CAPITAL RING[section 10] South Kenton to Hendon Park (6 miles)
Sorry, this one's a repeat. I walked Capital Ring section 10 four years ago, as part of a week-long sampling of various London strategic walks. So I've deliberately not gone back to read that before writing the following. Let's see if it's the same walk, or if every walk's different.
25 minutes of urban:The Windermere is a peculiarly suburban pub, all gabled brick, born of the 1930s [photo]. It's also the most interesting building along the first mile of the walk, which doesn't say much about the area, but it's too early to pop in for a friendly pint. The only respite from North Wembley pavement is the oasis of PrestonPark, a rectangle of green hemmed in behind semi-detached back gardens. It's not full, not even on a warm August afternoon, but an inconsequential cricket match is playing out while a pair of mums natter on the bench beneath the willows. At Preston Road the Ring dallies with Metroland, exemplified by the untempered (and unpampered) residences down Uxendon Crescent [photo]. If anyone's seen Sonny the cat there's a £200 reward poster pinned to every lamppost, although that was weeks ago so one has to fear the worst.
Rural interlude: An unlikely alley leads to a broad sloping field where dogs exercise their owners. Turn right at the Jubilee footbridge for a steady ascent to the summit of Barn Hill. It's a proper hill, this, with one half deeply wooded and the other deeply suburbanised. The Ring makes an impractical (but delightful) loop around thepond at the top, to reach a rooftop vista with Wembley's arch rising beyond [photo]. Last time I was here I met a fox - this time there are far too many happy children by the water's edge for any major wildlife to emerge. Fallen acorns are already scattered across the path back down to the car park. I pause to read the noticeboard just as a Dad drives in, discounts every other parking space and tries to nudge his family into the very spot where I'm standing. He wins, I retreat.
Fryent Country Park continues across the busy main road (now, thankfully, crossed by pelican). I'm surprised to have these rolling hay meadows to myself, at least to begin with, passing bullrush ponds and black-berried hedgerows to yet another splendid summit. This is Gotfords Hill, an exposed green hump with Kingsbury sprawled out at the foot of the slope and Harrow on its hill in the far distance. A young couple are busy erecting a mysterious wooden sculpture on the peak, starting with a single vertical post then affixing curly branches and colourful plastic ornaments [photo]. I consider asking them what they're doing, but that's not very me, and a box of Chinese lanterns stashed on the grass tells enough of the story. Departing via Home Field I bump into a lady (who could so be my auntie) attempting to force a diverse collection of dogs to follow her. She barks disapprovingly at Gemma the golden retriever for rolling in fox poo ("Bad girl!"), but Gemma rolls on.
25 minutes of urban: Time to pound the pavements of Kingsbury, close enough to Wembley Stadium for parking restrictions to apply every matchday. I remember last time I walked this way being amazed by how many front gardens had been paved over, so this time I decide to count. On the left hand side of Lavender Avenue 14 out of 24 homes no longer have functioning gardens, they've surrendered to the car. In Holden Avenue it's 18 out of 23, in Dunster Drive 14 out of 18, and in Church Drive 22 out of 27 are concrete. Depressing, that, but so very much the way these densely packed suburbs are going. St Andrew's church dominates the skyline, much as it dominated Marylebone before being transported here, brick by brick, in 1933. More easily overlooked is 13th century Old St Andrew's nextdoor. This graffitied flint church is Brent's oldest surviving building, but entirely redundant, so I'm surprised to see the lights within ablaze. A strange man lurks outside the front door as if waiting for some long-gone congregation to emerge, but more likely he's just waiting for me to leave so he can relieve himself against the gravestones. [photo]
Waterside interlude: Hurrah, another proper nice bit. The Welsh Harp reservoir used to be hayfields, until the builders of the Regents Canal dammed the River Brent to provide an ever-ready supply of water. By the mid 19th century its banks boasted one of London's busiest Pleasure Gardens, but that faded away and the prime recreational activity these days is sailing. Yachts and swans dot the Welsh Harp's 100 acres, but you won't see much of that unless you divert off the official route down to the far more pleasant path nearer the waterside [photo]. Thistledown meadows and ripple-lapped reeds... make the most of them, because this is the last prettybit for miles. After the huts of the North Circular Sailing Club, the path veers off to meet Cool Oak Lane at Cool Oak Bridge. This bridge may be unique in London, in that it's so narrow a special pedestrian crossing has been installed. Press the button and traffic on both sides of the bridge will eventually stop, leaving you free to saunter across the pavementless span in your own time. The power!
25 minutes of urban: And then Hendon. The town may have been pleasant once but it's wholeheartedly succumbed to the motor car. In very quick succession the Ring crosses the A5, the main East Midlands railway and the first half-mile of the M1. Look out from the motorway bridge [photo] and you can see Staples Corner, on the equally busy North Circular, in a massive 3D-jigsaw of concrete and tarmac. And then the A41 dual carriageway, for good measure, which is nipped beneath through a lengthy orange-tiled subway. If only the official route diverted into nearby Brent Cross Shopping Centre then the full ugly horror of this section would be complete, but thankfully not. The last hurrah is up and over a Northern line footbridge to the wooded hideaway of Hendon Park. Normally it's quiet here, but I arrive to find a merry-go-round and dodgems and massive crowds. A very Caribbean gathering, I eventually deduce, with queues for chicken and a mass of colourful cheerleaders lined up on the grass. Only once home do I discover that this was Summerfest 2011, the annual Jesus House picnic, congregating and competing for the Glory of the Lord [photo]. It is indeed true, every walk is different, hallelujah.