That part of the Capital Ring which runs from Greenford to South Kenton is described (in Colin Simpson’s very helpful walking-guide The Capital Ring) as “one of the hilliest parts … a substantial amount is on uneven ground or grass which may be muddy or wet after heavy rain”. Although it wasn’t raining on the day Dad and I set out to Greenford to continue our walk along London’s circular footpath, we both reckoned that hiking-boots were a good idea. A wise move. As for hills, I could see the first one, Horsenden Hill, from the platform at Greenford station.
From there, we passed a retail park before entering the Paradise Fields Wetlands, a nature reserve on land that used to be a golf course. I’d brought my binoculars with me but I didn’t see much from a viewing-platform – a solitary moorhen, a few crows and little else. Before long we rejoined the Grand Union Canal, this time following the branch that goes to Paddington to (eventually) become the Regent’s Canal.
Moorhens, coots and mallards were seen on the canal, which we followed as far as a road bridge, passing under it before climbing up to it in order to cross over the canal.
Then the first climb of the day began, along grassy footpaths and a series of steps to reach the summit of Horsenden Hill, marked by a trig point some 260 feet above sea level (not the highest point on the Capital Ring, that honour going to the vicinity of Severndroog Castle on the Woolwich-Falconwood part, or even the highest point of the day which was still to come).
It’s said that on a clear day you can see Windsor Castle to the west, but I couldn’t.
We descended through a wood, almost being sent the wrong way because one of the many direction signs (adorned by the walk’s logo which depicts what is nowadays called the Elizabeth Tower – it was never called Big Ben, which is the nickname of the largest bell inside it – surrounded by arrows) had been knocked over; I restored it as best I could by resting it against a nearby tree with the arrows pointing in the right direction. There followed a walk through suburbia, crossing the A4090 to reach Sudbury Hill station. We turned off the main road, and subsequently turned off that road onto a track that took us sharply uphill before spilling us out into the A4005 on which we continued the climb. At this point the signs, usually green, turned black to be more in keeping with the locale.
We were now in a rather posh part of town, Harrow-on-the-Hill, and we were following the London Road right into the heart of the old village which is dominated by Harrow School, one of the top public schools in the country (old boys include Sir Winston Churchill and Lord Byron); we saw a few of the boys by sadly none of them were wearing straw hats. The hill, topped by the spire of St Mary’s church, is 350 feet high and is a prominent landmark that can be seen for miles around. At the village green we had hoped to be able to pop into an old pub called the King’s Head – said to have been one of many places where Henry VIII courted Anne Boleyn – but today the pub has closed down, although the sign still hangs on a gallows-like structure.
There was also a street called Church Hill which I’d like to think was named in honour of the wartime PM but I presume it predates him as it does indeed lead up to the afore-mentioned church which stands at the top of the hill (although the spire is obscured by one of the school buildings if you look up from the High Street).
We descended from Harrow-on-the-Hill via Football Lane – named not for the view of Wembley Stadium but because it leads steeply down to the school’s playing-fields, which we crossed to get to the Watford Road.
It was here that we took a look back up the hill before encountering a stile which, believe it or not, is the only one on the Capital Ring.
Next up was a muddy part which made me glad I’d worn my boots.
The path ran between Northwick Park Hospital and a golf course – there is, I recall, a good Churchill quote about golf; not the ‘good wallk spoilt’ one (which has been attributed to, among others, William Gladstone and Mark Twain) but his description of it as “a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an even smaller hole, with weapons singularly ill-designed for the purpose”. There were high nets to protect us walkers (and the cars parked outside the hospital, of course) from errant balls. We didn’t seen any golfers but we did see a mixed flock of thrushes on one of the greens which included redwings and fieldfares as well as song thrushes.