diamond geezer

 Thursday, May 08, 2014

The London Loop
[section 11]
Hayes to Uxbridge (7½ miles)

Section 11 of the London Loop is mostly waterside. Two thirds of the walk follows the Grand Union Canal, the River Colne or one of their associated waterways. Rest assured it's not all flat - there is a hill along the way, of sorts. And whereas I was expecting the seven and a half miles to be all a bit samey, the greenery of mid-spring lifted the route above the average. [map]

London boasts two Hayes, of which this is Hayes as in "Hayes and Harlington", not Hayes as in "Hayes (Kent)" (which is not in Kent). Middlesex's Hayes is not a picturesque place, certainly not the area between the railway and the canal which has long been sacrificed to light industrial sheds. It was good therefore to escape down to canal level at The Old Crown, although I had to wait at least a minute while a party of twenty Skyride cyclists lugged their bikes up the staircase and disappeared into the beer garden. The towpath was lush and green, on one side at least, with the other not quite as warehouse-ugly as it could have been. It was good to walk beneath the leafy canopy and to breathe in the blossom, and not to sneeze too much as a result.

Approaching from the west came a young man in Muslim garb, baseball cap and flappy laceless trainers, strolling by with a cheery "as-salamu alaykum". A little further along came the only female anglers I'd see all day, part of a family group who'd clearly decided that if they couldn't beat Dad's hobby they'd join him. A few swans enjoyed the peace and quiet, all paired-off for spring shenanigans apart from one rather solitary-looking male. As for the informative-looking map panel round the first bend, this had been so substantially graffitied as to be almost entirely illegible, so the finer heritage points of this stretch went sadly unrecognised.

OK, enough canal. A London Loop finger-sign pointed intriguingly 'inland' through a patch of woodland, which slowly opened out into a seriously hi-tech business estate. This was Stockley Park, a vast reclaimed gravel pit, landscaped to within an inch of its life and now home to such blue chip companies as Apple, BP, Canon, IBM and Marks and Spencer. A substantial portion of the site is now a golf course, allowing the Loop the opportunity to deviate up and through and round. A dense avenue of lime trees curved up to the clubhouse, a modern building dripping with wisteria, where the well-paid clientèle mustered for light exercise and networking. Their activities were well shielded on the ramblers' ascent, which led to a striking A-framed bridge across the main road leading north from Heathrow Airport.

Heathrow was easily seen from the roof of the park, atop an artificial mound called the Viewpoint. Here my presence interrupted the private conversations of a teenage couple, he busy lifting up his purple t-shirt, she sat on the bench facing his chest. "Have you got a fag?" I was asked, as an initial distraction, and then the two of them began silently wishing I'd go away. Alas I was intent on enjoying the impressive 200° Middlesex vista, and in particular the view down onto the runway from barely two miles away. A steady stream of aeroplanes taxied and then rose into the sky below, most notably a whopping Emirates A380. "Cor that's big!" exclaimed purple t-shirt guy to his girl, before cheekily adding "...like my ding dong!" which I took as the cue to leave.

Descent was via a dandelion meadow, speckled yellow and white, and then into a surprisingly mature stretch of woodland. This was the only place on the route where the Loop's signage let me down, initially missing the correct path, although thankfully I had a map which led me down to an inconsequential gate onto Horton Road. There were no FT stalwarts here, merely identikit warehouses containing plumbers merchants, international distributors and a glaziers wittily named Sharda Glass. Two tiny cafes and a pub catered to the weekday trade, each essentially lifeless at weekends. And yes, after half a mile of reality it was a relief to get back to the verdant canal towpath, and to pretty much stay there.

On the opposite side of the Grand Union lay West Drayton station, its name written in "Who The Hell Agreed To That?" font above the entrance. Here the canal veered north to track the western edge of the capital almost as far as Rickmansworth. In Yiewsley that meant passing the back of Morrisons and then the edge of a large Tesco car park, alongside which an entire village of stacked flats has arisen (on both sides of the canal) since I last passed through. On this visit I was particularly amused by a moored motorboat named Cirrhosis of the River, painted with a cartoon of floating drunkards, perhaps coincidentally tied up beside an empty four pack of San Miguel.

At an arched iron footbridge one of England's last canals veered off to the left. This was the Slough Arm of the Grand Union, a speculative four mile connection opened in 1882, abandoned in 1960 but since reopened and fully navigable. The Loop took the opportunity to walk a kilometre of its very-straight towpath, before rising to cross into a pleasant patch of wild woodland. This led to a geographical novelty, Little Britain Lake, so called because its shape resembles the outline of Great Britain. This is no natural fluke, simply a filled-in gravel pit of approximate shape, but its 14 acres are still a very pleasant spot to visit, to stroll round, to fish in or to power your model speedboat across.

The River Colne ran parallel to the lake, with the Loop taking the footpath along its western bank, which meant edging fractionally into Buckinghamshire. This mile was the prettiest section of the entire walk, but also the muddiest, so think twice before heading this way in your finest trainers. At one point a large tree in the stream had toppled, its roots lifting up an earthen skirt to create what looked like a tent in the water. At last there were natural meanders to follow, and overhanging branches on both sides, and I had the feeling I might at last be in the proper countryside.

But it was all change on the other side of Iver Lane. Here the path switched back to the Hillingdon side and squeezed tightly between the Colne and the edge of yet another business park. Initially the only sights were a security fence and a giant pylon, with even the riverbanks less than alluring, but eventually the strip opened out a little to create what felt like a secret linear nature reserve just for me. I neither saw nor heard any humans for a good fifteen minutes of striding along the London border, a solitude I rather enjoyed, but I did get up close to my first dragonfly of the year. If you don't have a First Dragonfly Of The Year, perhaps you should get out more.

Eventually the Loop hooked back into reality, emerging from round the back of some warehouses beside a boarded-up pub, the recently-deceased Griddles. Then came Culvert Lane, section 11's sole residential street, which led back to the familiar sight of the Grand Union towpath. Now the ramblers and joggers were back, along with a considerable number of canalfolk at Brown's Meadow. This half-mile stretch skirting urban Uxbridge provides long-term moorings for the dedicated narrowboater, including several old men with infeasibly long beards and a few younger men heading that way. And still the canal rolled on, but section 12 takes over at the Swan & Bottle and I'd had enough of waterworld for one day.

» London Loop section 11: official map and directions; map
» Who else has walked it? Stephen, Mark, Oatsy, Tim, Paul, Tetramesh, Richard
» See also sections 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 12, 14, 15, 17, 18, 20, 22, 23, 24

» Enjoy Walk London's Spring into Summer guided walks on 17th and 18th May

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan20  Feb20  Mar20  Apr20  May20
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19  Sep19  Oct19  Nov19  Dec19
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