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Posts Tagged ‘End of the Line’

End of the Line 3: Uxbridge to Rickmansworth

Monday, December 10th, 2018

It’s easy to forget the dominant role water has played in forming the geography of the Thames Valley; this walk brings that role to the fore, highlighting the rivers, canals and wetlands of the capital. From Uxbridge station the route follows the London Loop/Colne Valley Trail, initially along the towpath of the Grand Union Canal. The Grand Junction Canal, as it was first named, was dug between 1793 and 1805 to connect the Midlands to London and, until the rise of rail and road, it carried huge volumes of goods and from the capital.

Once you pass under the M40 the land opens out, wet and expansive on either side, with a series nature reserves (most with bird hides to sit and view the large numbers of ducks and wildfowl that use the lakes) flanking the canal, and stretches of carr, alder and willow dominated wetland . It’s best to get on to the paths that run along the lakes, rather than following the towpath all the way, to get the best views of birds and water – the fortunate will be rewarded with the electric blue flash of a kingfisher.

A turn up the Hillingdon Trail avoids the valley bottom section of the Colne Valley Trail that goes past a sewage works (stay with the CVT though if you want to see staggering numbers of gulls), and opens up to views over the valley; a landscape formed by water.

Dropping back down to the CVT takes you to Stocker’s Lake, a drowned gravel pit, now home to the largest heronry in Hertfordshire, and just beyond the welcome café looking over Bury Lake. A good place to stop and reflect, with something liquid, on how water has formed our geography and our history, before walking the final short distance to Rickmansworth tube station.

Walk here: Head straight from the station up Bakers Road, then follow the High Street L until it crosses the Grand Union Canal. Head north along the canal, following the London Loop/Colne Valley Trail signs, all the way to where the Hillingdon Trail heads uphill right at the Coy Carp pub. Take the Hillingdon Trail uphill; where it splits, follow the L path to rejoin London Loop/Colne Valley Trail past sewage plant. Continue to Rickmansworth.

End of the Line 2: Cockfosters to Theobald’s Grove

Wednesday, December 5th, 2018

Trent Park

This walk wins, hands down, the contest for shortest distance from station to footpath: right from the Charles Holden-designed station, immediate right into the station car park and – shazam! – you’re on the London Loop. No boring walking through suburban streets here; it’s straight into countryside. And what countryside. Trent Park was once part of Enfield Chase, the huge royal hunting forest north of London, and the landscape remains largely unchanged since the days when kings pursued deer through the oak, sweet chestnut and ash woodlands. On one occasion Elizabeth I rode to the Chase with ‘a retinue of twelve ladies in white satin, a hundred and twenty yeomen in green and fifty archers in scarlet boots and yellow caps, each armed with a gilded bow’.

Mysterious Camlet Moat

Predating most of the kings is mysterious Camlet Moat, once a fortified manor house and, although nothing remains above ground of the manor, the moat remains, filled with turbid water, the oaks and willows growing on the island invariably festooned with mysterious offerings. The manor was demolished in 1429 but the moat has endured. As to the name and its suggestions of Camelot? Nobody knows.

Whitewebbs Wood

Following the London Loop past the obelisk, taken from Wrest Park and erected here in 1934 to impress the Duke and Duchess of Kent honeymooning on the estate, the walk dips to Salmons Brook before going past the nurseries and garden centres of Crews Hill to enter Whitewebbs Wood, another relict of Enfield Chase and thus ancient woodland. At the bottom of Flash Lane is an aqueduct that was built in 1820 to shorten the route of the New River into London. The ‘New River’ itself, dug between 1609 and 1613, is a marvel of 17th-century engineering, following the 100-foot contour from the river head springs in Amwell and Chadwell in Hertfordshire to reservoirs in Clerkenwell. Its original, gravity-driven route was 38.75 miles, but pumping stations, initially steam and then electric, allowed the route to be considerably shortened over the centuries.

The New River north of the M25

Leaving Whitewebbs Park, transport enthusiasts might like to head west to Whitewebbs Museum of Transport (www.whitewebbsmuseum.co.uk), housed in one of those Victorian pumping stations, and home to many historic vehicles (open Tuesday and last Sunday of month).

The bridge crossing the M25 that carries the New River over the unsuspecting drivers below

The walk continues across fields and over the M25 via a footbridge which provides excellent views of London’s new skyscrapers before joining the New River – another bridge over the motorway. The river is sealed in concrete, but you can stand on it, looking down at the traffic streaming past, blissfully unaware of the river flowing over head. Take the New River path north, watching for dragonflies and hungry trout; just west Temple Bar, one of the old gates to the City of London, sat for more than a century, forgotten in the field to which it had been moved. However, in 2004, the Wren-designed structure was dismantled and returned to the City; it now sits in Paternoster Square.

The New River, which is neither new nor a river

Where to eat: The King & Tinker pub (Whitewebbs Lane, Enfield EN2 9HJ, 020 8363 6411). The food can be hit and miss, but the pub dates from the 16th century and the name comes from a ballad telling the story of how King James I became lost while hunting on Enfield Chace and fetched up at the pub, falling into conversation with a tinker who only realised the identity of his drinking partner when the king’s flustered courtiers arrived.

Mushrooms munching dead wood in Trent Park

 

End of the Line 1: Heathrow to Windsor

Monday, November 26th, 2018

This is the first in a series of four walks starting from the terminal of one of london’s tube lines. Today, we are starting from the end of the Piccadilly Line: Heathrow, Terminal 5.

There is something deliciously subversive about leaving Heathrow on foot. Everyone else is piling into cars or trains or buses, rushing, rushing, rushing, and you are on foot, using the first and most fundamental means of transport (in case you’re worried, it is legal to leave the airport pedestrian style). But it does not take long to get into the Colne Valley Park and the slow realisation, as planes move like noisy silver fish through the sky, that it was water that formed and still fundamentally affects this landscape.

The Colne Valley Way branches off from the King George VI Reservoir and muddily passes land that is slowly returning to carr, as young alder and willow form dense thickets in the permanently wet ground – watch for the mouldering Land Rover, turned glorious russet by rust.

The River Colne, running in the broad valley down to the Thames, is the chief landscape engineer here and it created its masterwork in Staines Moor, an astonishingly tranquil oasis bounded by the M25, the A30 and any number of air routes. Yet stand among its patchwork of meandering rivers and streams, studded with the metre-high mounds of the Yellow Meadow Ant (some of the nests are centuries old), and you are transported to a time when feet were indeed the only mode of transport, and our ancestors walked the land bridge to Britain.

Wraysbury River also runs through Staines Moor, flowing in blue silence alongside the traffic flowing on the motorway; if you have time, explore, watching for the many bird, plant and animal species that live and visit here.

Leaving the moor, a fairly short walk takes you through Staines itself to the Thames. Walking upstream along the Thames Path, TS Eliot’s description of the river – ‘a strong brown god – sullen, untamed and intractable’ – seems incongruous; this is the river of Kenneth Grahame’s imagining, a river of trailing willows and sentry alders beyond the reach of the treacherous tides of the Thames’s lower reaches, a river where ‘there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats’ and where, when the water breathes mist in the early morning, it really would be little surprise to meet the Piper at the gates of dawn.

Grahame, author of  The Wind in the Willows, lived as a child and again in retirement upstream, and the river, ‘this sleek, sinuous, full-bodied animal’ was his passion. Mole, emerging from his hole and seeing the river for the first time, is entranced, sitting on the bank ‘while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea’; the walker pacing the miles to Windsor may have little time to sit, but do listen to the river music.

The Edwardian radical John Burns coined the description of the river as ‘liquid history’ (in rejoinder to an American who compared the Thames unfavourably to the Mississippi, Burns said, ‘The St Lawrence is water, the Mississippi is muddy water, but the Thames is liquid history’). Nowhere is this more obvious than at Runnymede, the riverside meadow where King John signed, under pressure, the Great Charter – or Magna Carta – that the king’s will be not arbitrary but bound by law. So ‘no free man shall be taken, imprisoned, outlawed, banished or in anyway destroyed, nor will we proceed against him and prosecute him, except by lawful judgement of his equals and by the law of the land’. Much of England’s later law flows from this charter.

On the hill overlooking Runnymede is the Air Forces Memorial, commemorating and listing the 20,456 air men and women lost during World War II who have no known grave. Also heading uphill, past the John F Kennedy Memorial, the walk passes some of the biggest mansions in the country on Bishopsgate Road before entering Windsor Great Park. The park itself was once a forest, of much greater extent than today, that William I took as hunting grounds for the stronghold he built at Windsor to guard the river. The first written mention of Herne the Hunter associates the horned rider with the forest; in The Merry Wives of Windsor, Shakespeare writes, ‘There is an old tale goes that Herne the hunter, Sometime a keeper here in Windsor forest, Doth all the winter-time, at still midnight, Walk round about an oak, with great ragg’d horns’. Today, the horns more often belong to the deer that inhabit the enclosed deer park. The Long Walk was laid out by Charles II and has been marked out by elm, oak, horse chestnut and London plane trees. As straight as any runway, the Long Walk makes a fitting end to your own long walk from the 21st-century hustle of Heathrow Airport to the medieval calm of Windsor.