You might remember that I walked around London – the Capital Ring Walk – with a friend during spring/summer 2015 and wrote about the Southern loop of the walk a year ago. Then again, you might not – it has been a while. First of all apologies to all of you stuck in Richmond for the last year, you can sigh a breath of relief (though Richmond is not a bad place to be stuck in!), because here is how we tackled the next part of this epic walk. This article covers one half of the Northern Loop, Richmond to Highgate. Highgate to Woolwich will follow soon. I promise!
I won’t repeat all the general and practical information, you can find it all here in my blog about the Southern loop.
Richmond to Osterley Lock
It was a beautiful sunny day when we continued our walk from Richmond in May 2015, absolutely glorious. After making our way back to the Thames path via Richmond Green and Old Palace Lane and passing beneath Richmond Railway Bridge and Twickenham Bridge, we crossed the river at Richmond Lock and walked towards Lion Wharf Road in Isleworth and back to the water. Shame it was so early in the walk (and day) as both the Town Wharf and Apprentice pubs looked like nice places to stop for a drink or two. By the way, The Apprentice pub dates back to Tudor times and has an interesting history: it was tradition that City apprentices would be rowed with their senior craftsmen to this inn to celebrate the receipt of their indentures, entitling them to full journeymen wages. I hope they didn’t spend them all here. All Saint’s Church sits opposite with its 14th century Kentish ragstone tower, the only part not demolished by a devastating fire in 1943. The ornamental sundial outside of the Joshua Chapel was erected in 1707 in memory of Susanna, wife of Col. Nicholas Lawes, Governor of Jamaica. It shows the time in Isleworth, Jamaica, Jerusalem and Moscow.
Next stop was Syon Park, a 200 acre London estate belonging to the Duke of Northumberland and one of the grand houses of London, dating back 600 years to an abbey that once stood in its place. We didn’t visit the house, which had its interior remodelled by the famous 18th century Scottish architect, Robert Adam, and now houses collections of art and furniture along with young Princess Victoria’s bedroom when coming to stay; nor the grounds laid out by Lancelot Capability Brown, the equally celebrated landscape designer, and the Great Conservatory designed by Charles Fowler, but we did pop in to the garden centre for a refreshment break.
From here it’s not long before you join the Grand Union Canal at Brentford Lock and a lovely walk to Osterley Lock, watching the narrow-boats, swans, ducks and other water fowl . I loved the colourful murals depicting life on the canal and wildlife you might encounter.
(Click on the photos to enlarge them)
Osterley Lock to Greenford
This was another easy, mainly flat stretch and I always enjoy walking along canals or rivers, watching the boats and wildlife. The Grand Union Canal links London with Birmingham and is 232 kilometres (145 miles) long. It opened in 1805 as the Grand Junction Canal but, after being joined up with other waterways in 1929, it was renamed. The Capital Ring Walk leaves the canal after the first of six locks at Hanwell Bottom Lock which enables boats to travel uphill by 16 metres in just over half a kilometre, and follows the River Brent along the Brent River Park Walk.
We crossed the historic stone Hanwell Bridge which dates from 1762, but there has been a bridge here since at least the 14th century and not far from there is the impressive Wharncliffe Viaduct, a railway bridge for the Great Western Railway from London to Bristol, built in 1838 by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the great Victorian engineer. It is named after its sponsor, Lord Wharncliffe, whose coat of arms can be seen at the centre. I has been recorded that Queen Victoria had her royal train stopped on the viaduct so that she could admire the view. Whether she did that every time or only once, I don’t know, but I can just hear the announcement on the train behind: “This train will be held at a red signal for a few minutes because Her Majesty Queen Victoria is admiring the view from Hanwell Bridge!” Of course they didn’t have a public address system then. Nor red signals, I imagine.
Soon you can see the rather bucolic view of the spire of St. Mary’s in the parish church of Hanwell, and you have reached Brent Lodge Park, formerly the grounds of a mansion of the rectors of St. Mary’s. There’s a cafe, toilets, a children’s zoo, the Brent River Park Visitor Centre and old stables. And there is the splendid Millennium Maze, opened in 2000.
From here the route follows along a path, some of it fringed by willows, on the edge of a field and the river all the way to Greenford Bridge and then to Perivale Park
Greenford to South Kenton
After picking up provisions from a fantastic Polish deli opposite the station in Greenford we were on our merry way. I have to admit that West and North-West London were, and to some extend still are, pretty much unknown territory for me, even after living in the capital for 30 years. I have always lived south of the river and worked in Central and North-East London, so this part of London was a new discovery for me.
First stop was Paradise Fields Wetlands, a haven for wildlife and nature conservation with reed beds, wetland areas and hay meadows, though we were not so lucky to spot any of the rare birds that nest there. From Paradise Fields it was back to the Grand Union Canal and along the canal footpath to Ballot Box Bridge, named after the nearby original Ballot Box pub which served as a voting station for those working on the canal. Across the bridge is Horsenden Farm and Horsenden Hill Visitors Centre. You get there via a trail of wooden sculptures (benches) and it makes a nice little detour before scrambling up steep Horsenden Hill (84 metres, 275 feet). From here you have a great view of London and all the way to Windsor in the west and Harrow-on-the- Hill in the north, though it was a bit to hazy for taking a decent photo on the day. Apparently you can see the Chiltern Hills on a clear day.
After a lengthy walk through suburban North London, via Sudbury, we finally made our way into Harrow-on- the-Hill, stopping off at the Castle Pub, a lovely Victorian establishment with original fittings and a nice garden out back, just off the village green. Harrow seems to predominantly made up of various school buildings of Harrow School, which seem to have sprung up everywhere, including the original school building on Church Hill (a plaque says it was finished in 1619), the impressive Gothic-style Speech Room, the library and chapel. Harrow School was established in 1572 by John Lyons, a local farmer and landowner and is one of the most famous public boy schools in England, counting Winston Churchill, Pandit Nehru, Lord Byron, Richard Brinsley Sheridan and Anthony Trollope among their pupils.Harrow pupils (800, staying in 11 different boarding houses in the village) are usually quite easy to spot in their straw boater hats, but we were there during the summer holidays, so the only straw hat we saw,was in a window display.
Views of London are wonderful, so make sure you are there on a clear day. We walked down steep Football Lane and the vast expanse of the school sports and playing fields and then came one of my least favourite parts of the walk: a narrow muddy unkempt footpath, full of nettles and brambles, with Northwick Park Hospital on the left and a chain-link fence protecting us from stray golf balls from Northwick Park Golf Centre on the right.
South Kenton to Hendon Park
Another day and another hill to climb. From the top of the Barn Hill (86 metres, 282 feet) in Fryent Country Park you get views of Wembley Stadium (and St.Paul’s on a clear day), but it was very misty when we visited. There is also a large pond, but the wildlife, apart from one heron, seemed to have taken the day off. Back down the hill we wandered through some of the many hay meadows and fields in the area until we reached civilisation again. St. Andrews Parish Church in Kingsbury has a somewhat strange history: opened in 1847 was relocated here in 1931 from near Oxford Circus after the West End became more commercial and the population moved to the suburbs. It is now close to the 12th century Old St. Andrew’s Church, which was once at the centre of the village.
Shortly after, you reach the grounds of the Welsh Harp Reservoir. I never knew there was such a large body of water in North London. It would have been really nice to sit on a bench by the waterside and watch the sailing boats, but that was impossible because of the nauseating smell coming from the reservoir. I do hope this was only temporary. In the end I was more than glad to leave it behind me after having to walk along it for about 1.5 km!
Hendon Park to Highgate
From Hendon Park we walked to Brent Park and followed the River Brent, which runs parallel to the noisy North Circular Road for about a mile. The Decoy Lake in Brent Park was a duck decoy luring wild ducks and other fowl into its nets with the ultimate destination of a cooking pot or pan; the surrounding woodland is called Decoy Wood. Eventually we followed the path alongside Mutton Brook, part of the Dollis Valley Greenwalk until we reached Finchley Road and went into Northway Gardens with Hampstead Garden Suburb to our right. The rest of the walk is mainly through public parks and gardens and past playing fields and tennis courts until we reached Kinglsey Way.
East Finchley station was originally called East End station when it was opened in 1867 by the Great Northern Railway. It was demolished and re-built by Charles Holden in an Art Deco design for when the underground started running here in 1939. ‘The Archer’ on top of the station was sculpted by Eric Aumonier and its bow points down the line towards London. It is supposed to represent Finchley’s ancient association with hunting in the nearby Royal Forest of Enfield.
From here the walk took us to Cherry Tree Wood and eventually to Highgate Wood, entering through very pretty metal gates depicting woodland animals.This ancient wood of 28 hectares probably dates back to the Ice Age and it is part of the Ancient Forest of Middlesex, featuring in the Domesday Book. Right next door to Highgate Wood is Queen’s Wood Local Nature Reserve.