diamond geezer

 Tuesday, June 25, 2019

For political balance, today's walk crosses Boris Johnson's constituency, Uxbridge and South Ruislip. I went out and followed a road I've had my eye on for a while - Charville Lane - a straightish alignment which stretches for three miles across open country from Hillingdon to Northolt. I thought it might be a) interesting b) historic c) pleasant. It was not. But join me anyway.

The journey begins in Hillingdon, that's Hillingdon proper, the place not the borough. For those who know the area, I started near Hillingdon Fire Station on the Uxbridge Road, specifically the grassy gap beside the BP garage on Long Lane. Through the trees are the first houses on Charville Lane West, a line of understated postwar detached houses facing a stripe of freshly-mown greensward. The Girl Guide hut opens weekly for martial arts classes. Streetlamp columns are originals but with modern LED lamps pointing sustainably downwards. One of Hillingdon's CCTV camera-towers watches over the drop-off zone outside the primary school, then an alleyway skirts the edge of Swakeleys School's playing field. It won't be getting any busier than this.

Charville Lane proper begins on the other side, once a mile-long country lane serving a single farmhouse, now the speedbumped spine road of an oddly-isolated estate. These semis got built just before the Green Belt preserved everything around them, so residents live in a bubble linked to the nearest supermarket by a half-hourly bus. The south side of the lane is all farmland, mostly hay or paddock, and entirely inaccessible beyond barbed wire. A future Mayor might one day bend the rules to build here, you could easily fit in a thousand homes, but for now a lacklustre buffer zone remains.

No expense was wasted to build the Charville Community Centre and Social Club, a breezeblock box knocked up in 1984, now home to regular cuppas and intermittent bingo, ballet and tap. As the lane continues the houses look like they'd be more at home in the countryside, for which read Little Englands with the contents of a garage spread across the front garden, until eventually things go full-on rural. A container of animal feed has been placed by the roadside. Twin ditches contain flytipped sacks Hillingdon's CCTV cameras failed to prevent. A few ponies stare through a metal fence behind a gate. To one side is a large meadow dogowners can corral their charges around, resplendent with kneehigh summer grasses. And ahead is the river that's helped stunt development hereabouts for centuries.

The Yeading Brook has wound its way past Northolt Aerodrome and will soon be entering the suburb that gifted its name. Only residents of the farmhouse at the end of the lane can drive across, and until a separate crossing was built in 1986 it wasn't possible to continue further. For some reason it's called the Golden Bridge, despite resembling a segment of concrete piping. What follows is a dogleg bridleway round the back of the farm's outbuildings, which I bet sounds nicer in your head than in real life, connecting up to another defunct country lane with an almost familiar name.

This is Sharvel Lane, once a cart track past a moated manor house, now a private dead end that happens to be a public footpath. It could be charming were it not for the protracted expanses of desolation to either side, one severely gated, the other levelled by JCBs. The area looks like a dump, not aided by stashes of parked lorries and the backside of a farmyard, but is in fact a full-on luxury haven. To the right is the West London Shooting School, which started out on the site of the Hoover Building in Perivale and moved here in 1931. This 100-acre Northolt pad contains several rifle ranges, clay pigeon courses and a 'running boar', plus gun room and ultra-traditional restaurant, all politely concealed from view. Mondays to Saturdays, tweed caps, plus 4s and corporate clients de rigeur. Sundays, not a whimper.

Meanwhile to the left are 100 unused acres, part scraped by JCBs and part lowly piles of soil ablaze with wild flowers. It looks ideal for housing, but this is also Green Belt so that's not allowed, and it turns out the site's destiny is to be an 18 hole golf course. According to director Ceri Menai-Davis, "West London Links is a bold, brave design pushing the boundaries of what is possible as regards sculpting a golfing landscape, with dramatic shaping which UK golfers have not seen before at an inland links." Come back next summer and the whole waste of space should be playable. In my opinion there should be rules against this kind of thing, but instead those rules are very much in favour.

The company that owns the future golf course owns another 9-holer across Ruslip Road, which is bad news for anyone hoping to follow the public footpath ahead. It's part of the Dog Rose Ramble, an 8 mile loop that gained custom at the start of the century and has since faded into obscurity, to the point that nobody cares that both of its fingerposts point the same way. The path vanishes through brambly scrub up the side of the clubhouse and emerges beside the driving range, close to the paying players' push-button exit. Normally a golf course grudgingly accepts that the public have a right of access, but the five-year-old West London Golf Centre admits to nothing and you're unlikely to find the egress on the far side. One narrowly-missed golf ball and I retreated.

Sometimes a line on a map is a treat, but Charville Lane was uninspiring and Sharvel Lane something of a trial. In the battle of the constituencies, Hunt plainly beats Johnson.

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