Archive for July, 2012

Capital ring completed

July 14, 2012

As mentioned in the previous post, we finally completed the Capital Ring in early June, so just over four months after we’d started.  We covered the 78 miles in 15 stages with just a couple of deviations from those used in the companion book by Colin Saunders and on the Walk London website.

Garden Suburb from Lyttelton Playing Fields

The final link for us (remember – we started with the stage closest to home, so didn’t start with section 1) runs across north London from Hendon to Highgate.  The first part may be unexceptional, and it’s a pity that it’s so close to the busy and noisy North Circular Road, but the from then on the walk takes us through Hampstead Garden Suburb and after that  through a sequence of attractive woods.

Hampstead Garden Suburb (known to its residents purely as ‘the suburb’) is perhaps the most extensive instance in London of such an area.  It was built up in the early twentieth century on the initiative principally of Dame Henrietta Barnett, who planned it on idealistic and egalitarian lines.  As many others have observed, in practice it became a solidly middle-class community and even the small houses that might have passed for artisans’ cottages now command high prices.  The predominant architectural style is arts and crafts, but there is a considerable variety.  The Capital Ring runs close to the Market Place, though it runs further from the Central Square with two churches which was conceived as the core of the suburb.  But beyond that towards East Finchley you can see some houses inspired by Tudor architecture, and others in the same road by elements of Art Deco that must have been very avant-garde at the time that the area was built up.

Hampstead Garden Suburb - half timbered

Hampstead Garden Suburb - art deco meets arts and crafts

Few of the roads in the suburb run in straight lines, and there are plenty of footpaths – known locally as ‘twittens’ though the Capital Ring makes less use of these than might be expected.  However one such twitten takes walkers on the ring out of the suburb and to the back of East Finchley station.  The ring crosses East Finchley High Road, just by the Archer statue on the bridge that carries London Underground’s Northern Line.

East Finchley Archer

Beyond that we enter woodland.  Cherry Tree Wood is a neat patch of land, but just feels like a taster for the larger woods to follow.  There’s a short walk along some prosperous residential streets, and then the ring enters Highgate Wood, a much larger area that has been a woodland for at least 2000 years and has been managed by the Corporation of London for around the last 125 of those.  It’s deservedly popular with locals, and often gets busy, but still feels rural.  Not a factor on the day that we were there on the ring walk, but it can also be delightfully cool on hot summer days.

From Highgate Wood, we crossed directly into Queen’s Wood, also an area of ancient woodland, but with a completely different, much wilder, feel.  Whereas Highgate Wood is on a plateau and is relatively flat, Queen’s Wood occupies a hillside.  Whereas Highgate Wood’s paths are wide and look carefully cultivated, those in Queen’s wood are narrower and a little rougher.  In recent years a lot of thought has been given to conservation in Queen’s Wood, notably by the use of coppicing techniques.

Strictly speaking, at the end of the stretch through Queen’s Wood we had completed the ring, since we had walked along Priory Gardens on our way to Highgate Station back in January, as part of the first section to Stoke Newington.

So: highlights of the complete ring?  For us, certainly, our first and last sections were very enjoyable – the Parkland Walk and the woodlands at the end.  Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park covered some of the most rural areas, followed by a really delightful walk along the Thames and along part of the canal.  And the other canalside section, along Hackney Marshes, was also wonderful, despite our doing it on one of the few very cold days last winter and my enduring memory of that section being the freezing conditions.

Most of all, it’s a reminder that London really is a very green city.  And a spur to do some walking regularly at weekends.


Capital ring – some hilly bits

July 14, 2012

It’s over a month now since we finished the Capital Ring, and I’m conscious that I’m still behind on blogging it and that my last blog post finished in muddy surroundings in Hanwell.  So this post picks up there, and covers two walks for us, but a bit more than two sections as defined by the book and the website.

We started with a return to Hanwell, following the River Brent but this time keeping away from the muddiest areas on the banks  This stretch took us through a nicely wooded riverside landscape, and then onto an ancient meadow, and beyond that across some playing fields, so it covered a range of urban greenery.  Unfortunately it also involves crossing the extremely busy and noisy Western Avenue followed by a stretch of walking along quiet roads into Greenford.

Section 9, which starts at Greenford, is one of the hilliest parts of the entire ring.  It’s a long way from the Alps, and it certainly doesn’t include either the highest point on the ring, which is near Oxleas Wood, or the lowest, which of course is in the Woolwich Foot Tunnel.  But there are two significant climbs, and given that we combined it with half of section 8 on the same day, it did feel like a (pleasantly) energetic day’s walk.

After a pleasant walk along part of the Grand Union Canal – a different arm to the one that we’d seen before, as this is a branch which strikes into London towards Little Venice and Paddington – the path veers to the north on the first significant ascent.  This is to Horsenden Hill, an attractive green area with great views from the summit to the north and west.

View from Horsenden Hill

The second ascent is to Harrow on the Hill, a delightful London village; you sense that the houses and flats there were built with the elevated location in mind, and I’m sure that some of the residents have a fine view across London from their windows.

Houses in Harrow
Harrow on the Hill, of course, is the location of Harrow School: evidence, if any was needed, of the school’s exclusivity came from an entrance to one building being marked ‘boys’ taxis’.  We did see a few of the pupils. as it’s a boarding school, and some were wearing bow ties – presumably just the normal attire for a Sunday evening if you’re a Harrovian.  The Capital Ring does run between a few of the school’s buildings, including the music block, and continues across some playing fields, with a fine view back to the village.

From the anodyne suburbia of Sudbury Hill to the rarefied village atmosphere of Harrow-on-the-Hill is a steady, if rapid, transition.  As in some other places in London, you have the sense that each metre you gain in altitude goes with an increase in house prices.  But the transition back from the immaculately maintained playing fields of Harrow School onto Planet Earth is abrupt.  From the playing fields, you cross a style (the only one on the entire Capital Ring), then a busy road.  The path on the other side is known as Ducker Path, after the school’s former swimming pool, and we’d been expecting something reasonably neat and well maintained.  In fact it is narrow, litter-strewn, and almost overgrown with weeds and leads rapidly to the edge of Northwick Park Hospital.  In the 1960s, when it was built, the hospital’s concrete buildings must have looked modern and represented medical progress.  Now the building with the strangely cantilevered windows on the top floor just looks a bit like an airport control tower that has unaccountably gained a lot of weight.

Section 9 finishes shortly after Northwick Park, at South Kenton.  Section 10, which runs from there to Hendon, we did on a warm day late in May, and given how wet May, June, and the first part of July have proved to be this year, we didn’t appreciate how unusual that would be.  It’s the only time on the whole walk that we’ve felt too warm for comfort.

There’s another climb in the first part of this section, this time through Fryent Country Park and with a fine view of Wembley Stadium from Barn Hill.  After Fryent Park, there’s a length of walking along some quiet residential streets, and then another little bit of green and blue that I’d long been aware of but rarely visited.  This is the Welsh Harp Reservoir, built in the early 19th century and for many years the centre of a public park.

Welsh Harp reservoir

Beyond the reservoir is another rapid transition, from leafy parkland to the rather grungy townscape that lines West Hendon Broadway.  This follows a really long-established communication line, as it’s part of the A5 road which largely follows the route known since Anglo-Saxon times as Watling Street.  The Capital Ring only follows the main road for a very few yards, before turning east along more residential streets, for this section to finish in Hendon.