Monday, 22 March 2010

King of the hill

Every time I drive out of London westwards on the A40, I pass these primeval looking mounds on the outer reaches of Ealing. They have only been there a few years and tower above the road; and there's always someone walking on them.
I've always wondered what purpose they serve and have been trying to persuade a reluctant husband and dog that they are worth further investigation. Husband's argument has always been that a view of the A40 from on high is something he feels he could live without. And the dog, at nearly 14, is never very keen on climbing hills. While I sympathise with both, I think: how do we know what's on offer unless we see it for ourselves?
This week, I finally won this minor domestic battle and we went to climb the giant mounds at the romantically named Northala Fields. On the one hand I have to concede a point to my husband: the lovely spring weather had closed in, and the view was definitely a bit on the bleak side. To the North, Pinner Hill and to the East, the hazy spires of the City of London on the horizon. To the west, flatlands of housing estates stretching for mile after depressing mile, and of course the incessant drone of the busy road below. It's not up there in the league of knockout views.
But I think there is a really positive story here. Northala Fields is a new park in a pretty uninspiring part of London. Opened in 2008, the mounds were designed by landscape architect Peter Fink, built as a sound barrier from waste created by the new Wembley Stadium and Westfield shopping centre. Gabions filled with more crushed concrete have been used around the site. Below, planting is minimal, but there is a small series of interconnected waterways, with plenty of birds taking advantage. And most of all there are people coming to climb the mounds. Everyone that we saw came to climb them - either following the circular path to the top, or cutting straight up the middle.
It certainly isn't Glastonbury Tor, but maybe in the future, people will wonder if the Northala mounds once had some spiritual significance? (My husband is in no doubt that this will not be the case, particularly if the A40 is still in existence.) It's definitely a forward thinking landscape and you can't ignore the fact that those four mounds do appeal to a fundamental human compulsion - that urges us to climb up a hill or a mountain. Maybe it's just to see what's at the top, or what's on the other side. Maybe it's just so we can say that we did it.


  1. I have been watching these hills grow and also often wondered what was going on. I am so pleased that you have investigated on our behalf, thank you.
    I believe that, provided it is not the rush hour, you can hear the disgruntled exclamations of "Is that it?" from the westbound hard shoulder.
    Still, it is a good use of a pile of old rubbish - better than shipping it off to the countryside.

  2. I'd be happy to look into any other strange land masses you might have spotted on your travels, James. I quite like the idea of being a sort of gardening Columbo.

  3. one can't help but think it might be nice if the A40 didn't still exist when those visitors from the 12th millennium were excavating the mounds and wondering what curious burial hills we worshipped then...

    I like the idea of making landforms out of rubbish. We've got a mammoth landfill near us just north of Horsham and they're going to make a wood out of it, apparently. Anything would be an improvement on what's there at the moment.

    Come to think of it when those visitors arrive they're almost certainly going to think we worship rubbish. Or they're just going to be very, very puzzled.