Following my slightly unsatisfactory experience on the
LOOP last time, I was determined to ensure that this section would be walked continuously so I decided to hang the expense and park in one of the town centre car parks in Uxbridge. This promised to be the first section of the LOOP where I would make my way to the start via the London Underground. Imagine my disappointment then when I found that there were no Underground trains today running to Heathrow and buses were running instead. In fact no direct buses to Heathrow were running from Uxbridge as this is on a separate part of the Picadilly line. I therefore had to travel to the start by ordinary service bus to Heathrow and change for Hatton Cross, a journey that took almost an hour to complete.
|River Crane Bridge|
Once at Hatton Cross I had to retrace my steps along the Great South West Road (A30), which was a noisy and unpleasant exercise. However, when I reached the River Crane bridge I was able to resume my walk on the
LOOP proper and almost immediately entered a world of calm away from the busy road. In fact the walk along through Crane Park was unbelievably rural, considering its close proximity to . Noise from passing jets shattered any illusions though and for a twenty minute spell as I passed immediately under the flight paths of landing aeroplanes I was amazed at how low they actually were. I could almost wave to the passengers they were that close! A little further on and I passed through the built up area of Heathrow Airport Cranford (a far cry from the rural idyll portrayed on the BBC series of the same name). The 1930s housing that I walked through must be a joy for plane spotters, but a nightmare for light sleepers! I couldn’t help but wonder how these people enjoyed the brief respite the other week when the volcano ban was in place?
|St Dunstan's Church|
I crossed the A4 and entered
Cranford Countryside Park, yet another oasis of calm amidst all the frantic transport corridors that pass through this area to the west of . This park was surprisingly quiet, with a new looking play area completely deserted despite it being a sunny Saturday morning at a reasonable time (1030). Further on though there were planes of a different nature being flown around as I passed some young men putting their radio-controlled model aircraft through their paces. From a distance they sounded like angry wasps and possibly far more annoying than the thunderous noises of the real jet aircraft now receding into the distance behind me. London
Ahead I could now hear the roar of the traffic on the approaching M4 and yet the motorway itself was quite well hidden. Instead my view was only of the River Crane and St Dunstans Church, which was once the local church for the now demolished Cranford House. Despite its location right next to junction 3 of the M4, I’ll bet that most drivers are completely unaware of the existence of this little area of calmness. I passed by the church and headed around the back to an even more surprising sight; the old stable block from the country estate which is still intact and serves as a park depot for the London Borough of Hillingdon, which proudly announced on posters that it had only just taken over management of the park.
I passed underneath the M4 and continued through woodland and then scrubland until reaching more busy roads. As I approached the first of these by the aptly name Crane pub, I got a sudden overwhelming smell of roasting coffee. The smell was absolutely wonderful and it stayed with me the whole way across the A312 canal bridge, fortunately drowning out the smell of car fumes. As I got to the apex of the bridge it became clear where the smell was emanating from – it was not some twee little coffee shop but the large Nestle factory by the bank of the
a little further on. I couldn’t help think that the smell of the factory was far better than the finished product! Grand Union Canal
|Grand Union Canal|
On the other side of the canal bridge I had to drop down to canal level. This involved a very annoying spiral arrangement which had obviously been put in place for wheelchairs, buggies and bicycles but which was very irritating for the walker (couldn’t they have put in steps as well?). At canal level I headed the short distance along the towpath in the wrong direction so I could take a look at
Bulls Bridge, an old canal bridge crossing the junction of the Grand Union Canal and its branch to . It’s an iconic structure in these parts, but sadly not universally loved as its white paint was seriously defaced by the local graffiti yobs. Paddington Basin
This was the point at which I finally said goodbye to the River Crane to follow another watercourse that will be my on and off companion not just for the rest of today but also a big chunk of the next day’s walking of this route. The
Grand Union Canal is one of the best known canals in the country, since it forms a direct (if slightly tortuous) route from London to . There were certainly quite a few boats about although mostly pleasure trippers rather than anyone carrying freight. I could feel my pace pick up considerably as I had no worries about navigation for awhile. Alongside the canal was a scene of transition with old derelict buildings slowly giving way to gentrified apartment blocks and gleaming office buildings. As with so many canal walks I largely felt divorced from the surrounding area and through this section in particular I seemed to be below street level most of the time. Birmingham
Eventually after I had passed through Hayes (a different one than the one earlier on the
LOOP), the path took a sharp right turn to leave the canal behind. I had been tempted to continue along the towpath as I was enjoying it so much, but in the event I decided to take a look at the shiny business park that other correspondents had waxed lyrical about. As soon as I left the canal it was like a different world. Apparently the whole area had been reclaimed from gravel workings and was now a landscaped park with lots of prestigious glass fronted office buildings (see http://www.stockleypark.co.uk/Index.html for more details). As it was a Saturday the area was deathly quiet, with very little activity of any sort going on. I couldn’t help but be amused by the sight of a bus touring the estate vainly looking for passengers on such a quiet day. Looking at the buildings I rather suspect that most employees here come in executive vehicles anyway on a weekday, rather than by bus! London
|Putt-Putt Along the Canal|
In fact I was so caught up with looking at my surroundings that I got a bit lost and ended up looking at rather more of the estate than the designers of the
LOOP had intended! Eventually I corrected myself and headed out past the golf course club house adjacent, which was rather busier as you might expect. Eventually I came to a curiously large bridge across the A408 to take me into , another reclamation project. Once in the park I wandered up to the highest point where there is a surprisingly extensive viewpoint across this part of Stockley Country Park West London. Already the jets in and out of Heathrow looked quite distant and despite the LOOP’s best endeavours to keep me out of built up areas I could now get a sense of the hugeness of the Metropolis which surrounded me. I didn’t hang around too long, on account of the very slobbery dog that was busy trying to make friends. I didn’t fancy drool being wiped all over my legs so I continued on my way, heading back down towards the canal. As I passed through the housing estate at the bottom of the hill, I became aware of how quiet the neighbourhood was. I then realised why as today was cup final day and were playing. I wouldn’t mind betting that this area of Chelsea London is natural territory and I suspect many people were staying in to watch the match. It was like the old days for me – in years gone by before the advent of wall to wall football on TV this was one of the few opportunities to watch live football when I was a lad. Chelsea
|Slough Arm Junction|
I was relieved to meet with the canal once again. Although I enjoyed the business park, I found navigation to be more than a bit tricky and the certainty of canal walking was more agreeable. The canal towpath took me about a mile this time before another diversion, this time down the
Slough branch of the canal for a short distance. I wondered whether the designers of the route had put in these diversions to provide the LOOP with more variety than a simple walk along the canal towpath. Anyhow the section through West Drayton was busier with walkers and boat traffic than further back. One boat in particular seemed to be following me most of the way, at one stage moving slower than I was while the driver conducted his social life on his mobile phone. By the time I got to the canal branch junction the banks were completely chock-a-block with all manner of boats hitched up to the valuable moorings. By the junction itself was a huge marina stuffed full of boats, showing just how popular this canal now is (possibly more popular than it ever has been?).
Slough branch of the canal is clearly not so well used as the main channel, but I’m not sure what its current status is. The banks were less well defined and were more vegetated suggesting that there isn’t so much boat wash to suppress growth. I did find it curious to cross the Colne River via the canal aqueduct on the short stretch that the LOOP follows. I have of course crossed several canal aqueducts in the past, but I still can’t help feeling that it is a bit surreal. After half a mile or so, I crossed the canal via a substantial looking footbridge and headed towards Little Britain (no, not that one!). From the bridge, I could see one of the coal tax obelisks that were installed shortly after the Great Fire of London to mark the point at which traders had to pay tax in order to help pay for the damage. Sadly this particular old piece of history was daubed in graffiti, as so many other structures have been on today’s walk.
was a revelation and I immediately understood why the path detoured away from the canal to bring the walker to have a look. The centrepiece was a large waterfowl-inhabited lake surrounded by willow trees. There were surprisingly few visitors to what should surely be a popular beauty spot. Around the lake was a perimeter path, which perhaps swallowed a few more visitors but for me the onward Britain LOOP actually crossed the adjacent river and continued along the bank. Initially this was a very pleasant section of riverside walking and my nose was filled with the pungent smell of hawthorn blossom, a smell that I absolutely love at this time of year.
Soon though I reached a road bridge and the
LOOP crossed to the other side of the river. Almost immediately the tone of the walk changed and slowly deteriorated until I found myself walking along the backs of derelict industrial units and building sites. Fortunately this rather unpleasant experience was fairly short-lived as eventually the path along the river was blocked off by the fencing of a building site and the LOOP headed off back towards the . I was relieved to get back to the canal and my mood lightened once again as I completed the last mile or so into Uxbridge. The canal itself was full of interest through here with literally hundreds of boats of all shapes and sizes moored along the banks. There was also a very busy looking repair yard on the opposite bank which caught my eye; I guess it had been here for a very long time indeed judging by its appearance. Grand Union Canal
The canal through Uxbridge did what many canals do best, they pass almost unnoticed through urban areas forming thin but discreet nature corridors. It made for enjoyable walking and when I reached the pub at the end of my walk, I actually felt like I could have continued for some time. I don’t think it will be too long before I complete the next stage!
This section of the LOOP provides an appetiser for anyone thinking about walking the
towpath route. In fact there would be the temptation to ignore some of the diversions from the canal put into the Grand Union Canal LOOP, but this would be a mistake. Although there are some less attractive parts to these diversions (not least the last mile from the Little Britain diversion), there are also some fascinating sights that would be completely missed. The going is pretty easy and waymarking is excellent for most of the way. In short it was a more enjoyable section of the LOOP than I was expecting.