The Boroughers, 25/03/18: Hounslow You ain’t nothin’ but a Hounslow

Summertime, and the living is easy. Clocks changed last night, springing forward and breathing new life into the Boroughering process. If you don’t yet know what that is, it’s the new year’s resolution that my girlfriend Helen and I made to visit every borough in London throughout 2018 – ostensibly in search of culture in tandem with the Mayor’s inaugural award, but in reality just an excuse to get out and about and be judgemental and patronising while looking at wildlife. There are 32 to get around and today’s outing was our 8th, to Hounslow.


After an unplanned break caused by a combination of Beasts from East and my pest of a chest, we spent the week planning our trip to Enfield in depth: things to do, places to drink, transport between them, and an ambassador in the form of my friend and ex-colleague Ian to accompany us.

Wait, Enfield? Yes, Enfield. Hounslow had been postponed to an unknown date in the future, with Enfield retaining its place for today - that is, until at 8pm on Enfield Eve when we discovered that South Western Railway were virtually stranding us down here in the South West. I had noticed in advance that there were no Thames Ditton trains, but very late in the day it transpired that there were engineering works wiping out all trains in Surbiton, Kingston and Wimbledon for the whole day but this information had not fed through to any online tools so, for example, Citymapper knew fuck all about it. Only on Saturday did we discover it would take us around 3 hours each way to get up to Enfield so we hastily cancelled and back came Hounslow, which was always a bus ride anyway.


Such a late notice change had serious repercussions, the first being that we had to scramble around trying to recall or rediscover three “interesting” facts about Hounslow that neither of us had known before. So over a few drinks and Wikipedia we search, god help me with the pages I ended up on.

Anyway, we eventually stumbled upon these:

  • Caesar once tried to cross the Thames at Brentford (this is almost certainly not true)
  • Despite the name meaning “mound of a dog” or “mound of a man who owned a dog”, and that it was for 200 years the most dangerous place in Britain, Hounslow Heath is where Ordnance Survey mapping first began because it‘s so flat.
  • An ancient and distant relative of Bernard Matthews started his chicken farming empire in Hounslow, back in the 1700s or something.

Sounds good, right?


So, Sunday morning. No parkrun, but an hour’s less sleep due to the aforementioned clock change meant that we didn’t get as early a start as might have been sensible. A worse delay, however, was caused by the second serious repercussion of the late venue change: Helen had to radically re-think her picnic plans. On Saturday afternoon she’d purchased the perfect ingredients for whatever magic spell she was going to cast for Enfield. I was banished upstairs while she attempted to repurpose those components into a suitably Hounslow-ish meal. All I knew was that “the big reveal” would take place in the kitchen, because it would be impossible to transport in its pristine form.

With literally no clue what I was about to get I was summoned downstairs, with “you have to imagine there’s some rocket involved” echoing in my ears. Eh?

Aha! It is, of course, a Stephenson’s Rocket themed set of sandwiches, with such detail as the smoke being formed of smoked cheese. Bravo for presentation! Now let’s eat the decorative bits and shove the actual sarnies in some foil and get out of here: turns out our once-every-75-minutes-or-so bus is due in 2 minutes.

Jesus, I’m so bloody scruffy.

At the stop, the local council’s “Green team” try and get us to help with all the gardening they’re doing but we’ve somewhere to be: on a 715 to Kingston. Citymapper lets us down again, happily telling us all the live departures from a stop that in actuality is on a closed and diverted road. Fucks sake. Around the corner to a reduced choice location, we await the 285 and I try to impress upon Helen how impressed I am that our first two buses for the day add up to 1,000. Um. Hmm.

The 285 arrives, and I react to the driver’s staring at me as I took a picture of the bus approaching by staring directly at him while I pay my fare. Upstairs we’re perched at the front and on our way, across the river and through numerous Hamptons, Teddington, and much more time at Feltham next to the permanent traveller site with all the fairground rides under wraps than anyone really needs to spend. The whole journey was punctuated by lots of traffic and many roadworks, but eventually we’re opposite the big factories and warehouses on the final approach road to Heathrow, and off we jump.

Large chunks of Hounslow look like this. I find the driveways on the left to be extravagantly large.

It’s a farm. But it’s not just any farm. It’s London’s favourite interactive farm, and it’s £7.50 to get in. This feels a bit steep but they’re talking a big game and anyway we’re here now and they‘ve got alpacas. We also buy some feed, and enter the main complex wherein there is an immediate rush of children in high vis jackets, screaming their heads off ‘n that. Uh-oh.

We are very excited about our forthcoming interaction.

Upon entry we’d been given our little guide to the daily activities. This translates to “avoid this to avoid kids”.

So, when they all go to the fields, we go the other direction to the coops ‘n that. First impressions are good: there are micro-pigs which are, apparently, small/miniature pigs bred for medicine and as pets. They do not conform to either of our idea of the words “micro”, “small” nor “miniature”.

There’s a ferret, surprisingly (given our previous experiences) not asleep in a hammock. There’s an excellent show-off chipmunk doing the rounds of his cage.

Then, HOLY SHIT THERE’S A MASSIVE FUCKING PIG. This lad is not micro. He’s a beast, oinking and snorting and making vague threats to escape, or at least bite if you get too close.

We back away, and go in the other side to see the similarly sized and behaving sow, also being protective of awwww there’s a load of cute little piglets! They so cute!

Next to the pigs are some goats.

They pull a variety of faces which look like they are still off their nut from the previous night, having forgotten they’d get an hour’s less kip than usual.

And next to the goats are some donkeys. Or are they some kind of small horse or pony? I dunno, was too busy saying “hello mate” and wishing they’d pose for photos a bit more obediently.

Baby animals are a thing here. There’s some Friesian calves but they’re all in a kennel. Next door are some lambs with their mums and some are so young they still can’t even stand up steadily. In amongst them is one lone baby goat.

And, next door to them, a barn full of rheas. Like, 20 or so of them, or so it seems. Presumably called Christian, Christine, Christopher, etc. None come outside, but they’re all constantly moving and poking their heads out to see what’s going on.

Insert some kind of “Road to hell” joke here

Next we go indoors to the small animals and birds.

Owls. There are owls.

And “fancy mice” and rabbits and chickens.

Ooh, check out these peacocks and their impractical feathers (yes, I know they are far from impractical, but they just look so damn awkward).

This guy puffs right up in response to nothing, best I can tell. Maybe he just wanted to pose.

I fail to spot the prairie dog and am not of a mind to hang around waiting for him to come out, because the bit nearest the front is where he’s chosen to do all his shitting.

In one of the chicken coops there are a load of baby chicks, huddling together under a heat lamp. Awww.

“Micro” as fuck

Back outside and up to the fields, there’s more “micro” pigs, plus some sheep which means we can finally use some of the feed we bought. Slobbery bastards, ain’t they?

There are some rabbits - normal ones, I’m gonna pretend the rubbish giant one just wasn’t there.

And, incongruously for a farm rather than a zoo, a zebra.

Then HELLO, ALPACAS. Now we’re talking!

There’s three of them, and one of them has spotted us early and decided he’s interested in interacting. I just can’t help laughing at his appearance. It’s not like I’ve ever seen a graceful alpaca nor have much grace myself, but this fella is the most gormless one we’ve seen all year yet.

He really doesn’t do himself any favours with the faces he pulls while yawning.


The feed comes out. Helen gets slobbered on a load by our new friend, and attempts to entice his two mates to eat too but neither of them are right bothered: one is busy eating grass and won’t raise his head above ground level, and the other one is just neck deep in the regular feed bowl hanging off the fence.

Well, fine. We’ll go have a brief chat to the cows next door.

Then we’ll stare at an owl before going to talk to the Shetland ponies. They’re lovely, and one of them pulls a very happy face while Helen scratches the top of his head and he rubs his neck on the fence at the same time. As we leave we’re told “he’s a bit bitey”, so perhaps we got away with that one.

Sharing the Shetland enclosure is meant to be at least one more alpaca, a handsome grey and white fella judging by the picture, but he’s nowhere to be seen. So we go talk to the pregnant goats and some other sheep.

Having seen everything, it’s plainly time for another circuit of the piglets. Mum’s guard is down.

Then the sheep and lambs.

And, hello, one of the Friesian calves is out and we can stroke him! Helen’s heart melts, until it hardens again when the hi-viz British Airways children start to screech.

Time to leave, via the flaming galah and harvest mice who are SUPER MEGA AWESOME CUTE.

There’s a gift shop, in which it takes us around 20 minutes to buy a keyring and a bottle of water because someone is buying complicated entry tickets and the farmer attempting to serve us doesn’t understand the tills or pricing or anything. We spend the spare time talking to the ageing parakeet in a cage, who responds to “hello” with “hello” several times. He was brought in as a bald rescue, some 17 years ago, and is a bit old and knackered now bless him. We know the feeling.

Back outside, we can’t see an obvious way to cross the road back to a bus stop and anyway, the traffic is completely fucking mental. So I say, sod it, let’s walk up to Hatton Cross and figure out a tube route to our next stop.


Being to close to Heathrow we’d been treated to planes taking off overhead every 90 seconds or so. Now, I happen to quite like planes, and was pretty nerd-happy as we crossed the main road by the tube and I looked up and I’m pretty damn sure I saw the first ever Qantas non-stop flight to Australia climb above us. Fuck doing that in economy, mind.

Hatton Cross happens to be in Hillingdon and there was a welcome sign for that borough, but not a corresponding Hounslow one. Disappointed, we jumped on the tube and made our way back through today’s borough and out the other side, to South Ealing.

Here, again, I realised we were close to the border and made a viable claim for welcome-hunting. This time, by the nearby cemetery, we had success. Pointing away from the street, near no major junction or highway or obvious border-esque feature or landmark, here’s a shit welcome sign that prioritises the town over the borough.

A 65 bus came along fairly sharpish and took us straight down, past the football ground, turn left and beyond the musical museum to our second stop: The London Museum of Water & Steam.

Posted on the door of the main entrance is an apology, but the railway isn’t running today. God damn it, presumably this is in solidarity with South Western bloody Railway. The man behind the desk apologises again for the same reason, but still takes our money and hands over, for some reason, 4 receipts.

Better welcome sign than Hounslow had to offer.

The London Water and Steam Museum is all about the history of London’s water supply, and the steam engines/power which were involved. It starts off with a couple of timeline things about the supply of water - it took 60 years from “hey London, here’s a water supply” to the first organised complaints about how bad the water supply was, back in the 1200s.

Then it quickly turns into an exhibition of toilets and stories about people whose job it was to collect and sell shit.

Or, how people shitting in water supplies killed thousands of people on several occasions.

Lots of exhortations about how valuable water was when a decent supply was scarce.

Essentially it’s one huge “be thankful you were born in the late 20th century” story. There’s a fair bit to learn, with not much I already knew - Jon Snow and the Soho cholera outbreak being a rare bit of a priori knowledge.

Somewhat bizarrely, at least to me, there are tons of kids here - young kids too, like toddlers and stuff. At the edge of one of the engine rooms I can hear regular loud noises and then things start to make sense: there’s a big kids party clown show taking place as well.

Meanwhile the engines look cool and there’s lots of information about what they are, when they were built, and what they were used for - but seemingly no information, no matter how basic, about how they actually worked.

After all the old stuff comes some suddenly new stuff. We learn how energy supplies turned on their head: electricity was generated using steam and the existing knowledge of how to use water for power, but eventually electricity was the primary way that water was pumped. Also modern stuff looks more colourful, but much less cool.

We make our way through the fairly labyrinthine corridors and staircases to room after room of engines, eventually emerging outside in the hope that even with the train not in service it might be out to have a gawp at.

We’re out of luck. So, back in via a new door and into the rooms holding the two biggest engines here, which on some open days they still turn on. Not today, and apparently no-one else is interested so we have the rooms to ourselves. These 90-inch and 100-inch things are pretty incredible feats of engineering and we’re told as much by accompanying text, but still not much detail about how they actually worked.

En route we pass some old wooden pipes. The use of wood is the origin of the terms “branch pipe” and “trunk main”. I feel that would be more interesting to me had I been familiar with those terms in the first place.

This stuff is pretty big.

Between buildings we look at the chimney, which is absolutely not a chimney but a standpipe. Looks like a chimney though eh?

Even without learning a vast amount there is an overwhelming sense of how much work has, throughout the last few hundred years, gone into providing London (and elsewhere) with first running water, and then clean water, which I know I’ve taken for granted my entire life.

One outdoor exhibit is about an old waterwheel that belonged to a duke, and whose staff were unafraid of a little treachery where ice-cream and trout were involved.

Back through the main building and out, we are vaguely interested in a few things from the gift shop but in the end not interested enough to actually buy anything, even the Kew Steam Ale. No, let’s go for a wander around the small garden first and then head down to the Thames.

It’s about 3.30pm by now, meaning realistically we can’t do either of the other two things were on our original Hounslow plate. We’ve run out of steam, if you will. Get it? Because we just went to the steam museum, see, and …

But yeah, the Thames is here: we’re right by Kew Bridge, and Hounslow continues its journey east through the insufferably white and well-to-do Chiswick. As boroughs go this one definitely does not feel uniform, but unlike, say, Tower Hamlets, the posh bits are really nice rather than sterile and soulless like Canary Wharf. In fact this happens to be Helen’s favourite stretch of the Thames, her “if I win the lottery” fantasy property purchase location.

Mind you, that was before she got wound up by people still having their Christmas decorations out in fucking MARCH. This is something she’d noticed as we went through the less salubrious parts of the borough trying not to pre-judge as we headed towards Ealing earlier in the month, but now it reared its head again and WHAT THE FUCK, PEOPLE.

Hounslow’s bye-law signs are of a particularly moralising bent.

It’s a lovely stretch of the river, I grant you, especially with everyone being shamed into picking up after their dogs. A couple of pubs, a Cafe Rouge, people hitting tennis balls into the water for their dog to fetch, and a whole bunch of paddle boarding and rowing. As we reach the City Barge there’s a table free out front, which feels quite lucky, so we grab it and I go buy a couple of drinks. We also need to think about some proper food now, but the menu is somewhat eye-watering and we decide to eat elsewhere. While finishing our drink I look up “Oliver’s Island”, the name given to the small island in front of us that has nothing but a few trees on it. Supposedly, the name stems from the outright myth that Oliver Cromwell once sought refuge there.

Back past the mysteriously poetic tunnel next to one of the lovely cottages on the river front, all with their floodgates ‘n that. Helen can only talk about how she almost used to live around here, and would very much love to.

Back along to Kew Bridge in fact and into our mutual first choice for food, the Express Tavern. They claim to do 30-odd beers and decent food, and we’re immediately impressed that it’s not heaving - in fact, a couple of the quiet corners are empty - and the beer selection IS great.

Two guest stouts/porters are on, which is very pleasing. I buy a couple of drinks: one pint of stout, and half a lemonade. They attempt to charge me £54.70, which seems a bit steep, so I query it. £5.70 is more acceptable. After perusing the menu I return to order our food: roast chicken for Helen, the “Express burger” for me.

Untappd gives me yet another award, showing how single minded I am in what style of beer I prefer.

It is bloody nice, though.

We didn’t quite expect what we got. I mean, we did and we didn’t. The Sunday roast was absolutely bloody enormous, filling out a giant plate and with green veg plus cauliflower cheese on the side. There’s no way Helen was ever going to finish that much, in fact part of the reason I opted against a roast myself is because I expected I’d get leftovers. I also expected pate in my burger, but not for it to be quite so extravagantly tall (or “long in the Y axis”, as Alex might say) nor for the hand cut chips – one of the three options given to me – to be so bland and rubbish. So the food did not hit an absolute slam dunk home run for six in the back of the net 180, but it more than filled a hole.

With that, it was time for us to leave Hounslow. The disappointing welcome sign up by South Ealing cemetery was nagging, and since Kew Bridge was also a border we had a quick look to see if there was a better welcome available to us here… and there wasn’t. Basically the same sign as before, accompanied by a coat of arms for a non-existent county, both of which are impractically placed for a regular photo let alone close up or selfie – being as they are in the middle of a perilously confusing junction with about 8 different sets of traffic lights.

Well bollocks to you Hounslow. Our last act will be to make our way through the aisles of a badly designed Sainsbury’s to buy Diet Coke and some sickness-inducing mini-eggs, and then make our way back home as we rate our experience.

The numbers game

Eight instalments in and I'm finding it quite tough to explain in new prose how our ratings system works. Marks out of 7, 3 categories, etc.


  • Fun: 5. Drops points for being so wide that the interesting things are far apart, and we had to skip stuff. Also that bloody steam train.
  • Learning: 3. TBH I felt like I learnt very little except for some stuff about shit.
  • Nice: 4. Slap bang in the middle; grim in the west, nice in the east.


  • Fun: 5. Lots of baby animals, but train disappointment.
  • Learning: 5. Learnt a lot about poo, which was interesting, but had hoped to learn more about steam engines.
  • Nice: 5. Chiswick riverside is basically a 7, but had to downgrade for the existence of Feltham.

12+15 = a grand total of 27/42. Not a Harrow-esque disaster by any stretch of the imagination, and some better preparation and luck might have bumped it up a bit but frankly it feels about right.

Less than a quarter of the year gone and we've done exactly 25% of the boroughs. Given illness, crazy weather and the travails of attempting to move house are yet to dent our progress we just need to maintain current pace and we can take December off. Probably best not to get too far ahead of ourselves though.

Created By
Darren Foreman

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