A blend of historic homes, picturesque parkland and relaxing riverside routes, it is hard to believe that this locale is less than 10 miles from Central London.
Pop quiz: how many stations on the Tube Map include the word ‘Manor?’ Four. Ruislip Manor, Manor House, Manor Park and this week’s destination of choice Boston Manor, which sits on the notoriously slow stretch of the Piccadilly Line to Heathrow. My carriage, therefore, was dominated by holidaymakers; I was effectively one of them too.
I exited the station, crossed the road and found my friend soaking in the views of a Tube train depot in the distance. He told me that although he thought the depot was a particularly delightful one, what had really caught his eye was a sign on the bridge we were standing on, which declared that “this bridge belongs to London Underground. In case of a bridge strike, Freephone…”. How does a bridge go on strike, he asked? And why? A good point – perhaps they get tired of being walked all over for no pay? Turns out ‘a bridge strike’ is just the term for when a vehicle crashes into or on a railway bridge.
On that bombshell, we set off and soon came to our first attraction: Blondin Park. To enter it, we had to take a narrow pathway that ran adjacent to a sinister-looking allotment. I don’t know if it’s the run-down sheds, the array of tools, the churned ground or the eerie silence, but you just get the feeling that every murder ever has taken place in an allotment.
I tentatively approached a lady walking her dog, who told us to leave Blondin Park and head to Boston Manor Park – home of the eponymous manor itself. After that, she advised a stroll along the canal. The very fact that she had something to recommend was a good sign, but two…well, you can just imagine my excitement.
On our way, we popped into a local nature reserve, which, like all other nature reserves in London, had more empty beer cans in it than wildlife. Luckily, Boston Manor Park was the reserve’s antithesis: brimming with birds, ancient cedar trees and an attractive lake, the Park was magnificent as it glistened in the winter sun. If that wasn’t enough, the Park played host to Boston Manor House – “one of West London’s lesser-known gems”. Unfortunately, the Grade I listed Jacobean manor house – which dates to 1623 – is not open during the winter, but the little Pavilion Café some way beyond the ornamental lawns was. I had a reassuringly cheap sausage bap (£1) and black coffee (£1).
From the pleasantness of the park, we passed underneath the M4 and soon found ourselves on the London end of the Grand Union Canal. The Canal stretches 137 miles from Birmingham to the Thames Lock in Brentford, which turned out to be roughly a mile from where we stood. The canal side route to Brentford is as much fascinating as it is serene, with several information boards recounting the history of the area as far back as the Battle of Brentford during the Civil War.
It was easy to see why a barge owner would choose this stretch as their home, but apparently, it is not as simple as dropping anchor where you please. A local barge owner explained that there are two types of barge licence: mooring and cruising. The former usually includes paying an extortionate fee to stay in a marina, while the latter dictates that you can park-up almost anywhere, but you have to move every fortnight or risk sanctions from the ‘vigilant’ and merciless canal patrol.
We left the canal after the Brentford Lock and headed up to the bustling high street. A rich array of restaurants and pubs (mostly Fuller’s-owned, which is unsurprising given the brewery is downstream in Chiswick) line the High Street, which is much nicer than the Brentford-based TV series People Just Do Nothing would make you think; a point underlined by the vibrancy of the food market in front of the Magistrates’ Court.
We decided to take a pit stop in one of these many pubs and plumped for the Beehive, where a London Pride will set you back £3.90. It is also where you can encounter animated cries of ‘penalty’, ‘red card’ and ‘hard Brexit’.
Refreshed, we then headed down the beautifully-named Catherine Wheel Road, passed the Brewery Tap and found ourselves on Johnsons Island (no apostrophe, I checked). A former home to the lock keeper’s and station master’s offices of Brentford, the small island lay derelict until it was converted into an artist’s studio and gallery in the 80s.
Crossing over the River Brent, two friendly scousers recommended we go to Syon Park, but this proved easier said than done. The Park, for some reason, was bordered by a vertiginous wall and deep ditch. An attempt to launch over the wall naturally ended in failure, but we soon found a gate, which was locked, covered in anti-climb paint and guarded by barbed wire. This seemed more hassle than it was worth so we double-backed on ourselves to find another way in.
As we got closer to the main entrance, I started to get the impression that Syon Park was not just going to be your average London park. Firstly, the signs towards the main entrance were embroidered with golden lions; regal insignia. Second, these same signs also pointed to a Hilton and a Marco Pierre-White restaurant. Third, there was a coach park. Then it all made sense: Syon Park is the London residence of the Duke of Northumberland.
Syon House, along with its 200 acres of Grade I listed parkland, has been in the Duke’s family for the last 400 years and rightly claims to be “one of England’s most magnificent great houses”. I would normally be agitated by their use of two synonymous adjectives, but in this case I was prepared to let it slide: it really was magnificent and great. Bedecked with classical interiors designed by Robert Adam (‘the most famous architect of his day’), who wanted to create a palace of ‘Graeco-Roman splendour’, Syon House is home to a wealth of art and architectural wonders, including an imposing 19th century conservatory.
Meanwhile, the estate is an ecological dream, harbouring “fine lawns” and “open meadows”, as well as an arboretum and ‘enchanted woodlands’ (which are illuminated for three weekends at the end of November). It really is hard to believe that we are less than 10 miles from Central London. Admission to the House and Gardens would usually be £12 (hence the walls, ditch and barbed wire we encountered earlier), but it was closed for the winter, so we continued through the parkland until we came to Isleworth.
Isleworth is a treat; a charming village steeped in history. On our right, the 14th century All Saints Church. On our left, the Isleworth Stairs, where the Nine Day Queen, Lady Jane Grey, set off to the Tower of London to accept the Throne in 1553, only to be imprisoned nine days later. The Stairs and the adjacent Isleworth Eyot, which temporarily splits the Thames into two, is overlooked by a Grade II listed pub: the London Apprentice. An ideal spot for a late lunch.
Being a Sunday, I quite fancied a roast, although a quick bit of arithmetic later and I realised I’d better have my second batch of sausages for the day instead, otherwise I’d be going without a drink to stay in budget. The sausages and mash (£8.99) were perfectly decent and were well complemented by a pint of Mad Goose Ale (£4.10).
Already charmed by Isleworth, we then strolled through its centre, complete with a 16th century man made river (constructed to divert water from the Duke of Northumberland’s River to the Isleworth Flour Mill), before making our way home, incredibly satisfied about how the day panned out.
Time: 5-6 hours