diamond geezer

 Sunday, November 29, 2009

  the DG monthly guided walk
  Northala Fields

  South Ruislip to Greenford (6 miles)

Yesterday being the fourth Saturday of the month, it was time once again for the regular DG guided walk. I arrived at the designated rendezvous point (South Ruislip station) just after midday, and waited to greet the band of blog readers who'd made the effort to attend. Once everyone had arrived, and friendly introductions had been swapped, this latest social excursion kicked off. And a very pleasant time was had by all.
[Map of the route here]

Polish War MemorialIt wasn't the most interesting start to the route, I have to confess. The roads of suburban Ruislip are designed for drivers first and pedestrians second, so I was relieved when none of my fellow walkers suffered a nasty accident attempting to cross Station Approach. Best not to attempt to cross again to view the Polish War Memorial, I thought. But we had a better view of the eagle-topped pillar, even from the opposite side of the road, than drivers rushing beneath the A40 roundabout ever see. Onward along the Ruislip Road until a fingerpost indicated the "Dog Rose Ramble" footpath heading off to the left. It sounded delightful, if unlikely, but the reality proved rather less than attractive. A smelly worksite for starters, then a trackless yomp along the edge of a very muddy golf course. Every bunker and water feature appeared to have been abandoned, but a lumpy landscape of artificial grassy hillocks reminded us all of Tellytubbyland.

St Mary's NortholtBack across Western Avenue via a rarely-traversed footbridge, then a less than inspiring trudge along the avenues of Islip Manor. I was, at this point, apologising to all my fellow ramblers that the early part of the walk had looked more interesting on the map than it proved to be in real life. But from here onward our route followed a succession of attractive greenspaces, and I'd didn't hear another word of complaint from anyone. After Islip Manor Park we reached the suburbanised heart of medieval Northolt, located in a culverted valley below centuries-old St Mary's church. One especially aspirational house on Mandeville Green boasted no fewer than three personalised numberplates out front - including the desperately expensive T33 (on a Citroen) and 33TT (on a smart car). Apparently it's de rigeur on guided walks to pause for an hour to drink beer and nibble sandwiches, but I resisted all calls to stop off for a liquid lunch at The Crown because I wanted to reach our destination before sundown.

Beyond the underpass came the highlight of the walk - a visit to Northala Fields. This is a brand new park beside the A40, constructed by Ealing Council on the site of a former recreation ground. And it looks like nothing else in London. Four large piles of earth have been shaped into squat cone-shaped hillocks [photo], a bit like a chain of grass-flanked volcanoes [photo], or maybe better resembling two of Madonna's bras. One of our party was reminded of Silbury Hill, although the earth here isn't prehistoric - it's half a million cubic metres of waste dug up during the construction of Wembley Stadium and the Westfield shopping centre. A most ingenious recycling project, this, providing both viewpoint and recreational focus for the surrounding neighbourhood.

Northala Fields

All four hills could be climbed, but only the tallest had a proper footpath to the summit [photo]. One side of this path was edged by crushed concrete encased in steel wire cages, thereby preventing unofficial shortcuts up or (more particularly) down the steep slopes [photo]. The ascent was irresistible, of course, and I was well behaved enough to take the spiral route rather than cutting up the muddy flank using various benches as mini step-ladders. Everyone agreed that the view from the top was well worth the climb. A huge swathe of west-ish London was visible, including Harrow church and Horsenden Hill, plus (appropriately enough) the Wembley Arch glinting in the afternoon sunshine. In the far distance a series of planes dropped steadily to land at Heathrow, and that was definitely the Crystal Palace transmitter, and to the east the miniature skyscrapers of central London. A steady stream of cyclists and joggers joined us in the upper circle, less interested in the view than in the exercise opportunity provided.

Grand Union Canal, Marnham FieldsEach windswept peak duly conquered, I took the lead in walking east along the southern edge of the A40. Whilst this could have been grim, a lengthy strip of meadow and scrubland helped shield the rushing arterial traffic from view. Not a soul was to be seen through Smiths Farm, beyond which snaked the Grand Union Canal, unrippled by passing narrowboats. We passed close by the Aladdin Building, its factory tower a familiar sight to Western Avenue drivers, but now lying empty and at risk of dereliction. There was one final opportunity for chat and cameradie as we negotiated Greenford Lagoons - which promised much but delivered only an impenetrable roadside marsh. And at last we reached Greenford station, where everyone took their leave, but only after considerable interest had been shown in the Underground's last remaining flight of wooden escalators.

My thanks go out to all those of you who gave up your Saturday to join me, and I hope that you enjoyed the walk. Next month's "fourth Saturday" falls on Boxing Day, so the DG guided walk will be taking place in deepest Norfolk for a change. But I hope that London-based readers will pencil January 24th into their diaries (full details of time and venue in the usual place), because it would be great to see some fresh faces in attendance.

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