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.

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