Sixty-five million people pass through Heathrow each year. It’s home to sections of the M25, M4, long-stay car parks and towering hotel blocks where people stay when they would rather be elsewhere. Naturally it’s not a typical spot for a walk.
However, an absent-minded friend of mine arrived a day early for her flight last week. Instead of lugging her heavy bags back to London (she’s moving permanently to Hong Kong) she decided to check into the ‘relaxed’ Mecure Hotel and explore the lesser-known delights of Heathrow. Rather than peruse perfume, she left her bags in the hotel reception and went to hunt stag beetles, skylarks and mice.
This area, just a 15 minute taxi from Terminal 2, shares an uneasy relationship with the airport. It is home to Harmondswoth village which can trace its history back to the Doomsday book as well as a restored moor that has earned the Wildlife Trusts’ Biodiversity Benchmark. John Betjeman once described a 15th century barn in the village as the ‘Cathedral of Middlesex’. At nearly 200-foot long, the barn is the best-preserved and largest medieval timber barn in England, and probably Europe. Under Heathrow expansion plans half of Harmondsworth will be under concrete and Betjeman’s cathedral will be literally metres from the runway.
‘The whole circuit encompasses village life, significant old buildings like the church and the old barn at Harmondsworth, then the nature reserve and Saxon lake which was beautiful (although I was greeted by human faeces and condom)’, Muffy (who made it to Hong Kong) wrote to me in an email.
She said that when walking along the Colne Valley sections and Harmondsworth village it felt like any other beautiful green space in the UK. ‘If you took the noise away I kept thinking I could be anywhere in the deep UK countryside. Weird. It was a cloudy and rainy day so the airplane noise was not bad at all – maybe it was masked. I walked straight under the central flight path and not much noise at all’, she said.
Anyway, Muffy highly recommended her excursion to anyone who happens to arrive 24 hours early for a flight, or otherwise. And it’s probably best to take advantage sooner rather than later. Here is all you need to know about the walk and below are Muffy’s photos.