Sunday, 23 February 2014

London Loop: Hatton Cross-Hayes and Harlington a.k.a Where I try to circumnavigate Heathrow Airport and fail miserably

Firstly, this walk began in a ludicrous location.  Walking out of Hatton Cross tube station is basically like walking into Heathrow Airport, except that you have got off the tube one stop early and seem to have ended up on the actual runway with planes landing on your head, while the occasional pack of plane-spotters (invariably middle aged men.  Funny how you never see a woman with such an utterly pointless hobby) roam around looking a bit dazed, like that paparazzi bloke from Airport (surely the most amazing documentary series ever.  Or at least of the entire 90s) got lost and ended up outside the perimeter fence, desperately trying to find a way back in.

I haven't quite captured the moment here, mainly as every other time a plane went past, I didn't have time to get my phone out before it headed straight for me and I had to run away screaming like the cartoon air traffic controller in the opening credits of Jimbo and the Jet Set.

Anyway, by far the worst thing about Hatton Cross was not the noise, nor the ever-present concern that  one of these planes was going to miss the runway and land on me, but the fact that by the end of the unfathomably long time it had taken me to get there, I was naturally dying for the loo.

Not again.

I therefore spent the first part of the walk again searching fruitlessly for a toilet.  There were no toilets in Hatton Cross Station-sacriledge!  Do not pass by yonder Hatton Cross, O ye of weak bladder-and although there was one pub, I didn't want to spend the first part of my walk being forced to sit in some local-yokel hostelry drinking an orange juice that I didn't want purely for the pleasure of using the facilities.  Before long, things got really desperate as not only did I need the loo, but I realised that I had also gone the wrong way, and had no idea where I was.  I turned back and walked towards the airport, wondering exactly how I was going to get round this.

At that point, however, I spotted a BP garage which had-hallelujah!-a fully functioning toilet.

After my trip to the toilet, I was suddenly able to see things with a bit more clarity and focus, which led to the conclusion that I had gone the wrong way for a second time.  I had by this point wasted around an hour to-ing and fro-ing along various bleak dual carriageways.

Finally, with the correct route identified, I set off on a typical London Loop trek, meaning that it took me on a path past a grim local river that now mainly seems to be used for fly-tipping, through the occasional deserted park and intermittently through subways underneath huge roundabouts.  Ah, the joys of West London's premier beauty spots.  Eventually, I ended up in the borough of Hillingdon, where this scenic vista awaited me.

Another one of West London's hidden gems.

The final stretch was along a canal towpath, which I had been hoping would be a bit more palatable, but which had a distinct aura of when-Dirty-Den-died-the-first-time in Eastenders.  In other words, deserted apart from the occasional shady character lurking in the shadows looking as though they were waiting to do a drug deal or, more alarmingly, attack some lonely walker and throw her in the canal, or shoot her through a bunch of daffodils, or however it happened in Eastenders when Dirty Den died but then turned out twenty years later not to have died, or whatever ludicrousness it was.

Eventually I spotted some narrowboats on the horizon and a return to civilisation, civilisation in this case being represented by Hayes and Harlington Station, and was briefly chatted up (AGAIN!  What is it with men and the lure of a pair of muddy wellingtons and a bright green fleece?), this time by an alcoholic OAP on crutches who was inexplicably convinced that I would linger on the towpath to exchange pleasantries with him.

I ran away.  Straight into Coffee Republic, where I was tortured by the barista singing along in an alarmingly high-pitched tone to what appeared to be an album of Rihanna covers sung in a depressing Magic FM style by a random bloke.

Let's hope the next section will be more picturesque.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

London Loop: Fulwell-Feltham a.k.a. Where I Have to Abandon Walk due to Toilet Emergency

So I thought it was time I did some more walking.

Have been on a bit of a hiatus recently as you can see from this blog, and every time someone has asked me when I am going to be walking again I've had to mutter something about the floods currently sweeping the nation and how awful it is and how every walking route in the country is most likely submerged under a few feet of water; when in fact the true reason I have not been walking is simply because I am pregnant.  And pregnant women obviously can't do any exercise, right?  At least, not any that causes one to be out of breath, apparently, which for me would pretty much mean that walking up the stairs at Wembley Park tube station is prohibited.

Anyway, I figured that now I am "safely" in the second trimester ("safe" is obviously a misnomer in pregnancy.  For example I have just spent the last five hours fretting that something terrible has happened to the baby because I hadn't felt it move since my particularly difficult walking experience today, and googling whether needing the toilet for excessive periods of time without being able to find one is likely to cause the foetus to expire with the sheer stress of it all).

So off I went to Fulwell, which is somewhere sort of near Kingston (as in, upon-Thames, obvs.  Not Jamaica).  I had a pleasant walking experience last week, the first since my long hiatus, walking from Kingston to Fulwell, which was a shorter distance that I usually do (have to make some allowances for the extra weight I'm now carrying and the delicate state of my mental health when it comes to stressing about doing too much exercise or being in places without guaranteed toilet facilities), with a conveniently placed cafe mid-walk and a John Lewis right on hand to dash into when it started raining, so I had clearly been lulled into a false sense of security about how easy walking "with child" was going to be.

That sense of security was to be completely shattered today.

Firstly, it started raining at the precise minute I stepped off the train at Fulwell Station.  The rain then got progressively harder and I made a series of poor decisions, including not stopping under a bus shelter to put my waterproof trousers on lest people in passing cars think I am getting changed in the street, and what would they think, and O the indignity of it all!

I ended up walking along the banks of a river somewhere in the vague direction of Heathrow Airport through a quagmire of mud and sludge, getting wet, needing the loo and wondering why I had ever left my nice, warm flat that morning.  The rain eventually eased off.  The longing for a toilet, however, got worse and worse.
Dear Rainbow, please grant my wish.  Please can I have a healthy baby.  Oh, and MAKE SURE THERE'S A TOILET SOON!

There wasn't.  Bloody rainbow.

Shortly after this, I found myself on Hounslow Heath, which according to my London Loop guide book, was a pretty spooky place back in the 1700s, liberally scattered with highwaymen and rotting corpses swinging on gibbets, both of which I would have gladly braved had there been a working toilet in the vicinity.  I have to admit, there were times when I thought today was going to go down in history as the shameful day I had a poo on Hounslow Heath, in full view of the planes approaching Heathrow Airport, and probably found myself in the Daily Mail's sidebar of shame, alongside a heading along the lines of "Woman caught crouching in field near Heathrow DEFECATING brings SHAME ON THE NATION!!!!  Cameron outraged and pledges to leave "no stone unturned" in hunt for "Heathrow Horror."

"Any chance of a lift to Terminal 5?  I know for a fact there are toilets there.  Just let me cling on to the underside, yeah?"

Luckily, it was not to be, and I did manage to hold it in, but I had to escape from the heath onto a suburban street, where I made my way to the nearest main road, clutching my distended abdomen and now visibly in so much pain that people on the street probably thought I was in labour.

Eventually I reached a hotel full of Eastern European air cabin crew-a massive benefit of being near the airport as it is much easier to sneak into a hotel and use the facilities without having to buy anything than it is in a pub or restaurant-and was able to find some relief.  After that, it was fortunately only a short walk to Feltham Station, which was completely off the route and not the eventual destination I had anticipated, but there was no way I was going to continue walking after such a traumatic experience.

As I was making my way to the platform, believe it or not, some lecherous man actually tried to CHAT ME UP.  This despite the fact that I was four and a half months pregnant, wearing mud-splattered wellies and a bright green fleece and looked as though I probably had just hitched a ride to Heathrow on the underside of a plane.  Now that is someone with no shame.