Ruislip Woods den of spies, enjoy this walk & other tales

Ruislip Woods has a long history of human activity going back to the Bronze Age. Nothing, however, is more mysterious than the story about the Ruislip woods den of spies. A CIA Training camp hidden in the woods. Find out about this and other stories as you follow this 4 mile ramble around the quieter parts of the Ruislip Woods.

The walk includes two golf courses, the ruins Battle of Britain House, Poor’s Field, Ruislip Woods and Lido, Park Wood and a great view from Haste Hill. You should be able to complete the tour in under two hours and learn some more about the local history.

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A 2 minute journey through this ramble

Hills Lane

I began this walk at Northwood tube station, but the walk really begins at Hills Lane (HA6 1ZL) just off the Rickmansworth Road. The lane receives its name not from the slight slope that leads from the main road but from Daniel Hills. Mr Hills was the owner of Northwood Farm when it was sold off in the late 19th Century to make Northwood Golf Course.

As you proceed along Hills Lane it becomes a track and a set of buildings.

19th Century farmhouse

Now used as accommodation for workers on the golf course and for storage.

18th Century Barn

Northwood Golf Course

Northwood golf course first began in 1891 as a 9 hole course on the land called the Gravel Pits. In fact much of the area around Hills Lane has been mined for gravel, chalk and silver sand in the past. Golfer had to wait until 1920 before they could play a round of 18 holes at the club.

The beautifully maintained greens and fairways have the occasional unexpected hollow. You can just see a dip in the ground in the picture below. A German bomber released his load during a raid on London.

Indent in the fairway

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Poor’s Field

Follow the path and climb the stile. You now enter Poor’s Field. This area of common land has provided grazing for cattle since medieval times. Today cattle are still introduced to the area during the summer months to graze and help manage the land.

Poor’s Field

As you proceed along the path look to your left to see hundreds of small anthills.

Multiple anthills

Follow the route which is an old drovers path that takes you across the common land.

Old Drovers way

Turn off to the right towards the fenced area dedicated to the protection of the small number of adders.

Adder sanctuary on the Ruislip den of spies walk
Adder sanctuary

Towards Battle of Britain House

Climb over the stile and follow the map. Pass a carpet of bluebells.

Bluebells in the spring

Bluebells indicate an ancient woodland and Ruislip Woods history goes back to the last Ice Age when woods covered most of Britain.

Wandering up the hill you’ll a small ruin with cellars. It seemed a mystery, but it turns out that this structure is a disused water treatment plant.

Mystery cellar

Continue up the hill and you will encounter another small ruin.

Ex water feature on the Ruislip den of spies walk
Water feature for the house

Viewed from Battle of Britain House this pond or pool provided an attractive ornament. Now completely dilapidated this water feature can no longer be seen as it was designed in the picture below..

The original garden view
The view today

As you mount the remaining slope the garden steps of the house appear.

The remaining steps at the spy home on the Ruislip den of spies walk
Steps up to Battle of Britain House

Den of spies

The Battle of Britain House story begins in 1904 with the erection of the first residence. The house changed hands a couple of times and then the War Office requisitioned the house. The US OSS, the forerunner of the CIA, trained spies to be parachuted into occupied Europe.

Many of the trainees came from the German Communist Party who had escaped Hitler in the 1930s. Most of these brave men were quickly arrested on their return to Germany while the Russians scooped up others as they moved into Germany. Neither the US or UK governments officially recognised these fighters.

The home of the spies on Ruislip den of spies walk
The house in its heyday

After the war the RAF renamed the CIA training centre Battle of Britain House, A memorial in name only and without any connection to the battle. The house became an RAF residential college. Sadly in 1984 the house burnt down and there is very little left to remember the spies and those who gave their lives to the allied cause.

Ruislip Lido

Descend from the house towards Ruislip Lido to continue the Ruislip Woods den of spies walk. The area of Ruislip Lido has changed dramatically in the last 200 years.

See the lido as it was before on the Ruislip den of spies walk
The Lido in 1920

200 years ago the lido area was occupied by a small village called Park Hearne.

Riselip Common in 1780

The small black spots under the letter ‘e’ of Riselip mark the area of the hamlet. At the beginning of the 19th Century the Grand Junction Canal Company bought the land. They wanted water to supply the Grand Union Canal and they built a dam to flood the area. By 1811 the valley filled with water and displaced the villagers.

Old Ruislip map on the Ruislip den of spies walk
Map of 1840 with the Reservoir

The distance from Ruislip Lido to the Grand Union in Hayes is over 7 miles and the construction of pipe ways was never a success. The Grand Union Company abandoned the project in 1851 and relied on the River Colne replaced the reservoir as the main water supply.

Miniature Railway

Follow the route back through Poor’s Field with the lido on your right.

A miniature railway almost encircles the lido. Originally built as a 1,000 yard circuit based around The woody Bay station in 1945. The track has been extended to almost 2 ½ miles to Willow Green station near the car park entrance. A serious derailment took place in 1978 and in 1980 the Ruislip Lido Railway Society took control over the line. Currently closed due to lockdown we hope it will re-open soon.

The miniature railway on the Ruislip den of spies walk
Haste Hill Station

Up to Haste Hill

Keep to the track that skirts Haste Hill Golf Course.

The edge of the golf course on the Ruislip den of spies walk
The edge of Haste Hill Golf Course

The route rises quite steeply shortly after you leave the edge of the railway and eventually you find yourself at the top of Haste Hill. Here you’ll have a wonderful view across the golf course and ahead all the way to Mount Vernon Hospital.

The highest point on the Ruislip den of spies walk
The view to Mount Vernon

Descend from the summit keeping to the right of the golf course. Follow the track past the Haste Hill Club House and beyond. Cross back across a fairway of Northwood Golf Course and soon arrive at Hills Lane where we started the walk.

What Next?

If you enjoyed the Ruislip Woods den of spies walk then you can find a lot more interesting walks at Find a walk – Britain.

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