Dave Sergeant

Bentley Priory, near Stanmore, was originally a stately home visited by political and literary figures, the home of Queen Adelaide and at one time a girl's school. It was later acquired by the RAF and served as Fighter Command duing the Battle of Britain. The house is now a museum exploing its time in the RAF. The grounds of the house is also now an up-market private housing estate but the southern half forms Bentley Priory Nature Reserve with a marked nature trail. My day visited both the museum and the nature trail and was inspired by a post on the Diamond Geezer blog.

The day started with a good trip up to Waterloo on the train then on the Jubilee Line right to its end at Stanmore. Then a shortish walk to the start of the nature trail at the southern end of the estate. I could have caught the bus, bus H12 to the trail or bus 142 to the museum. Stanmore town centre was busy, then St John's church with the derelict original Brick church alongside.

The nature reserve has large boards with maps at various points around. The marked trail follows a series of numbered posts with QR codes on them. I used the printed guide available here. The route begins at Old Lodge Meadow, named after the former park lodge, which has some friendly cattle in it.

This magnicant oak is at marker post 1. Then a lovely walk through shaded woodland of Ridge Wood. The notes at the posts highlighted the various trees and vegetation nearby, as well as oak, hornbeam and blackthorn were noted.

Half way along by post 6 is the fallow deer park which seem quite used to passing humans. The deer park opposite Heriots Wood is private and the deer are descendents of the herd introduced bt the Marquis of Abercorn.

The oak by post 8 has seen better days. The route now crosses the path of the London Loop and Weald Path which I walked in 2019. Here I left the trail and exited to visit the museum. Although the museum grounds abuts the nature reserve there is no direct access and it is a fifteen minute walk along the main road to get to its separate entrance.

Arriving at the entrance I was a bit taken back to find a locked gate and a notice to report to the 'concierge'.... The museum sits in the middle of a housing estate for the well to do and needs to control who enters! Chap appears and enters a pin number on the gate which slowly opened to allow me to enter. You can't be too careful these days. Then a longish drive along to the priory itself, with various side roads marked as 'private' which led to the spacious mansions to the side. The priory is having work done on it and was covered with scaffolding and sheeting so not an attractive sight at the moment. Outside on the grass are a replica Spitfire and Hurricane.

Inside the museum there is quite a lot to see relating to the role of Bentley during the Battle of Britain. A 10 minute film tells of the role of ACM Hugh Dowling in this operation and is a sort of 3D film with his office appearing right through the big screen and plenty of audio visual effects. I could have spent time in the reconstructed filter room which had a huge map of southern England on a table with bronze replicas of plotters bending over it. I took no photographs inside however Diamond Geezer did an excellent blog on it when he visited which will give you an idea. While there I had a light lunch in their cafe with views over the Italian garden. Beyond that is a WW2 bunker but I did not have time to explore that.

Back in the nature reserve to complete the second half of the trail. It leaves the concrete paths of the first section and I went a little astray, missing a few of the guide posts and having to backtrack somewhat. More lovely woodland and large clearings.

In the centre of the reserve is Summerhouse Lake, actually an artificial lake created at the time of the Marquis of Abercorn by damming the valley of the river Stanburn. The paths around here are quite narrow and among the roots of various trees and although at this time perfectly dry care had to be taken.

Beyond the lake the route heads back to Old Lodge meadow. Some of the gateways they have put there are quite narrow, with my backpack I struggled to get through, someone a bit more obese would certainly have struggled. Then Boot Pond, named from its shape, which was very overgrown with reeds but I did manage to get one decent shot.

Having returned to the entrance, past those large cows again, I made my way back to Stanmore station and the 45 minute journey back to Waterloo. I had a meal in the Wellington there before heading home, arriving around 6pm after another very enjoyable day.

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