Saturday 6 November 2010

London Heathrow, Harmondsworth Moor Running Route

Length: 4.5 km (2.8 miles), terrain has light hills

London Running Routes:
Best London Running Routes: Overview
Thames Embankment
Docklands-LimehouseRegent's Canal and Camden Town  
Hampstead Heath  
3-Parks Route: Hyde Park, Green Park, St. James' Park  
Regent's Park  
Hyde Park   

Heathrow Harmondsworth Moor  

Richmond Park
Notting Hill
Victoria Park
Wimbledon Common Trail Run
Royal Docks/ExCeL Route 
Kew / Brentford Thames Run  
For more running routes, see Route List. 

If your company hates you so much that they book you into airport hotels, you should probably just sit down and cry right there, wherever you are at this moment. A whole world full of great towns and countryside is just waiting to be explored -- and there you are, squeezed between freeways, jets thundering overhead, and diesel fumes lingering in the parking lots of those bunker-like structures euphemistically called hotels.

NOTE: see the Destinations Tips page for tips about spending your free time in this great town!
My new employer was obviously trying to tell me something that I don't want to hear when they sent me off to stay at the Sheraton Heathrow on my very first week of work this past week. London -- the most fun-, interesting-, greatest city around -- was just a stone's throw away, but I was stuck out at the airport.

Making the best of this disaster, I went running in the green area just behind the hotel, north of Heathrow, and to my complete surprise, I found (relative) paradise. Harmondsworth village is just separated from the hotel by one field. And there is rolling parkland stretching west of the village, called Harmondsworth Moor, full of public footpaths, streams, hills, lakes and swampy ecosystems.
Harmondsworth Moor pond
The park is hemmed-in by the M25 motorway along its western edge, the M4 to the north, and the A4 (Bath Road with the hotel) on the south. The park was created in the year 2000 on an old landfill, and they did a decent job of bringing back nature here. The only problem is that it's LOUD, with the nearby freeways and non-stop jet takeoffs. Deaf people will think it's true paradise, but the rest of us can fake it. For a few morning's runs, though, it's a welcome surprise.
The Wraysbury River flows through the park
And the Harmondsworth village center has a real pub (the Five Bells, plus the less scenic but just as friendly Crown across the street), a beautiful old church with its churchyard full of hulking old yew trees, and even a manor-house of sorts, Harmondsworth Hall, which is a guest house now, for those few privileged people who know better. All of this will cease to exist when runway 3 gets built. Public protests have fended it off for now, but the village is living on borrowed time, as the regulars will sadly tell you if you spend an evening in the Five Bells, which I would heartily recommend.

If you're staying at the Sheraton Heathrow (don't mix this up with the GOOD Sheraton, the Skyline, down at the other end of Bath Road -- route A4), just follow this route to running heaven. Other hotels such as the Thistle, Heathrow Lodge, Arora and Holiday Inn Bath Road are also close to this route:

Heathrow Harmondsworth Moor Route
Walk out to the street in front of the Sheraton Heathrow Hotel, and just turn right, and run westwards to the end of the hotel property (the parking lot). Right there between the parking lot and the next building, there's a little paved footpath heading north to your right. Head up the footpath. The building on the left seems to be a prison (although it's hard to distinguish from the other airport hotels). Just run up the path, but watch out for the squashed rat! An open farm-field will soon open up on your right, behind the hotel.

After the field, the path goes through a green gate and then splits the village recreation fields. Turn left at the gate and run diagonally across the green lawn towards the northwest corner of the park, keeping the houses to your right. You'll see another green gate between the last rows of houses. Follow the street until it runs into a little road after just one block, Moor Lane.

Now, turn left on this road and you'll run straight into the moor, about a kilometer ahead. Ignore the 2 different barriers in the street, including the blocked bridge, just keep going straight on the footpath. You'll pass some foot trails that cut off to the left and right at various times, going to several parts of the moor, but we'll ignore them. You'll hear the M25 motorway straight ahead getting louder. The road ends at a wooden fence where a wooden waymarker points to Joan's Bridge to the south (left) or West Drayson village just 1.5 miles to the north (right).
Waymarker to Joan's Bridge
You could go either direction here. Let's go south, following the sign towards Joan's Bridge. There is a ridgeline along the west side, close to the motorway. You can use it for some hill work. It's less noisy to stay down closer on the left, though, following the Wraysbury River, with its swamps and pond. When you see the wooden bridge over the river, cross it, and turn back north again, heading back towards the waymarker. Back at the waymarker, you could head back to the hotel from here or continue going north to do a loop of the north end of the park first. Decide on how much distance and time you have.
Along the ridge
As a historical note, the big granite blocks that you see scattered around the landscape are left over from when they tore down the old Waterloo Bridge in 1935. Too bad that they couldn't think of anything better to do with them.

When heading out Moor Lane back to the village, instead of turning right on the first street, back to the recreation field again, keep going straight into the village to take a look. In just a few blocks you'll see the Five Bells pub on the left. Turn left there and you'll find the old church right behind it, and its ancient churchyard (Mr. Cox, who bred the tasty Cox apples is buried here, I'm told). The church is very English: built of split flintstones, with their glassy surfaces reflecting the light, and a solid oak portal at the front door. The churchyard is full of impressive deep-green yew trees.

The Harmondsworth village green, churchyard in background
So now that you know where the pub is so that you can get a decent beer this evening, you can head home. Cross the street, going through the tiny square in front of the pub, and continue down Summerhouse Lane, the side-street next to the little Gable Stores grocery. You'll run past Harmondsworth Hall on the right (remember? that historic hotel that your company's travel agency people book for themselves, so there's no room left for you) and then into a suburban neighborhood. The street will curve to the right, but just go straight on the footpath between the houses. You'll soon be back at the recreation fields, where you turn right and follow the path right back to the hotel parking lot.
In the Harmondsworth Hall guest parlor: is this an airport hotel?
NOTE: As an alternative, when running out towards the moor from the village, you can turn right at the waymarker pointing to "The Ring". This way circles clockwise around the north end of the village, and ends up back in the village churchyard. Follow it north, cross the wooden bridge to Saxon Lake, and then follow the path to the right, along the south shore of the lake. At the east end of the lake, the path turns southward and heads directly back to the churchyard. 
Saxon Lake at sunset


  1. fantastic, keith!! love it! and i love your lede. you really turned lemons into lemonade with this one. it shows that we just need to get out there and "bloom where we are planted" to use another apt metaphor.

  2. Thanks Kathy! I agree, we have to take advantage of whatever our circumstances are, and enjoy it as much as we can.

  3. Ok will try this out tomorrow running from heathrow. I have a six hour layover coming from san Francisco going to joburg and this seems like a good way to get a run in...

  4. There's nothing better before a 12-hour flight to Jo'burg than to get in a good run in the fresh (almost) air, Frank! I'll be back there at Heathrow again next week, and I'll definitely be taking my runnning gear.

  5. I also came across this moor by accident. I was visiting Harmondsworth Primary School to do Road Safety with the children, went to the Five Bells for lunch and took a stroll into the churchyard, saw footpath signs, followed them and found the lake. I followed the path to the left which is south of lake.It has a couple of lovely benches for sitting and gazing at the waterfowl. The path would also go straight ahead then turn left round the north of the lake and eventually join up but that is very close to the main road, separated by lots of trees. Past the lake I kept going left , over the bridge, kept low left and arrived at an exit to an industrial site and dead end road. I thought I was lost but the road led back to the village and the school I had just visited. A very pleasant stroll. I passed a map of the moor which showed there is far more to be explored. A few men in suits and ties also out for a stroll. A very nice haven which I seek out whenever I am in the area.

  6. Keith,

    I had a 7 hour layover last Saturday from Chicago to Jo'burg via LHR and needed to get in my long run of 18 miles. Your route was the perfect solution. Wasn't sure how to go into Heathrow after the run without a shower (even though the lounge shower would have been an option past security) so I rented a Day room at the Thistle. Check in, change into running gear and hit the road. Stopped at McDonalds on the run back to refuel before heading back to the airport.

    Thanks again,

    Mike Sheridan (Chicago)

    1. Ha - I was wondering about the shower option. Otherwise it would be nasty...

  7. Glad to hear that it helped, Mike! --Keith

  8. Thanks Keith!

    Just tried your route this morning... did a few wrong turns in the fields and went through some pretty deep mud (tracked through the Sheraton lobby) and turned it into a 10K! Saw Blue Herrons, Swans and about 5000 ducks... lovely trails! What a gem. Nice dog walkers too and very friendly dogs. Thanks for sharing this info. I come through Heathrow many times a year and will definitely take advantage of this again!


  9. Glad you enjoyed it, Ian! Maybe our paths will cross there sometime... -- Keith

  10. Just tried your route tonight and I really enjoyed it. Much better than staring at the TV!

  11. Thanks so much for sharing, man! Ran a few convolutions/circuits to get ~13k in on a lovely (but brisk) Saturday morning before a 10h haul back to the west coast.

  12. Thanks Samuel! It's an unexpected pleasure before a long flight.

  13. Great route. Thanks for sharing. FYI that 'prison' is the Harmondsworth Immigration Resettlement Centre which may be the largest one in Europe (per )

  14. sadly visted harmondsworth moor for a run but did not run because did not realise the car parks are only for British Airways employees and not for the public shame.

  15. Yes, it's a real shame. As far as I know, you can park at a little public parking lot in the Moor, along Tarmac Way, just across from Swan Lake at BA, on the left side with the blue gate. Otherwise, you can drive to Harmondsworth village via Hatch Lane and High Street and park there. Hope you find a spot next time!

  16. Super cool website, Keith! For those who want to run slightly longer, here is a 14-mile option: 14 miles around LHR.

  17. Thanks for the longer route, Jean. I'm sure a lot of people will appreciate that! --Keith

  18. Well, I assume you'll be doing this when staying at one of the airport hotels along Bath Road. If you're zipping out of the terminal to take a run, you had better hope it is raining ;-)