In March 2019 members of the Longer Walks Group of the Crouch End and District U3A who signed up for the London Loop completed their journey, which began in April 2018.
4 April 2018 London Loop 1 : Erith to Bexley
We marked the start of our 150 mile journey in Riverside Gardens, which as the name suggests borders the Thames. Sadly though, we soon lost sight of the river as the route took us through Erith, past some industrial units before we reached it again. From here the Loop sets off along the Thames for a while, sharing its path with National Cycle Network Route 1 and the Thames Path extension. With the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge in front of us, the landscaped landfill sites on the north bank, we followed the path alongside its many recycling plants. This stretch provided not the leisure and pleasure activities we associate with walking alongside the Thames, but formed its industrial core, notably transporting and managing the rubbish that we Londoners generate. I heard a number of terms being used to describe this stretch including: desolate, bleak and perhaps my favourite – dystopian. Added to this sense of melancholy was the forlorn sight of a horse being tethered to a stake. But the sky was vast, and after a while many of us found some strange beauty in our surroundings. At the very least there certainly was a feeling of space, and with the hawthorn bushes beginning to show their leaves, a sense of spring around the corner. At Crayford Ness we headed off south alongside the Darent River on a high and windswept grassy path which together with the brutalist Darent Barrier forms part of the flood barrier arrangements for the Thames. We then reached our third river of the day: the Cray and followed that until we were faced with more breakers yards, scrap merchants and large lorries delivering more rubbish to be treated as we approached Crayford. Here we stopped for a picnic lunch, just outside Lindy Lou’s Tea Room – apparently a pun on its origin as a public toilet. Heading off towards Bexley via the Hall Place Park some of us noticed, at its entrance, slender columns carved with shells and ferns, remnants of the canopy of the Crayford Cinema. And it was just after this that John averted a near disaster; the path was suddenly blocked by drainage works. With satnav at hand he was able to navigate a diversion over the busy A2 and finally into Bexley. It certainly wasn’t the prettiest of walks, but that probably isn’t the point. A long journey such as the Loop will have its high and lows, and if we want to learn more about the outer fringes of London then this was a good starting point. But what the day highlighted for me was our disregard for nature: we were continually affronted by rubbish lining the path and litter choking urban streams. On a lighter note, well done everyone for finishing it, especially those walking with injuries or recovering from illnesses … and we made a few friends along the way.
6 June 2018 London Loop 2 : Old Bexley to Petts Wood
Getting to Bexley Station by train from North London proved unexpectedly challenging, so the walk started later than planned – but it was well worth the wait! On a beautifully sunny day we renewed our acquaintance with the now clean River Cray, home to dace and pike, and a watchful heron. This stretch of the walk took us through unspoilt countryside, made even more attractive by a lake and a late eighteenth century five arched bridge in Foots Cray Meadows, associated with the landscape architect ‘Capability’ Brown. We stopped for lunch at Sidcup Place, recently converted into a large public house. Resuming our walk we came across a moated manor in Scadbury Park Nature Reserve. After a stroll through the National Trust’s Willett Memorial Wood, we crossed open fields to Jubilee Country Park, from where we headed towards our destination (Petts Wood Station) through the ancient woodland of the National Trust’s magnificent Petts Wood, saved for the nation from developers by Colonel Francis Edelman and others. This was an indeed a splendid section of the Loop, and we wondered if this would be bettered on our orbital journey.
4 July 2018 London Loop 3 : Petts Wood to West Wickham Common
Today we walked in the footsteps of giants, reached one of the Loop’s highest points, came across the source of a Thames tributary, walked through an ancient sunken green way curiously called Bogey Lane, and passed through a dingly dell, grassy glade and timber revetment. We weren’t going to get lost either, amongst the 9 walkers I counted 3 versions of the guide to the Loop, 2 sat navvy type things and an Ordnance survey map. And the Loop itself was exceptionally well marked, so all bases were covered. We soon made our way into Jubilee Country Park full of beautiful blue flowers, which I since discovered are chicory, then into first Sparrow and then Darrick Woods. These like the several woods that were to follow, provided a welcome shade from the sun. We stopped at a pub in Farnborough for a quick (coffee!) break and then headed off through the open grassland of High Elms Country Park with spectacular views south to the North Downs. The next section was an uphill walk through the Holwood Estate where, at the top, a historic site awaited in the shape of a stone bench and the remains of an old oak. This was/is the Wilberforce Oak, a tree that hosted a major historical event. Here William Wilberforce held a conversation with then Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger that eventually led to the abolition of slavery. The oak tree isn’t much to look at now; just the hollow remains of an old tree trunk. A replacement tree was planted in 1969 using acorns from the original, although storms put paid to it in 1987. However another sapling – a third generation – was planted, and grows next to its parents. And it was around these trees, and their remains, that we ate our lunch. The route entered Keston Common, with its two small lakes that sit at the source of the River Ravensbourne. This bubbles up from a spot called Caesar’s Well, and then starts its journey through south east London eventually to join the Thames at Deptford. The path continued pleasantly alongside Hayes Common and then West Wickham Common to reach the end of this section before reaching Hayes Station where a train was waiting to take us all back to London.The GPS calculated that we had walked a distance of 9.9 miles. Our final stretch of the journey through London Bridge to the tube, we decided, would easily take us over 10 miles!
18 July 2018 London Loop 4 : West Wickham Common to Hamsey Green
A group of ten assembled at Charing Cross, heading for Hayes and a walk along Saxon footpaths and bridleways from West Wickham Common to Hamsey Green. Sadly we were unable to locate a promised sign for the Ancient Order of Froth Blowers, which is supposed to adorn the route. However we did come across a Meridian dalek. Erected by Bromley Council in the late 1990’s, this obelisk was somewhat of a disappointment, with its flaking paint and clumsily painted lettering suggesting a good idea that was poorly executed. Although much of the walk was through woodland, commons and nature reserves, once again we met up with piebald horses – a common feature of this section of the Loop. Following a steepish climb up the Addington Hills, we were rewarded with an outstanding panoramic view of London. Although we could not see Windsor Castle, as one guide book suggested, we were able to see the arch of Wembley stadium, the skyscrapers of the City, Canary Wharf and the O2. In the late afternoon, several woods (one of which was delightfully called the Three Halfpenny Wood) provided welcome shade from the July heat. A beautiful day indeed, made even better by a bus arriving at Hamsey Green just in time to take us on our journey home.
1 August 2018 London Loop 5 : Hamsey Green to Banstead Downs
Another foray into south London. A group of nine met at East Croydon Station and took the bus to Hamsey Green to resume its orbital walk. After a few cooler days in this long hot summer it was perfect weather for tackling this long although quite undemanding section, apart from a fairly steep climb (with steps) up a ridge to pass Riddlesdown Quarry, and later Kenley Common, after which we passed the Norman Fisher Observatory. Those who had been on the Longer Walks Group walk in early July were delighted to re-visit Happy Valley and Farthing Down (the most southerly part of the Loop walk) for a stop for lunch in a welcome shady spot. This was in contrast to the next stretch through the outskirts of Coulsdon (little of architectural interest here bar a neo-Georgian post office of 1935). Our journey then took us into the London Borough of Sutton, through the Woodcote Estate and Oaks Park, talking in a lavender farm (don’t pick your own!) and a golf course. Here the London Loop was erratically signposted. As a result we became involved in a brief dialogue with a group of golfers as we crossed one of the fairways, narrowly avoiding being struck by a wayward ball. Feeling a little unwelcome we eventually discovered an unmarked path through undergrowth which brought us to Banstead Station for a slow journey home after a walk of about 11 miles.
15 August 2018 London Loop 6 : Banstead Downs to Kingston Bridge
We soon found the start point, rather incongruously in the middle of a small wood adjoining a golf course, but were soon back in the suburban streets of Sutton. A decision was made to increase our pace to reach Warren Farm, not a farm in the traditional sense, but land given over to the Woodland Trust following a dispute over its becoming a site for housing development. A relief certainly for us walkers. Then we entered Nonsuch Park, an open space that once contained one of Henry VIII’s palaces. There are few remains, other than the lower brickwork of the banqueting hall. Next came the village of Ewell with its motley collection of historic buildings including a Victorian castle and prison for local miscreants, which doubled up as a fire station. A huge statue of a dog on top of an arch welcomed us into Bourne Hall Park. I was told by a fellow walker that this statue commemorated a heroic act by the animal. A short tea break followed in the flying saucer shaped 1960s building in the Park, the interior layout of which offended the sensibilities of all of us. It was in this park that we found the source of the Hogsmill River, that we were to follow, more or less, (with a quick stop for lunch in the gardens of a massive carvery pub, fending off the wasps) to its mouth – the Thames at Kingston. Although the walk formed a corridor through the suburbs (apart for a couple of annoying detours through more suburban housing and the need to cross the busy A30), it was monotonous, and also overgrown in places. I think we were all more than happy to reach Kingston where our leaders highlighted the stone upon which seven Saxon kings were crowned and the 13th Century Clattern Bridge. After the stunning walking of previous sections, this stretch was as a bit of a disappointment, but I was reminded of the comment made at the outset, a journey such as the Loop will have its high and lows. Sadly though I was reminded of a further observation made at the outset: that of our disregard for nature: not only by rubbish lining the path but also now of invasive species, with Himalayan Balsam dominating the riverside growth coupled with the first, of what I suspect is many, sightings of the bright green parakeets. But I was more than impressed, and heartened, by the solitary woman attempting to tackle one of these problems by picking up the litter. By the time we came across her, the sack was full. – Ruth Hayes.
5 September 2018 London Loop 7 : Kingston Bridge to Hatton Cross
Eight walkers crossed Kingston Bridge before taking the tree-lined entrance to Bushy Park – then on through grassland, plantations and woods; skirting ponds and following waterways. We side-stepped a bootcamp and encountered deer and other natural delights, including the rare vision of a swamp cypress’ aerial roots. Traversing the grand avenues of horse-chestnuts and limes leading to Hampton Court Palace, we came across a vast old hand-pump that made us stop and smile.Lunch was beside the River Crane at Shot Tower, originally part of 16th Century gunpowder mills that used the waters of the Crane to drive mill-wheels. With Heathrow’s flight paths directly above, the route from Hounslow Heath to walk’s end was accompanied by aircraft noise – whilst visually our tranquil riverside meanderings included sight of a heron, seemingly as unconcerned by us as by the overhead roar of engines. This was a 10-mile walk of contrasts. Tube seats from Hatton Cross offered welcome comfort after another lovely day’s walking.
19 September 2018 London Loop 8 : Hatton Cross to Uxbridge
After we eventually found the well-hidden start to this windy walk, we were pleasantly surprised by the peace and quiet of the River Crane Park, a contrast to the racket of the aircraft and the busy A30 road. The tranquillity was short lived. Once leaving the Park we walked through a residential area, right underneath the flight path of landing aeroplanes. Any passenger happening to look out of their window would have seen a band of walkers staring upwards, mesmerised by the proximity of the jets and their noise. But soon we reached the open space of Berkeley Meadows, and then Cranford Country Park, at the north end of which is the lovely Dunstan Church and the former stables of the Berkeley Hunt. Then through a subway under the M4 (more noise) into the woodland of Dog Kennel Covert. The guidebook promised that the ‘thunder’ of the traffic would give way to the ‘twitter of songbirds’. We were not convinced. At last we reached the Grand Union Canal, taking a small detour to look at the lovely, but graffitied Bulls Bridge which marks the start of the Union’s branch to the Paddington Basin. We followed the rather featureless and sadly litter strewn towpath until we reached Stockley Park, reclaimed from derelict brick building works and rubbish dumping site to become a high tech business park and yet another golf course (the guide book advising us to ‘give a cheery wave to golfers’). It was at the club of this golf course where we were hospitably provided with benches for our picnic lunches. Then through another industrial estate back to the Grand Union Canal, and then on to the rather pretty and considerably cleaner Slough Arm, apparently almost the last canal to be built in England. Here we came across a Coal Tax obelisk, before leaving the canal to follow the beautiful River Colne almost to our destination, passing the lovely Little Britain Lake, reclaimed gravel pits, on the way. On the edges of Uxbridge the Loop rejoined the towpath, for a short while before a detour took us to the station for a long ride home on the tube clutching a well-deserved cup of tea.
3 October 2018 London Loop 9 : Uxbridge Lock to Moor Park
This was, as they say, a walk of two halves, and the Loop at its best. The first section was largely watery, for the most part heading northwards following the towpath of the Grand Union Canal, with a couple of diversions through wooded areas. We were treated to herons parading along the banks and red kites circling above us. And, in contrast to earlier sections of the Canal, here it was litter free and the water appeared clean and healthy; we were also finally free of the Heathrow flights. A pub with a large, but totally empty beer garden stood at the halfway point, marking our departure from the Canal. A perfect location for lunch, we thought. Our usual politeness prompted a request to eat our picnic lunch outside but with a guarantee from each of us to buy drinks. But no. We were told that, if we wanted to stay, we would have to buy one of the perfectly good meals available. We packed up and left the deserted garden. We set off eastwards into the countryside and after a stiff climb and a walk through Park Wood, found a grassy field, with cows safely fenced off, sat in a circle and ate our lunch discussing the pros and cons of being courteous. We followed the Loop through more fields bordered by plenty of stiles, and after walking through a small shrubbery emerged into a breathtaking panorama of Hertfordshire fields and woodlands, although those with keener eyesight pointed out another golf course. This we narrowly avoided by turning into the beautiful Bishop’s Wood Country Park. But it was from here that we were failed by the Loop signage and had to rely on a walker’s downloaded Ordnance Survey map to navigate us to Moor Park.
17 October 2018 London Loop 10 : Moor Park to Elstree
Our plans for an early start to tackle one of the longest stretches of the Path were thwarted by mayhem on the underground. And by the time our frazzled group finally congregated at Moor Park, a light but persistent rain had started. Not the fine autumnal weather promised by our various forecasts. We trudged off to join the Loop with a slightly heavy heart as our guide books hinted at confusion to come in the several woods we had to cross, advising us to ignore certain signs and find hidden paths, as well as keeping a wary eye open for golf balls on the courses that straddled the walk. However we navigated the first golf course without injury and found ourselves in the beautiful, if soggy Oxhey and then Nanscot Woods, and the eagle-eyed walkers amongst spotted the Loop signage to direct us seamlessly through. We came a bit unstuck in the following open fields, and a helpful bystander suggested a short cut to catch up with the Path. A unanimous decision felt that this was not in the spirit of the Loop, so we found the Path through a muddy farm to pass the lovely house of Edward Bulwer Lytton. Then on through a stretch of farmland before climbing up to the second golf course, and into the gloomy woods where we found a plaque commemorating WS Gilbert who died here, trying to save the life of a swimmer in the now dried-out lake. The next segment meandered through Stanmore Little Common, then on a straight northbound path right underneath the M1, to skirt past the southern end of Aldenham Reservoir, and then along the reservoir itself. The homeward stretch yielded a sign to Elstree station, our relief was short lived when someone pointed that the Loop took on its own loop via some open farmland and yet another golf course before we reached our destination. It was the strangest of walks, certainly scenic in places, but oddly melancholic, perhaps because the dampness underfoot and the abundant fungi and berries reminded us that winter is around the corner, but not yet near enough to yield the trees in their autumnal colours. It was also irritating, the continual twists and turns in the route meant that we had to have our eyes glued to our guidebooks to keep us on course. But, for the most part, on course we kept, and that was down to the group working together as a brilliant team.
14 November 2018 London Loop 11 : Elstree to Cockfosters
The first part of this section was grim, following a very tedious road for the first mile or so, but adopting the tried and tested approach of walking like the clappers along the boring bits we soon entered the beautiful old oak woodland of Scratchwood. But this respite was short lived. We met the A1 and were faced with a half mile walk south along the carriageway to reach an underpass, and then a half mile trek back north. Various approaches to managing this were suggested. A minority wondered whether we could leap across the two dual carriageways during a lull in the traffic, but the purists reminded us that we have to take the rough with the smooth and of our no short cuts agreement. An interesting idea emerged though: as a fitting legacy of our walk we could start a campaign for a footbridge for future Loopers. We were soon rewarded as we entered the lovely Mount Moat Open Space and then the picturesque Dollis Valley Greenwalk as far as Barnet, where some more route marching took us along the streets to find a welcoming pub whose staff didn’t seem to mind us eating our packed lunches in the gardens. For the final stage, the guidebook more than kept its promise of encountering one of the ‘finest parts of the Loop’. It started with a climb through King George’s Fields into Monken Hadley village which is full of history, charm, architecture, a pond complete with swans, some serious wealth – and sadly some unnecessarily aggressive security measures. The final stretch through a woodland path in Monken Hadley Common was glorious, with the sun now low in the sky. It is well worth a revisit – especially as it is so easy to reach. A short detour to Jack’s Lake (permit needed for fishing) presented us with fabulous views of the trees at their golden autumnal best. From there it was just a hop, skip and a jump to the tube, and the easiest of journeys home.
9 January 2019 London Loop 12 : Cockfosters to Enfield Lock
It was the most gorgeous of winter’s days, with the bluest of skies and the crispiest of temperatures when we set off towards Trent Country Park, the start of this section, and into Enfield Chase. Although most of us were familiar with this stretch, it still managed to look stunning with is bare trees and long vistas, landscaped in places but with enough woods to provide some sense of wilderness. Then across farmland we followed Salmon’s Brook for a mile or so, leaving it to climb a steep hill to be rewarded with a wonderful view of the City of London, a pointer of how far we had come on the Loop and how soon we would reach our final destination – much of our conversation was about planning a future walk. Before then, though we followed another waterway, Turkey Brook, accompanied rather alarmingly by the sounds of gun shots, which we were relieved to discover came from a clay pigeon range. Soon we crossed the aptly named Hilly Fields Park, and into Forty Hall Park where we stopped at a lovely, welcoming café for lunch. With our spirits high, we headed off for the last and thankfully short section of the walk through the suburbs of Enfield: over the A10 (and those us who remembered the previous walk were delighted to find a bridge exactly where a bridge should be), passing a vast but strangely interesting cemetery (unlike earlier walks punctuated with golf courses today’s walk had more of a graveyard theme), and meeting up with Turkey Brook again. By now the Brook had become an eyesore, clogged with rubbish – shopping trolleys, old pushchairs and quite literally a kitchen sink. It was a relief to get to the station.
Wednesday 16 January 2019 Loop 13 : Enfield Lock to Chigwell
We re-joined a thankfully short stretch of litter strewn Turkey Brook, and headed off towards Enfield Lock where we had a brief encounter with the Lee Valley Walk, before finding the Lee Navigation towpath. From there we crossed the unremarkable
Sewardstone Marsh Nature Reserve to make the climb up into the Sewardstone Hills giving us a glorious view over the Lea Valley and King George’s Reservoir. After a series of stiles and confusing directions we found ourselves in Gilwell Park, glimpsed the Scout Association’s national headquarters then climbed into beautiful Hawk Wood on the fringe of Epping Forest. The Loop headed south alongside another golf course towards our lunch destination, the heavily punned, but delightful Tee café. With rain threatening, we decided to up our pace for the next section which took us back into Epping Forest past Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge up towards Buckhurst Hill. We dropped into Roding Valley with its meadows, recreation grounds and a large lake – dug to provide the nearby M11 workings with gravel. And it was this motorway we soon had to cross, before as our guidebooks advised us ‘to grit (our) teeth’ to follow the road into Chigwell, which was described by Charles Dickens as the ‘finest place on earth’. We were promised a great view across the Valley towards London, but this spectacle was thwarted by the by now drizzle sodden clouds. At last we found the tube station, which apparently has the second lowest annual number of passengers. I can see why.
Wednesday 6 February 2019 Loop 14 : Chigwell to Harold Wood
Our penultimate walk on the London Loop was unexpectedly more of a challenge than anticipated, not that the terrain was particularly difficult. However the recent snow and ice had melted, leaving extremely muddy paths and treacherously slippery stiles of which there were more than a few … and the boots felt heavy.
Our tentative steps along sodden open ground required a degree of dogged concentration, making it difficult to appreciate the panoramic views of Canary Wharf and environs. Our group was smaller than usual, and we very much missed our GPS expert, as we negotiated the fairways of Hainault Golf Course, where the finger posts were few and far between. Fortunately this walk has a good deal of superb woodland where the ground was drier: in Hainault Forest Country Park, we were mightily impressed by an avenue of giant redwood trees, or Wellingtonia. After a short stop for lunch we encountered a couple of pheasants, discovered a two stranded wrought iron gate posts from a long-demolished country house, and on the latter stages of the walk on the edge of Harold Wood we were amazed to see a family of deer wandering on pasture in front of a housing estate. Here we followed Carter’s Brook (and its proliferation of discarded cans and plastic bottles), until we reached Harold Wood station for the journey back to North London.
Wednesday 6 March 2019 Loop 15 : Harold Wood to Purfleet
All bases were covered on the last but longest stretch of the Loop, by appointing three navigators, pinpointing a number of cafes for breaks and identifying two escape routes back to London if the threatened showers morphed into downpours. From the station we soon entered the rather featureless Harold Wood Park, walked into Pages Wood, a heartening example of Forestry Commission planting on brownfield sites, and following a series of muddy paths along the edges of fields, we reached Upminster. We searched in vain for a sighting of a smock windmill, though disappointed none of us were tempted to take a train home or even stop for a break. From there we followed the Ingrebourne River through Hornchurch Country Park, its many pill boxes reminding us of the Park’s role as an RAF station during Second World War. We stopped for a break at the wonderful Ingrebourne Valley Visitor Centre which overlooks the beautiful marshland and reed swamps of the Valley. Refreshed, we climbed Ingrebourne Hill, which is in fact a reclaimed site just some 20 metres above sea level, but from the brow we could see giant wind turbines and Rainham, our second and last escape route. Here we had lunch in the gardens of the beautiful Georgian Rainham Hall, after which all of us voted to walk the final 5 miles to the Loop’s end. The first part wasn’t pretty, under motorways aptly described in the guidebook as a hell’s cave of concrete pillars and through industrial estates, but soon we were walking between the Thames and Rainham Marshes Nature Reserve, and it was this path we followed towards our final destination. Along the route we spotted Erith, where our journey began almost one year ago and 150 miles away, with the same huge skies, and a desolate but oddly beautiful landscape. We stopped at the RSPB café for a final cup of tea, and were warmly welcomed by the ornithologists who immediately identified our species as Last Legged Loopers. From there, in the absence of any signage that formally marked the end of the Loop, we adopted the last Waymark as a symbol of our achievement. The Loopers have Looped.