diamond geezer

 Thursday, January 05, 2017

5 Ruislip-Northwood/Uxbridge/Yiewsley & West Drayton
Well that's a mouthful. My first notional London borough is as far west as London goes, and (with the addition of Hayes and Harlington Urban District) forms what's now the London borough of Hillingdon. Typical. I'm just back from Newyears Green (in the Municipal Borough of Uxbridge), and just before Christmas I was at Ruislip Lido (in Ruislip-Northwood Urban District), and now I have to go back again (at odds of 51 to 1 against). So for this visit I've gone as far away as possible, which means a trip to the southernmost edge of Yiewsley and West Drayton. Here's a question I've often wondered about Heathrow Airport...

Is it possible to walk from Heathrow Terminal 4 to Heathrow Terminal 5?

Heathrow Airport is a vast secure area where pedestrians are very much not welcome, indeed it would be dangerous if they were. It's impossible, for example, to escape Terminals 2 and 3 in the middle of the airport except via some means of transport, which might be car, bus, train or plane. But Terminals 4 and 5 are on the edge, so might it be possible to walk around the perimeter from one to the other? Spoiler: it looked impossible to start with, but actually yes, it is.

Terminal 4 is the least loved of the Heathrow litter, cutting edge when it opened 30 years ago but a little tired now and somewhat out on a limb. It sits on the Southern Perimeter Road, attached via loops of tarmac to the A30, part of as artificial an environment as almost anywhere in London gets. My first task was to exit the tube station and try to find a way outside. Officially you're not supposed to do this - a sign on the first door past the ticket barrier announces that only those with legitimate business in the airport are allowed to enter the terminal building. Stuff that. Ascending to Arrivals on the ground floor there are signs for Taxis, and the Car Park, and the Bus Station, and aha, also a sign for Exit! Alas, this encouraging omen disappears as soon as you step outside. The taxi rank is obvious, as is the dead end multi-storey, and a couple of bus stops down by the smoking area, but the rest looks seriously enclosed. Only if you search past the bus stops does the pedestrian exit become apparent - a wiggling lane painted green between barriers beneath a concrete overpass.

This is not a well-used exit. It leads past barbed wire and a locked spiral staircase to a road junction where connection is made with the outside world. Just not much of a connection if you're a pedestrian. The only pavement heading west, which is the way we need to go, peters out after climbing to a big scary roundabout it'd be inadvisable to cross. A massive Hilton hotel blocks the way to the south, so the only way to go is east, suggesting that the only way to reach T5 might be via an extended anti-clockwise detour. Thankfully an official gap in the fence leads out to the A30, if you can call walking alongside a bleak busy dual carriageway worthy of thanks. And just when it looks like this too is going to be a protracted diversion, a concrete-banked river ducks underneath.

In fact there are two parallel rivers, the Longford and the Duke of Northumberland's, both artificial and both worthy of blogging at far greater length. The Longford delivers water from the River Colne to Hampton Court, while the Duke of Northumberland's is older and once drove watermills near Syon Park. Importantly for the purposes of this journey both had to be diverted when Heathrow was built in 1944, and again for Terminal 5, so now follow the entire southern and western perimeter of the airport. They form an excellent additional security perimeter, with airport traffic within and the real world without, and provide a biodiversity corridor to boot. What's more, the only sensible way for me to make progress to the west was to step down a steep slope to the waterside and follow an unpaved path along the river's edge.

If I was surprised by the low key nature of this westbound connection, I was also surprised how many people were using it. A couple of dogwalkers lingered along the way, allowing their hound to relieve itself on the landscaped embankment, while others dashed through on their way to jobs in and around the airport. If you live in East Bedfont, your nearest tube station (or employment opportunity) is only a dangerous dash across an enormous gyratory system away. At the first bridge across the two rivers an industrial estate intrudes, at which point there's a bus stop, and from which point there's continuous pavement all the way to Terminal 5. Take your pick whether you'd like to walk along the road or the river, with one option a trifle more scenic than the other.

The Southern Perimeter Road is busy, a lot of it with heavy lorries, because this is very much the freight side of the airport. A scalloped concrete wall has been built alongside the first bend to protect the public, or passing traffic, from jet exhaust emissions. A warren of barriered gates lies off the next roundabout, heavily sentried, opposite the animal quarantine station. Gate Gourmet trucks queue up to enter the airport complex at Sealand Road, bringing compacted chicken and/or pasta meals to the departing hordes. Just beyond their HQ, off Southampton Road, rises the metallic swoop of the British Airways Cargo Terminal. Top fact - all the roads along the southern edge of Heathrow Airport have names beginning with S, for compass reasons, with W, N and E used elsewhere around the perimeter, and C in the centre.

You're right, it would be much more pleasant to walk along the rivers instead. Better still you can walk inbetween them - a thin causeway of greenspace permits - cut off from the main road on one side and further trading estates on the other. I disturbed a heron on my way through, and admired the occasional copse of trees, each of a similar height and size as befits a rash of landscaping completed twenty years ago. They've done a good job, considering the bleak anodyne landscape these borderlands could have become. A BP garage heralds the northern edge of the suburb of Stanwell, an ideal place to live for those who work at the airport, hence the occasional stewardess to be seen scuttling across the river and along the main road in pristine get-up. There's even a pub at the top end, an interwar high-gabled affair called The Rising Sun, but that's fractionally across the border in Surrey so need not concern us here.

If you like planes, you'll love the next bit. The main road veers north to nudge closer to the airfield proper, with the rivers crossing underneath to nudge closer still. This means an almost unrestricted view of operations at the western end of the southern runway, with precisely what this means depending on wind direction and time of day. On my visit I got to watch planes queuing up to depart - almost ten of them at one point - then lining themselves up at the end of the runway and preparing for the off. A whine of engine, then a roar, and a succession of aircraft launched off on the first mile of their long haul, generally taking off just out of sight behind the Cargo Centre. The Boeing double deckers were the loudest, with a visceral scream, while the best view was of an Aeroflot A330 taxiing almost directly behind the fence. I stood with a handful of spotters parked up at the lone Esso garage, and enjoyed.

A bit further along the road the view is again blocked by an undulating concrete barrier, this to shield passing traffic from the Glidepath Critical Area. At the final roundabout the two artificial rivers dip briefly underground, part of the relandscaping of the area in 2004 to accommodate Terminal 5, which is now rapidly approaching. One of the best views comes through the mesh where the Western Perimeter Road begins, immediately adjacent to the run of red poles supporting the lights marking the end of the runway. The lampposts are lower here so as not to intrude into protected airspace, clearly distinguishing the stretch of road beneath the actual flightpath. I was fortunate enough to be here when an A380 came into land, great hulking beast that it is, but had operations been running in the opposite direction I could have seen a heck of a lot more aerial action.

Terminal 5, thankfully, is a lot easier to walk into than Terminal 4 was to walk out of. The bus station connects at ground level, beneath one great curving overpass which brings arrivals traffic down from above. Should you be planning on making the walk in the opposite direction (from T5 to T4), head for the illuminated 3-letter-code airport artwork outside the south end of the terminal, head to the right past the bike rack and you'll soon be on the perimeter road. Of course there's no need whatsoever to walk - buses run regularly between T5 and T4, and they're free because they lie inside the Heathrow Free Travel Zone. The same goes for the tube, and the Heathrow Express, so only a fool would ever choose to walk the four miles inbetween instead. I'm glad to have been that fool, if only for the planespotting opportunities, and a better insight into what makes Europe's busiest airport tick.

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream