diamond geezer

 Sunday, April 12, 2015

THE UNLOST RIVERS OF LONDON
River Pinn
Harrow Weald → Cowley (12 miles)
[Pinn → Colne → Thames]


Twelve miles long, and confined solely to the boroughs of Harrow and Hillingdon, the Pinn is one of London's longer unlost rivers. It cuts diagonally across the northwestern corner of the capital, from almost Hertfordshire to nearly Bucks. Along the way it passes through Ruislip, Ickenham and most of the other suburbs along the Uxbridge branch of the Metropolitan, along with one other town centre which, given the name of the river, ought to be obvious. Along its route it barely dips below ground at all, growing from a narrow stream to a broad brook, mostly on the shallow side but with the occasional propensity to flood. And rather wonderfully there's a waymarked trail following almost the entire length, the Celandine Route. Of which more tomorrow, because before the official walk starts, there's a three mile preamble.



The Pinn rises on a hillside to the north of Harrow Weald, just below an ancient ridgetop road called Old Redding. Its source lies below a pub with a particularly unusual name, The Case Is Altered, and through the woods is Grim's Dyke, former home of WS Gilbert (of & Sullivan fame). But for many the biggest attraction is the car park, by day blessed with a marvellous view across west London, by night a notorious spot for dogging. I arrived in daylight hours, the only protruding feature being Harrow-on-the-Hill rising across the valley. The hillside drops fairly steeply, only the first field having public access, with the Pinn carving a deep notch down the eastern edge. At present it's marked by a line of trees with bright young leaves, plus the occasional burst of blossom interspersed along the way. No river can be seen, in part because the notch is deep, in part because the local farmer's put up a sign saying Keep Out Private Land, but mostly because it hasn't rained enough of late.

Over its first half mile the Pinn descends a full fifty metres, which is more than it'll fall over the remainder of its course. To follow on foot requires a diversion via a bridleway to a cluster of cottages, before bearing off into scrubby fields along a parallel footpath. The river is always out of sight, still marked by a ribbon of trees, as the broad vista ahead slowly flattens out. The best bit over, the path narrows between a sports ground and its main playing field, eventually coming to rest on Oxhey Lane. First sight of the actual river can be had a short distance up the road, flowing down from the hillside in a slender channel, then passing behind yet another sports field.

Tucked in between the Pinn and the Euston mainline is the borough's main cultural hub. The Harrow Arts Centre is based in what used to be the Royal Commercial Travellers School, more specifically its bricktastic assembly hall, and some considerably more underwhelming outbuildings. Out the front of the Elliot Hall is a sturdy raised sundial with metal-pole gnomon, and the Morrisons nextdoor marks where the actual school once stood, the river passing unseen round the back. To re-reach the Pinn requires crossing the railway beside Hatch End station, then veering off into a warren of suburban avenues. Along these aspirational streets I spotted what I think was a personalised numberplate attempting to look Hebrew, before breaking out into a meadow behind the lower bungalows.



The Pinn by this point is a metre wide, assuming you break off the official footpath to peer through the hedge and see. There's a better view on the other side of St Thomas' Drive, entering and leaving a tongue of woodland (where I spotted my first celandines of the walk), before arriving on the residential edge of Pinner. Some of the homes in Moss Close boast the Pinn as a front garden water feature, most notably the bungalow at number nine, the daffodil-half of its lawn accessed via an ornamental wooden bridge. Just up Moss Lane is the former home of madcap illustrator Heath Robinson, immediately opposite where the river bends west, which I'd like to think was a deliberate choice on his part but he probably just enjoyed the peace and quiet.

The centre of Pinner is close by, the river meandering round the back of the shops. The town's M&S Simply Food is only accessible from the riverside path, leading to the unusual sight of a row of supermarket trolleys immediately above the water rather than in it. The channel here is deep rather than picturesque, because flooding would be both inconvenient and expensive, crossing the main road at the foot of the part-Tudor High Street. On the second Saturday of the month the Duck Pond Market may be in full swing, selling artisan foods and crafts, its bunting distracting from the fact that the Pinn in Pinner isn't a scenic asset.

And finally we've reached the start of the Celandine Route. This trail is an invention of the London borough of Hillingdon, whose boundary is half a mile distant, hence they had little interest in featuring the Harrow part of the river above Pinner. And I'll cover the rest of the river tomorrow, because walking twelve miles and writing about it isn't the best way to spend a Saturday.


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