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Monday, 19 September 2016

LEAFY GREEN LONDON - our rescheduled short break

This is a long photo heavy post written mainly for my own purposes so I can look back and remember our short holiday.  I don't seem to have mastered the art of precis I am afraid!  I hope you will however enjoy coming with me on the walks and perhaps check out some of the links for more info should you wish.

Following last post's teaser photos you may have thought we had been somewhere rural but maybe this will give you a further clue?  We had nearly a week in London and did some exploring on foot and by bus and searching out some of the many green areas in our capital, using our bus passes, comfy shoes (not boots this time) and small daypacks - so not exactly a BBB break but similar..  This was taken on the day we arrived but it wasn't always so sunny as my photos will show but at least it was mostly dry and warm but not too hot. 

 Our first walk was a self guided one near Heathrow airport - which might seem a strange choice but it is a surprising landscape of natural scenery and historic villages.  One of these villages is Harmondsworth and I wanted to go there as Harmondsworth is where I was born and I had never been back since leaving it aged 3 weeks old and wanted to know what it was like.  We got the train from Paddington, walking distance from our hotel, to West Drayton and then the bus to Harmondsworth which as you can see is protesting against the proposed new runway at Heathrow.

Harmondsworthis quite a pretty village, one of several historic villages less than a mile from each other that lie in the shadow of Heathrow and all of them sharing an useasy relationship with the airport as you might imagine living as they do with the threat of airport expansion but at the same time taking advantage of the employment it offers.

Having visited the Harmondsworth Barn - Britain's greatest surviving ancient wooden building  - a medieval barn which John Bejetman called the  Cathedral of Middlesex we set off on our walk through the churchyard and graveyard and across a field to Saxon Lake created in what was a former gravel pit - the noise from the M4 nearby doesn't seem to worry the birds attracted here.

We walked through part of a 1960s housing estate to arrive at the entrance to Colne Valley Park formed in 1965 covering 27,500 acres and a beautiful natural corridor marred only by the background noise of vehicles and aircraft. A high-speed rail link is also proposed and would cross the park by a viaduct but only time will tell whether the High Speed link or Heathrow's expansion will go ahead.

We reached Harmondsworth Moor an area once filled with gravel pits which then were used as landfill sites and the area left derelict.  Along came British Airways wanting to build their new corporate headquarters on a site at the edge of the moor called Prospect Park.  The council's planning department would never have supported this development had it not been for the fact that BA promised to landscape and restore the moor to its natural state.  The 40 acre park opened to the public in 2000 and has won many awards with its miles of riverbanks, lakes, grassland and young woodland and it is also home to a wealth of wildlife.

 We came across many large stones dotted about the Moor and the ones in this photo form part of what is known as the Keyhole; they all come from the old Waterloo road bridge demolished in the 1930s and the stones were brought up to Harmondsworth Moor for storage and have been used in the landscaping of the Moor.

Who would think this tranquil scene is so near the busy motorway and part of Greater London.....

...... and who would believe that this lovely green and leafy lane is so close to the perimeter fence of one of the world's busiest international airports?

 But here the path goes beneath the busy main road whilst...

overhead the planes are taking off and skimming the treetops or so it seemed!  At one point we were right under the flight path not far from the end of Heathrow's northern runway why ever did I stand there so fascinated when had there been a problem with take off the plane might have ploughed into where we were standing picking blackberries and eating them as the planes set off to who knows where!  Did I envy those passengers?  No I did not I was happy on terra firma eating blackberries!

 Eventually we got bored with blackberries and overhead planes and continued towards the pretty village of Longford.  Under this bridge flows the Longford River an artificial waterway dug over 300 years ago to take water from the River Colne, which we walked along earlier, to supply Bushy Park and Hampton Court Palace and over head the ever present jumbo jets roar off to their many destinations - how do the inhabitants cope with the noise I wonder.

Next door to this quintessential English cottage was the White Horse pub where we had lunch  - I didn't take a photo of it but click here for info and pics.  I must admit that inside the noise was less intrusive but I am so glad I don't actually live in Longford.  After a sit down, a drink and a delicious sandwich lunch we made our way back to Harmondsworth going through the recreation ground which according to an entry in my baby book is where I had my first outing the day before we left for the Forest of Dean never to return till now.

 Back at the village we looked round the church (the barman/publican who we had spoken to at the White Horse had said he was a church warden here and if we were going back to Harmondsworth after lunch he would be there and would show us round.)  Which he duly did and pointed out various bits of interest.

Heathrow Airport started in 1929 as a small airfield on land southeast of the hamlet of Heathrow. Development of the whole Heathrow area as a very big airfield started in 1944, the year I was born, stated to be for long-distance military aircraft bound for the far east. But by the time the airfield was nearing completion, World War 2 had ended. The government continued to develop the airfield, as a civil airport, known as London Airport and later as Heathrow. So Harmondsworth would still have been a peaceful little village when I was last there morw than 72 years ago - couldn't find any blue plaques to commemorate my birth though!

We made the bus journey back to West Drayton and from there onwards by various buses which took ages and by the time we got back to our hotel I had had enough of free bus pass travel though we did see parts that others never reach!

Now for the ghostly trains I promised in my last post - on the Monday we did a walk which began by following a disused railway line - no trains have used these tunnels since 1970 when the tracks were lifted.and it became the Parkland Walk now a haven for wildlife with 250 species of plants and even muntjac deer living here although we didn't actually see any.

 It was a damp drizzly day when we set off to walk towards Crouch End and onwards from there.

The path runs between the ghostly deserted platforms at Crouch End - it must once have been a sizable station as the platforms were quite long -  and one could almost hear the trains and the passengers waiting on the platforms as we passed along.  Somewhere along here I must have dropped the printed pages we were following probably because I had my mac on then off then on again as the rain stopped and started and so we had to try and remember  the route and information from here on.

 We reached Finsbury Park - no photos as I was feeling a bit cross about losing the instructions! But we discovered there was an excellent cafe where we had lunch and a drink and set off again feeling better about it as after all it really didn't matter and one of the good things about walking in London is that you are never far from civilisation and bus stops so the chance of getting lost is minimal.

 By now we had left the Parkland Walk and were following the Capital Ring which is a 78 mile circular walk round the capital about 5-10 miles radius from Charing Cross (considered to be the centre of London).

The path follows the New River which is neither new nor a river but a 400 year old artificial watercourse built to bring water 40 miles from springs in Hertfordshire to Islington.  It still supplies water to the capital.  Very bucolic isn't it?  Can you believe we are in London?

Even when it passes industrial estates on the other side it is still peaceful and pleasant.

We left the path to cross a busy road whilst the "river" made its way beneath and we rejoined it here.


Eventually we reached a reservoir which has been turned into a nature reserve.  Do click on the link here to find out more - click on About then History to read how this once neglected resevoir which had been treated with chlorine and sodium phosphate gas to ‘clean’ the water and which was then unsurprisingly devoid of any wildlife was to have been filled in a used for building land but was saved and is now a lovely peaceful area open to the public free of charge.  I believe it opened in May of this year and I can certainly recommend a visit.

 What was originally a pump house has been turned into a lovely little cafe.

Where we sat ovelooking the reservoir with a cup of tea and a shared flapjack (last of the big spenders we are!) a moment of pure santosha!

  By now well rested and refreshed we continued our walk going now towards Clissold Park


Now we couldn't remember the route and so we finished up in Stoke Newington and from there got the bus.  We have since discovered that we missed Abney Park Cemetery which sounds interesting being a non-denominational burial ground  set out as a garden cemetery in 1840 and now a nature reserve too.  Since we had enjoyed our walk so much we resolved to make the Capital Ring a project and to walk all 78 miles of it - in short sections of course!  So next time we go to London we can start the next section where we left off this time and see the Cemetery then.

We however finished our walk in Stoke Newington which seemed an interesting area with plenty of individual shopsincluding this lovely garden centre and most importanly for us a bus stop where we caught the bus.

We varied our walking with a couple of city walks the first of which we did on the Sunday when we followed the trail of destruction left by the Great Fire of London which destroyed four fifths of the city 350 years ago, starting in the early hours of Sunday 2nd September 1666 and shown on the bottom of this part of the mosaic timeline on the Queenhithe Dock (incidentally the only remaining Anglo Saxon dock in the world) We used the leaflet in the link here which provides more pictures and information on the story and the walk..

Here is the Royal Exchange  now no longer used as a stock exchange as trading there ceased in 1939 when WWII broke out it now houses  an exclusive retail centre with restaurants, cafes over 30 stores selling luxurious brands. In other words a temple to consumerism!

 This one is The Bank of England  and

...this is  The Guildhall - a fairytale castle of a building.

Here is St Mary le Bow whose famous Bow Bells are credited with having persuaded Dick Whittington to turn back and remain in London to become Lord Mayor and within whose sound aa true Cockney must be born.

 I love this area just behind St Pauls cathedral so tranquil whilst all the tourists are to be found milling about at the front!  The building you see here was completed in 1710 to replace the original destroyed in the fire and stood as a symbol of hope, resiliance and strength for the City. 

Although many people are aware that Pudding Lane was the starting point for the the Great Fire of London fewer know where it finally stopped - here at the corner of Cock Lane and Giltspur Street.    Although the main purpose of this 17th century memorial of a chubby boy was to mark the point where the Great Fire of London ended, it alsoacted as a warning to Londoners that their gluttony had been the cause of the fire. Why? Because the fire began in 'Pudding' Lane and ended at 'Pye' (or Pie) Corner!  Do check out the link for more on this little lad.  According to the leaflet we were following neither pudding nor pie meant anything to do with eating but "puddings" were dropped from offal carts going from the meat market on Eastcheap to the Thames and the "pie" or "pye" came from the name of the Magpie tavern which used to stand here! We finished our walk here and didn't continue to the London Museum as stated in the leaflet.

But even on this City walk we found the odd patch of greenery here and there!

And on our last full day we visited the Temple and Inns of Court particularly the gardens - yet more tranquil green spaces away from the noise and bustle of the city.


 And the Temple - I became interested in the Templars when we did a walk in Paris called the Templars and Medieval Paris and we tried to do this walk last year when we were in London but it was pouring with rain and we gave up and got the bus to our favourite restaurant for lunch instead!

 Inside the Temple.

 We had a sandwich lunch in Lincoln's Inn Fields, a nearby park, and foolishly perhaps decided to do another walk after lunch this time round St James but all that walking on granite pavements was much more exhausting than the green walks we had done earlier in the holiday and everything began to blur into a mixture of buildings and churches and the only things which really stood out from this walk were the Silver Vaults which I didn't like finding them claustrophobic and scary with the big heavy safe door at the entrance down in the bowels of the earth and all that silver so much that I felt rather as I do in a supermarket these days - that there is just too much and so I don't want any of it!  I couldn't wait to leave.  Though I dare say it would be the place to go if you wanted something specific and knew what you were looking for.  I give you a snapshot here in the little video.  What do you think?

And more my cup of tea the rather lovely church of St James in Picadilly - Sir Christopher Wren considered it one of his best parish churches - which seemed to me to be a living church doing what I think a Christian church should be doing with its little craft market that afternoon and this little caravan offering a drop in counselling service free of charge to anayone who needed help.  I'd just had enough and we made our way back to our hotel to rest our feet and our brains!

And I promised birthdays too and so it was that Mr M had his 80th birthday during our stay in London and we celebrated by meeting up with the Wanderer in a little Italian restaurant cum shop in Notting Hill where we had a delicious meal and sat chatting together till it was nearly 5.00 and they were beginning to set tables for dinner!  Since we hadn't seen the Wanderer since February there was a lot of catching up to do!

On our last day we decided to go straight home as the forecast was for a hot day and so we made our way to Waterloo in time for the 12.20 train and were home by 3.00 having enjoyed a great few days in our capital and having discovered some more interesting corners which not so many people visit - shopping did we none nor did we go to any shows nor do any of the usual tourist things.  But we were content that it should be so.

If you have made it this far you deserve a medal. 


  1. Isn't it amazing that one can find those little places, so 'countryside' yet in the midst of the busiest parts of London.
    you must have been very tried after all that walking!

  2. We had a lovely week in London during the very hot weather in July - the little shady squares and gardens were very welcome. I'm always torn vetween loving our countryside but drawn to the city living of my childhood. Cities are always full of surprising back streets and hidden parks and paths. Loved being part of your tour.

  3. South West London is another area with many green spaces,we live near Richmond Park, Bushy Park, River Thames, Wimbledon Common and five minutes away is Crane Park with a site of scientific interest, all providing beautiful walks without charge. By being Friends of Kew Gardens we can pop in there for a walk too.

    We are asked frequently if we are going to move away from London now we have retired, but no way, there is so much here apart from all the parks, there is culture, nearby shops and good medical care like the Royal Brompton Hospital, after a visit there we can visit the V & A.

  4. I claim my medal!! I got to the end and loved it all the way through, continually inspired by your walks. The Capital Ring sounds like a capital idea for the future, especially a future report on that cemetery. You know me and cemeteries or churchyards! I did a walk around Haverfordwest the other day, led by a local architect, and I saw places I've never seen in 15 years of going there, including a redundant church complete with a fabulous burial ground.Your posts are a constant reminder to look beyond the obvious and seek out what's there.Thank you for the trip!

  5. Well I'm lining up for my medal. Loved it all. You find such interesting corners to visit. Thanks for taking us along with you.

  6. Apart from the odd photo the post didn't scream the usual London site seeing post, you sniffed out some interesting and unusual places to visit. Xxx

  7. Awesome blog, i always enjoy & read the post you are sharing!
    Thank for your very good article...!



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