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Admiring the Marvel of Osterley

A look at the outstanding achievements of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, whose work led to improved transport.

Distance 5 miles (8km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 66ft (20m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Mixture of tow paths, tarmac paths and rough tracks

Landscape Farmland, canal boats, locks and a landscaped park

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 161 London South

Start/finish TQ 148779; Osterley tube ¾mile (1.2km)

Dog friendliness On lead except in designated 'off-lead' areas

Parking Car park in Osterley Park (free to National Trust members)

Public toilets Osterley Park

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1 From the car park in Osterley Park, walk back along the track heading towards the entrance gates, passing a farm shop.

2 Just past the shop, and opposite a bungalow, turn left through a gate and later another, to follow a track between fields. When the path ends bear left towards a brick wall, cross a track and continue to the pub, the Hare and Hounds.

3 Turn left along the road to pass under the M4. After a further 440yds (402m), just past a building on your left, turn right to go through a kissing gate and follow an enclosed path alongside a playing field. At the end of the path go through a metal gate to your right, then cross the railway line and follow the road ahead.

4 Past the bridge, go down the steps on the right to the Grand Union Canal, then turn right under the bridge, along the tow path. In the next mile (1.6km) you will pass the Hanwell Flight of six locks and then Brunel's remarkable Three Bridges construction.

5 Cross the white bridge ahead of you and continue walking along Melbury Avenue. When you reach the T-junction turn left and then right at the mini-roundabout.

6 Turn left along an enclosed public footpath, signposted to St Mary's Avenue, beside the Plough pub. Cross the road and continue along the footpath opposite, which crosses a field. At the far side of the field climb the steps and follow the road over the M4 motorway.

7 Ignoring the first metal gate along this road, turn right through the second one to re-enter Osterley Park. Keep going along this straight track, through farmland and an avenue of small-leaved lime trees, to reach a metal gate. Go past some stable buildings and the main house, then take the path around the pond to reach the car park where the walk began.

The Industrial Revolution was a period of remarkable growth. It took off in the mid-1700s, when the domestic cottage industries were gradually replaced by large factories that provided work for hundreds of people. By 1850 Britain had become the first country in the world with a predominantly industrial, urban work force. It was a time of vast development, during which Isambard Kingdom Brunel played a major role.

Brunel was born in Portsmouth in 1806, at the height of the Industrial Revolution. Although he was a small man - he wore top hats to appear taller - the sky was the limit as far as his work as an engineer was concerned. At that time canals were the motorways of the country. Although snail-like by today's standards, one of their great innovations had been the horse-drawn barge, because it could carry a 50 ton load compared to the 300lb (136kg) capability of a horse and cart. The first section of the Grand Union Canal was opened in 1794. This walk passes two points of particular interest along it. The Hanwell Flight of six locks is an impressive 'staircase' that raises the canal 53ft (16m) in just over 600yds (549m). Three Bridges, although belonging to the railway age, also involves the canal. Here Brunel contrived a unique construction where rail, road and canal all cross each other.

Until the arrival of the railway, passenger travel was uncomfortable and very slow because the roads used by horse-drawn carriages were often uneven and muddy. But Brunel pioneered an alternative when, together with Robert Stephenson and Joseph Locke, he helped design the world's first railway network. Brunel's contribution was the Great Western Railway between London and Bristol, a broad gauge line which was noted for its elegant bridges, stations and viaducts. Although financed by the movement of freight, it also put long-distance passenger travel within the reach of ordinary people.

During this inspirational phase of British history Brunel also found time to design steamships, one of which became a prototype for all future ocean liners. The first, the largest ship ever built at the time, was intended to revolutionise trans-Atlantic travel in the same way that railways had transformed inland communication. His third, the Great Eastern, aimed at making a round-trip to Australia via the Cape of Good Hope without having to refuel with coal. The ship was so large that it took months to move it from its base and, unfortunately, because Australian trade slumped around this time, the project was deemed a financial flop. Despite this, the Great Eastern is remembered as the ship that laid the first successful sub-Atlantic telegraph cable, thereby hugely improving links with North America. It wasn't the first of Brunel's extravagant projects to fail, but he was a determined man with a huge dream and his legacy as an engineering genius remains unparalleled.

Where to eat and drink

Dating from 1349, the Grade II listed Plough is the oldest Fuller's pub in the country. During restoration work some wooden bricks were discovered. The landlord will show you the hook on an outside wall where, it is said, Dick Turpin used to tie his horse. The small menu includes steak and kidney pie and plaice and chips. The Stables Tea Room in a walled garden in the stable yard at Osterley Park serves the usual array of snacks and cakes.

While you're there

Set in 140 acres (57ha) of landscaped park and ornamental lakes, Osterley Park House is home to some of the country's best collections of work by Scottish architect, Robert Adam. It was Adam who transformed the building, which is now protected by the National Trust, into a neo-classical villa for Robert Child, a wealthy banker.

What to look for

Notice the sign on the white bridge just past Brunel's Three Bridges. It says: 'This bridge is insufficient to carry weights? ponderous carriages are warned against attempting to pass over this bridge'.

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