise us.

In a hut is an owl. He’s a Eurasian owl, which I stumble over and end up saying Erasuran. “Can we ever see the Erasuran owl up close?” “Ooh, sometimes”.

Not now though. He’s busy.

It’s almost all birds around here. Big bantams, doves with big feet, and turkeys.

In the middle there’s a couple of ponies. They look sad, and we stop to have a chat. Helen asks him what the matter is, and honestly the thing breaks our damn heart when he response with the most depressed sigh you’ve ever heard.

This part of the farm is a loop and we’ve seen everything except, oh hang on, the bit at the start where there were meant to be chickens - there’s a chicken. Wait, no, there’s a few chickens. And they look pretty cool from a distance...

Oh my god these chickens are amazing. I’ve never been so impressed with an animal since that time we each held a toucan. There’s about 15 of them and they have flares on and they walk by shaking their feet before stomping down and I can’t stop laughing.

They’re brilliant and I’m almost in tears. Who knew I’d find a load of chickens so funny? They are Brahma chickens, of US and Swiss heritage via India, and I love them and then the big lad shoots me a proper “what the FUCK are you laughing at?” glare. Gulp.

My day is made. We go into the canteen and order some lunch because food here is meant to be very good; I go for the mini ploughmans, Helen has a savoury waffle. It all tastes bloody lovely. I don’t know what chicken the eggs come from but they are local.

When I’m not eating I’m mostly laughing about chickens and re-watching the video. Hahahahahahaha. The way it walks! Hahahaha!

In a rare moment when I can collect myself we decide the only thing left to do before leaving is go check on the giant rabbits, in the hope they aren’t now still in a big heap. The good news is they have separated, the bad news is the mottled one is hidden under a tree.

With barely anyone else around, the alpacas don’t bother hanging around the fences. So as we leave, we spot one of them surveying his territory like a goddamn king.


Right then. Back across to the Three Hammers bus stop and it’s a short wait for the 240, but not so short that we can’t fit in some accidental culture by way of a plaque on the wall opposite. What’s a philologist? I’ve not looked it up yet. Hang on...right, it’s the study of language in oral and written historical sources. OK then.

The 240 takes us downhill and to Mill Hill Broadway station, in a busy part of town with shops and pubs and that. The bus stop/station is in a bleak underground lair next to the train station and underneath the tracks, I assume. Our changeover here is perfectly timed, just a minute until the Fatboy Slim/Roland inspired 303.

It’s a nasty ride. Not the people or anything, but the surroundings are not salubrious. We’re alongside the west coast mainline (I think; certainly some big train tracks) and estates, both industrial and housing. Even nice weather wouldn’t do much to help here. There’s yet more religious buildings - another huge Jehovah’s Witness place, and a Trinity Church next to a timber yard. The church looks like a shack more usually used as a truck stop greasy spoon, and we see no worshippers around.

Our stop is called “RAF Museum”, and that’s because we’re going to the RAF Museum. Look, planes!

The carpark is suspiciously full, and there’s a bunch of outside broadcast unit vans here and film set catering and stuff. But we don’t spot any famous people or cameras. It’s free to get in and the first plane is painted like a shark.

As you would probably expect from an RAF museum, what we’ve got here is a couple of hangars fill to bursting with shitloads of military planes. Like these.

And these.

Sometimes it’s not planes, but just bits of planes.

Some of the planes are made of wood and have no roof and are actually flying boats. Whoa.

This is the Southampton, a boat which in the late 1920s went all the way from Felixstowe to Singapore via the Med and India. Holy shit, that’s a hell of a journey. Not that we could get a photo, but underneath these open air bits we could peek into the lower cabin where they had tables and chairs and stuff. The mind boggles when trying to comprehend what it was like to journey in this.

Also it was armed with this gun.

Lots of planes are painted with custom logos and other designs, and it’s pretty cool that you can take a look inside a few of them. In fact you can pay to go into a Spitfire, but there’s a huge queue for that.

Up at the end there are helicopters. In case it wasn’t obvious, the dangerous bit is clearly labelled.

What this place isn’t, though, is fun. It might be on a different day, but the reason why the car park is so full is apparent: the RAF Museum in Hendon, on a rainy Sunday in February, is where everybody takes their damn kids for an afternoon out. There are way more kids than adults around, all screaming and running and shouting and it’s just like a huge creche. Some of them are learning stuff: there’s a big scout troop running amok, with all clipboards and pen and paper ‘n that. It makes it a pretty unpleasant place to wander around, and I might like to stop and read a bit more about most of the aircraft here but neither of us are in the mood to stand still for very long.

So instead, I go stand in a chinook.

Even if it wasn’t chock full of kids - even toddlers, being literally dragged around, or having their nappies changed not in the baby change area - it wouldn’t exactly be fun here. As much as I like planes and stuff, it’s a military museum, which means the main focus here is that these are machines of war. I’m not a big fan of war.

The engineering is impressive, and my Dad was in the RAF for years teaching people to jump out of planes - I dunno which ones - so there is some nostalgia-esque stuff going on in my head too, especially in the bit which details the history and use of the ejector seat, the contraption that he would test. One which needed a little more work before being used by people rather than dummies was responsible for fucking his back forever back in the 60s, which is why my bro and I grew up on a Haig Homes estate for disabled ex-servicemen. I don’t know if I was meant to be surprised, but I was, that there was no mention of that organisation around here.

As well as planes there were a bunch of old cars as well, and they looked undeniably cool - at least to me, but what the fuck do I know about cars?

Being about war and killing and that, there’s a lot of stuff to do with bombs. We walked around a Lancaster bomber which had a tally painted on its side, as well as a quote goading the Nazis.

Oh, and bombs. Lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of bombs. Like, fucking loads of bombs. Everywhere, all around both hangars, bombs of different shape and size and magnitude. Bombs. This is really fucking grim.

Can’t you just, y’know, make this a passenger plane?

On the wall, more examples of personalisation on planes, decorated to goad or boast. I get it, time was different and even ignoring that, some people just aren’t opposed to war and stuff. But, bleurgh, I’m left fairly cold and hoping this shit doesn’t happen again.

A bit of a walk through the rain to another building - this is actually a really large complex, and two other hangars are currently closed - and things look up. It’s still about planes and war, of course, but a) there are no kids b) it’s much more interesting and less grim to see really really early military aviation. This is the “First World War in the air” exhibit.

The planes are made of wood, predominantly. There’s obviously no retractable gear or anything; the wheels basically look like bikes or wheelbarrows. Without the crowds and kids it’s now feasible to stop and read a bit of stuff, and I’m gobsmacked by the plane which flew to 10k feet or so but had a top speed of just 65mph. How is it even feasible to stay airborne at such a low speed? Bonkers.

Because aviation was so new, in warfare or otherwise, a ton of support was required back in those days. We wandered into a support hut, and saw instructional guides on how to fly in a loop and the emotional support dogs which early pilots needed just to stay sane.

And that’s it. Time to go. It was interesting and sobering but not fun and we’re glad to be leaving. There’s one more item in our Barnet itinerary, and it’s a bit of a trek to reach. Let’s go get back on a 303 to Colindale, then jump on a tube.

Fucking hell, that bus ride was grim as fuck. It’s not a pretty part of town around there; we weave our way through a bleak housing estate, past a whole bunch of works emblazoned with “Barnet council is doing this for you” type slogans - presumably not in the manifesto, eh! Then, jump off on a busy main road with small houses and lots of noise and a great deal of building work going on. A friendly man sells us soft drinks at the station and there is an excellent self-winding clock; the train to Golders Green is prompt and back on the street Helen leads us up a side road towards the gates of a park.

The closed gates, that is. This padlock is attached just as we’re approaching. It’s 4.07pm, and through the railings we can see that the park shuts in 53 minutes. LET US IN!

Another sign says that gate was meant to be closed at 4.15pm, but I suppose you can’t really blame the park keeper for being a little early. There’s no-one around, and we’ve got this bit of Hampstead Heath to ourselves.

Wait, Hampstead Heath? Surely that’s not in Barnet? Well, aha, yes it is - just this tiny little corner, where there’s Golders Hill Park zoo. We want more animals, damn it.

It’s a struggle. Walking up it looks closed but in fact it’s not, but the fencing is extreme and most of the animals are nowhere to be seen anyway. Here, I’m telling a Laughing Kookaburra a joke in an attempt to make it laugh.

It does not laugh.

There’s a sacred ibis and some other birds, but nothing comes near us.

Another Eurasian owl. Here’s the best view we get. Even if it were awake and flying around, we’d still be at least 6 feet from it.

Some animals are in large outdoor enclosures. So large that they come nowhere near us, again. This is the best view we get of the rhea. Let’s call him Chris.

There’s goats ‘n that, if you squint.

It’s a hilariously shit experience. Virtually no animals and those we can see are distant and/or behind multiple layers of dense fencing, and we almost hadn’t even got to see that.

We have to get out, otherwise we’re going to get locked in the park overnight. Helen has done one last piece of research, knowing we were at the very southern edge of Barnet she’s figured out how we walk to the border. What I don’t think she realised, despite the name “Golder’s Hill”, is how it’s a long steep hill to walk up. But that’s what we do, and our reward is glorious. Or so one of us thinks.

There’s a pub! But, it’s not in Barnet, so I veto it, even though it looks nice. No, far from it, I’m trying to convince her we should get two buses for 40-odd minutes until we reach the Bohemia in North Finchley, but this time she vetoes it and a compromise is reached: let’s go for a pint at Golders Green and then piss off. So, to the Refectory it is.

Walking in, it’s very busy but not overly loud. There’s rugby on the TV and lots of rugby players sitting around, with bags full of rugby kit and equipment on the floor. Pint of Guinness and half a lager, there’s a spare table by the window and I’m once again watching that video of the chicken stomping around and laughing my fucking head off.

Sure you don’t fancy one last bus and a better pub, darling...? Damn it. She’s sure. OK, sigh, so we’re done with Barnet. Time to tally up our scores, and get the fuck out of here.

Rate my Barnet

You could argue that since Barnet hasn’t entered a Borough of Culture bid there’s no point in us rating them, But no boroughs have volunteered to be judged by us, and we’re going to judge them all for the bespoke categories of “fun”, “learning” and “nice” on a scale of 1 to 7.


  • Fun: 6. My ability to enjoy even shit stuff shines through, but frankly this is mostly due to the greatest chicken on earth.
  • Learning: 4. Bang in the middle. Could’ve been higher had the museum not been busy enough to discourage stopping.
  • Nice: 2. Frankly, apart from a small bit of Mill Hill village, what I saw of Barnet was all horrible.


  • Fun: 4. Farm, much fun. RAF, not much fun.
  • Learning: 1. Didn’t learn anything except Darren finds chickens annoyingly funny.
  • Nice: 2. Not as bad as Harrow.

That makes a just-under-50% mark of 19/42.

And on that note, we scurried away from Barnet for the year. Golders Hill back to Waterloo, beer for the train to Thames Ditton. Not really understanding how things work, at the final stop Helen sends me back up the steep ramp to tap out her (my!) Oyster card on the basis that “you’re fit, you need the exercise, I’ll have a smoke”. Back home and we discover that we’d left the fridge not-quite-properly shut, thus spoiling all the food and meaning we’re forced to have takeaway pizza. Forced, I tells ya.

Created By
Darren Foreman

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