Railway Walk Odyssey with World War 2 Bomb Gospel Oak to Perivale

To celebrate the re-opening of the Barking to Gospel Oak line (albeit with the original two carriage trains that were running on the line before its temporary closure last year for conversion to 4 carriage trains) I decided to hop on a train at Leyton Midland Road Station to Gospel Oak. The plan from there was to walk a section of the railway from Hampstead Heath to Willesden Junction that we somehow missed from the London Overground film I made with Iain Sinclair.

The nightwalk I filmed with Iain and Andrew Kotting ended for me at Hampstead Heath, having walked up from Haggerston. Iain and Andrew continued round the 33-mile circuit through the night finishing at 10 the next morning. The station is closed today. A 500lb World War Two German bomb had been discovered on a building site near the tracks and had closed the line from Camden Road to Willesden Junction.

Billy Fury Way Finchley

Between Hampstead Heath and Finchley Road and Frognal Stations the Overground runs through a tunnel bored through the heart of the hill. I pass the site of the great composer Edward Elgar’s house and at Finchley Road progress along Billy Fury Way – although unlike Elgar, the 1950’s Rock’n’Roller seems to have a tenuous connection to the area, from what I can find it amounts to occasionally recording at the nearby Decca Studios.

WW2 Bomb Brondesbury Willesden Lane

People mill around at West Hampstead and Brondesbury Stations, trying to plot alternative transport routes with the line still closed. Then at Willesden Lane and Winchester Avenue I come to the police tape closing off the road. The bomb is about 100 yards away beneath a crane of a building site. Everybody has been evacuated from a large area spanning from Brondesbury to Queens Park. Several schools have been closed. There are a group of around 5 or 6 people speaking to the solitary policeman asking when they might be able to go back to their homes. One old man stands stock still on the wrong side of the tape telling the police officer that he doesn’t have anywhere else to go and no family or friends to call. A lady from the Council arrives shortly and takes him off to a refuge Brent Council have set up for residents from the evacuated area. Cars pull up to the road block then turn round and head back down Willesden Lane. It is a surreal scene.

Willesden Junction

I move on through Paddington Old Cemetery and Queens Park, past Kensal Rise Station and arrive tired at Willesden Junction where the London Overground filming resumed with a walk around the area in the company of Iain Sinclair and Chris Petit.

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I could end the walk here, neatly filling in a gap of my Overground circuit a year too late but can feel an extra couple of miles in my feet. I head up Harlesden High Street and then turn west into the Park Royal Industrial Estate – the largest in London. Picking up the A40, a pang of childhood nostalgia that is associated with this road wells up. I grew up within its acoustic footprint some 20+ miles away in Buckinghamshire and this western edge of London was our idea of the big city.

Hoover Building Perivale

The Hoover Building is getting another make-over, from a Tesco megastore to luxury flats. The light fades to black. Tail lights on the incessant thrum of passing cars sparkle like Christmas lights. Time to head up to Perivale station and head home.

Remembrance Sunday Walk

Hanwell Map

Map illustration by Nicolette Craven from This Other London – adventures in the overlooked city

This is the walk I did on Remembrance Sunday in 2012 following a neolithic trackway from Sudbury Hill to Hanwell. A walk that takes you over the summit of Horsenden Hill, according to legend the final resting place of the Saxon chieftain Horsa. Then down through Perivale where Sylvester McCoy’s Dr Who kept visiting in the late 80’s with one episode spookily referencing Horsa’s ghostly steed as told in The Legend of Horsenden Hill. Perivale was also where Horsa’s wife consorted with the little folk giving the name of ‘Fairy Vale’  (ok, there are more prosaic and plausible explanations for the name such as ‘Pure Vale’ for the quality of the corn grown there – or ‘Pear Vale’ due to the orchards).

St Mary's Perivale

Through the lychgate of St Mary’s you find this ancient church dating from 1135 with a C16th white weatherboard tower.

You pass through ‘Blood Croft’ where the bodies of seven Saxon warriors were excavated still wrapped in hemp cloaks fastened by bronze brooches (did they die in the epic battle between Horsa and his rival Bren who had married then dishonoured Horsa’s daughter Ealine? The point where Bren forded the river and was slain in battle took his name – Brentford)

The walk ends beneath the great cathedral of the Industrial Age – Brunel’s Wharnecliffe Viaduct opened in 1837 – the first Grade I listed building in the country. Stand beneath its cavernous arches and hear the whoosh of the turbo trains bound for Slough.

 

From This Other London – adventures in the overlooked city

Walk along the Paddington Arm from Kensal Green to Northolt

Click  photos to enlarge

I haven’t been keen on canal walks recently – finding the towpath restricting my desire to drift and wander, the negation of a chance find at the end of a random sequence of turns. But yesterday I found the removal of choice liberating, locking myself onto the path at Kensal Green then chuntering along like a rickety barge till sunset and my need for beer and food got the better of me – which was around 4 hours later at Northolt, where I stumbled upon the beauties of Belvue Park and found a table at the back of the village pub across the green from St. Mary’s Church.

This branch of the Grand Union Canal offers a scenic slideshow of what remains of the ‘West London Industrial Belt’ – a zone that once employed around a quarter of million workers.
Delicious chocolate odors drift over the water from the United Biscuits factory at Harlesdon. Joggers, cyclists, and fisherman populated the canalside till I passed through Perivale then the people melted away and it was just the swans, ducks and cormorants.

‘The Lost Elysium’ – London walk – Sudbury Hill to Hanwell

'The Lost Elysium' - London walk from Sudbury Hill to Hanwell from fugueur on Vimeo.

Here’s a video I shot on the walk for Chapter 5 of This Other London, following the traces of a neolithic trackway from Sudbury Hill to the Wharnecliffe Viaduct at Hanwell, passing over the top of Horsenden Hill with its wonderful legend of Horsa and his ghostly steed, and through Perivale, the ‘pure vale’.