A slice of Moscow hidden on the London Underground

A midweek morning drop the kids off at school then wander. The patch of forest off-cut opposite The Green Man glimmered in the morning sun – it was irresistible. I followed the back roads up to the Redbridge Roundabout then suffered the Eastern Avenue till the chunks of pollution got too big to chew down and I ducked off the main thoroughfares again till emerging at Gants Hill.

Lurking beneath the roundabout at Gants Hill is a network of tunnels more like a space station than a tube station – the eastern cousin of the subterranean complex at Hanger Lane, opened the year before Gants Hill was finally revealed in 1948. Both stations sit upon the Central Line – Gants Hill’s ‘bright empty space’ beneath the roundabout the great tube architect Charles Holden‘s tribute to the Moscow Metro which he had been invited to visit after the builders of the Moscow network had originally been inspired by Holden’s Piccadilly Circus station. (Hanger Lane was completed by a former assistant of Holden – Frederick Curtis).

The golden vaulted ceilings of the concourse between the platforms reverses the pattern of other underground stations which show their wares upfront with decorative ticket halls. At Gants Hill the ticket hall is barely there – a minor node in the tangle of tunnels before the escalators guide you to Valhalla deep below the traffic hell.

Suburban Safari – Ruislip Gardens to Gerrards Cross

There is something about the far reaches of the Central Line, it appears in my mind as a far off land on the edge of the known world, which is nonsense because I grew up in the provinces beyond – just down the A40 in Bucks. Either way it lurks there pinged up on the dot matrix display on the platform teasing me, urging me to abscond.

So abscond I did, alighting after about an hour at Ruislip Gardens. It had been bucketing down when I’d left Leytonstone and the sky was still smeared in thick grey clouds when I’d changed at North Acton. But crossing the road to the Yeading Brook at Ruislip Gardens the sun broke out and beckoned me down the tree lined path.

Skirting Northolt Aerodrome on the far side of the Yeading Brook, I crossed a meadow where someone was camped out living in the trees and I momentarily saw it as a kind of idyllic life. I’ve noticed this a few times on walks on open ground around the city, make-shift homes erected beneath the trees, clothes hung on hangers from branches, peculiar domestic touches for such a rustic setting.

So glad to be out in the city fringe I strode across a wide open meadow only to find myself angle deep in water, unaware I was in the middle of Ickenham Marsh where a canal feeder for the Grand Union trundles beside the Yeading Brook. There were common rights of pasture on the marshes and cattle were still grazed here in the early 1960s. There wasn’t so much as a dog when I sloshed through.

I go round in circles a lot when I walk – not helped by following a meandering brook that has a canal feeder then passes under the A40 and when I follow a footpath into a mire of suburban streets that only has one road in and out. However I was entertained by a brick Tardis disguised as an electricity substation and a row of modernist semi-detached houses that looked as if they’d been air-dropped from Los Angeles.

Somehow I found my way to this majestic spot where the River Pinn passes along a brick culvert beneath the Uxbridge bound tube line. The Pinn, although a modest watercourse running from Pinner to Yiewsley must surely be one of the most beautiful London rivers. I don’t understand aesthetics well enough to be able to back that up – but I crossed it 3 times on this walk and it made me stop dead in my tracks on each occasion. Sights like this deserve a double page spread in National Geographic.

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The 100 foot elevation of Uxbridge Common offers a panoramic view of the London skyline from the Shard on the right to the Post Office Tower to the left and I’m guessing Euston Tower behind it. The Common once stretched for hundreds of acres, 4 miles in circumference till 19th Century enclosures reduced it to its current 15 acre plot.

There was a point when I thought I’d get no further west than Uxbridge. It was 5.30 when the suburbs throb to a different rhythm – out here that’s home time. It took me half-an-hour to find a way out of the traffic vortex whipped up by the Uxbridge Roundabout, back I forth I roamed with my life in my hands before I found a way off Harefield Road to the banks of Fray’s River.

Then followed a series of beautiful clear watercourses – Fray’s River, Shire Ditch, The Grand Union Canal and the Colne. I seemed to be forever crossing bridges, zigg-zagging along riverbanks to find crossings – I counted at least 6 bridges before I reached Denham.

I hadn’t seen anywhere to buy food along the way – not even a kiosk at Ruislip Gardens. I scoffed a fistful of sweet ripe blackberries marinated in exhaust fumes in an overgrown footpath long ago abandoned beside the A40. That would have to do for a while.

I’d roughly set my course for Denham where I followed the River Misbourne to this abandoned football pitch with knee high grasses and an old brazier for beacon fires although there were so many heretics out in the Chilterns you’re never too sure whether they had a dual purpose.

I never thought I’d get so excited by the words Wild Bean Cafe but I nearly leapt for joy when as I approached it across the forecourt of the BP garage on the A40. They had no samosas and you had to buy a 4-pack of Stella and not just a single can so I settled for a chicken and bacon sandwich, cappuccino and a doughnut.

The overdose of calories consumed in a neat brick bus shelter pushed me over one last field in the setting sun just after 8. I emerged back on the road in the gloom for the slow trudge into Gerrards Cross. I scoured Tesco for a souvenir but ended up with a copy of Private Eye which I took to a sofa in The Elthorpe Hotel with a pint of ale before the 10 o’clock train into Marylebone.

Walk from West Ruislip to Beaconsfield

I was woken early by the postman and had the urge to walk – but where. After weighing up the options I decided to head west by the simplest route – to the end of the Central Line and then walk westwards from there.
The only maps I had were an A-Z, which was good for about 2 miles before I dropped off the edge of its pages, and a ’30 miles around London’ road map which kept me going in roughly the right direction. Otherwise I found my way by following my desires (and the footpaths).


View W Ruislip to Beaconsfield in a larger map

Across the road from West Ruislip Station I entered a world of Bluebell banks down hollow ways and gentle streams crossed by wooden bridges. Old Clack Farm has its own post box. Crossing Breakspear Lane and Jordans Lane, jumping over ditches and clambering over rickety stiles to safety were as treacherous as anything Indiana Jones had to deal with.
I lost a shoe in the deep mud of a horsefield in Harefield, my socked foot plunging ankle-deep in mud. I didn’t see a single shop between West Ruislip and Chalfont St. Peter. I resisted the rustic temptations of the Breakspear Arms and The Dumb Bell saving myself for a end of walk pint in Beaconsfield Old Town only to find that the pubs have mutated in an old Aunt’s chintzi lounge dominated by nattering diners. I started off further west down the London Road to Wooburn and Wycombe but after a mile or two realized I’d end up stranded with no train home.
Beaconsfield New Town was ghostly quiet at 9.30pm. A handful of people kicking their heals on the station platform waiting for the train to Marylebone. 7 hours on the move and 18 miles covered in a haphazard line, a left sock and shoe still caked in mud, only one pint downed and a feeling of euphoria. I’d found the entrance to Arcadia at the end of the Central Line

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