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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.