More about this series of posts on the River Brent, London can be read HERE.

Hot on the heels of succeeding/failing to find the ghost hole… I felt another quest was in order. This time for something that self evidently was still there. In fact the very existence of the reservoir, quite literally, depended upon it.

It seemed a simple goal after the hole, to find the dam wall.

And yet, typical for the uncanny Harp, this major earthwork, proved to be a remarkably shy beast. Inaccessible, in terms of public rights of way at water level, and hidden coyly behind back-garden fences. Sly. For a time the wall only existed in historic images…


On the ground it felt always ‘just-around-the-next-corner’ and just out of sight.

The search for the wall, was I suppose a perverse activity, after all I knew full well where it should be. Yet, it proved to be a stag hunt for the monarch of the glen, where it should be and where it actually was proved to be, for a time, illusive.

The 1895 OS 1:2500 Middlesex map clearly marked it, surrounded by allotments and grazing and marshland with the area below the wall called Harp Island.

The 1936 OS map hid the fields and marshes under suburban sprawl, yet also revealed a new topography of road names that in some albeit sub-conscious way reflect the deeper reality of the land beneath the foundations of the new houses.

Birchen (a Birch-rich woodland), Blackbird (an Old World thrush with mainly black plumage), Coombe (a short valley or hollow) and Alderton (modern ‘Alretuna’ derived from the Old English ‘alra’, alder (trees) and ‘tun’, and means ‘the village by the alder wood’).

Shrubland, Alder and Birch, a hollow ground, marshland and… Harp Island.

I was drawn to mysterious Harp Island. And it became the starting point for my journey to the wall.

I found that the island was, somewhat disappointingly, located behind a McDonalds restaurant and Shurgard storage depot on Blackbird Hill. I turned left into the coombe, having crossed the sacred Brent and there it was.

I decided to use the river as an aid to navigation. I’d walk as close to it as possible. Upstream. Towards the reservoir.

But pallet walls, light industrial warehouses, razor-wire and ‘No Entry’ signs barred direct access to the water’s edge… until a spray painted heart, gave me.. heart.

The celestial Harp Island!

And there, behind the paladins, beneath the trees skirting the Brent, was a path. Barely used, but evidently a planned feature. It lead along the river’s edge in the direction of the reservoir.

At the top of Harp Island the river turned a sharp right, and there, quite suddenly in front of me stood the brutalist, the surprisingly beautiful, dam wall.

A chain-link fence and a widening of the river into a marshy echo of it’s former self, denied closer access. I stood, and rather idiotically grinned, enjoying one of those domestic-scale ‘Source of the Nile’ moments.

Harp Island – a photostory 












Dollis-Mutton-Stamp no border


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