A walk along the River Pinn following the Celandine Route

I’d passed over the River Pinn on a number of previous walks – usually on treks heading West out of London. It always struck me as a particularly beguiling watercourse trundling down through the western suburbs. I vowed to return and walk its length and one Easter a few years ago set off to Paddington to catch the train to West Drayton and follow the Pinn from its confluence with the Colne back to its source high up in the hills of Harrow. But the rain lashed down so hard, bouncing off the pavement and forming a new river that ran down from Praed Street into the Station, that I had to abandon my venture. It was only in October of this year that I decided to return to walk the Celandine Route, a 12-mile trail created by Hillingdon Council that follows the Pinn

The River Pinn rises on Harrow Weald Common and flows through Pinner, Ruislip, and Uxbridge to make its confluence with Frays River and combined they run into the River Colne on the edge of West Drayton. It is one of the three main rivers of the old county of Middlesex. This time I decided to start my walk at Pinner where The Celandine Route starts at Bridge Street near the junction with Pinner High Street, at the point the Pinn was dammed during WW2 to provide water to put out fires.

The River Pinn at Pinner
River Pinn at Pinner

The green wrought iron railings in a lane behind some shops and offices could only be guarding something precious and sacred. Below trundles the gentle River Pinn, which I greet before the walk deviates from the course of the river through Pinner Memorial Gardens. The watercourse is picked up as it flows through Cuckoo Hill Allotments and I could follow it closely for most of the way ahead.

The Pinn leads us to the beautiful walled garden at Eastcote House which dates from the 17th Century and then to the ancient Ruislip Manor House with its majestic great barn which was built around the year 1300. There is also the remains of a Motte and Bailey Castle on the site, and a branch of Ruislip Library in the Little Barn which was built some point before 1600.

Eastcote House Gardens on the River Pinn walk
Eastcote House Gardens
Ruislip Manor House - River Pinn walk
Ruislip Manor House

It was a walk rich in history, revealing a lost world of Old Middlesex. Where the river curves around Ruislip Golf Course, the Hillingdon Hoard was discovered consisting of Iron Age coins believed to date from the 1st Century BC. They were turned up during HS2 works close to the river, leading to the supposition that they may have been a votive offering. The next site of interest we pass along the river is Pynchester Moat created sometime in the 13th or 14th Century and now slumbering in suburbia.

The rain did come down intermittently throughout the walk but at no point did it detract from the pleasure of this riverine stroll, not even when it became clear that I’d be unable to complete the route in daylight. After crossing the A40 I bade farewell to the spirit of the Pinn and headed off towards a crimson sunset breaking over Uxbridge to mull over the day sipping a mug of tea in Starbucks.

Walking the Metropolitan Line Finchley Road to Northwood

Kilburn Station bridge

I needed to cover some mileage after an August of relatively shorter walks. To that end some sort of constrained walk was required where I could just follow a pre-ordained route or path – a road, river, trackway, railway, or something more esoteric or abstract that avoided an undue amount of map reading. The Metropolitan Line appealed as it would take me out to the edge of London being one of only two lines on the Underground that ventures outside Greater London (the Central Line is the other and that wasn’t running east from Bethnal Green due to new track being laid at Leytonstone).

I caught the Overground to Finchley Road and Frognal and made my way the short distance to Finchley Road Tube Station on the Metropolitan Line. Examining the map in the Station I figured that anywhere past Pinner would be a bonus – it was 1pm, I was leaving late as ever.

This first section to Wembley Park is one of the longest gaps between stations on the Underground – the longest being further along the Metropolitan Line between Chalfont & Latimer and Chesham at 3.9 miles – although Finchley Road to Wembley Park can’t be far behind. My walking route stuck fairly close to the track as far as Neasden where I then had to take a series of loops around Neasden Rail Depot, then along the North Circular, before crossing and heading up Blackbird Hill and reconnecting with the Metropolitan Line at Wembley Park Station. This two station leg of the walk clocked in at 9 miles somehow, which I’m still struggling to understand.

Metroland 2017

Slicing through West Hampstead, Kilburn, Willesden Green and Dollis Hill to Neasden was a slideshow of late Victorian and Edwardian railway suburbs bisected by traffic-clogged High Roads blackened by pollution. The tube trains rattled by behind the tall houses at the end of the gardens, heard but rarely seen from the street. It was a drizzly Sunday, a premature end to the summer, few people about.  There were early signs of Metroland suburban villas in Brondesbury and Kilburn, redbrick medievalism, rookeries of accountants that spawned a generation of soap opera actors and rock stars. I wonder who lives there now.

Wembley development
Nascent high-rise blocks are going up around Wembley Stadium, I still miss the old towers, that new arch just doesn’t have the same grandeur. Soon the once historic home of football will just be a feature in another ‘area of opportunity’ dwarfed by the ‘safety-deposit boxes in the sky’.

After checking in at Preston Road Station, which looks oddly like it was plonked down on someone’s house when they relocated the station from across the road in 1932 and shortened the name from Preston Road Halt for Uxendon and Kenton, I cross John Billam Sports Ground to Woodcock Hill. The leaves on the trees that flank the Tube tracks are along turning bronze and amber, autumn seems to have arrived early this year, the price for that early burst of hot summer that feels long ago.

Harrow-on-the-Hill town centre was not flattered by the grey spittle celebrating the closing of the shops. I needed a cup of tea and a rest so headed to the shopping centre food court where long queues formed at Subway and Burger King so I crossed back to the Costa Coffee by the Tube Station and watched the shoppers evacuating the Town Centre like the fall of Saigon.

Pinner Court North Harrow

Pinner Court

Leaving North Harrow I spotted an opportunity to make a long-delayed visit to Pinner Court – an art deco development of apartment buildings described in SPB Mais’ 1937 book England’s Character. Mais describes an expedition ‘suburb hunting’ in north-west London and writes of a “surprising moment of courage in building a series of dazzling white flats with green tiles, recessed balconies, multitudinous glass, and terraces fronting a communal public unfenced garden.” When I first read this 6 years ago I used the internet to track down the location of the flats at Pinner Court and planned a trip that I never made – it was slated as an episode of Ventures of Adventures in Topography, then a chapter of This Other London but remained elusive. Finally standing there on the unfenced public garden out front as described by Mais it didn’t disappoint. The building, designed by architect HJ Mark and completed in 1936 would have been gleaming new when Mais visited, it still sparkles even in the rain.

Pinner Court North Harrow

Pinner Court

I wished I had more time to loiter in Pinner, but the light was fading along with my stamina and to stop now would have been fatal. Carluccio’s was bustling and there wasn’t a table to spare in Cafe Rouge. There were a couple of inviting old pubs beneath the church on the hill. I pushed on along the road to Northwood Hills and was rewarded by another modernist wonder at Elm Park Court designed by HF Webb also in 1936.

Elm Park Court Northwood Pinner

Elm Park Court

The rain hardened as I approached Northwood Hill station. I dug my poundshop groundsheet from my rucksack and spread it on a wet bench and munched an dinner of bread and banana. I was tired now but determined to chalk off one more station so forced myself onwards to Northwood with its proud high street and war memorial. Luckily there was a comfortable friendly pub not far from the station where the locals watched the Belgium v Greece match. A singer with a guitar started playing cover versions to a digital backing track and people instantly got up and danced. The perfect end to a walk into Metroland.

Northwood Hills