On a scorching summer’s day, Clare Wadd undertakes a long-distance west London walk down Uxbridge Road
It’s been a strange but long-held desire, this. Originally conceived before I did much walking in London, and always conceived as something to write about, back in the early days of Smoke – A London Peculiar, I thought it would be interesting – not the walk itself, but the fact of doing it – to walk to Uxbridge down the Uxbridge Road.
It starts at Shepherd’s Bush roundabout and goes kinda straight west-ish for about 15 miles, all the way to Uxbridge. Well, give or take. A manageable distance, a social journey. Maybe a culinary journey too, who knows. The antidote to themed walks, to long-distance trails in beautiful countryside. The starter-finisher project to not aspire to. Long. Dull. Trudgey. It’s taken me a dozen years to finally bother walking it, spurred on by social media, which enables it to be interactive, interesting, and maybe actually fun. Even better, my partner said he wanted to come along (my first thought being oh, that’ll make it really slow, but my second being how much more enjoyable it will be with two).
The day I picked was a really hot one in July. We packed suntan lotion and hats, water, but no food. Who could fail to get something to eat on the Uxbridge Road? Where would you eat your sandwiches anyway?
I used to spend a fair amount of time in Shepherd’s Bush. When I lived in Bristol my friend Harvey lived there, just five minutes from the roundabout, and I often stayed when I needed to be in London. It was handy for the M4, and back then you didn’t need a permit to park. But for a good many years it’s been largely a night-time place for me – The Bush Hall, the Empire. I guess Westfield has changed that for many people, but living in Kingston, it’s not such an obvious draw, as we’re not short on shops ourselves. Westfield did provide a lot of breakfast options though, fuel to hike on, and a good place to note the 1.88 miles already walked before we got to our official start.
I was expecting the barometer on the roundabout to be the bright blue of high pressure, but it was grey against a greyish sky, the sun being late to emerge into a scorching afternoon. I took a moment to enjoy and photograph the roundabout and the West Cross Route’s wonderful “no animals” sign, then off we went.
Starting with Shepherd’s Bush Green, the walk passes a lot of green: several parks, Ealing Common, two golf clubs, and three cemeteries. We didn’t emerge into any open country, any edgelands, ending of city and start of something else, until Hillingdon, but every community had some green space all the same. And on a hot summer’s day it was all being used and enjoyed.
Past the market, under the tube, on to Acton. Opposite the park, we crossed to the south side for Warple Way, the first place I worked in London, back when I really still lived in Bristol. The street follows the line of the Warple (river) as it heads down to the Thames at Chiswick, a brief glimpse of it visible at the southern end of the road. On through the town centre, and then a walk I hadn’t done for a long time, over the common towards Ealing, and that slight gap in between places before you get there. And then packed streets, the hub and buzz of Saturday shoppers on a summer’s day after too much rain, and the obvious excitement of that.
And on and on. Hanwell, where the road is flanked by cemeteries, one an outpost of Kensington and Chelsea. And where there’s a proper old milestone (Uxbridge 8, London 7) to gauge our progress against. We carry on out the other side, through the town centre, and it’s very hot now, but The Viaduct back on the north side looks ok, and we have soft drinks and peanuts at the bar to take the weight off our feet for a while. Leaving, I realise the pub must be named for an actual viaduct and, after we cross The Brent, meandering down to Brentford, we can see it in the middle-distance snaking along, carrying the railway back to Paddington.
An ice cream from a garage, a big hospital complex, Southall Park on the southside, and then Southall itself, the first time I’d set foot there. The high street is packed, and there are three ice cream vans. Sets of park benches in the streets face each other in pairs, with people sitting opposite each other chatting, and you wonder why nowhere else has thought of that – or copied it at least. I’d planned lunch here, but what with the heat, peanuts and ice cream have hit the spot just fine, so we plough on. It’s a bit foot-wearying as we top up the suntan lotion and sensibly put our hats on. The road widens, and we cross the canal and Yeading Brook and arrive at The Parkway, the A312 roaring up to the A40 one way and down to the M4 the other. From here, most of the greenspace parallels us to the north along Yeading Brook into Hayes, but Minet Country Park abuts the roundabout and hugs The Parkway south.
We’re positively flagging now as we force ourselves onwards through the heat into Hayes, where The Uxbridge Road starts to decisively swing off its western path to the north. And then into Hillingdon, where the Celandine Route footpath crosses past us just before we descend the rather lovely wide boulevard of Hillingdon Hill.
Along its route, Uxbridge Road is variously the Vale, The Mall, Broadway and Hillingdon Hill – but it’s always Uxbridge Road until it gets to Uxbridge, or so I tell myself. The Uxbridge Road signs actually peter out at Hillingdon Hill, but we’re carrying on to Uxbridge, so we cross the River Pinn and veer even more northwards into town, onto the High Street and the centre of things. Our end point is the tube station, with its glorious and very welcome curves and roundel. Our long-distance route is complete.
In the pub opposite the station, we wonder if anyone else will ever be foolish enough to follow in our footsteps. Or if there are other London roads we should consider walking. Well, maybe next year…
Clare Wadd has lived in London for 20 years, where she is an active rambler, and a regular contributor to South East Walker magazine. Prior to moving to London, from 1987-1995, she co-ran Sarah Records, recently the subject of a book and an award-winning film. She was also a contributor to Matt Haynes and Jude Rogers’ Smoke magazine.