I've decided to run next year's London Marathon. As part of my training programme I intend to run from far west to far east London, passing through all 32 boroughs and the City along the way. I made a start a few weeks back, and already I have found that I'm on a journey of discovery - one that I'll be sharing with you in the months to come. I'm also raising money for Shelter. You can sponsor me via my brand new Virgin moneygiving page. All contributions gratefully received. Now read on.
I began Running London as I emerged from the gentlemen's toilet in a shopping mall in Uxbridge. It was bang on ten-thirty in the morning – a handy landmark on my watch face. I broke into a jog. If any shoppers were alarmed, I didn't notice. I was too busy wondering which way to turn once I got outside. Left? Right? I had no idea. My plan was simply to cover an hour's worth of Hillingdon, a place I knew mostly from the windows of trains when passing through.
I chose left. Spontaneous! I covered a dozen yards of pedestrian precinct then spotted a cycle route sign: Heathrow five miles, Yiewsley two-and-a-quarter. I'd never heard of Yiewsley. I had heard of Heathrow. Could I run all the way to the airport? I thought I'd have a go.
The cycle route sign pointed down Vine Street. There came some twists and turns and then I was on the pavement of a long, straight road – Whitehall Road – bordered by hedges before reaching a four-way junction with a wide road called The Greenway. There were road signs to Southall and to Slough, but both the borough of Ealing and the county of Berkshire were out of bounds. The cycle route directed me straight on. I obeyed, distressed that Heathrow had barely come any nearer, though I was gaining on Yiewsley, whatever it might be.
Now what? A modern building to my right named after a person called Marie Jahoda. To my left stood a large, modern complex fronted by a green pond with boiling fountains. The penny dropped. I was passing Brunel University.
The sun was warming up and so was I. The cycle path now parted company with roads, taking me along a pleasant walkway past the sorts of homes whose walls my late father used to tile and plaster in the 1970s. These residential scenes spoke of suburban expansion and, to my inner city mindset, a certain deadly tedium I have no business assuming exists. At a T-junction the cycle route sign had been rotated into an ambiguous position. I took a chance on heading right, which led me past light industrial premises then back into some more post-war housing. A further sign to Yiewsley reassured me. In my head it was assuming the character of an oasis, one I was growing more fond of by the metre.
Finally, I emerged on to a busy A-road - the A408 - and turned left. A junction obscured by roadworks lay ahead. Those roadworks blocked the pavement so I crossed over, followed red pedestrian diversion signs and then filtered right towards my village grail.
It was good to see you, Yiewsley High Street, though I'm afraid I paid you little attention. I'd been going for slightly more than half an hour. Was pressing on to Heathrow feasible? Would I collapse somewhere far from a bus route? I agreed with myself to emerge from the far end of Yiewsley then turn back and keep running until an hour had elapsed. I didn't realise at the time that I'd traversed a section of the Grand Union canal before describing a tight circle on the pavement and proceeding to retrace my steps.
My hour of running elapsed, logically enough, just short of the centre of Uxbridge where I'd begun. I walked the rest then gulped tea and water at an outside table of the Pumpernickel fairtrade café and eavesdropped on a group of women as they chatted and smoked. Uxbridge Underground station is very handsome. Its forecourt is graced by a sculpture of a family by Anita Lafford. Its name is Anticipation and it was unveiled by the Queen in the June of her golden jubilee year of 2002.
I liked the sculpture very much, and was glad to have visited this final stop on one of the westbound sections of the Piccadilly Line, the place of any size in the Greater London area that lies furthest from my home Hackney. It's an urban outpost in my eyes, though not, I'm sure, to the people who live there.
I was glad to have been to Yiewsley too, a place I now know was once home to an important brickworks whose produce was sent in large quantities down the Grand Union to Paddington until its closure in the Great Depression. At the time I did not expect to visit Yiewsley again. Reader, I was so wrong.
P.S: This post was slightly updated on March 7, 2011. The photograph used here was added on 5 September 2010. I found it on this TfL web page. All the ensuing Legs of my Running London series are documented here.