Walk London CAPITAL RING[section 8] Osterley Lock to Greenford (5 miles)
Section 8 of 15, that's halfway round. Slightly more than halfway round already, if you total up all the mileages. Far across the capital from Woolwich, and still half a loop to get back.
Canalside again, with a fair chunk of Grand Union still to go. Osterley Lock is reassuringly remote, at least on foot, so long as you can ignore the thundering M4 crossing the Brent Valley alongside. It's also the only place in London where I've ever seen a dog on wheels - two legs at the front, two wheels at the back - with a joint scampering/rolling motion when lunging forward across the towpath. You may not be so fortunate. A twisted green stretch of canal lies ahead, with only the occasional warehouse as intermission. On one bend, incongruously dumped, is a most peculiar British Waterways remnant from 50 years ago. "Kerr Cup Pile Driving CompetitionPrize Length Of Piling 1959" it says. A Google search for further information alas reveals nothing more than a litany of other passing canal users who've been equally baffled.
Hanwell Locks are up next. That's the over-optimistic name given to a new residential development cramming 30 houses and some flats onto a canalside meadow. There'll be water at the bottom of the garden, for some, but the locksthemselves are a fair trek round a couple of bends. They're an impressive sight, London's longest flightof locks (OK, so there's only six, but in the capital you take what you can get). Alas the Capital Ring only permits close-up sight of one [photo] before veering off right through the trees to follow the River Brent instead. I'd recommend a brief diversion to the top, far faster than any narrowboat could negotiate the same, because it would be a shame to come so close and miss out.
The River Brent is shallowly pleasant, which is just as well because you'll be following it for a couple of miles. What you won't see in this early stage is Ealing Hospital towering behind a wall, nor the Uxbridge Road careering up ahead. If it's dry you might be able to follow the arched brick underpass beneath Hanwell Bridge [photo], but until the apologetic council get round to replacing their burst water pump it's far more likely you'll be forced up top to cross via busy traffic lights. A far more impressive arched brick structure is the Wharncliffe Viaduct, built by a young Isambard Kingdom Brunel to carry his Great Western Railway across the valley. One of the first structures ever to be Grade I listed, the path across Brent Meadow enjoys an excellent longitudinal view [photo]. That's the Wharncliffe coat of arms on the side, flanked by some talentless graffiti sprayed by misguided aerial daredevils. [photo]
Nip underneath, and you're in Brent Lodge Park. Locals know it as Bunny Park, because of the long-term children's zoo at its centre, although the current residents are a little more exotic. There's also the Millennium Maze, probably second only to Hampton Court as London's best labyrinth, but which I've never yet managed to try out for myself because it's always full of young children and I'd simply attract withering stares from their parents. The Capital Ring avoids both maze and zoo, preferring to follow the river's edge slavishly round at least two meanders too many. Go on, take the shortcut, you'll not be missing out.
It takes a golf course to divert the footpath away from the water, steering safely between the greens and the fairways and the businessmen discussing motor insurance. And then, slipped back across a footbridge, my favourite part of the entire walk. Ealing Council have erected a sign - red ink, laminated - warning that due to natural erosion the riverbanks ahead have become unstable. They want you to divert into Bittern's Field, and so too does the Ring, because "this section of the River Brent is impassable". Obviously I had to test that claim out. The path continued for some distance, narrowing slightly, then slightly more, until the aforementioned obstruction appeared. One crumbly riverbank, one footpath much narrower and closer to the edge than usual, but all perfectly passable on foot with a smidgeon of care [photo]. You wouldn't think twice if you stumbled on this supposed obstacle up a Welsh mountain, but you certainly would stumble with a bike or pushchair. I enjoyed the sheer inconspicuousness of it all - the rippling shallows, the lush undergrowth, even the rear view of a council waste dump. It hit home that the Capital Ring has to be an all-purpose accessible pathway throughout, so must never venture into characterful on-foot-only sections such as this. Well go on, you stick to the official route through the meadow, it's pleasant enough [photo], but I was much happier down with the dustcarts and ducklings.
After almost ten miles of watery walking, time to move on. The Ring leaves the Brent behind at Greenford Bridge - almost civilisation again, and the ideal spot to catch an E-numbered bus. The last bit of decent greenery on the walk is Perivale Park, one of those municipal sports grounds you'd never visit unless you were local. The path crosses a concrete tributary, then zigzags around the edge of a few football/cricket pitches (season depending). In the far corner, between the tennis courts and the athletics track, lurks a cluster of dirty-streaked cream containers. The exterior says Portaloo, but closer inspection reveals several numbered doors labelled Male and Female Changing Rooms. It might be luxurious inside, who knows, but everything about the exterior suggests rank fetid gloom and the stench of damp footie socks. Bonus interlude: It won't happen to you, but as I was passing through Perivale Park there was a sudden hum in the sky, then a rumble, then a roar. Four black shapes zoomed precisely overhead, which I swiftly deduced to be pairs of Typhoons and Tornados exiting the Queen's Birthday flypast. Next up were two HS-125s heading home to RAF Northolt, directly up the road. And finally, whoosh, the Red Arrows giving a private show for the inhabitants of UB6! The Capital Ring's always full of random surprises but rarely quite so right place, right time as this.
If you're getting tired you can break your walk here at South Greenford station. You'd most likely be alone - this is the second least used station in the whole of London, meriting a couple of raised platforms and nothing much else [photo]. (Note to self: come back and do a proper write-up one day.) More likely you'll continue via a lofty footbridge over the rushing A40, a six-lane superhighway lined by Metroland semis [photo]. It is at least a view. The backstreets of Greenford aren't overly photogenic at street level - Cayton Road Sports Ground trebly so. Follow the railway embankment round and you'll reach the end of the line, and the end of section 8, at a grim Greenford crossroads. Back soon.