Capital Ring Day 4 (12 May 2007) -
South Kenton to Hackney Wick (“official” Ring sections
10 through 13)
Distance: 19.2 miles, plus 0.3 miles of station
Walkers: Anth & Jim, plus Dave for the second
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?
Barn Hill and Queen’s Wood contain path sections that people
of limited mobility may find steep, and they look like they could
be muddy at times. Apart from these short sections, the entire route
is very easy, and the few steps can be easily avoided.
The original plan for today, our penultimate day on the Capital
Ring, had been to walk from South Kenton as far as Stoke Newington
(the end of “official” section 12). However, I have
a secret obsession – the feeling that one should link together
one’s long distance paths. I therefore suggested that on finishing
the Capital Ring we should walk out alongside the Thames to join
the London LOOP at Erith. Jim wasn’t especially enamoured
of the linking together idea. He only reluctantly agreed to it after
I pointed out that by doing this we would also complete another
named path – the “Thames Path South East Extension”
– which we had walked the rest of on our first days on the
LOOP and Ring.
The key to my plan would be to leave us with as little of the Ring
to complete on the final day (thus giving us more time for the river
walk). To do this, we would have to walk more of the Ring today
– we would therefore extend our walk to Hackney Wick. This
would put the pressure on, as we had to be back in High Wycombe
in time for our Eurovision Picnic Party.
Jus and Cat had once again backed out on some feeble pretext. As
usual Dave would be joining us to spur us on for the second half,
but at 8am it was just Jim and I enjoying pre-perambulation saus-and-egg
muffins in the Wealdstone branch of McDonalds. I had extreme difficulty
going to the toilet until I realised that I had, in my early-morning
befuddlement, put my boxers on back-to-front. I could have changed
them around, but they were comfy enough and if I started to tire
at least I could use my contrary pants as an excuse!
(a) South Kenton to Hendon Park
to the Ring was particularly easy this morning – South Kenton
station was just a couple of stops down the Bakerloo Line, and the
Ring ran in a subway beneath it. We strolled easily through the
solicitude of early morning residential streets and across the small
but pleasant Preston Park. A heavy shower (which fortunately stopped
soon after we left the train) had left the trees dripping but smelling
fragrant. Immediately we relapsed into the usual half-crazed hiking
talk – this time Jim expounded on his theory that cats have
retractable whiskers (apparently they yank hard own their own tail
to retract them, and sneeze whilst closing their mouth, nose and
ears to shoot them out again).
Around the eponymous Preston Park Station the roadside was littered
with signs stating “Event Today”, without any indication
of what or where the event was, or what time it might be at. Mystified,
we turned up the longer-than-expected West Hill, where I performed
my navigatorly duty by spotting the slightly obscure Ring turning
into Fryent Country Park. What seemed like a little-used path led
into a wide expanse of grassland at the foot of Barn Hill. We wondered
why the Capital Ring led in a big right angle along the foot of
the hill and then up it, when there was a wide path cutting directly
across. Both paths linked up and entered woodland half way up the
hill, and it felt like this would be yet another hill on the Ring
with poor views.
the top of the gentle climb of Barn Hill there was the surprise
of a small pond, populated by huge numbers of yellow flag irises
and four ducks. According to the map the Ring went around the far
end of the map before doubling back on itself. This seemed a little
pointless but we dutifully followed the official route and were
duly rewarded for our efforts. Not only was there the third trig
point of the Ring, but we found, as an unexpected view opened up
in front of us, that we were virtually on top of the new Wembley
We headed back down the other side of the pond, and back down the
hill on a route almost parallel to our ascent. Reaching the bottom
of the woodland, we turned sharp right, startling a rabbit, and
eventually reached a car park. A chap approached us and aggressively
demanded to know why we were walking here, instead of on nearby
Hampstead Heath. When we explained about the Ring, he continued
to insist that we should go to Hampstead Heath, before suddenly
and without warning running off down the A4140.
We crossed the A4140 ourselves, carefully watching out for any
other passing nutters, and walked into the eastern half of Fryent
Country Park. A gentle ascent through grassy fields led us to the
top of Gotfords Hill. Although lower and with a more gentle profile
than the neighbouring Barn Hill, it had far better views as it was
free of tree cover. In fact the views from here of a green rolling
landscape would be enough to convince all but the most cynical (so
that would be Jus and Cat then!) of the attractions of walking the
Ring. Near the summit a large neat square had been mown into the
otherwise long grass. It was too slopey for a bowling green so we
assumed that it must be a picnic area, despite the lack of tables
Other people on the web had said that it was difficult to follow
the Ring off of Gotfords Hill, and so we were very careful to follow
the signs. After a while the signs stopped, but we eventually picked
them up again a couple of fields later cutting across from our right,
and through a gap in the houses to the left – it was clear
that we too had strayed briefly off the route. With neither the
route nor the field boundaries on the map concurring with what we
could actually see around us, we were forced to agree with those
Back in the housing we picked up more of the “Event Today”
signs, but these ones were more informative – we learnt that
it was the final of the FA Trophy at the new Wembley Stadium. If
we had stayed on Barn Hill earlier we might have been able to watch
Stevenage beat Kidderminster 3-2!
through the houses, we came first upon the grand “new”
church of St Andrews, which according to the Aurum Press guide was
moved here from Marylebone! Just around the corner was the diminutive
church that it replaced, also called St Andrews, set in a quiet,
secluded and very green little churchyard.
A little further down the road, we assumed from the surroundings
that we were about to enter an industrial estate. However, the robust
fencing turned out to be merely for a garden centre – we wondered
if they stocked gold plated gnomes? It didn’t look like a
dodgy enough area to warrant these levels of security? A sailing
club had a similar perimeter, but hinted that we were about to return
to more interesting surroundings. Sure enough, a minute later we
were heading across open grass littered with information panels
informing us that the large expanse of water ahead was Brent Reservoir,
also known as the Welsh Harp. The alternative name supposedly derives
from a local pub, although I personally felt it might have derived
from the shape of the reservoir - but then people say I’m
a lyre (groan...).
I’d been looking forward to this part of the walk –
it looked nice on the map, and the guide described it as a wildlife
haven. In reality it was a bit anticlimactic. The path ran inland
of the lakeside trees, so that one rarely got to see the water.
When one did, it seemed that the steely grey, menacing surface had
scared off any wildlife, for we saw none at all – not even
the ubiquitous canada goose.
It seemed a long way along the surprisingly monotonous edge of
the reservoir (nearly a mile, according to my learnéd search
engine), despite stopping for a break on one of the numerous benches
(which had fortunately dried out after the early shower). We were
for once glad to emerge onto a road, and astonished when we had
to wait at the side of the road for traffic lights to allow us to
cross a bridge over an arm of the reservoir. Unfortunately, on the
far side was West Hendon, disreputable enough to make us long to
be back at the Welsh Harp. We escaped over the very-well-soundproofed
M1, and marched down the entirely dull and residential Park Road,
which stretched ahead of us for an interminable kilometre. It seemed
unbelievable that immediately behind the suburban facade to our
right was the huge Brent Cross Shopping Centre. We had no time to
investigate though, as we were due to rendezvous with Dave in Hendon
Park. Crossing a railway, we reached the park at the appointed time
and crashed on a bench for a well-earned swig of water.
(b) Hendon Park to Finsbury Park
How would one arrange meetings like this without mobile phones?
It appeared that we must have missed Dave by a few seconds as he
wandered past the foot of the railway bridge on his way to the foot
of the park, where he mistakenly believed the Capital Ring ran.
With mobile communication, we were able to guide him to our resting
place within a few moments – without it, we could have spent
all day wandering around the park looking for each other!
the full Ring gang in place, we were able to follow the trail out
of Hendon Park and on an unnecessarily convoluted route through
houses to reach the A502. Looking down from the A502 at the River
Brent, we saw a couple of decrepit summerhouses that used to stand
in the grounds of a long-gone hotel. It looked like a path running
along the Brent, between a small wood and some flats. It looked
like it might provide a more pleasant alternative to a very noisy
corner of the Capital Ring. However, Jim said it would be a short
cut and therefore cheating, and insisted we stuck to the deafening
official route beside the North Circular. We eventually turned onto
a path beside the Brent a couple of hundred yards further on, where
we could see that the “short-cut” path did indeed connect
Now the official Ring route finally turned off the roads to run
through a park alongside the Brent. It was very attractive; the
path weaving between flowering azaleas and rhododendrons. However,
the beauty couldn’t drown out the ever-present background
roar of the North Circular, supposedly the loudest road in Britain.
Soon the river wound between a couple of ponds, which used to be
“decoy ponds”, designed to attract ducks to be caught
for the table. One of the ponds was riddled with algae and duckweed,
but the second, larger pond was mirror-still and had a few ducks
– tufted, shovellers and the ever-present mallard –
drifting lazily around.
a road we briefly rejoined the Brent before turning right along
a tributary, the tiny yet litter-strewn Mutton Brook, which we would
be following for what would come to feel like a very long way. We
followed the brook through a foul-smelling culvert under the North
Circular, and emerged into a grassy space between the brook and
the road. We would stroll through similar grassy brookside spaces
for the next couple of kilometres accompanied by the constant background
roar of the North Circular. Although some of the spaces were quite
attractive – spattered with woodland, with little wooden bridges
criss-crossing the stream – it quickly become a little repetitive
and therefore tedious.
We were glad to reach Hampstead, where the brook and the Ring entered
a series of municipal parks. The first one was your average big-grass-area-full-of-footballers-and-tennis-courts;
after that came a pleasant floral display in a narrow park along
the banks of the Mutton Brook. Just south of here was the amusingly
named “Big Wood”, which Jim and I had a snigger about
when my father-in-law Dave wasn’t looking!
As we left the parks a large but architecturally uninspiring synagogue
was just emptying out after a service. It was wonderful to see how
busy it was and how neatly dressed and polite all the attendees
were. Their (to us) unusual attire was a welcome reminder of how
wonderfully cosmopolitan London is.
Jews seem to have a reputation for being wealthy. Like all stereotypes,
I suspect that this to be a lie, and Jews to be no wealthier than
any other group of people. However, the area of Hampstead we were
now passing through certainly went some way to reinforce this conjecture.
Huge (but unfortunately dull and identical) houses lined either
side of the roads; equally huge but dull and identical cars lined
their driveways. The gardens had a certain similar quantity too,
as if each household employed the same gardener. It was a peaceful
and very desirable neighbourhood, yet the Edward Scissorhands-quality
was more than a little unnerving after a while.
East Finchley station looked somewhat run down after the immaculate
Hampstead; we looked back as instructed in the guidebook to see
the statue of an archer on the station roof. Cherry Tree Wood was
actually a small but very busy metropolitan park. Clouds were massing,
and rain looked imminent (the forecast had been for frequent heavy
showers moving in this afternoon). When we saw picnic tables at
the eastern end of the park, we decided to stop for lunch whilst
we still had a chance. Apart from one or two light spots of rain
we got away with it.
up a short hill, we hoped that if the rains came on the trees of
the upcoming woods would shelter us. However, the rain stayed away
as we strolled down a wide, level path through Highgate Wood, passing
an incongruously positioned but nevertheless impressive pink granite
drinking fountain. Nearby was a sign marking the spot where a ceremony
took place to formally open the Capital Ring – I was surprised
to read that it had been open for less than two years.
Crossing a road we entered Queens Wood. To the left was an organic
café where the menus looked so good that we wished we hadn’t
just had lunch. As the path wound its way across a shallow valley
we decided that this wood was more attractive than Highgate Wood.
However, it also seemed smaller, and all too soon we were back on
a residential road (Priory Gardens) with long, steep flights of
steps up to the houses on our left. We soon found a newly-tarmac’d
footpath leading just as steeply up between the houses, and emerged
onto the A1, looking surprisingly narrow and quiet for one of the
most important roads in the country. We were not on it for long,
as we almost immediately turned off onto the Parkland Walk. Just
before we turned off, we could see an impressive archway spanning
the A1 a little way ahead.
Parkland Walk is a former railway line, now converted into a very
long, thin nature reserve. With trees each side, and level gravel
underneath, it was very pleasant walking, although we were disturbed
to see a planning application aiming to tarmac the path (making
it far harder on long-distance walkers feet, as if the Ring isn’t
hard enough already!).
Though it was pleasantly verdant, the trees blocked any views,
and often it felt like we were walking down a long green tunnel.
The only point I can remember of interest came when we reached the
former site of Crouch End Station, where the long platforms still
remain on each side of the path. Coming out of the brickwork at
the far end of the left-hand platform was a huge goblin-like creature;
a stunning piece of sculpture with the power to terrify twilight
walkers, and scare alcoholics off the booze! With the help of the
guidebook I was able to enlighten some local passers-by that it
was a “spriggen” – a mythical beast native to
We had been passed by a number of joggers on the Parkland Walk
(it seems to be better-used than most of London’s paths).
As the long threatened rain finally arrived in torrential form,
the joggers all came running back hell-for-leather, exchanging wry
grins with us as we hid under a tree. We had to keep backing away
as the monsoon-intensity rain caused a large puddle to form and
advance rapidly towards us!
After 20 minutes, the rain eased, and by the time we headed off
the end of the Parkland Walk it was barely spotting, and yet we
had the park almost to ourselves as a result. Unusually the pond
here was not dominated by mallards, canada geese or swans; instead
a mix of shovellers, tufted ducks and mandarin ducks provided a
colourful spectacle. A parallel path was lined with stunning floral
displays, and we headed on thinking that this was a splendid park
indeed. We felt that it would be far nicer if the Finsbury Park
area was remembered for this lovely park, and not for the unfortunately
antisocial activities of a few nefarious individuals at the eponymous
mosque, which we saw no sign of on the Capital Ring. ...