Catching a ‘plane in Kutch (Gujarat)

AIR TRAVELLERS CAN FLY to the former Kingdom of Kutch (Kachchh), now part of Gujarat, by two routes. There is a scheduled flight between Ahmedabad and Bhuj, and another between Mumbai and Kandla, whose airport is close to Anjar.

Kandla, was developed as a seaport on the early 1950s at the instigation of a member of the by then former royal family of Kutch. It lies on the coast of Kutch southeast of Karachi, a port that was incorporated into Pakistan in 1947, and northwest of Mumbai. It is now the largest port in India when measured by the volume of cargo handled there.

Cattle on the road

From Mandvi to Kandla Airport is 95 Km by road. We set off from Mandvi three hours before our flight to Mumbai was due to depart from Kandla. Our hosts, who use the airport frequently, told us that on average the road journey is 1 ½ hours. For the first hour of our journey, the highway was almost devoid of traffic. Along the way, we frequently switched lanes because heavy vehicles often move slowly along the outside lane without giving way to faster vehicles. We wove our way between slower vehicles, constantly overtaking and ‘undertaking’. Then after speeding along steadily, we headed towards a static queue of heavy lorries.

QuIck as a flash, our driver made a three point turn and we drove in the opposite direction tobthe rest of the traffic until we reached a gap in the central divider of the dual carriageway. We were not alone in making this manoeuvre. There were even some of the heavy goods vehicles making cumbersome manoeuvres to head away from the traffic jam. We continued our journey on the wrong side of the divider until we reached a turn off that allowed us to go under the highway and back into the correct lane.

Soon, we encountered another jam. A transporter carrying a tank as wide as one side of the motorway was inching its way onto the main road. Our driver took us off the road onto a dirt track, but this was also blocked. Another u-turn and we drove beneath the highway to a narrow, poorly tarmacced road that ran parallel to the highway. This led to a bridge beneath the main thoroughfare to reach another narrow lane that ran alongside the part of the highway running towards Kandla.

This lane offered other obstructions including large trucks and a herd of slow moving cattle. We squeezed past them and eventually rejoined the highway.

Meanwhile, the time was ticking away, and we wondered whether we would miss our flight. My spirits rose when we turned off the highway and on to a road leading to the airport. Soon, my hopes were dashed. We encountered yet another jam. However, our skilful driver managed weave his way between them. Soon, we arrived in front of the tiny airport terminal building.

Kandla Airport is primarily a military air base. Passengers use it for the one flight a day to and from Mumbai. When we disembarked there a few years ago, we walked from the aircraft to a shelter, where passengers’ check-in baggage was ready to be retrieved.

The check-in and security check is carried out in a part of a small room, the rest of which is part of the departure lounge (with a snacks stall). This hall leads to another room with seating. It is here that the departure gate is located. This simple departure lounge reminded me of Venice’s Marco Polo Airport as it was in the early 1960s.

We boarded the Spicejet two engined propellor plane after walking across the apron. The aircraft (a Q400 made by the Bombadier Company) has its own retractable staircase that we used to enter and later leave the ‘plane. After an uneventful flight lasting 1 hour and 15 minutes, we disembarked at Mumbai.

We were lucky only to have arrived a few minutes later than the scheduled time. Only three days earlier, my wife’ cousin’s flight from Mumbai to Kandla was delayed by almost 5 hours because of a technical problem discovered on the ‘plane minutes before it was due to take off. We were also fortunate because our quick-witted driver skilfully reduced the time spent stuck at significantly awful traffic jams.

Three years later, little has changed…

WHEN WE LANDED at the huge airport that serves Kolkata (Calcutta), it looked much as it did 3 years ago. Only one of the 6 or 7 baggage retrieval conveyor belts was in use and the vast airport seemed almost empty. The situation was the same when we last used it in December 2019.

We made the long ride from the airport to South Kolkata in a vehicle that was not available 3 years ago: an electric taxi. While being driven in this advanced form of vehicle, I wondered whether much else had changed in the city. Although there is much new construction at the periphery, it seems that delightful old Kolkata simply looks a little older.

A visit to the busy New Market (aka ‘SS Hogg Market’) revealed little obvious change. Our first port of call was at the excellently and tastefully stocked Modern Book Depot, where we chatted with the owner and made a few purchases.

Our search for a small funnel took us around the market buildings. A small store crammed full of kitchenware was able to fulfil our quest. We had been looking for this simple item in three other cities – in vain.

To our great relief, Nizam’s restaurant looked much as it has done for many decades, although an additional dining area has been added. The walls of the two older eating areas are decorated with framed theatre (English and Bengali plays) and cinema posters (mainly films made in India).

Nizam’s was founded in 1932, and has been well-known for its tasty kabab (‘kathi’) rolls ever since. A paratha is fried in oil on a tava, and cooked mutton or chicken is placed on it plus or minus a a beaten egg. When the paratha is ready, it and its contents are rolled up and wrapped tightly in paper. According to the customer’s choice, chillies can be added before the paratha is rolled. The management of Nizam’s states that the paper wrapped rolls were invented so that in the era prior to Independence, British men and their casual, temporary, female companions could eat the rolls without getting grease on their fingers. Whatever their history, these kabab rolls are highly enjoyable.

From where we were sitting, we were able to see the paratha dough being strenuously kneaded by a young man rhythmically thrusting his hands into the stiff paste. I was also able to watch other men threading meat onto metal skewers and others grilling the meat on glowing charcoal. The dough is formed into spheres a little smaller than tennis balls . These spheres are then flattened to make circular discs, which are then fried on the tava as already mentioned.

Walking around New Market and driving between it and south Kolkata revealed that the centre of the city I love has not succumbed to the often tasteless modernisation that has affected many other cities. I enjoy the unchanging appearance of Kolkata, but many people who have lived there bemoan the fact that it is a dying city. This is not say that Kolkata lacks vitality. It is still full of life, but as far as business opportunities are concerned, both the present and the future are not looking particularly optimistic.

Welcomed to India with coffee

BECAUSE OF THE COVID19 pandemic, we had not stepped onto Indian soil for two years and nine months. This was unusual for us because after we married in early 1984, we have been visiting India on average twice a year. For family related reasons, we have almost always landed in Bangalore.

When a new international airport was opened near Devanahalli village (at the northern edge of Bangalore) a few years ago, a line of eateries and cafés opened alongside the main landside of the terminal building. Being outside the terminal, which can only be entered by holders of air tickets, these outlets can be used by passengers and those who are not travelling by air.

One of these stalls is a grand affair partly decorated with copper sheeting. It is called Hatti Kaapi. The ‘kaapi’ in the name refers to the way local Bangaloreans pronounce ‘coffee’. This particular coffee stand provides excellent quality South Indian filter coffee. It is so wonderful that whenever we visit the airport, either arriving (from the UK or from places elsewhere in India) or departing, we always make time to drink a coffee served by this superb stall.

So, after what was for us an abnormally long absence from India and what has been a disastrous period for everyone, it was wonderful to discover that it was ‘business as usual’ at Hatti Kaapi. And since our last trip 2 ¾ years ago, a new sign has appeared at Hatti Kaapi. It reads:
“HATTI KAAPI The great Indian welcome drink.”


Seeing that sign after 2 ¾ years made us feel much more welcome than its designers could have ever imagined.

Sad to leave, glad to return

AT THE END of a four day stay in Venice, a city, which I have loved ever since my early childhood days, I felt sad at the prospect of departure for home. Wandering about the city brought back happy memories of visits there with my parents as well as giving me the chance to experience familiar sights and to make new discoveries. Although Venice is a little overrun with tourists, its history as a gateway to points further east remains fascinating and evocative. So, the anticipation of leaving filled me with sadness.

We left Venice on a waterbus, which arrived punctually and was not overcrowded. After a lovely 70 minute voyage, which included stops at the Lido, the Fondamente Nove, and a couple of stops on the island of Murano (famous for its glass production), we arrived at Marco Polo Airport. And that is where our journey became wearying.

First, we had to queue to reach the baggage depositing facility for our airline Easyjet. Next, we discovered that our departure would be delayed by about 30 minutes. Then, we sat in a crowded waiting area without knowing from which gate we would be boarding our ‘plane. It was important to know this because there are two sets of passport control points, each leading to a separate set of gates. Once the gate was announced, another queue. This time, we had to wait (not too long) to have stamps placed in our non-EU passports. On arrival at the departure gate, we were told that boarding was beginning. What this meant was that everybody had to stand up, to show our boarding passes, and then to stand in a long sloping corridor for at least 10 minutes before we were invited on-board. The 1 hour 55 minute flight to London’s Gatwick Airport was pleasant, although delayed.

At Gatwick, we disembarked at a point distant from the immigration hall. The latter was reached after a good 15 minute walk. The passport control area was chock-full of people, some of them inebriated. Unlike in the EU, where EU and non-EU passport holders are separated, at Gatwick (and Heathrow), both kinds of passport holders and those from several other countries (e.g., Australia, NZ, and Japan) queue together to use the automated passport checking machines. The process, which might save spending on labour costs, is not user-friendly. Many passengers had difficulty using the machines and had to be helped by other passengers and a few members of airport staff. Fortunately, because it had taken so long to get through the immigration control, our suitcase had arrived in the baggage collection hall.

After one more short, but fast-moving queue, we reclaimed our car keys, and soon began the 1 hour drive home. Although I was so sad leaving Venice, after the many hours spent at airports and the numerous lines in which we waited, I was glad to be home. Years ago, when I was a child, leaving wherever we had spent our holiday was always sad, but even worse was returning to everyday routines of school and life in the staid Hampstead Garden Suburb, where we lived.

To Venice by crossing the water

THE LAST TIME I flew into Venice’s Marco Polo airport was in the late 1960s with my parents. In those days, the airport was tiny in comparison with what it is now. Back then, there were two ways of reaching the city of Venice from Marco Polo: by bus to Piazzale Roma, or far more expensively, in a private water taxi, in effect a speed boat. Despite my mother’s tendency to become seasick easily, we always took the speedy water taxi from the airport to our pensione on the Fondamente Zattere. In those now distant times, the airport arrival hall was much closer to the shore of the lagoon than it is today.

Water bus

Times have changed. The airport has grown and is far from the waterfront. Although there are still plenty of speedy water taxis carrying passengers, there is now a regular, moderately priced water bus service, which links Marco Polo to many points in Venice. We used this service.

As we crossed the lagoon, many water taxis sped past us. We passed Murano and the cemetery island of St Michele. Then, as we approached the Fondamente Nuova on Venice proper, I spotted the curious domed Bell Tower of the church of Madonna dell’Orto. I looked at it and felt a lump in my throat as I remembered the numerous times I visited that church with my parents to see the frescos within it. It was one of my favourite Venetian excursions, being taken to see that edifice.

After getting off at the wrong stop (mea culpa) and boarding another vessel, we reached our destination near the Gardens where much of the Venice Biennale happens. There is no doubt that arriving in Venice by traversing the water in a boat is far more dramatic and pleasant than arriving across the bridge by train or bus.

A giant aircraft in Lisbon

WHILE AWAITING TAKE-OFF from Lisbon’s main airport, our aeroplane was ‘parked’ beside the largest aircraft I have ever seen. Operated by Maximus Air Cargo company, its nose was pointing upwards towards the sky. It was being loaded with freight through an enormous aperture at its front end. The aeroplane was so large that it dwarfed the numerous workers around it and the forklift trucks being used to load its cargo. Even the Airbus 320 craft standing nearby seemed tiny in comparison. As we had to wait for what seemed like ages before we taxied to the runway for take-off, I had plenty of time to stare at it and to take photographs through the window next to my seat. My curiosity increased when I observed that the ‘plane had its make written on the raised section of its nose: Antonov 124-100.

The Antonov aircraft were built mainly during the years that the Soviet Union was in existence. The company that built these freight carrying ‘planes is named after the aircraft designer Oleg Konstantinovich Antonov (1906-1984). Born in the Moscow region, he was the son of a civil engineer. From 1923 onwards, he was deeply involved in aircraft engineering and design. By 1938, he was the leading designer in the aircraft plant headed up by AS Yakovlev (www.antonov.com/en/biography). And in May 1946, he headed up his own aircraft design plant, based in Novosibirsk. By 1948, ‘planes designed by Antonov and his team were being manufactured in Kiev (Kyiv in what is now Ukraine). In 1952, Antonov and his design bureau moved to Kiev. Antonov’s team began designing the AN 124 heavy transport aircraft in the early 1970s. The AN 124’s maiden flight was in 1982, but the vehicle only became known to the world at large when it was exhibited at the Paris Air Show in 1985. The AN 124s were produced at two factories: one in Ulyanovsk (now in Russia) and the other at Kiev (now in Ukraine). One special feature of the AN 24’s design is that its landing gear with 24 wheels is designed both for landing on rough terrain and to enable the ‘plane to kneel down so that its front entrance can be lowered to make loading and unloading easier.  About 55 of the AN 124 craft were built between 1982 and 2004.  According the uk.flightaware.com website, the AN 124 (registration UR-ZYD), which we saw on the 17th of June 2022 had flown from Leipzig to Lisbon that day and was about to fly on to Cairo (Egypt). It flew to Kigali (Rwanda) from Cairo on the 18th of June. Another website ( www.planespotters.net/airframe/antonov-an-124-ur-zyd-maximus-air-cargo/ejn4jx) revealed that UR-ZYD was built just over 18 years ago, in about 2013/14, making it one of the last to be built.

Maximus Air Cargo, which operates the AN 124, which I saw, is an Abu Dhabi based company, which specialises in transporting larger than usual objects. The company owns one Antonov 124-100, about which its website (www.maximus-air.com/fleet/antonov-124-100) noted:

“The heaviest of the heavyweight cargo lifters. It has a unique self-contained multiple winch and overhead crane system capable of self loading / unloading 120 tonne from front or rear. Can carry 21x Toyota Land Cruisers or 4 x Mi 17 MTV Helicopters without breaking a sweat.”

The aircraft’s maximum range is 6710 nautical miles (‘nm’), but when it is carrying its maximal pay load (120,000 Kg), this reduces to 2420 nm.

I had heard of the Antonov aircraft before, but the example I saw in Lisbon is the first I have seen ‘in the flesh’. I found that seeing this giant was very exciting.

Landing in Madeira

MADEIRA IS A PORTUGUESE island in the Atlantic Ocean. Most people, including us, arrive by air and land at the Airport of the island’s capital, Funchal.

We flew from London to Lisbon to Funchal on the Portuguese airline. The climax of the somewhat poorly organised and unsympathetic airline‘s handling of its passengers was not entirely the fault of the airline: it was the landing at Funchal airport.

Funchal airport is hazardous to say the least. It consists of a single short runway with sea along one side and at both ends. This short runway, rather like that of a large naval aircraft carrier, lies almost surrounded, not only by water, but also by nearby rocky mountains.

After flying over the empty Atlantic for about 80 minutes,  the rocky island of Madeira, partly shrouded in clouds, loomed into view.

We descended towards the short runway and almost a few seconds before we were to have touched down on the concrete,  the pilot caused the ‘plane to ascend steeply. We headed back into the clouds before the pilot announced that his first attempt to land had been thwarted by an unexpected gust of crosswind and that he would make another attempt to land.

I noticed that during the second attempt, we approached the runway far slower than the first time. The few hair-raising minutes before we touched down seemed like hours, so anxious I was beginning to feel. It was a great relief to set foot on the tarmac when we left the aircraft.

The cabin crew laughed at us when we told them how scared we were during the landing. They could have tried to be reassuring at the very least. I was unimpressed by their reaction to our concern.

Terrifying and alarming as was the landing, Funchal is proving to be a delightful destination.

Will this village near Heathrow Airport disappear?

SITUATED AT THE northwest corner of Heathrow Airport (and within sight of it), is the former village of Longford. Now in the Borough of Hillingdon, it lies on what was once the main road between London and Bath. Its name derives from a ford which used to cross the River Colne. James Thorne, writing in 1876, noted that there were then three roadside inns and that:

“The fishery here is in good repute among anglers; as is also the Kings Head Inn.”

Today, there are only two pubs in Longford, The Kings Arms and The White Horse. The Kings Head, marked on a map surveyed in 1875, no longer exists. It stood just east of the Duke of Northumberland’s River, near the boundary fence of The Thistle Terminal 5 Hotel. Nearby, next to a bus stop (Stop J), stands the now disused Longford Pump. This is almost 10 feet tall and was used to top up the tanks of steam-powered traction engines. Of the two surviving inns, The White Horse looks to be the oldest. According to a notice attached to this picturesque old pub, it was probably built as a smokehouse (for curing meat) in 1534 and became an inn in 1601.

Cottage in Longford

Across the road from The White Horse, there is a magnificent half-timbered building. This Elizabethan (16th century) edifice is Yeomans House. The historian Wendy Tibbits wrote (www.wendytibbitts.info):

“In 1542 Leland in his ‘Itineraries’ describes a building about a mile north of the wooden bridge over the Colne between Longford and Colnbrook, which suggests it could be the building now known as Yeomans. At the time it was the manor house of Colham and owned by the Earl of Derby who died there on 23 May 1521. He had built the Tudor Manor House on the site of a medieval house. At that time the manor of Colham had extensive land extending from Hillingdon southwards … In the mid-eighteenth century this house was owned by Thomas Streeting who died there in 1773. It was inherited by his daughter, Elizabeth, who had married the other prominent Longford farmer, Thomas Weekly. Thomas, his wife, and their nine children were living in the Weekly house, a hundred meters along the Bath Road, and so they decided that the Elizabethan would be divided into three dwellings and rented to their farm labourers’ families …”

Between The White Horse and The Kings Arms, there is a charming, thatched cottage. Almost opposite this, there is a three-storey brick building, now next to the entrance of the Heathrow Medical Aeromedical Centre. According to Ms Tibbits, this is the house built by a wealthy London cloth merchant, Thomas Weekly, about 10 years after the 1666 Great Fire of London. The Weekly family lived here from the late 17th century until 1899. The house had its own farm, which was compulsorily purchased during WW2 to use the land for the construction of an airfield in the neighbouring, now demolished, hamlet of Heathrow.  

The Kings Arms Pub faces Heathrow Close. Immediately to the east of the hostelry, there is an old long barn with a sagging roof. This is one of the few reminders of the era when Longford was in the midst of agricultural terrain. To the west of this pub, the old road to bath crosses the River Colne over a bridge with elegant cast-iron railings and roundels, each with a crown and beneath it, the following: “WR IV 1834”. This is marked on old maps as “The King’s Bridge”.

Longford contains the remnants of what was once a small country village. Ms Tibbits noted that:

“… its four inns provided travellers with hospitality. Six miles from Windsor Castle the village was the usual stopping place for the Royals to change their horses on the way to and from London and Windsor … Highwaymen prayed on the coach travellers who had to cross the notorious Hounslow Heath to get to Longford, but if any villagers were aware of the culprits they kept it to themselves.”

Sadly, like nearby Harmondsworth, Longford’s future might well be bleak. Should the projected extension of Heathrow Airport finally get the ‘go-ahead’, much of Longford, if not all of it, will be demolished. This would be a great pity as it would involve the displacement of a small community and the loss of several buildings of historical interest.

Threatened by Heathrow Airport

THE PARISH CHURCH of Harmondsworth is about 1.7 miles northwest of Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 1, yet it feels as if it were much further from it, maybe in the heart of the countryside. What was once a small village in rural Middlesex has now been engulfed by London’s westward spread. However, the old village green retains a certain rustic charm.

The name of the place derives from the name of a person, ‘Hermode’ or ‘Harmond’ and the Anglo-Saxon word ‘worth’ meaning a farm or enclosure. Set in what was once fertile farmland that provided corn and green crops for the London markets, it is now a mainly residential area. Writing in 1876 in his “Handbook to the Environs of London”, James Thorne remarked:

“The village of Harmondsworth is small and not remarkable …”

Writing 146 years later, I must disagree. The place is remarkable for retaining some of its rural atmosphere. The village green is surrounded by a row of picturesque old cottages, a slightly newer-looking village store (Gable Stores), and two pubs (The Crown and The Five Bells [formerly ‘The Sun’]), and the entrance to the churchyard of the parish church of St Mary.

The vicar of St Mary kindly unlocked the church for us. According to a history of the church by Douglas M Rust, it is probably located near the site of a pagan place of worship on one of the quintarial lines defined by Roman surveyors’ landmarks. The archaeologist Montagu Sharpe, writing in volume 33 of the “English Historical Review”, published in 1918, observed:

“Two curious discoveries came to light after the quintarial cross-lines had been drawn, making each pagus appear like a gigantic chequer-board. The first was, that 47 out of 56 mother churches of parishes in Middlesex were situated upon one or other of these lines, the apparent explanation being that Romano-British chapels (compita) adjoined the principal rural ways, which were designed to follow the quintarial lines. In the next age these little edifices were adopted by missionaries for Christian worship, following the astute and well-known direction of Pope Gregory to utilize the pagan sacra where the people had been accustomed to assemble. If so, then such sites have been associated with public worship, first pagan, then Christian, for nearly 2,000 years.”

Be that as it may, the present parish church in Harmondsworth was constructed from the 12th century onwards, much of it before the 16th century. In the 18th century, a cupola was added to the bell tower. In the following century, repairs and restoration was undertaken. The south entrance has a decorated carved stone Norman archway. The carved capitals of the pillars on the south side of the nave are 12th century. The westernmost pillars on the north side of the nave are 13th century, whereas the four pillars to the east of these are 16th century. The chancel, which is supported by the newer pillars was constructed later than the nave. Where the newer part was joined to the older, there is a discontinuity in the stonework of the arch that joins the nave to the chancel: the two halves of the arch do not match each other. The pointed arches along the north side of the nave are Perpendicular gothic in style, whereas those north of the chancel are a Tudor design.

The tower of the flint covered church used to be the tallest building in Harmondsworth until the control tower at nearby Heathrow Airport was constructed, Douglas Dark mentioned of the church:

“Little did the early builders realise that their church was later to become the parish church of the manor where many visitors to Britain first arrive.”

A few yards northwest of the church, there is another treat awaiting visitors to Harmondsworth. This is the Harmondsworth Barn, which was constructed 1425-27 on land bought in 1391 by William of Wykeham (c 1320-1404), Bishop of Winchester, to endow Winchester College. It is now maintained by English Heritage, from whose website I gleaned the following information:

“Used mainly to store cereal crops before threshing, it remained in agricultural use until the 1970s. At 58 metres (192 ft) long and 11.4 metres (37 ft 6 in) wide, the barn is one of the largest ever known to have been built in the British Isles, and the largest intact medieval timber-framed barn in England.”

The barn’s main purpose was to store locally grown cereals (e.g., wheat, barley, and oats) and was still in use during the 1970s. Its interior is a fine example of well-preserved mediaeval carpentry. The barn is located on the eastern edge of what was once Manor Farm, through which a stream of the River Colne flowed. The erstwhile farm covered the probable site of a long-since demolished Benedictine Priory.

James Thorne noted that the barn had once been ‘L’ shaped, rather than rectangular as it is today. The part of it that had made it shaped like an ‘L’ was taken away and relocated elsewhere. To quote Thorne:

“This wing was taken down about the same time as the Manor House and rebuilt at Heath Row, 1 ½ miles S.E. of Harmondsworth church. This, which is known as the Tithe Barn, exactly resembles the Manor Barn in structure, except the walls are of brick…”

Well, ‘Heath Row’ is now ‘Heathrow’ and this fragment removed from the barn at Harmondsworth no longer exists. I located it on a map surveyed in 1862. It then stood on a road or lane that ran south from the Bath Road to Perry Oaks Farm on the western edge of Heathrow village. This land is now covered by the airport terminals (1,2, and 3).

Harmondsworth village has a few other old buildings apart from those already mentioned. One of them is Harmondsworth Hall, which Wendy Tibbits described in her blog (www.wendytibbitts.info) as follows:

“This grand-sounding building was built in the early 1700s, but still has elements of a fire-damaged Tudor building which was on this site. The central chimney and a fireplace are remnants of the former hous. … In 1910 this house was the first house in Harmondsworth to have its own electricity supply.”

Both Ms Tibbits and the vicar of the parish church fear for the future of Harmondsworth should plans to extend Heathrow Airport are carried out. Most of the old village will be demolished, leaving the church and the barn. Ms Tibbits noted:

“If the London Airport Expansion plans go ahead eleven listed buildings in Longford, and twelve in Harmondsworth will be demolished, along with hundreds of other homes. Only Harmondsworth medieval Great Barn and its Norman church will survive the destruction, but who will want to visit them when they will be meters from the airport’s perimeter fence?”

Although extending the airport might benefit the country, it would be sad to lose yet more of Britain’s heritage.

At the end of the runway at Heathrow Airport

TODAY THE MAIN roads leading from London west, the A4 and the M4, run more or less parallel from Hammersmith west towards Slough and then beyond. Before these roads were modernised, or in the case of the M4 and, existed, the old road from London to Slough and points further west ran through the village of Colnbrook, and onwards to Bath. This was long before London’s Heathrow Airport came into existence. Today, the centre of Colnbrook, bypassed by both the A4 and the M4, lies 1.2 miles west of the western perimeter of the airport. Aeroplanes coming into land fly low over Colnbrook because they are within a minute or two of touching down on the runways. Despite being sandwiched between the airport and the ever-expanding town of Slough and having some new housing, Colnbrook retains many features of a rural English village.

With a bridge crossing the River Colne, a tributary of the Thames, Colnbrook was an important staging post on the coach road between London and the west. An old milestone near The Ostrich pub marks the halfway point between Hounslow (west London) and Maidenhead. A modern sign next to it informs that the toll-road through the village was known as the Colnbrook Turnpike. Writing in 1876, James Thorne noted that during the coaching era, Colnbrook:

“… retained something of its ancient noise and stir; it is now a dull, sleepy, roadside village of a long main street and 2 or 3 shabby offshoots, the many inns testifying to its old character.”

No doubt, the advent of the railways put pay to much of the traffic through the village. It is still rather sleepy if you disregard the ‘planes passing overhead every few minutes. But it is not shabby in my opinion. It has maintained a certain rustic charm and a few of its inns or pubs. Many other buildings in the place have tall archways that might well have led into coaching yards of former hostelries.

A well-restored brick and stone bridge crosses one of the streams of the River Colne. The stonework that lines the tops of the walls of the crossing have carved lettering that shows that the centre of the span was the boundary between Middlesex and Buckinghamshire and that the bridge was built in 1777. A large building with an archway that would have admitted stagecoaches at the eastern entrance to Colnbrook bears the name ‘White Hart House’. When Thorne was writing about the village in 1876, he noted that this was an inn:

“… a good house, with bowling green, and grounds, much in favour for trade dinners and pleasure parties…”

The George Inn, unlike the White Hart, is still in business. It is said that Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen Elizabeth I, might have spent a night there when being taken as a prisoner from Woodstock to Hampton Court in 1588. The pub was first established in the reign of Henry VIII. Its present façade is 18th century (www.sloughhistoryonline.org.uk). Other royal visitors to Colnbrook included the Black Prince with his prisoner King John of France, who were met here by King Edward III (reigned 1327-1377).   The half-timbered Ostrich Inn, almost opposite the George, is far older and has a less salubrious history. Its foundations were laid in 1106 but much of its present construction is 16th century. Its name, the Ostrich, might well be a corruption of an earlier name, ‘the Hospice’.

During the 17th century, the Ostrich had an extremely dodgy landlord called Jarman. The pub’s website (https://ostrichcolnbrook.co.uk/history.html) describes his activities well. Here are some extracts from it. Jarman:

“…with his wife made a very profitable sideline by murdering their guests after they had retired for the night.

They had a trap door built into the floor of one of their bedrooms and when a suitably rich candidate arrived Jarman would inform his wife that a fat pig was available if she wanted one! She would reply by asking her husband to put him in the sty for till the morrow. The bedstead was hinged and they would tip the sleeping victim into a vat of boiling liquid immediately below, thus killing him.”

All went well for the Jarmans until they chose a clothier from Reading, named Thomas Cole:

“After persuading him to make his will before he retired, Jarman killed Cole. Unfortunately Cole’s horse was found wandering the streets nearby and caused a search for his owner who had been last seen entering The Ostrich! His body was found some time later in a nearby brook and some say that this Cole-in-the-brook is how Colnbrook got its name. It’s a nice story but whether it is true or not, who’s to say!”

You might be interested to learn that the Ostrich still offers rooms for guests to stay overnight. We met four men, who had done so, sitting quite contentedly in the morning sun that was flooding into the pub’s pleasant courtyard. Despite the story of Thomas Cole, it is far mor likely that the village was originally called ‘Colebroc’ (in 1107) and later ‘Colebrok’ (by 1222).

We visited the parish church of St Thomas just as guest were arriving at a christening. We were given a warm welcome by a female cleric dressed in white with a colourful stole, which she told us that she was wearing at such a happy occasion. The church, a Victorian gothic edifice, was designed by an architect who specialised in Gothic Revival, Benjamin Ferrey (1810-1880). Built between 1849 and 1852, it has walls containing flints. A north aisle, designed by a great practitioner of the Gothic Revival style, George Edmund Street (1824-1881), was added to the church in 1862.

Streams of the River Colne run through parts of the village. In some places their banks are lined with old houses, some half-timbered. Colnbrook, over which millions of people have flown since Heathrow was opened as Great west Aerodrome in 1929 and then as a much larger establishment, now known as London Heathrow, since 1946, is visited by few except mainly locals. Bypassed by major roads and not on the railway, the village has a picturesqueness that rivals many much more frequented places deep in the English countryside. Yet, Colnbrook is a short bus ride from Slough’s railway station and about 40 to 50 minutes’ drive from Hyde Park Corner. Visit the place and be surprised by its charm.