I’ve had a spectre hanging over me for the past couple of years. The 20 mile walk.

It’s bothered me repeatedly with injuries on the occasions I’ve tried to breach it. And when I think I have breached it, I am soon disappointed after recalculation. So, with the best of intents I planned to walk 25.5 miles along the Capital Ring from Richmond to Highgate. I got up at 6am and was on the Ring by 8am in Richmond, but I had not taken the environment seriously enough. The day ended hours and miles early, at South Kenton.

Starting Point: Richmond station, on the Overground and Underground network, zone 4.

Finishing point: South Kenton Tube Station, Bakerloo line, zone 4.

Length: 14.7 miles (23.6 kilometres).

Ordnance Survey Maps app route link here

Download the GPX file for this route here Richmond to South Kenton

It had been over a month since I stepped out on the trails. I’m STILL in the middle of trying to buy a house and I’ve been pooped for almost the whole time. Therefore I was grinning to myself when I walked past Richmond Theatre. On Richmond Green I eavesdropped on a loud conversation between a dog-walker and bin-emptier where the latter explained he worked from 6am to 9pm on Saturday and Sunday. Jeez…

There were already people sunbathing on the Green, and once I reached the Thames the joggers flashed around me and one happily greeted every stranger with a ‘Good morning!’. I crossed the river using the Teddington footbridge and turned north. I gazed with familiarity across the Thames to the south bank path, another hard-conquered walk.

Isleworth behind the Ait, Thames Path and Capital Ring

Bee on wild flowers in Syon ParkThe next mile weaves between riverside and residential roads. Isleworth Ait is viewed closely from the right-of-way through the Town Wharf pub’s decking. It’s nice walking along the river in the morning, with most people rising slowly and barely even thinking about the outside world yet. Fishermen were the main exception beside joggers, until I passed the London Apprentice pub when cyclists sprang up from everywhere.

I entered Syon Park dodging packs of cyclists on some sort of challenge ride. A little fenced-off meadow of wild flowers was worth the risk of nipping across the road.

Wild flowers in Syon Park, Capital Ring

GSK building reflected in the River Brent, Capital RingThere are convenient toilets at Syon Park, just past the garden centre with the arc of flowers out the front, so bear that in mind.

After crossing the London Road you join the River Brent at Brentford. The GlaxoSmithKline building reflected prettily in the water as I passed the sleepy stirrings of riverboat life. The River Brent turns out to be a really nice stretch of waterway. I had always just assumed that it would be a poisonous dead river but it couldn’t be any different. The water seemed relatively clean, judging from the ducklings and fish, and I hardly ever spotted rubbish. Well-done West Londoners!

Chicks on the River Brent, Capital Ring

Paddling on the River BrentAs the Brent curves northwest you pass into a large hanger, presumably for boat repairs, well once upon a time it was anyway. It’s full of pigeons now. On the other side I watched a man lazily paddling a surf board downstream with his hands. Just sitting there and looking into the rushes on the far bank. The noise of the A4 was not as intrusive as I expected, possibly because it was still quite early, but whatever I could hear quickly dropped off into nothingness and was replaced by the trickle of water here and there.

Chili peppers growing on a narrowboat on the River Brent, Capital RingBut then, as if the trees beyond the north bank had been an impenetrable wall, the M4 moved a few metres closer, the trees thinned, the veil dropped, and the roar of traffic was very much upon me. The river is lovely but the atmosphere is tarnished for a few minutes. Again the river bends away and peace descends once more.

You have to suffer another aural undulation as you pass under the M4 but quicken your pace and you are out of earshot in a moment.

Graffiti on a footbridge across the River Brent, Capital Brent

Osterley Lock is a very lovely place to sit down for a bit. The usual recreational users of London’s green spaces fluttered by while I greedily gulped icy water from my bottle. Freezing a half-filled bottle the night before a walk and then topping up in the morning is a top tip in this kind of heat. And yes the heat was rising sharply already. I was sweaty and took care to get some food down me to manage the all-important salt levels. A pair of silky silly dogs rushed off into the bushes behind me, much to the overly vocal consternation of one of the owners. They were unleashed and they were enjoying the morning, that’s what dogs do, lady! When I started off on section 8 of the Capital Ring it took my only a few minutes to catch the dog lady up but I heard her shouting long before I reached her.

Concrete structure in the River Brent around Osterley Lock, Capital Ring

The Grand Union canal links to the River Brent just north of here, the Capital Ring nimbly skips over a bridge before dipping off to the right in order to stay along the River. Which is pungent north of here. The navigable quality of the Grand Union canal is obviously linked to the lower River Brent but there is little care in these slightly overgrown environs. Flies and dog poo are the main dangers here.

Luckily you don’t have to creep through that for long because Brent Lodge Park is beautiful. It feels extremely rural all of a sudden. A church spire pokes out from trees on your right as the path winds through the grass. Around one corner I discovered that it had been snowing.

Strange fluff in Brent Lodge Park, Capital Ring

Well it looked like it didn’t it! This was all spawned from trees along here. I’m unaware what kind of tree does this, but I’m glad they aren’t all over London as when it gets in your throat it’s bloody lethal.

The Capital Ring moves in a pretty straight line through West Middlesex Golf Club before I took a wrong turn just after crossing a bridge. There is no blaze so make sure you turn left immediately. It looks overgrown but it is the path.

The day was wearing on and dramatically heating up. It is a cliche but the air felt like it was vibrating as I entered Brent Valley Park. The amazing orange earth made me feel like I was walking through rural Tanzania. I could feel my neck baking but I had been sensible and worn my bright blue Ex-Officio shirt which has a very unfashionable but eminently practical collar which folds up higher than usual. It also has built-in sun protection so I felt sure my body was well-protected. Overall. My hands were starting to catch the sun so I applied cream pronto. My ancient sunhat was getting damper by the minute but without it I would be toast already.

Brent Valley Park, Capital Ring

I crossed the Ruislip Road just after navigating through a littered patch of woodland and entered Perivale Park.

It is a curious fact that the number of park benches is enormously skewed towards exposed and sun-drenched locations. What about those of us who don’t want to burn but do want to sit down? I walked and scanned the park for any bench in shade. There was one, but it was occupied by a man with a disconcerting stare and a mouth full of teeth imitating shrapnel. So I walked on, promising myself to the next bench in shade. Really I should have just taken a seat on the grass but I was feeling optimistic. Foolish man.

Not five minutes later I had crossed the A40 by footbridge and I resented the sun. I was getting too sweaty and my head was starting to hurt, not a great sign.

I followed two blokes almost all the way to Greenford Road and got to hear all about someone they know who ‘moves like a Jack Russel’, has been left by his wife, and is useful for getting things that have rolled under cabinets.

That bench never came. The scenery lulled into a big fat ‘meh’ until I suddenly found myself on the towpath of the Grand Union Canal again. This provided a nice amount of shade but nowhere to sit. Cyclists and joggers meant that even sitting on the bank would have been hazardous. I do look forward to walking the Grand Union Canal Walk at some point, it feels like an easy but lovely day out.

Eventually you leave the canal and enter Horsenden Hill. I avoided the route to the visitor centre, aiming to go directly to the summit and what are apparently excellent views. Before I did that I found a bench part-way up the hill, in shade, and stopped. I was manky.

Even five minutes at ease was enough to make me feel significantly better so I climbed the hill swiftly. The views westwards were brilliant. Not quite as nice as those seen from the Capital Ring in Richmond Park, but still very good.

Views north (top) and west (bottom) from Horsenden Hill, Capital Ring

I had to do some creative path finding when a sign post was found lying discombobulated beside the track but it turned out to be correct. The summit of Horsenden Hill was not what I expected. A couple were sunbathing on a huge towel and looked thoroughly offended that I was intruding on the acres of space they claimed as their hinterland. I ignored them and examined signs explaining the views to the north. Sudbury Hill and Harrow Hill were the main bumps in the near distance but the distant ridge is probably the location of future walks along the LOOP.

I looked around for views toward central London, but didn’t find them. That’s because I didn’t walk an extra 20 metres south from my position, something I only discovered later. What I did see was the side of Wembley Stadium from the side of yet another golf course. Oh well. Mistakes happen.

I stopped for another shady break near the Ballot Box pub, watching amateurs playing tennis. A ball came over the fence so I stood up to get it, but it rolled under the fence. Confused I decided to pick up my bag and continue. This, in hindsight, was a mistake. I should have just rested here for an hour or so.

The walk through Sudbury Hill is boring and exposed. I nipped up the alley at the top of South Vale and collapsed onto benches beside the London Road/Harrow Road. I wasn’t doing well, I was extremely hot and the walk was starting to lose its appeal quite quickly.

I already knew I wasn’t going to make it to Highgate, I convinced myself I would get to South Kenton and then make up my mind, but really I had resigned already.

Harrow village is very attractive indeed. I never realised. The shops are all Olde Worlde and quaint, the college buildings are intricate and busy, the roads are quiet, and, when you glimpse them, the views are superb.

The views from Harrow Hill, Capital Ring

I turned followed the blazes into the private land of Harrow school and navigated across them to the far eastern corner. After crossing the Watford Road you pass along the bottom of Northwick Park Hospital. Which is pretty difficult because the path is becoming badly overgrown. Brambles and other scratchy plants hinder your progress and turned my mind ever more towards resignation. I was frustrated with myself for knowing I wasn’t going to complete what I wanted, but I understood that I had chosen one hell of a hot day and I was ill-adapted to it.

Northwick Park had a game of cricket in progress within sight of the Tube line so I walked slowly to watch a couple of bowls. As I entered South Kenton my head was throbbing with pain and I was fairly drenched with sweat. The tremendous screeching noise of the Virgin Trains passing along the mainline was enormous and terrible, causing an uncharacteristic, weird, but brief panic inside me.

Cricket match in Northwick Park, by South Kenton, Capital Ring

The Tube was as hot as ever in summer but I was at least seated. I reflected on how lovely the start of the walk had been. I didn’t enjoy much of it beyond Brent Valley Park but up til then Capital Ring sections 7 and 8 are really great walking. I got home in time for a delicious BBQ next door and was able to see Murray win Wimbledon for the first time, so the afternoon was worth the early return in the end. Still, I learned a few lessons about hot weather walking – like ‘stop looking for the perfect place to rest’ and ‘just rest’ as soon as you realise you want to. Simple stuff but things that would have extended my walk and probably my enjoyment too.