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#SwanseaWalk4EU – Day 16 – Hyde Park, London!

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Edmund Sides

Day 16 – Hayes to Round Pond, Hyde Park

After completing my blog for yesterday, I grabbed a quick breakfast in the hotel where we were staying in Hayes.  Last night was the first night since leaving home that I have not been accommodated by members of supporting groups along the way.  Everyone who I have stayed with on the way has been very hospitable and I have met a variety of people who have come together in their different groups to try to change the direction in which the government is taking the country.  I hope to stay in contact with them after this is over and to be able to repay their hospitality if any of them choose to visit us in Swansea.

Shortly before 09:30, Rhiannon and I left the hotel and walked through Hayes to the bridge over the canal.  I felt a bit of a culture shock walking through a busy multi-ethnic shopping area, after having spent most of the past fortnight in rural surroundings or quieter streets of smaller rural towns.  Arriving at the bridge we were met by Alan, from the Ealing branch of the European Movement, who had offered to be my walking companion for the morning.  This proved to be very welcome support since Alan was very knowledgeable about the local area and was involved with the local Ramblers group, such that he was familiar with most of the paths.  He directed us during the day through to Chiswick which made it much easier for me as we were navigating across an area covered by four Ordnance Survey Maps of which I was missing one.

After a minor hiccup when I realised that I had not switched on my GPS receiver in order to track my path and had to retrace my steps by 300 m, we started on our way along the canal.  A notable feature of the canal today and yesterday was the number of birds which could be noted on the way.  On setting off we were watched by a coot pecking the ground on the towpath next to a moored narrow boat, and a short distance further on two male mallards standing on the bank observed us suspiciously as we walked past.  Further along, we saw seagulls, frequent Canada geese, numerous coots (some on their nests), moorhens and swans.  Meeting a swan on the towpath was always a bit of a challenge as we were aware that they could attack us if they got upset; we avoided this by walking in single file and not talking when passing them and thankfully had no problems with any of them.  Around ten o’clock, I paused to have an interview with a journalist who is doing a piece on Saturday’s march for the Observer.

As we walked along, the landscape next to the canal changed from industrial to residential as we passed a stretch with houses right on the edge of the canal and even a pub called the Old Oak Tree.  At Southall, we encountered the first lock on the canal and stopped briefly for a drink and a snack.  We had a brief discussion with a passing walker who was heading to work walking along the canal path.  She thought that the current situation is a mess and that there was a lack of proper information during the referendum.  She voted to remain as she thinks that the EU regulations have led to the introduction of important rights for workers, such as the right to holiday leave for agency workers which affected her directly, also the right of disabled access to public premises. 

Continuing after our break, the weather warmed up a bit, with a weak sun palely shining through the clouds.  The weather was dry from the start of today’s walk with a grey overcast sky and little wind.  It remained that way for most of the day apart from the occasional attempts by the sun to shine through the clouds.  We next passed the Hanwell flight of locks which are designed to link the canal with the Brent River which it joined a short distance further on.  Several of the locks have side basins which are used to conserve water when boats move through the locks.  One of the locks is known as the Asylum lock, so called because it is next to the grounds of what was once the Hanwell Asylum, now occupied by Ealing Hospital. We then encountered a very interesting engineering structure at Windmill Bridge which was apparently one of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s last major projects constructed in 1859 (he died two months after it was completed).  Here he had engineered the construction of the new Great Western railway which passed under both the Grand Union Canal and Windmill Lane which went over the canal at this point – this being referred to as the Three Bridges.

The landscape surrounding the Brent River on the next stretch was a mix of industrial and recreational, including a former rubbish tip which had been converted into a park.  At Osterley Weir, where there was again a short stretch of canal, I had a brief chat with two walkers who had both voted remain.  They expressed frustration with the current situation and just wanted it to be all over; one saying that he had stopped watching it on television.  After that, another walker with a dog approached me to ask what I was doing.  He said that he believes that Article 50 should be revoked (the parliamentary petition on this issue which started yesterday has now started trending and was over half a million by this stage of the day).  He believed that we are better at working together than creating divisions.  A bit further along we had quite a surprise when we were approached by a group of about twenty walkers from a local walking group (the Avenue Club from Kew, including walkers from both Kew and Richmond).  They turned out to be hugely supportive when I explained what I was doing – if there were any leavers in their group, they did not make their presence known.

Continuing on we passed under the M4 motorway and could hear and see planes approaching and taking off from Heathrow airport in the background.  Here there was a bit of a maze of intersecting rivers, railways and roads and when we eventually emerged from this at Brentford, we entered an area where the river was lined by office blocks and car parks, with some workers on their lunch break walking along the path.  Around this time both Rhiannon and I took phone calls for interviews; Rhiannon for a live interview for the Taro Post programme on BBC Radio Cymru, and myself for an interview with a reporter from BBC Wales online.  It was not the best location for dealing with these calls as we were periodically interrupted by the noise of overflying aircraft, but we both managed to cope with this distraction.  Arriving at Brentford Gauging Lock, we left the canal and headed for Brentford High Street in search of a suitable venue for a refreshment stop.  We eventually selected the Magpie and Crown pub but having ordered drinks we found that they were not, in fact, serving any food.  Luckily, they allowed us to eat our own food and I enjoyed a pint of Stable Genius, an Oxfordshire beer which used an image of the Uffington White Horse, which we had visited last week, for its brand image. After lunch we continued down the High Street, passing a long line of shops which were boarded over at the front – presumably for redevelopment.  Pausing to talk with two men waiting at a bus stop, I found that they were both leave voters.  One cited the fact that European Courts could overrule UK court decisions and also the talk of moves to have a European Union army.  When I asked if he knew the difference between the ECJ and the ECHR he admitted that he did not.  I also pointed out that we were already in NATO so why did he consider a European Army a threat – it is highly unlikely that countries within Europe would build two separate sets of armed forces, one set for NATO and one for the EU.

Around two thirty we re-joined the Thames which is now considerably larger and wider than when I last saw it at Maidenhead.  At one point I noted a cluster of boats moored on the opposite side of the river with Dutch names (De Velte; Vrouwe Ana; Ideaal; and Theo – Zwolle) which brought back memories of my time living in The Netherlands.  Passing under Kew Bridge we stopped for a discussion with two walkers who turned out to be ‘remain’ voters.  They considered that the referendum should never have happened as it was based on a policy to deal with the right wing of the Conservative party.  One of them considered herself European and cited the benefits of peace, stability, cultural exchanges as some of the positive aspects of the EU.   The water level in the Thames seemed to be very high at this point, and indeed further along we could see that part of the riverside path was flooded.  We left the river bank next to the Bell and Gown pub and commenced walking through a suburban residential area.  We had a short talk with two people waiting outside a primary school one of whom was a remain voter who was losing faith in the political system given the way things were being handled; the other was a ‘leave’ voter who said that he did not like the fact that the commission had a lot of powers which were allocated to unelected people. 

Walking through Chiswick Village, I had a short discussion with a landscape gardener who said that he was a staunch leaver.  He considered the EU to be autocratic and thought that we should leave without a deal.  He was aware that this would involve several years of negotiations.  He said that he thought that the politicians had let us all down badly over the matter and I agreed with him on this and we parted amicably.  By three thirty we had reached Chiswick High Road, where we paused outside Chiswick Town Hall to observe a Royal Mail letterbox which had been painted gold to honour a local rower, Pete Reed, who had won a gold medal in the 2012 Olympics.  Continuing along Chiswick High Road we had several sympathetic hoots from passing cars and comments from supportive pedestrians.  At a statute of the painter Hogarth, a famous resident of Chiswick, we parted company with Alan who had to leave us to return to Ealing to do some leafletting.  We had really enjoyed his company during the day as he had been very knowledgeable about local sights and history and we learned a lot of things which we would not have been aware of on our own.

Shortly after Alan departed, we stopped for a break in a small park.  It was now the end of the school day and there were numerous school children in smart uniforms making their way home along the pavements of the High Road and also passing through the park.  The park gradually quietened whilst we were sitting there and by the time we moved on most of the school children had dispersed.  We continued down Chiswick High Road, now in a busy commercial area with a variety of restaurants and shops lining the road – quite a change from most of the rest of my journey and I was finding it very strange after the past two weeks walking.  After negotiating the busy road junction next to Hammersmith station, we found ourselves on Kensington High Street, the final stretch leading to Hyde Park.  At one point we paused for a lengthy discussion with an elderly gentleman who favoured remaining in the EU.  He cited the negative economic effects of leaving and expressed his annoyance at the lack of cooperation between politicians.  He thought that Theresa May is being too autocratic in her approach and it seems as if she is trying to impose her decisions on others.  Further on we had a chat with a young woman who had family links with Swansea.  She favoured remaining but said that she would probably not be marching on Saturday as she worked in the Department for International Trade.  She indicated that there was, in fact, a lot of work related to Brexit contingency planning going on in the background which civil servants were not allowed to talk about publicly. 

Shortly before we reached Holland Park, a passing cyclist in a bright yellow high visibility jacket stopped to take our photograph.  It turned out that he was originally from the Rhondda in Wales but had lived in London since the 1980s.  He had seen the Welsh flag which Rhiannon was carrying when cycling past and wanted to find out what we were doing.  As he disappeared into the distance, we continued in the same direction until coming to Hyde Park which we entered through the gate in the south-east corner.  We completed the day’s walk next to the Round Pond, having decided to leave the last stretch remaining to get to the bandstand – which will mark the official end of the walk – until tomorrow.  After taking the end of day photograph, we walked north to Paddington to catch a train back to Hayes where we were staying again for the night.

The walk from Hayes to Hyde Park covered 15.6 miles (25.1 km), starting from the Grand Union Canal bridge in Hayes at 9:55 and finishing beside the Round Pond in Hyde Park at 17:50. 

Supporting my nominated charities

In one of my earlier blogs I mentioned that, in addition to supporting Wales for Europe’s campaign for a People’s Vote, I was also asking people who support what I am doing to donate to one of my two nominated charities, namely:

  • The Big Issue:  which helps homeless people turn their lives around by selling the Big Issue magazine
  • The Woodcraft Folk: a youth organisation which promotes co-operation between young children,

If you would consider donating and are interested in finding out more about the two charities, please click on the link below: