WALK LONDON Capital Ring[section 10] South Kenton to Hendon Park (6½ miles)
What the hell was I doing in South Kenton, up at the obscure end of the Bakerloo line? No offence to anybody who lives here, but this is not premier walking country. But the Capital Ring footpath has to circle London somehow, and if that means traversing dead ordinary suburban streets to get from one green bit to the next, then so be it. Even if the green bits are as ordinary as Preston Park. It was the first "highlight" of my walk - a very typical municipal rectangle of bowling greens and swings and tennis courts and trees. No doubt it's much loved by locals, but it wasn't worth buying a Travelcard extension for.
More endless pavements followed, across Preston Road and along the avenues of Uxendon. At last, down an alleyway between two white-painted semis, I entered the western tip of Fryent Country Park. It was only a bit of scrubland alongside a Jubilee line embankment to start with, then opened out into an unexpected hay meadow. Here I engaged in cowardly dog-avoidance tactics by lingering and pretending to admire the view for a bit, whilst secretly waiting for two bouncy alsatians to pass by across the top of the field. Phew. There followed a woodland climb to a delightful secluded hilltop lake (where I stood face to face with a fox for half a minute and, in contrast, felt no fear whatsoever). Through a break in the trees there should have been an excellent view over Wembley Stadium, just a mile to the south. Excellent on a fine day, that is, but I'd ventured out beneath a flat grey sky and so, alas, the arch was almost perfectly camouflaged amid the gloom.
In the car park at the bottom of the hill, on a particularly uninformative noticeboard, came the official civic greeting - "Brent Council Environmental Services Landscape & Leisure Division Welcomes You". I felt duly underwhelmed. The country park continued across a busy main road, where I encountered several sorrowful magpies flapping their way through a series of muddy meadows. This is how rural Middlesex must have looked before the railways came - all hay and hedgerows. I got to see how built-up Middlesex looks today in a 270° panorama from the top of another low summit just to the north. And then it was back down, past a swooping kestrel, for another over-long walk through a maze of residential backstreets. Here milk floats whirred silently down Reggie Perrin avenues. Trainee drivers reversed L-plated cars around well-rehearsed corners. Yet another dug-up front garden succumbed to crazy paving for off-road parking. It was all so very Metroland, and so very familar.
Kingsbury has two highly unusual parish churches. St Andrews number 1 is built of flint rubble with a squat short spire, and is almost 900 years old. The building still stands, but only just, shored-up by the efforts of local parishioners and the Churches Conservation Trust. Graffiti sprayed on the outside walls and a graveyard of semi-toppled tombstones both suggest that there is much expensive restoration work still to be done. Nextdoor is St Andrews number 2, seemingly a very typical Victorian building in neo-Gothic style, except that the entire church was moved here brick by brick in 1933 from its original location just off Oxford Street.
I passed down the lane beside the twin churches and approached the shores of northwest London's largest reservoir - the Welsh Harp. It was constructed in the 1830s to feed the Grand Union Canal, later becoming increasingly popular as a site for fishing and funfairs. The opening of a local station in 1870 brought Londoners flooding to the banks of the reservoir for picnics, racing and general frolics. More recently the Welsh Harp has evolved into a site for watersports, notably sailing and canoeing, as well as becoming an important wildlife reserve. I was expecting rather more impressive views across the water, to be honest, but the northern path ran behind a screen of trees for most of its 1km length so I was mildly disappointed.
I should have cut and run at the eastern end of the reservoir, after a particularly hairy crossing over a very narrow road bridge. But no, I was stupid enough to continue along the Capital Ring path until the end of this section, along various residential streets with no redeeming features whatsoever. Here the car is king - this is no place for walkers. I crossed three major roads in fairly close succession, first the A5 (a busy high street), then the M1 (in embryonic form, slightly north of Junction 1) and finally the A41 (a jammed-up dual carriageway). I passed very close to Brent Cross shopping centre, without ever noticing it was there. And I ended up in Hendon Park, another pleasant but non-special grassy quadrant. The Green Belt, alas, is several miles further out. But if you want suburban realism with the occasional rural treat, the Capital Ring's the way to go.