Sunday, 27 April 2014

London Loop: Moor Park-Hatch End a.k.a. I Meet Another Walker

The great thing about today's instalment of the London Loop was that both the beginning and end points are some the mercifully easier places along the route to get to, being not too far from the lovely Wembley, my humble abode.  In fact, at one point during today's walk I could even see the stadium.

Don't all get the magnifying glasses out at once.

The not so great thing was that most of today's walk was through woodland.

Now, don't get me wrong, I like the woods.  Hanging about in the woods made up a great part of my childhood: playing badminton and getting frustrated when the shuttlecocks blew off course (at that point we hadn't quite realised that badminton was supposed to be an indoor game), searching for places to cross the river via stepping stones, running up vertical slopes and trying not to slide back down again.  These were all fundamental experiences of my youth.  Now, however, as a walker, the woods are nothing if not a constant disappointment to me.

For a start, they are not the same woods I scrambled around in as a child, but even if they were, I probably wouldn't be able to tell, as they basically all look exactly the same.  A few trees here, a bit of mud there, a coarse track there and a few streams running through.  Same-old, same-old.  And when you have travelled a considerable distance to get to the said woods, you want them to be different.  Perhaps one wood could be magical, with elves and flower fairies; another could be the home of the wicked witch/stepmother or whatever incarnation of evil the inevitably female villain was in Hansel and Gretel.  You know, the one who had the house made of sweets.  Another one could even be home to the three bears, of Goldilocks fame, and you could wander in and eat their porridge.

Given that most woods I've come across are pitifully short of toilets or facilities providing food and beverages the latter would be particularly appealing.  Even if porridge is basically just a fancy middle class name for the gruel that used to get served up in Victorian workhouses, which has now been reinvented as a healthy breakfast option sold in little tubs in such normally respectable establishments as Costa Coffee.

Anyway, you get my drift.  I have yet to meet Hansel, Gretel, the Three Bears, the Big Bad Wolf or even a flower fairy.  Woods are boring.

Fortunately, however, these were at least well signposted so I couldn't get lost.  Although there were a few dangerous moments with mud where I thought I was going to need to call the coastguard to winch me out with a crane as I sank deeper into it, never to be seen again.

Beware.  It may look innocuous, but dangers lurk beneath.  And I don't mean the Big Bad Wolf.

There were also the inevitable hair-raising encounters with the animal kingdom, which have a horrible way of sneaking up on you when you least expect it.  You come to a stile, leading into a field, relieved that you are finally, quite literally out of the woods, and can see things other than trees again and what do you know, there's a field full of horses.

Completely unguarded, unfenced, possibly about to kick you to death, HORSES.

They may look harmless here, ladies and gents, but I had to walk RIGHT PAST THEM.  What if they had started neighing?  What if they had reared up?  What if they had got spooked and started running after me in a great herd????  Yes folks, I could have been killed.  You're all lucky I'm still here to tell the tale.

The highlight of today's walk, however, which narrowly beats my miraculous escape from certain death at the hands of a field of horses, was that I actually met another walker.  Yes, met AND had a conversation with!  I honestly thought I was the only person who randomly goes on a jaunt on their own through the woods and across fields for no reason at all of a weekend.  No reason at all.  No dog to walk, no children to entertain, no group of walkers with walking poles to hang out with (shame.  They always seem to know where to find the toilet stops).  Just completely on their own, AND (this is even rarer) under the age of sixty-five!  Yes, a young walker.  Now I hope it's not too presumptuous of me to continue to place myself in the "young" demographic, but by the standards of the walking world, I am so young it's a miracle I can survive outside the womb.  And yet now, here was another person just like me, striding across a golf course in hiking attire with a London Loop guide book glued to his hand.

The Other Walker stopped briefly to compare guidebooks and then challenged me to a race to the finish, albeit one I had to politely decline on account of the unfair disadvantage I had of carrying around another human being inside of my person (well, I hope it's a human being.  It looked sort of like one in the scans.  Difficult to tell though at that age).

Anyway, I think we can categorically confirm that The Other Walker did beat me, despite my catching him going the wrong way and having to backtrack slightly further along the route.  I didn't find his rotting carcass in the field with the horses, having been kicked to death by rampaging equine monsters. Nor did I have to fish him out of the mud, despite his not wearing wellies, unlike me (prepared for every eventuality).  Thank goodness for that.  One would hardly want one's walk to be littered with the bodies of those who've gone before.  I imagine that would be slightly off-putting.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

London Loop: Harefield-Moor Park a.k.a. Beware of the Scary Animals

And so off I went this morning for the latest instalment of my Very Long Walk Around the Edge of London.  After fortifying myself with lunch at the Jimmy's World Buffet in the not very aptly named London Designer Outlet (not part of the route) my journey started back in Harefield (disappointingly, no sign of travellers this time).  After a couple of wrong turnings down suburban streets and a hill of somewhat alarming gradient (shown below.  The bluebells almost made up for the trauma of climbing it)
I found myself in what seemed to be genuine countryside.  

Put it this way, there were animals and everything.  

Yes, animals.  SCARY animals.  Not like wolves or yetis, or the Beast of Bodmin Moor, although I suppose in medieval times there may well have been a few of those peppering the English countryside.  Along with all those dragons and unicorns and things.  These were cows.

Now cows are quite sweet really.  They always look nice and friendly when they're on Countryfile.  Even the boy cows.  The difference of course, being that everything looks better on TV, even my rabbit-fur coat, which one of my students said made me look "posh" when I appeared on TV (don't ask) wearing it, but which in real life resembles a selection of soggy dead rabbits strung together in the 1970s, which of course it is.  And that's why I love it.

Anyway, up close, cows are, of course, terrifying.  This is because:
a) They are animals, and hence inherently unpredictable.
b) Although you usually only see lady cows, recognisable from their huge great udders, one always suspects that there must be a boy cow lurking somewhere nearby.  And I have an orange jacket.  This could surely be mistaken for red by a cow.  Also I have seen cows try to mount each other on previous expeditions, so one can never really be sure what goes on.
c) They are ridiculously enormous and more than capable of crushing to death little me.  This happens kids.  I have read about it in the papers, but for some reason these unfortunate deaths always seem to be hushed up.  Probably some sort of conspiracy on the part of the dairy industry.

Anyway, I got past the cows without incident (they were quite far away, and so probably more interested in chewing bits of grass than they were in me), only to cross into another field where there was.....

.......another enormous cow!  And this time it was stood right in front of me!  My entire life flashed before my eyes in a way that it hadn't since 2009, when I found myself halfway down a grade of ski slope that was slightly too difficult for my modest abilities.  

I was going to take a picture but I thought the cow might get angry and think I was trying to steal its soul or something, and my main aim was total non-provocation of the cow, whilst looking like a pro who deals with farm animals all the time, like I will have to if I am ever to fulfil my dream of becoming a Countryfile presenter (being from the West Country, I can do a pretty good farmer accent, and thus consider myself eminently suitable for the role).  Therefore I regret to say that there is no documented evidence of this cow, nor of its scary nature, but needless to say, the cow did not react to me-nor my orange jacket-at all, except to look at me briefly to see where I was going.  And thus ended my encounter with the cows.  I then came across a few fields of horses, who are possibly more scary than cows.  I'm not sure of the exact statistics, but I'm pretty sure that more people get killed by horses in one way or another than get killed by cows, but maybe that's because people are always trying to do ill advised things around horses, like ride on them, whereas very few people attempt to do that to cows (not sure why?  Perhaps I should attempt to popularise cow-riding as a sport.  Although come to think of it, I probably wouldn't be that good at it if I tremble with fear at the sight of one in close proximity in a field).  Anyway, here are the horses, safely behind a fence I'm happy to say.  A fence that they could probably jump over if they wanted to, but a fence nevertheless.  A nice psychological barrier between me and the Scary Animals.
Speaking of scary things, it was shortly after this that I found myself in the Actual Middle of Nowhere. Look!
There is literally nothing here (apart from my finger getting in the way of the camera).  And it was like this for AGES.  It occurred to me that if something bad happened, like for example if I suddenly went into premature labour, there would be nothing and no one to help.  FOR MILES AROUND!  What a terrifying day this was turning into.

And then, to cap it all off, I got lost in these woods.

Totally lost.  Fortunately, I did eventually manage to find my way back to the path, after the usual unwelcome hike along a main road with no pavement, which is what always happens when I get lost.  Why do they make roads with no pavements?  Does nobody spare a thought anymore for the humble pedestrian who finds herself in the middle of nowhere?

Once back on the main trail, and after a long period of time with no human company or interaction whatsoever, I finally stumbled across none other than some other walkers.  Other people go walking!  Around the London Loop!  Who'd have thought it?  They weren't Serious Hikers like me though.  Even though one of them had in his possession what looked suspiciously like an Ordnance Survey map, I noted that they were wearing jeans.  Jeans!  What if it had rained?  No Serious Hiker sets out in a pair of jeans.  They were definitely no match for me.
Serious Hikers not pictured in the distance here.  Just amateurs in jeans.

They did get to the end before me though, even though their wives were lagging somewhat behind having a bizarre conversation about what happens when you die.  Apparently, your "energy goes up to the stratosphere."  I shall be looking out for all those energies, next time I'm travelling by plane.  That is, if I'm not too busy worrying about my own impending death, as I usually am on planes.  And when stumbling across animals in fields.  And when finding myself on slightly too challenging ski slopes.......

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

London Loop: Uxbridge-Harefield a.k.a. Wandering around for ages in the blazing heat, looking for a bus stop

So I now know what Harefield is like, having actually visited such places as "Mount Pleasant," which one normally only sees emblazoned on the front of dire-looking buses which mostly do the rounds of grimly boring suburban streets.  And surprisingly, Mount Pleasant is actually quite pleasant, if not technically a mountain.  In fact, Harefield in general is lovely, though in mitigation I will say that 
a) the weather was very nice today, which may have made it look better and
b) there was still a generous smattering of enormous England flags flapping in gardens and Dappy from N-Dubz lookalikes talking about selling drugs on the bus (as in, they just happened to be discussing the selling of narcotics whilst sitting on the bus, not actually setting up shop on the back seat.  Harefield definitely would have gone down in my estimation if that were the case).

Anyway, today's journey started in Uxbridge, a place well known mainly for housing large numbers of my students, some of whom seemed frankly astonished to see me pounding the streets of their local shopping centre looking for the toilets (as usual).  I'm not sure whether the gasps of "Oh my God!" as I walked past were due to the fact that they could scarcely fathom that I had a life outside school and do not in fact reside in a cupboard marking books all through the Easter holidays, or whether they simply couldn't believe that I would actually spend my time in a shopping centre where the most interesting shop was a stall in the middle selling balls of wool in a variety of different colours.

Naturally, I hastily left Uxbridge as quickly as I could and headed off down what seems (judging by the last few sections of this walk) to be a never-ending stretch of canal towpath (probably because it goes all the way to Birmingham, although mercifully I was not planning on going that far).  Not much to report here, except that at one point someone who'd clearly had a bit too much of the Special Brew shouted out "What are you having?  A baby?" at me, in what I presume is the pregnancy version of being leched at by a leering sexist.  I answered that I hoped I was indeed having a baby, to which he demanded to know if said baby was a boy or a girl.  Speaking of which, I have noticed that large numbers of people tend to ask me the question "What are you having?" apparently with the assumption that I will know they mean boy or girl.  Not only is it somewhat presumptuous of them to assume I will know the answer to that, given that I can't actually see what's in there, but surely there are a range of answers that could be given to such an open line of questioning.  Next time someone asks me this I may say that I am having a gastric band operation, for example.  Or possibly that I have been impregnated by an alien, or am acting as a surrogate for Tian Tian the giant panda from Edinburgh Zoo.  Although if the latter was actually the case, surely I would not be so fat, as I have seen panda babies and they are SMALL.

Anyway, not much else to report, except that I think I found the remnants of Noah's Ark lying next to the canal.
Well it might be.  It looks more convincing than the boat-shaped rock I saw being passed off as the remains of the Ark on a Channel 5 documentary once.

In other news, there are some really nice parts of Hillingdon (who knew?) including this sailing club in Denham, which I admit you can barely see through the trees in this picture, but it was the only spot where there was a seat.  And I'm pregnant goddamit.  I need to sit down.  
And look at this lovely tree, complete with idyllic thatched cottage.
Group of chavs to the left peering at a car just out of shot.

The biggest disappointment of the day was that after a thoroughly pleasant walk where I had not been desperate for the toilet even once, and had only spent the first half of the walk urgently seeking something to eat (at one point even passing food-related flotsam, such as discarded fast food containers and a fleeting glimpse of a packet of oatcakes through the window of a passing barge started to look appealing.  After all I am pregnant, and therefore allowed to eat large pieces of chocolate cake whilst watching Secret Eaters without shame) I then spent half an hour wandering the streets of Harefield looking for a bus stop.  

I totally should have got a lift with the small child who thundered past on one of those pony trap thingys people are always racing on Big Fat Gypsy Weddings.  Sadly he was going far too fast for me to whip out the camera and take a picture of this marvellous moment, where I thought I might get a cameo in Big Fat Gypsy Weddings, and have to christen my baby Prince Precious Paddy Doherty Excalibur Michael Jackson Humpty Dumpty the Third and dress him in the biggest rhinestone-studded Christening gown ever made, and then get drunk in a limo whilst throwing cake around and feeding the baby Lambrini in his bottle to celebrate the momentous event.

But anyway, it appears that I am not destined to be a traveller, and instead I found the bus stop (eventually) after someone thoughtfully pointed out that it might be on the main road rather than in the middle of a car park, and hence I returned home safely.  

Until the next instalment of my thrilling round trip of the London hinterland.