Capital Ring Day 3 (24th March 2007)
- Part 1
Richmond to South Kenton (“official” Ring sections
7, 8 and 9)
Distance: 14.2 miles, plus 0.5 miles of station links
Walkers: Anth & Jim, plus Dave for the second half
Wild species seen - blackbird, blue tit, canada goose, chaffinch,
coal tit, common gull, coot, cormorant, crow, great tit, green ring-necked
parakeet, magpie, mallard, moorhen, mute swan, pigeon, robin, sparrow,
squirrel, tufted duck.
How hard is it to walk? Very easy. A couple of small ascents (Horsenden
Hill and the green lane up to Harrow-on-the-Hill), and the only
stile on the entire Ring.
It had been bitterly cold all week, but the forecast was for a sunnier,
warmer day. Despite that, Justin had come up with any number of
trite excuses to get him and Cat out of coming, but which were all
based around the reprehensible fact that he considers himself to
be above public transport. Cat herself had a rather better excuse,
that she gets shin splints from walking on tarmac (although I’m
not entirely sure what this means). They were both put to shame
by my father-in-law, Dave, who said he would once again join us
part way through.
his pre-perambulation pie on the previous Ring trip Jim was desperate
for another, and said as much repeatedly on the trip there. In fact,
“I want a pie” was to become his refrain for much of
(a) Richmond to Brentford
There were no pie shops for Jim in Richmond; nor in the High Street
as we headed down to the Thames to rejoin the Capital Ring. Richmond
is simply too posh for pies, and would certainly not supply Jim
with his very specific and down-to-earth “a good old chicken
and veg from the West Cornwall Pasty Company”. The pie shop
niche had long since been invaded by coffee shops and delicatessens.
We rejoined the Thames and the Ring to – once again –
the screeches of the ever-present green parakeets. We felt that
these would make a more apposite symbol for the Ring than the official
symbol, Big Ben, which we were yet to see from the Trail. There
were other impressive birds here too; a small flock of cormorants
had taken up resident on an island opposite, with three of their
number atop a tree casting elegant silhouettes against the grey
turned to follow the Thames beneath a couple of bridges, before
being bought to an abrupt halt by the sight of a split stainless
steel pillar to our right. It turned out that this marked where
the meridian line used to pass before it was unceremoniously hauled
off to Greenwich. Through the slit in the middle we could see a
distant Kew Observatory, the former centre of timekeeping.
A little further on and we came to Richmond Lock. This is not your
traditional black-and-white little canal lock. It’s actually
a rather spiffing piece of Victorian engineering known as a half-tide
lock. When the tide is out, weirs hold water back above the lock,
and boats use the lock in the regular manner. However, once the
tide reaches a certain height and the water levels on each side
are equalised, the weir opens up and boats are able to pass through
without the use of the lock. We crossed via a footbridge with a
double promenade above the weir. There was a gap where a turnstile
clearly used to stand and it seems that at one time people were
charged to cross it. We were very glad that it was now free. Crossing
the river felt like we were halfway around the ring, although we
were still some miles away from that landmark.
Heading now through a very narrow riverside park on the north bank,
we were momentarily disorientated. Somehow it felt like we should
be heading the other way down the river. Still, we trusted the Capital
Ring signs, which had lately become fairly prominent, and headed
towards London. Unfortunately it wasn’t long before the trail
was turned away from the river next to a rather nice new development
of riverside apartments. The guide said that at some point it was
hoped that the riverside would be opened up here for walkers soon;
we explored the path through the now almost-complete flats and found
that it ended at a new wall beside a small stream. There was clearly
no way that the trail was now ever going to be put through here.
Given that we were also following the Thames Path National Trail
at this point, surely a riverside path could have been made a condition
of planning approval? Whatever planning authority allowed this travesty
to occur should be rounded up and shot. Or at the very least, put
in stocks and pelted with smelly used hiking socks.
the Ring and the Thames Path are forced to walk alongside the comparatively
noisy and intrusive A3004. This did afford us a glance into the
pretty centre of Isleworth, looking every bit as village-like as
it no doubt did before the expanding London engulfed it. We returned
briefly to the riverbank, to find that views of the far bank were
now blocked by the substantial island known as Isleworth Ait. Despite
being nominally a nature reserve, it appeared to have been colonised
by a number of chandlers of a gloriously unkempt demeanour.
The trail headed inland again on a supposedly temporary but seemingly
long-lived diversion. Isleworth seemed an exceptionally well-to-do
kind of place, all big houses and gentrified riverside apartments.
We eventually re-emerged on the riverbank near All Saints Church,
which had been partially rebuilt in an unsympathetic red-brick style
following a fire. A group of Isleworthians were down on the river
“beach”, feeding some aggressive canada geese, but our
attention was drawn by the pink dome-roofed building ahead, the
boathouse for Syon Park, our next destination.
entrance to Syon Park looked a little private, but we followed the
beckoning signs up the driveway, soon being forced to walk on the
grass instead by a constant flow of traffic. Syon House is well
hidden from this entrance, and under grey skies with a bitterly
cold wind it was a dispiriting, featureless slog across the park,
with little to look at but some highland cattle. Eventually, though,
the house itself came into view on the right; a no-nonsense crenellated
block attractively framed by a couple of matching gatehouses, between
which ran a vicious haha.
Syon Park was built on the site of Syon Abbey (named for Mount
Zion in the Holy Land). Syon Abbey was one of the many dissolved
by Henry VIII. When Henry died, his body rested here overnight on
the way to his eventual burial at Windsor. In the morning his coffin
had burst open and dogs were feasting on his remains – supposedly
a divine punishment for closing the abbey.
Like so many other of our great houses, Syon Park has been forced
to open itself up to the public to make ends meet. So it was, that
shortly after the house, we came to an unsympathetic building housing
a garden centre (elsewhere there’s a butterfly house, an “aquatic
experience”, and so on). We ignored it, rushing straight past
the doorway towards the elysian ice cream van just beyond. Now,
it may have been bitterly cold, but it’s become traditional
for Jim and I to partake of ice creams when available on our walks.
And who are we to buck tradition? We must have been the first customers
that day, as Mr Whippy had to fire up his van specially to provide
us with our delectable treats (a “99” each, of course).
As we ate them, passers-by without children looked on in bemusement
whilst fathers tried to avert the eyes of their salivating children.
We ignored them all as we gazed through a locked gate towards Syon
Park’s crowning glory – the conservatory. The magnificent
dome of metal and glass is rumoured to have inspired the design
of the Crystal Palace.
(b) Brentford to Hanwell
Finishing our ice creams (in Jim’s case with some difficulty
having eaten it from the bottom up) we left the park and wandered
down the quiet A315 towards Brentford. In Robert Rankin’s
fantasy novel “The Dance of the Voodoo Handbag”, he
described entering his fictional Brentford as “an unforgettable
experience. The sky seems bluer here, the grass more green, the
trees more tall, the river much more rivery.”
The real Brentford is a little different. We turned down off the
road beside a Holiday Inn to find ourselves in an archetypal inner
city redevelopment. One suspected that it had been a long time since
Rankin’s grass and trees were seen here (there were certainly
very few around now); we assumed the waterside development had replaced
the usual collection of derelict warehouses. We passed a too-shiny-and-new-looking
restored lock gate and passed over a bouncy swing bridge guarding
the entrance to what seemed to be a small canal basin for the exclusive
use of nearby properties. We gazed up in wonder at gleaming apartment
blocks imperiously soaring into the sky all around, each residence
probably worth a good million of your earth pounds. But we couldn’t
help thinking “give it twenty or thirty years and this will
be starting to get shabby again. How long before it is once again
a “prime redevelopment site”?
wasn’t long before we found evidence to back up our suspicions
about Brentford’s former land use. A little way up the canal,
one sad, lonely and very derelict warehouse remained, arcing out
over a putrid canal basin. The Ring - somewhat astonishingly, and
possibly in defiance of health and safety regulations – actually
passed through the centre of the warehouse. It was a potentially
fascinating slice of industrial heritage, and we may have investigated
it a little, but the overbearing scent of pigeon guano and tramp
urine sent us rapidly on our way, feeling rather nauseous.
Ahead lay the gleaming steel-and-glass headquarters of GlaxoSmithKline
(who spilled hot chocolate on your space bar, then?), rather eponymously
named GSK House. This is rather a splendid bit of architecture –
although not up to the Erotic Gherkin, it’s nevertheless a
building that demonstrates that modern architecture doesn’t
have to mean identikit brick boxes. May it stand for many years
to come (and provide gainful employment for scores of window cleaners!).
though the building was, it was marred somewhat by the travesty
behind it, a giant yellow steel “sculpture” called “Athlete”.
Frankly it didn’t remotely resemble its title and we re-christened
it “Banana mates with octopus to produce mutant scorpion”.
It infuriates me that people get paid thousands to install this
sort of crud, but I guess at least it beats Tracey Emin (although
frankly a dog poo has more meaning than one of Emin’s “works”).
Today would be our “bluest” day on the Capital Ring
– we’d be walking besides water for about half of the
route. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? However, just as you should
never judge a book by its cover, you can never judge a walk by the
map. Water is not necessarily beautiful; nor is it always interesting.
We were about to hit a section that would demonstrate this to the
full. We were walking alongside what was sometimes the River Brent,
sometimes the Grand Union Canal, and sometimes both. The canal would
split away from the river to negotiate a weir via a lock, before
rejoining it again. Normally locks and weirs are full of interest;
hustle and bustle and flowers and fish ladders and lock keepers.
Here there was nothing; just a long stretch of semi-stagnant water
filled with litter. Even the bankside vegetation seemed brown and
depressed. So boring was it that I’m going to cover a couple
of miles in one short paragraph.
were a few tufted ducks. We passed under a strangely muted M4, and
saw a large plaque besides the canal announcing that this section
had once won the Kerr Cup pile driving competition in 1959 (now
that must be an exciting spectator sport...!). An almighty ruckus
once erupted in some bushes beside us – we couldn’t
see what kind of bird it was, but Jim claimed it was a “Lesser
Crotchtucker”! Eventually the River Brent veered permanently
away from the canal. Relieved, we followed the river up through
a much more pleasant section of woodland populated by dozens of
camera-teasing birds and a couple of drunkards who, even at this
early hour, were too inebriated to cause any trouble other than
vaguely waving their cans of tramp-strength lager at us. ...