Somewhere historic: Grand Union Canal [A three mile walk from Harlesden to One Tree Hill, Alperton] Whenever I explore a random borough, I always attempt to go for a long walk. Ideally a long walk that the local council has flagged on its website. Good old Brent Council provided a choice of four, each supplied by the London Ecology Unit. Excellent, I thought, I'll have one of them. So I printed out the map and instructions and prepared myself for a delightful three mile stroll along a 200 year old canal. "London Ecology Unit", eh? I should have spotted the clues before I set out.
I haven't been to Harlesden for almost 25 years, back when I was doing a summer job on the Park Royal trading estate. If you bought any Marks and Spencer clothing during the latter half of 1983, I probably helped to produce the little hole-punched swing ticket that hung from the label. So I subconsciously recognised the first part of the walk from my teenage commute. Right out of the station, round the McVities factory (mmm, Harlesden smells nice) and down onto the towpath. Then past the tied up barge and westward, towards Alperton. My printed pdf advised me to look out for a purple bellflower, some blue tufted vetch and a patch of red campion. Not a sign. All I could see was a grassy green verge with no flowering vegetation at all. I should have guessed that a guided walk produced by the London Ecology Unit would be rather heavier on flowers than on history. And that perhaps such a walk was better suited to July than January. Never mind, ever onward.
Next I was advised to enjoy the "pleasant smells" nearby, probably emanating "from the Heinz factory" on the opposite bank. Erm, there was no Heinz factory on the opposite bank, just a long row of shiny white warehouses containing various non ketchup manufacturing businesses. I was sure I remembered an oppressive grimy factory last time I was here, with big pipes and sheer grey walls. And yes, as it turns out, I was right. But the Heinz Factory closed down in 2000 and the site has since been comprehensively redeveloped. My printed walk was seriously out of date... and with good reason. The London Ecology Unit also breathed its last in 2000, absorbed into the new Greater London Authority. So, I was following a walk that was at least eight years old, and already historically obsolete. Never mind, ever onward.
Two pages of A4 description later and I'd seen almost nothing of what was being described. Just a lot of Park Royal industrial units and a few ducks. There was, however, a bit of a treat ahead as the canal passed over the North Circular Road on an aqueduct. Because aqueducts are cool. But unfortunately the view from this aqueduct was of a stream of rushing traffic and a very modern Travelodge. Even the aqueduct itself , with a magnificent Middlesex Coat of Arms lodged inbetween the twin channels, turned out to be nothing more than a 1993 replacement. There were a few highlights ahead. A couple of quietly puttering narrowboats . A modernised footbridge being well frequented by locals. An extraordinary tumbledown old shed-like building beneath a Piccadilly line rail bridge . A swan . But on the whole this was a canalside walk where the canal was the only thing worth seeing, and not the stuff to either side. Never mind, ever onward.
The walk ended away from the canal, just before the scenery got good. My printed guide apologised for the detour, but the pretty stretch beneath Horsenden Hill was in Ealing, not Brent, and therefore off limits. Instead I was diverted along a busy road and up a lesser hill on the outskirts of Alperton, with semi-screened views over west London and the City. One Tree Hill, as it was called, boasted more trees than strictly permitted under the Trade Descriptions Act . Wembley Stadium was perfectly visible from the single bench at the summit , as were the stone pinnacles of an astonishing Hindu temple under construction at the foot of the hill . This was certainly the high point of the journey, in every way, but not a true peak. It had been more an anachronistic stroll than a historic walk. Never mind. by tube: Harlesden → Alperton by bus: 224