Wandel naar je Werk Dag

On 4 April, I celebrated the (Dutch) National Walk to Work Day by adding a London dimension. The 7.5km walk took an hour and twenty minutes.

I delayed my usual departure time from home, because there was simply not enough light, and I did not want to trip over any ropes, clutter or herons on the Grand Union Canal towpath. By 0610, half an hour before sunrise, and therefore at the traditional end of lighting-up time (before light-sensitive street-lamps had been invented), I decided that it was light enough to venture forth. A short trip along the side of the park, and I was on the canal towpath.

The tree stands as the last vestige of the east bank of the canal, now overrun by water entering the former quarry area, now a marina

The walk along the canal was as noisy as my usual bus journey, but instead of the raucous bellowing into mobile phones, the unprivatised drone of on-phone entertainment, and so on, the soundtrack was provided by a vast orchestra of birds — in the trees, the robins, blackbird, tits, finches and pigeons of suburban life; out on the water, ducks and coots, the squeaky gate call of a moorhen, and the braying of the geese which brings to mind PG Wodehouse’s classic “when aunt is calling to aunt, like mastodons bellowing across primeval swamps”. Down at Denham Deep Lock (a shame the café is shut at that time of day … and ditto with the Swan and Bottle later in the walk), the soundscape gained a drone: not a bagpiper, but the growl and thrum of the A40, always busy.

The carrier name lives on in this barge
Bridge at the south end of the former quarry area
Approaching Denham Deep Lock from the north
Beneath the canal just north of Denham Deep Lock, the Frays River runs. The Frays was manufactured to tap the River Colne to feed mills in Uxbridge, and runs parallel to the natural river through the town.
Denham Deep Lock is the deepest on the Grand Union Canal at 3.5m.

Once underneath the main road, suburbia returns. Across the canal, the 1920s Willowbank community is first to appear, but after a divergence on the canal, the right bank is filled with new housing built on the site (for a thousand years) of a flour mill on King’s Island: this is the Kingsmill on the wrappers of supermarket loaves nationwide. The towpath crosses to the west side just in time to run alongside the seventeenth-century Swan and Bottle pub (formerly two pubs: guess what each was called).

The noise of a wide range of birds, from robin to heron, is overwhelmed by the noise of the A40 road.
One may see why the houses in the background are in an area known as Willowbank. The sun has not yet risen far enough to gild the leaves at lower levels.
One may see why the houses in the background are in an area known as Willowbank. The sun has not yet risen far enough to gild the leaves at lower levels.
A duck swims past the gilded reflections of housing on King’s Island
Kingsmill, the supermarket bread brand, takes its name from a mill which stood here for a thousand years. It was knocked down and replaced by rather drab housing.

The exit from the pub car park is really the hinge of the walk: a main left turn, and the transition from towpath to road. But before turning left towards Uxbridge High Street, I crossed Oxford Road (patience required) to re-acquaint myself with the coal tax plaque on the bridge over the Colne. Here, the river marks the boundary of the London coal tax area: in the 1860s, the Corporation of the City of London levied tax on coal and wine brought into London (as defined by the Metropolitan Police District, which comprised parishes which were, in whole or in part, within 25km (of course, it was defined as 15 miles in those days) of St Martin le Grand, next to St Paul’s Cathedral. There are over 200 markers still in place: see the Coal Tax Circuit for a route round them all.

The Swan and Bottle was once two adjacent pubs (and you can probably work out what each was called). This seventeenth-century building predates the canal, and indeed predates the Civil War.

From the bridge, I went past the shell of the Crown and Treaty Inn, crossed at the lights, and walked up the High Street, past the court, the market hall, the Tube station and the Civic Centre, to St Andrew’s roundabout, and then along Hillingdon Road and up Kingston Lane to Eastern Gateway where, as luck would have it, Tom Betteridge was on hand to take my arrival photo, and to chat about the possibility of a Brunel Walk to Work Day later in the year.

Near the Swan and Bottle, the bridge is graced with a Coal Tax marker from the early 1860s: anyone bringing in coal or wine to London was liable to be taxed by the Corporation of the City of London. The markers were, I believe, merely a last-ditch attempt at a show of strength from the Corporation, who had been losing out to other authorities which had been gaining power over a rapidly expanding London.
I could have waited at home for 45 minutes and caught this very bus, but it would have been far less interesting.
The old market hall on Uxbridge High Street
Uxbridge Tube station, the end of the Metropolitan Line.

It is not a route to work I’d choose every day (I have walked the towpath in deep snow after all buses were recalled, but that was when it was the only option), but I arrived in good form, ready to tackle the working day. Wandel naar je Werk Dag does not require its Dutch participants to walk all the way, but just to incorporate some walking into the route on the day. It might be a case of walking the first or final stage to or from a station, getting off a bus a couple of stops short of the usual, or even parking at the far end of the campus.

I commend the idea to all.

Arrival at work: fortunately, a Dean was on hand to capture the event.


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