Where to place thirty thousand new homes?

London is big, but is it big enough to absorb 30,000 new homes built in the next 2 years?

Actually the answer is Yes, there are thirty thousand new homes being built in Colindale in north London, and pretty fine they look too. Every big developer is putting up their block of flats, or rather luxury apartments, gathered round communal gardens, each home with a verandah, and a fitted kitchen. In 2004 then-mayor Ken Livingston’s team identified this area as a growth area, prime for new homes, and the London Plan led to the Brent and Barnet Area Action Plans, which saw by 2010, the start of a big-scale rebuilding programme.


Redrow are building Colindale Gardens on the site of the old Hendon Police College.


Colindale is an area that has seen many attempts at development in the past century, and most of it not much wack, as we’ll see on our walk, but the new plan looks as if it has staying power, through the combined effect of investment in infrastructure and shops, competition between developers, which is increasing standards, and the big-picture, blood-stirring London Plan from the Mayor’s office.

While house building has fallen across London as a whole, in northwest London new builds grew by 12%, according to Land Registry transactions, a growth rate exceeded only by Stratford and the east (see our Stratford walk).


Meeting place: Colindale station, Northern line
Date & time: Sunday March 12th 2017, 1pm
Distance: the walk is an easy 4.5 miles
End point: Wembley Stadium
Cost: No charge

All this building work means that our walk is a point in time, a snapshot of the birth of a new community and a new identity. Come this way again in a year or two, and it will be much more settled, much more centred. Right now the place is new and unclad and fast changing. It looks continental, not really English; the density of housing is high, but so is the amenity.

Here’s an article from the Guardian on how these developments get their initial funding.



We passed through the “Roe Green Village Conservation Area”, built at end of WW1 for the workers of the local Aircraft Manufacturing Company: www.roegreenvillage.org.uk/history

The walk moves through densely packed Colindale onto the empty space of Fryent Park, an old remnant of Middlesex, whose field lines and hedgerows are intact, where the population density on a March afternoon can drop to 1 person per square mile, as low as the Cairngorms, and you’re looking at how it was 700 years ago.

fryent-country-parkFryent Country park view from Google Earth




Wembley – another area experiencing remarkable change through building.

Article on Europe’s tallest modular tower, for student accommodation.


The route: https://binged.it/2mlhC9A

fryent route

Like to join the London Spiral? Contact: tim.ingram-smith@virgin.net 077932 00932


A detour

Elliot tells me about the London Circle walk, a route picked to adhere as closely as possible to a perfect geometry, difficult to achieve, bound by the availability of Roads, and Bridges. It seems to me quite Quixotic. He meant to resemble it to mine, a spiral walk, also bound by bridges, also limited to a route, and a direction. However I’m not sticking to the prescribed path, it’s a small matter to me to wander off – to detour – especially where the scenery warrants.

There is an ideal path, a dotted line across the landscape, that tramps unconstrained across enclosed fields, set aside space and private yards, then there is the realisable path, which sometimes, often in fact, coincides with the ideal path, but may be obliged to switch angularly back and forth; lastly there is the chosen route, the actual journey trodden, which may, like Canary Wharf, be an entire detour, not on the spiral at all, or, like Mile End Park, a diversion, a more enjoyable walking experience than trudging past housing estates and main roads, or a jaunt off to the side, a meander, like Mill Hill with its schools and research labs and religious control towers.

silver-street-spiral2 Reclaimed park by Silver Street station

Up Mill Hill and down Colindale

Stage 18 of the London Spiral starts off in a similar fashion to the previous stage, beside a winding river; this time the Dollis Brook, which wriggles through the valley below the Totter ridge, while last walk’s Pymme’s Brook chugged along the next valley to the east. There’s a tarmac path, which spares the soft ground in winter, but if you attempt to turn off along Folly Brook, you’re quickly in a muddy soup, which sticks to your boots and splashes your trousers.


So our walk largely stayed on the path, which meant suburban landscapes of semi-detached houses, front drives, and cul-de-sacs – although we did try and follow the ideal spiral and the public footpath over the field at Lullington Garth, but got sucked into the horse-churned mud at the stables.

We climbed from the valley floor up to the Ridgeway at Mill Hill, where we could see a number of unusual buildings, including a bunker converted to a luxury home, the megalithic, copper-topped Medical Research Laboratory, now dubbed Francis Crick Institute, the Mill Hill School, several religious institutions, and a bit further on, the UCL Observatory.

The National Institute for Medical Research published some great essays for general reading, everything from malaria research to gene therapy – worth checking out if you have an interest in Biology.


We are in Tube zone 4, walking from one arm of the Northern line to the other, from Totteridge & Whetstone to Colindale.


mill-hill-village-pondMill Hill Village pond

hedge-tunnelHedge tunnel

On the other side of the main northbound arterial A1 & M1 roads and Kings Cross railway line, we pause to recharge at one of the most unusual and interesting cafes in London: the Royal Air Force Museum – that helicopter is older than me!


Meeting place: just outside Totteridge and Whetstone tube station, Northern line
Date & time: Sunday February 19th 2017, 1pm
Distance: the walk is an easy 4.5 miles
End point: Colindale station, also the Northern line, but a different branch
Cost: No charge

Contact: tim.ingram-smith@virgin.net 077932 00932


Walk finished in Colindale, where there’s plenty of new housing development focusing on smart, contemporary designs and high-level interior specification. We’ll take a closer look at the work underway next month.


Stage 17 – An Unexpected River


Stage 17 of the London Spiral cuts across the north of the metropolis along an unexpected river – Pymmes Brook. I guess if you live in Southgate or Friern Barnet, you already know the stream, but it came as a surprise to me to find 10 miles of river flowing parallel to the Thames.

I first noticed it as we finished last month’s walk, by the clattering, mixed-up junction of Fore and Silver Streets at Edmonton, a stream in deep concrete walls heading under the street and out of sight. For a walker Pymmes Brook offers some refreshment to the senses, especially so near the north circular, so it’s worth following its course for a few miles, from Edmonton through Arnos Grove to Whetstone.



Meeting place: just outside Silver Street station, Edmonton. Take the overground from Liverpool Street station, train every 15 mins
Date & time: Sunday January 15th 2017, 1pm
Distance: the walk is an easy 7 miles
End point: Totteridge and Whetstone station, 
Route Maphttps://goo.gl/maps/2bRLJYNmotB2 
Cost: No charge

Contact: tim.ingram-smith@virgin.net 077932 00932

There’s a spiral in the little park at the side of Silver Street station, presumably an old railway turning circle, as the tram lines are still there:


Here’s Pymmes river by Pymmes Park, Edmonton, fast flowing and contained in a brick and concrete channel:


Pymmes Brook near Broomfield Park:


Broomfield Park:


Pymmes Brook through Arnos Park:


A designer made some effort with this railing, then the council put another railing up:


The brook is getting narrower, as we follow it upstream:


Playing fields at Oak Hill Park :


A drizzly winter’s day. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

Finished with a refreshment at Em’s Coffee on Totteridge High Road.

Silence and Noise – Along London’s North Circular

As the Spiral shifts direction from northwards to westwards on the 4th loop out, the walk sweeps from hush of forest to hum of motorway as we bump up alongside the A406 North Circular Road, at one of its busiest sections, a gorge cut through Enfield.



Roads are often simillied as glistening rivers, flowing traffic, but here among the dirty blacktop paths and concrete props there are real rivers to bridge and accommodate: the Lee, the Navigation Lea, Pymmes Brook, the New River, each one squeezed into a culvert, each one abandoned, ignored, left to its own devices, just getting on with its business of flowing down to the Thames.

At the roundabout junctions, like Waterworks Corner and Crooked Billet, you can see that the road designers have made an effort at various times to accommodate vehicles (dense iron mass below), pedestrians are moons waxing in at set times of day, cyclists speed through the underpasses like comets while local cars and vans orbit like space dust. The noise here is palpable, thick, trenchant, insistent.



crooked-billet1Yet beside this racket of rubber on tarmac and engine drone, just off to the side … silence. A narrow footpath, empty space, unused land, scrub and bullrushes, a few people playing at freedom with a bonfire and a bench, a fear of footpads, a muslim graveyard, a traveller’s campsite, a high-banked reservoir.


We’re isolated, away from the herd, cut off from a police response, vulnerable. We notice natural things, slight pollution in the leaves, a squirrel, clouds. We notice man made things that are not quite straight: a recycling plant dubbed eco park, complete with massive incinerator tower, a timber merchant with a few stacks of pine, an unused scrubby road dubbed Lee Country Park, a sugar water bottler called Coca-Cola.



Meeting place: just outside Snaresbrook underground station, Central line
Date & time: Sunday December 11th 2016, 1pm
Distance: the walk is about 6 miles
End point: Silver Street station, Edmonton
Route Map: https://binged.it/2fq0hrC
Cost: No charge


The London Spiral


Stage 15 – Flood Plain to Epping Forest

The east of London is a mystery to me. I don’t mean the East End which is about as east as the West End is west, I mean the reaches past that, on the far side of the muddy Lee, where if you want to go you’re best off not taking a car, or you’ll be stuck in a log jam for ages going nowhere. The Spiral has catherine-wheeled out another few miles beyond St Katherine’s Dock, and now fresh dots and splatters appear on the route.
Victoria Docks 1872

This stage begins where the last walk ended at the soaring elevation of the cable car across the Thames, which I recommend as a time-limited opportunity to see the city from a rare and economically unviable vantage. Make the most of the height too for the land north of this point is pool room flat, so that a walker feels more two dimensional than three, beetling across the surface of the city – even the houses are low rise squats and flat topped flats, except for Stubbs Point high rise (below), which since this Googlecar snap has had a fresh skin applied, an investment apparently not much appreciated by the inhabitants as the surrounding ‘private’ car park is cluttered with litter.



Plaistow, West Ham, Wanstead, Redbridge. How to cross the A13, ‘the Newham Way’?
Take advantage of a side step left into West Ham Park, where the trees offer relief from the crustle of traffic and shuffling tribes. It’s a densely housed area, low quality, built on marsh land.

But suddenly there’s a transition, and a straggle of trees, hopefully labelled, indeed honestly and historically labelled Epping Forest, the southernmost broken-off piece of the old arboreal glacier. You can see that the ground, flat and sparsely grassed, must have looked like it had not much value in it, so that you might as well build on it, until its sheer scarcity, like all open places in London, makes its emptiness and seeming-naturalness more valuable than any human construction.



Here at the southernmost tip of Epping there are unexpected species, like the Egyptian Goose,


and if not eagles on Eagle Pond, at least a cosmopolitan population of various feathers and birdsongs:


There are many voices at present calling to build more houses; there’s a shortage; populations are rising; they’re not making any more land; prices are too high; workers in ‘essential services’ can’t afford. But I’m not persuaded that we should eat into more green belt or even fallow land. Leave the unbuilt-on land. It’s too precious. It doesn’t come back. I’d rather redevelop, build on brownfield sites, reimagine.


Meeting place: North side of the Emirate Cable Car, on Royal Victoria Dock
Date & time: Sunday November 13th 2016, 1pm
Distance: the walk is around 6 miles
End point: Southernmost part of Epping Forest Map: https://binged.it/2eeDaDL

The early part of the walk is low rise east end housing; the later part is open flood plain, scrub and woods.

Refreshment: Bombetta Italian (Puglia) restaurant

Return home from: Snaresbrook underground station, Central line

Payment: Free. Unless you take the cable car: bring your Oyster card.
Here are some snaps from Andrew Stuck:
wansted-walk  bonbetta-cap

Stage 14: through Greenwich – Honor Oak to Millennium Peninsula

This walk starts with the view of the City framed through the trees on One Tree Hill, then proceeds to the spectacular vista across Canary Wharf from Greenwich Observatory.
We began where we left off last time at Honor Oak and headed north through town houses onto Blackheath, then in to Greenwich Park. This is 0 degrees longitude and you can easily imagine seeing the whole universe from the Observatory. It’s going to be hard to trump the scenery on any future stage of the spiral walk round London from Kings Cross to Gravesend.
Cricket on Hilly Fields
Brockley line
Brockley Library in a phone box
View from Greenwich Observatory, with the City of London to the left (west), and Canary Wharf straight ahead
Here’s what it looked like a few hundred years ago:
Picture is a camera-phone photo of a print at Eltham Palace.
Queen’s House Greenwich
The Millennium Peninsula is a strange place for a walker. There’s plenty of space and pathways. But you’re right by the entrance to the Dartford Tunnel, and traffic backing up from all roads around in a slow moving crawl. Cross the tunnel road then cross another dual carriage way – empty this time – and another one. So many roads to the Dome.


Antony Gormley’s Quantum man, with cable cars beyond
But that’s only one highlight of this navigation of the spiral – we take an aviation experience across the Thames at North Greenwich https://emiratesairline.theo2.co.uk/. I’d recommend this – all the more as it is quiet when it should be busy, and for that reason, I can’t see that it will be long open to the public. Its costs must outrun its income. So if you haven’t already been, take the opportunity while you can. The view is fantastic, and from a Spiral perspective, you can just about see the previous crossing of the Thames, just behind Canary Wharf to the west, and you can see the next crossing of the Thames: the Woolwich Ferry.
view-over-millennium-dome-culti-coloured-cranesMeeting place: Honor Oak Park railway station, map: https://binged.it/2dqLBt1
Date & time: Sunday October 9th 2016, 1pm
Distance: the walk is around 6 miles
End point: Emirates Cable Car by the Millennium Dome
Return home from: Royal Victoria DLR station
Payment: the cable car costs £4. Bring your Oyster card