Sunday 8th December 2013
5 miles approx
Toilets: Shopping centre and various pubs in Uxbridge; Colne Valley Park Visitor Centre (1/3 mile off route); Horse & Barge pub, Moorhall Road; Old Orchard pub, Harefield; Kings Arms pub, Harefield; public toilets, Harefield.
After getting a load of uni work out of the way, there was finally time to go for a walk and continue our Grand Union Canal journey from Uxbridge. When the Metropolitan Line reached Harrow on the Hill, there was a funny smell which turned out to be coming from a steam train. It was time for some trainspotter-spotting. All the way to Uxbridge, at every station and every bridge, there were middle-aged men with cameras. A few minutes after we arrived by more conventional means, the steam train arrived. They do sometimes run these heritage days on the Met Line, but I’m glad it doesn’t happen too often as the building was momentarily filled with steam and we felt little bits of soot falling on us.
After a quick stop-off at the shopping centre, we walked through the streets of Uxbridge to join the canal. It was a beautiful day – very sunny with blue skies, and not quite as cold as we’d been expecting. There weren’t many murals under bridges compared to the inner London sections of canal, but we did see this impressive one with lots of animals.
We passed through a couple of industrial areas, though it’s all relative and was nothing like the grimier bits we’ve walked along in the past. The canal finally started to take on an almost-rural feel. I say almost-rural, because a lot of the London Loop seems to go around these sorts of areas at the very edge of London. Semi-rural, but sort-of attached to suburbia in some places but not in others. Edge-of-town industrial estates next to rivers and fields. Areas provoking endless discussion about whether they’re rural or urban, concluding with something in between. In this case, a canal that looks picturesque in the photo, but had the background roar of the A40 and M40.
We passed under the A40 and the noise gradually started to fade. There were rivers nearby, as well as lakes formed from old quarries. Some of the path was muddy and we were glad to be wearing walking boots.
We passed a turning for the Colne Valley Park Visitor Centre, and Fran’s Tea Room a bit further on at Denham Lock. We passed under a railway, then by Harefield Marina, where a heron declined to be photographed. Further up at Black Jack’s Lock was a B&B, Black Jack’s Mill, which looked lovely for an overnight stay for anyone wanting to do a multi-day walk.
Having researched lunch stops in advance, we turned off the canal here and walked up a hill to the Old Orchard pub, from where there was a lovely view over the lakes below. As it was mid-December we had to wait a while for a table, but it was definitely worth it as the food was absolutely delicious with several great vegetarian options and no token ones, and there was a warm atmosphere. The original plan had been to walk ten miles to Watford, or stop off early at Rickmansworth if we lost time. In the end we enjoyed the Old Orchard so much that we decided to end the walk at Harefield, as sunset was before 4pm and there wouldn’t have been time to make it safely to Rickmansworth before dark. We walked up the road to get the bus (note: the Old Orchard is near Black Jack’s Lock, which is not as far up as the official London Loop end point at Harefield West, where the Coy Carp pub is). The U9 bus to Uxbridge now goes once an hour on Sundays. We walked a little bit further up to the village green, where the 331 took us to Northwood (it goes on to Ruislip afterwards, or to Uxbridge if you go in the other direction).
When we were approaching Harrow on the Hill on the way back, the driver warned us beforehand that the station would be very crowded due to “all the trainspotters on the platform”.