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Long-Distance Walks with Mark Moxon

Capital Ring: Day 10: South Kenton to Hendon Park

The pond on top of Barn Hill
The pond on top of Barn Hill

I got lost twice on this short, 5.9 mile walk, which probably says more about my concentration levels than anything else: in this part of the world the signs for the Capital Ring are plentiful and always point in the right direction (unlike on day 1), and the maps in the Capital Ring guide are beyond reproach, but I still managed to daydream my way past two turnings, and I didn't notice until I'd overshot by a considerable margin. I've therefore seen quite a bit more of suburban London than I wanted to, which is a pity, because the rural parts of this walk are by far the most interesting bits.

Don't be put off by the view that greets you as you step out of South Kenton station; the depressing mess behind the block of flats by the station and the dismal Windermere pub are not particularly typical of this section of the Ring, though the day does start off with a relatively long section through the streets of Preston that holds no surprises. Happily it's not long before the path ducks under the railway line and turns north to follow the railway to the edges of Fryent Country Park; unfortunately, though, I can't tell you about this particular stretch, as I failed to turn north and instead plodded uphill, heading due east, up a steep suburban hill that did at least provide me with a good view over my shoulder of Horsenden Hill and Harrow-on-the-Hill from day 9. By the time I realised my error, I had pretty much reached the summit of Barn Hill, which the Ring proper approaches through the greenery of the country park.

St Andrew's Church
St Andrew's Church

Still, it doesn't particularly matter how you approach the top of Barn Hill, because there are precious few views to be had anyway. Instead the hill is clad in enjoyable woodland, and at the top is a lovely little pond that was created by the landscape designer Humphry Repton. Just around the corner from the pond is the trig point on the summit, and at last you get a taste of how high you are, for there, bang in front of you, is the glory of Wembley Stadium, with the North Downs visible in the distance (if you're there on a clear day, as I was lucky enough to be).

Following the theme of day 9, day 10 also decides that one hill isn't enough, and heads back down into Fryent Country Park, across the lethal A4140 (where you'll have to wait a long time to cross), and back up the flanks of a neighbouring hill, Gotfords Hill. This time the views are everywhere, as there are practically no trees to shelter you from the vista (or, come to think of it, the wind). Again, you can clearly see yesterday's twin peaks in the distance, and to the northwest the red houses of suburban north London stretch all the way to the hills in the distance. It's a great view.

Unfortunately the next section is fairly bland, plodding down through the suburban streets of Kingsbury towards St Andrew's Church, which is only notable because there's an old church and a new one, the old one mouldering quietly in the background, boarded up and unloved, next to its younger brother, who was originally built 1847 in Marylebone, but was moved to Kingsbury, brick by brick, in 1931.

The northern arm of Brent Reservoir
The northern arm of Brent Reservoir

After the excitement of Kingsbury, it's a relief to reach Brent Reservoir, or as it's locally know, the Welsh Harp. Dating from 1883, when it was built to supply water to the Regent's Canal, this huge lake is home to a pleasant park along the northern shores (the southern shores are considerably more built up). Although the Ring follows a gravelled path along the side of the lake, there's a much more pleasant grass path down by the shore, which you can reach by turning right just after the interpretive kiosk. This joins up with the path again at a little bay next to a pond, which turns out to be a bomb crater from World War II; this is a popular spot for people with aquatic dogs, so beware of friendly pooches who can't resist shaking Welsh Harp water over complete strangers.

At the end of the park you have to cross a single-file traffic bridge by pressing a button and waiting for the green man. This stops the traffic in both directions, and does so for an amazingly long time, giving you plenty of opportunity to check out the view to the left, where the arguably prettier northern arm of the reservoir stretches off into the distance. Wave goodbye to the rural feeling, though, because from here to the end of this section it's yet more plodding suburbia, past the hulking structure of Brent Cross shopping centre, and into Hendon, where it's a short walk to Hendon Central station. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is that: two hills, plenty of suburbia, and a pleasant but fairly average walk.

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