Walking from Uxbridge to Staines on the western edges of London. This low-lying landscape has been carved by rivers & canals, dug for gravel & heaped with London’s unwanted waste. The M25, M4 and Heathrow dominate, but in the gaps between, nature flourishes.
From Uxbridge, a path follows the Grand Union Canal, before crossing the River Colne and Colne Brook via the A4007. A footpath then follows the Colne Brook, but we found it too overgrown to follow, so we went off-path.
A detour across a scrubby field and past a derelict gatehouse led us to the M25. Here, the Colne Brook flows beneath the motorway. This isn’t a public right-of-way. The ceiling gets lower as you go; we went from an awkward, crouched shuffle to a claustrophobic crawl.
We followed the Colne Brook south, then took a lane over the M25 towards Palmers Moor Farm and Huntsmoor Park. A footpath meanders alongside the River Colne, weaving between submerged gravel pits, now repurposed as fishing lakes.
Layers and landfill
The Slough arm of the Grand Union Canal slides over this wet landscape, flowing along a late 19th century aqueduct. This canal once carried bricks from Slough to fuel London’s growth. When the brick pits were exhausted, London sent its waste back along the canal, filling the pocked landscape with its unwanted rubbish.
Landfill is a constant companion on this walk, the soil a shallow layer over black clinker, crumbling bricks and broken bottles. This is pre-plastic dumping, relatively benign compared to the rich petrochemical mix and pollutants of later landfill.
The path continues alongside the Colne Brook, passing under raised railway tracks and entering the manicured lawns of Thorney Park Golf course, where all signage vanishes. Wandering the golf club’s fringes, we eventually picked up the correct path and followed the River Colne towards Frays Island Nature Reserve.
Frays Island is a wonderfully unkempt nature reserve, a tangle of fallen trees, crack willow & lost paths. Losing the path again, we followed the water. The Colne flows south, passing expensive back gardens and low level industrial estates.
Uxbridge to Staines, via Heathrow
Passing under the M4, the river splits and the path follows the Wraysbury River. This is Harmondsworth Moor, a former landfill site which has been re-landscaped to create a pleasingly wild public park. It’s beautiful, and it will be obliterated by the proposed Heathrow expansion.
The path crosses the A4 and Longfordmoor, and onto the ‘Heathrow Biodiversity Site’. This is essentially a large expanse of landfill below the Heathrow airport flightpath, blighted by aircraft lumbering into the sky above.
The landfill leads to a path under Airport Way, and we then followed Horton Road into Stanwell Moor, grabbing welcome refreshments at The Anchor. Heading south, we picked up the footpath along the north-western border of the enormous King George VI Reservoir, before branching out onto Staines Moor.
Even with the light fading fast, Staines Moor is a magical place. We followed the shimmer of the River Colne, the moor a pool of darkness, an unseen emptiness bordering the M25. Then onto Staines, with its drive-through Maccy Ds, endless car parks & bright shopping malls; and a train home.
My thanks to Graham Hood for company on this walk, undertaken in February 2020.