After an enjoyable circuit of the Capital Ring in March, I was now tempted by the London Loop, which at 234km (145 miles) was almost twice as long. I invested in the purple guidebook, and after leafing through it for a couple of months was keen to get stuck in. I finally managed have a go at it during two weeks off work in July. Some of the time off was already spoken for, but I managed to string together enough days to complete the whole route. The Ring had been surprisingly leafy, given how closely it skirted the city, so I had high hopes for the Loop! Day by day account below.
I got started on Tuesday, and two trains got me to Erith quite easily, via Waterloo East, for ten past eight. It was only a short stroll down to the start, at the Thames, so I was officially on the go by twenty past. There were good views at the start out over the mud flats, and I was soon on a wide track on top of a flood embankment which was also the Thames Cycle route. With marsh grass swishing in the wind on the river side, and green fields with horses on the land side it almost felt quite rural, apart from the various industrial buildings in the distance, in most directions. It was a sunny morning, but a pleasant temperature, not too hot, and ideal for walking. As I pushed along the track, there were good views of the huge Queen Elizabeth II bridge in the distance, with a string of tiny lorries sillhouetted against the sky. A group of scrap yards appeared at Crayford Ness, with piles of rusting cars and old containers. The path turned away from the Thames to follow the River Darent, with its muddy banks meandering through the reeds, before turning down the even smaller River Cray. After Crayford, I arrived at Hall Place, where there were green houses containing various cacti and exotic plants, rows of smart flower beds, and the impressive old house with a curious mix of building styles, plus a series of bushes sculpted into chubby cartoon animals.
After Hall Place the path passed under the A2, and a short stretch of trees took me to Old Bexley for twenty past eleven, where I picked up a couple of vegetable samosas and a packet of mini-bruscettas for an on-the-go snack. The track went over a wilder grassy common, apparently an old landfill site, although already overgrown with colourful purple and yellow flowers. I soon rejoined the River Cray, which had completely changed in character from earlier. The mud had gone, and it was now a very pleasant stretch of tree lined meandering river bank, with crystal clear water, so I could see the stony bottom, and even spot fish swimming about. After Five Arch bridge there was a small lake surrounded by huge willow trees, with lots of bird life, and a large coots nest in the middle. At Foots Cray some suburban streets soon led into an open grassy area with impressive tall trees and a short climb up to the old red brick house of Sidcup Place. A maze of ups and downs got me across a large roundabout and slip roads to get over the A20, and into Scadbury Park. The signposts were a little sparse in places in the park, but it had some excellent tall trees.
A series of pleasant small woods and parks followed. After Darrick wood, I stopped for a short sit down to enjoy the views of grassy meadow and white flowers, surrounded by trees. I was feeling a bit thirsty by Farnborough, and made a quick detour down the village street to restock with water and sports drink. Leaving the village, the route went right through the churchyard of St Giles, where the vicar was just on his way out, carrying a large scarecrow. At High Elms there were some interesting tall trees, an old fives court, and even a grotto. The path left High Elms through a rather grand tree avenue, before passing through a rather less grand golf club car park, and then headed out across the golf course itself, where there were some excellent orchids in some of the longer grass.
After North End Farm, the Loop took a byway which was quite narrow and muddy in places, with tall hedges, and some good views out over fields. Further on, the route went past Holwood, with some good glimpses of the large house through the tall trees. More narrow and muddy track took me past the bench where William Wilberforce came up with his bill to abolish slavery, although the actual bench was fenced off, so you couldn't sit on it, which was a pity as there was a nice view through a gap in the trees. At Keston Common there was a spring that appeared out of the ground, which fed a series of small lakes. After the third lake, the signs were a bit sparse, and two women asked me for directions for the Loop, although the signs soon re-appeared. At Keston I nipped into a shop for more drinks, and a malt-loaf for a snack during the final bit. From Keston there was a narrow stretch of very pleasant forest, sometimes with back garden fences on the left hand side, and the occasional view. I arrived at the turnoff for Hayes station at half past five, and took the narrow path of Pole Cat Alley. Three trains got me home without too much bother.
I couldn't do anything on Wednesday or Thursday, but I was back on Friday, and managed a decent early start to get two trains, via Waterloo East again, back to Hayes. I retraced the first days steps back along Polecat alley, and was back at the Loop itself by half past eight. The route soon arrived at the small St John the Baptist church. There was a bit of an upset as the camera refused to start, and spluttered to a halt with its lens half open, so I missed the classic shot back across the field to the church. After some playing field, there was a nice bit of forest, where there was a traditional charcoal burner at work. At Shirley I bought 2 AA batteries from a small corner shop, which brought the camera back to life again, which was quite a relief. The first proper climb of the day got me onto a high point at Addington Hill, where there were cracking views. I could see the towers at Crystal Palace, and if you squinted carefully at the skyline even the Shard could be seen in the distance. A bit further on trams suddenly appeared, gliding through the trees, and I popped out at Coombe Lane Tram station, on the outskirts of Croydon. After crossing the tracks, the loop went through Heathfield Gardens, with a pleasant mossy path down to a small pond. Near Selsdon Wood there were glimpses of a grand hall in the trees, in the distance.
After Hamsey Green, the path ignored the direct route and seemed to take a bit of a dogleg to descend from Riddlesdown into a valley, with two roads and two railways squeezed in at the bottom. From the other side there were good views back across to the Riddlesdown ridge, and a huge chalk quarry and railway viaduct. I sat on a handily placed bench at the top of the street to take it in, and for a quick snack. Leaving the houses, the path traversed Keeley Common, where I passed two deer hanging about in the trees. Further on towards Old Coulsdon I bumped into a woman walking some dogs, who expressed surprise that she had already seen me once that morning back at Selsdon Wood! Happy Valley was a pleasant spot, although I had done it before as one of the walks in the Timeout book, so knew what to expect.
Along the top of Farthing down there were very faint views of city towers, and more chalk quarry, before descending to the busier roads of Coulsdon, which was less interesting, but I was able to pick up some more drinks to keep me going. The loop climbed out of Coulsdon on a long road, which then turned into a sunken path. Further on it started spitting a little, but only just, and not quite enough to bother getting my waterproof out of my rucksac. Nearing Banstead the path went right through the middle of a gorgeous lavender field, with lots of visitors wandering around between the purple rows. Straight after was Oaks Park gardens, which had some nice flower beds and a curious little grotto. Just after the grotto there was a burst of heavy rain that passed through, so I sheltered under a tree until it went by.
The Loop popped out at a golf course, which continued after crossing a dual carriageway at Ewell. I sat down for a few minutes for a rest on a bench, and two golfers went past, one of them had a motorised trolley which seemed to be following him around without him actually touching it. Leaving the golf course there were a few long and very quiet suburban Ewell streets, with large houses, and it started spitting again, so I sheltered under a tree until it passed over. By Nonsuch Park I was feeling a bit weary, and stopped on a bench for a while to give my feet a rest, and watch the passers by. After the short break I pushed on to Ewell where I bought two bottles of sports drink, and polished off one of them straight away, and drank the second on a bench in front of the UFO-like Bourne Hall, whilst watching the ducks, and kids excitedly chasing the pigeons about for a while. Shortly after leaving Ewell there was a rather creative bit of routing, as the path followed the Hogsmill river through a tunnel on a raised wooden walkway. The walking continued along the side of the Hogsmill, it was OK, with quite grassy river banks and plenty of vegetation, although not really the most picturesque of rivers. I finally got to Malden Manor just after seven, where two trains got me home without too much trouble.
I was back on Monday again, and keen to push on after having whetted my appetite with the first two stages. Malden Manor wasn't too far from home, and two trains got me back there easily, followed by a five minute walk to rejoin the Loop at the Hogsmill river. The path soon arrived at the A3, which required a bit of a detour to get to a subway and back. However I was soon on the outskirts of Kingston, where the route determinedly tried to keep close to the Hogsmill, as it picked its way through houses and other buildings. It passed some interesting attractions, including the Guildhall, the Coronation Stone, and a 12th century bridge, before I eventually popped out at the River Thames at five to nine. I hadn't had any breakfast yet, so made a quick detour into Kingston centre to find something, and sat in the sun in the pleasant market square before getting going again at quarter past nine. After crossing over the Thames I stopped for a moment near Bushy Park to check the guidebook, and a motorist stuck his head out of the car and pointed me to the correct park gate for the London Loop!
Bushy park was very pleasant in the morning sunshine, with grassy paths through ferns, willow trees alongside small lakes, and lots of people out running. As I passed a waterway, a loud plop caught my attention, and peering into the water were a load of huge fish, that noisily surfaced every so often. At one of the further lakes, four women were doing press ups, under instructions from a bloke wearing camouflage trousers. After crossing Chestnut Avenue, the route passed through a fence to follow the stream through the very pleasant surroundings of Woodland Gardens. Once back outside the gardens I passed a large group of deer hiding from the sun by sitting in the grass under the shade of a large tree, with just their antlers visible from a distance.
The Loop emerged from the park to traverse the suburban streets of Teddington, and then joined the River Crane through Crane Park, where there was an interesting shot tower, and beside it a nature reserve on an island in the river. A short road section, where I bought some more drinks from a small shop, lead to Hounslow Heath, which was surprisingly pleasant, with stretches of grassy path bordered by tall thick grasses and wild flowers. Tall nettles and a wooden boardwalk in Donkey Wood eventually led to the A30. The traffic was very light, there were sizeable gaps, and I was able to easily nip straight across, and avoid the rather dreary detour to some pedestrian lights at Hatton Cross.
After the A30, the Loop skirted the edge of Heathrow Airport, past some giant hangars, and abandoned snack cabins at the side of the road, with a steady stream of planes descending over the tree tops ahead every few minutes. The next major road crossing was the A4, which was much easier, with some pedestrian lights right where the Loop met the road. Next in the series was the M4, which the route went under just after Cranford, and then shortly after joined The Grand Union Canal. The Loop turned off the canal to take in a tour of Stockley Park, where there was reasonably pleasant mix of greenery and various high tech buildings, although I wasn't totally convinced it was worth the extra diversion. There was another diversion further on to take in Colne Valley, which then traversed a large fence round an industrial estate to rejoin the canal.
The very last bit of the canal passed right by the General Elliott pub, with canal side tables outside. It was sorely tempting, but it was getting on a bit, so I pushed on, and a short walk through Uxbridge got me to the station at about six. The journey back left a bit to be desired, the train was packed out, and with no working ventilation was quite stifling in the heat. To top it all, the train broke down at Motspur Park for an hour, leaving everyone stranded on the platform, so I would have done just as well stopping off in the canal side pub after all!
Uxbridge was at the very end of the Piccadilly line, so it was quite a hike back the next morning, about two hours door to door, but I eventually made it there for twenty to nine. From the start it was easy going along the canal, and very pleasant in the sunshine. I soon reached Uxbridge Lock, where I passed a woman with two huge tattoos of flaming monsters, one on each calf, taking a small dog for a walk. Further on there were a series of boats with bunches of school children on board. Coming into Denham Country Park I went a bit off-route where the path left the canal for a bit and skirted some reservoirs. The off-route detour was compounded by the fact that it went through a mini-swamp that required some time and effort to negotiate, which all had to be reversed when I finally got a bit suspicious and checked the guidebook. It was a bit frustrating at the time, but I was soon back enroute again, and after more pleasant canal side scenery, I finally left the canal at Hill End, where I sat down and had a quick energy bar. There was a pleasant stretch through Bishops Wood, although a bit boggy in places, before emerging at Ye Olde Greene Man pub at Moor Park. It had already turned into quite a hot day, so I nipped in for a quick refreshment stop to cool down a bit.
Just after leaving Oxhey Wood good views appeared, with Harrow on the Hill and the taller bits of the London skyline poking up above the trees, way off in the distance. At Hatch End the Loop seemed to avoid the obvious direct route, and took a big circuit of a field edge, sandwiched between high hedges and back gardens. I was soon on to Grims Dyke Golf course though, shortly followed by a metal panel at the location of the actual Dyke. It sounded interesting, but I couldn't see much sign of the dyke on the ground, although there was a pleasant path that picked its way through rhododendrons, little ponds, and small hills. On leaving the wood there was a short bit of road, with some cracking views from a roadside car park, just before the Case is Altered pub where I had a quick lemonade, and refilled all my water bottles.
The Loop skirted round Bentley Priory, on a concrete path across grassy fields, with tall wild flowers in places. The priory itself was hidden away behind a double fence of barbed wire, which was a pity as it looked like an interesting building, from the tiny glimpses of a yellow tower. Shortly after, the path arrived at some very picturesque small ponds near Stanmore, before brushing its way through a field of very tall grass to get to the M1. The Loop went under the motorway, and followed a pavement alongside a road for a while before passing another pub, the Fishery Inn, where I succumbed to another quick refreshment stop. The sun was still beating down when I left the pub, and I adjourned to a seat at the dam of Aldenham Reservoir for a few minutes, to put more sun cream on. There was a nice bit through corn fields, then a final small circuit of fields before arriving at Elstree. The Elstree and Borehamwood station was the next possible finish point, only a few minutes away. It was about quarter to six, but it was a nice evening, and I still felt reasonably fresh, so I decided to push on a little further, and stocked up with drinks at a petrol station.
From Elstree there was an immediate climb up Deacon Hill, then some more road walking which apparently had some good views, which I managed to completely miss. Leaving the road, I soon arrived at Scratchwood car park, where I couldn't spot any signposts, but I headed off into the wood on a path which seemed to be going in the right direction, and soon met the signs again after about ten minutes. I arrived at the A1 and began the long detour to get to the subway, and then back. It wasn't the most inspiring walking, and incredible amounts of litter were strewn everywhere on the road side. To add insult to injury, there were actually plenty of sizeable gaps in the traffic, and I could have nipped across easily, had it not been for the tall barrier in the middle! At the other side I sat down for a rest in a very litter strewn picnic area. Things quickly picked up after the A1 diversion though, with a pleasant forest stretch through Moat Mount, with chunky wooden benches to sit on every so often. Jill rang to say that the trains out of London were all stuck again, so I was rather pleased that I had decided to push on at Elstree. A final stretch, following Dollis Brook along fields that backed on to houses seemed to go on a bit, but finally got me to High Barnett station for quarter to nine. One tube and one train got me back home, without any difficulty, although it was a bit late, so I bought some salads at waterloo and ate on the train.
High Barnet was at the very end of the Northern line, so a bit of a journey, but after one train and two tubes I got walking again at half past eight. Shortly after rejoining the route I had to do a double-take as I passed a sign for the Capital Ring (which was about 8km off-route!), but decided that they must have run out of London Loop ones and thought that everyone would know what they meant. It was a lovely sunny day again, and a pleasant grassy strip quickly climbed up to good views near Hadley, where there were a series of interesting old houses, including one where David Livingstone used to live in 1850.
Nearing Cockfosters a series of groups of schoolchildren went past, chanting as they went. Shortly after the tube station the Loop arrived at a small cafe in Trent Park, where I stopped for a quick drink. The park seemed very popular, with lots of families out, and lots of prams on the wider paths around the two small lakes nearer to Enfield Chase. After a giant obelisk, the Loop left the park and crossed over a road to follow field edges and Salmon brook, where the crowds completely melted away, and this stretch was totally desserted. After crossing the Ridgeway road a very quiet road took me past Rectory Farm, and then shortly after into the pleasant Hilly Fields Park, to follow Turkey Brook. The route popped out at the Rose and Crown pub, so I nipped in for a quick lemonade. It was an interesting old pub with a labyrinth of wooden beamed rooms, and very quiet when I arrived, although five minutes later another customer arrived claiming it was 31 degrees outside.
After the pub there was a pleasant stretch, still following Turkey Brook, passing various small lakes with good birdlife, rhododendrons at the side of the path in places, and quite a few dog walkers out. Turkey Brook continued on through Enfield Wash, although now it was confined to a concrete channel at the side of the road. After Enfield Lock the path followed an interesting section of the river Lee, with lots of bird life, ducks with their family of ducklings in tow, and some huge nests. In some places the river was fast flowing, with thick long grass under the water being dragged by the current, in others it was partially choked up by huge reeds. Leaving the river the Loop climbed up the side of Barn Hill, where some excellent views appeared out towards large reservoirs, and the suburbs beyond. It was hot going and totally windless, and even sitting under the shade of a tree to admire the view and have a quick rest I was starting to heat up, so I soon pushed on.
Nearing Sewardstonebury, the route did another scenic detour, turning off past a scout camp, then descending into the fairly wild grassy Yates Meadow, before climbing to reach Hawk Wood, a nice stretch, and very few people about. At Chingford Plain, the route passed right by Butlers Retreat cafe which was quite busy, and I topped up my almost empty water bottles at a very usefully placed water fountain. Leaving Butlers Retreat I crossed over a road where there was a sign welcoming drivers to Essex. More good quality forest led to the Worm Wood pub, which was a great spot, and I stopped for a quick sit down under the shade of a huge oak. Nearing Chigwell, I passed by a pleasant lake at Roding Meadows, then shortly after the Loop joined a road which crossed over the M11, and took me the rest of the way to Chigwell, with some good views of the London skyline appearing in places. Chigwell station was only a few minutes off route, and I arrived there just before six. Two tubes and one train got me home, no delays this time.
Chigwell was a bit of a hike to get back to, not quite the very end of the Central line, but certainly in the further reaches, so I got an early start and was on the train at twenty to seven. One train and two tubes finally got me back there for half past eight. Right from the off, the paths seemed a bit overgrown and not heavily used, but they soon opened out into fields, and then arrived at Hainault Country Park. This was a pleasant bit, skirting a large grassy common surrounded by forest. In the distance I could see a large area with rows of portacabins with flags from different countries on them, which was intriguing. A gentle climb on grass led up to a beacon then the Loop entered the trees, where there were lots of runners about. There was a great stretch in Havering country park, where the path went right through an excellent avenue of giant sequoias. The village of Havering-atte-Bower was pleasant enough, with an old flint-covered church, and weatherboarded cottages.
After the village, I passed by a round white house that looked like a lighthouse, followed by a field with lots of horses, and further on some ornate rusting gateposts. I had a bit of confusion near Paternoster Row, as I skirted a field edge to arrive at an impassable water filled ditch. After some puzzling over the map, and even getting the compass out to check directions, I realised I had missed a right turn over a small bridge into the next field along. I hadn't overshot by too far fortunately, and after a few minutes of backtracking sure enough there was a very overgrown sign, two planks over a ditch, and a route through the bushes into the next field. An old track at the end of Paternoster Row had rippled lava-like sections of tarmac. I passed three horses happily grazing, then five minutes later two women who were in search of the horses asked me if I had seen them. At Harold Hill I nipped into the Bear pub for a lemonade, and refilled my water bottles. The small Carter's Brook took me through the Harold Wood suburbs, and then a couple of streets got me to the station for just after one. There were some decent shops, and I bought a couple of cold energy drinks and a malt loaf from the Co-op.
After Harold Wood station the path went through a park with a very busy kids play area, then crossed over a bridge and was suddenly on quiet gravel tracks alongside the recently planted Pages Wood, following the Ingrebourne River. I passed Upminster tube at twenty past two, and after passing a small football ground the Loop rejoined the river again, now on concrete path. It was a bit urban but not overly unpleasant, and eventually turned into a nice country park, with some good reed marshes and small lakes, and a few pill boxes, before passing an interesting looking mountain bike track and then arriving at Rainham.
After crossing the railway, the Loop left Rainham on a large elevated walkway before dropping down to concrete cycle path through marsh. Despite the very industrial setting, with main roads and factories in all directions, there were lots of flowers and reeds so the path itself felt quite wild. On some narrower sections of path, plants almost the same height as me were crowding into the path. Along the way I passed a series of metal signposts for the cycle path, with letters and numbers cut out. The signs played a rather cruel trick here, after slowly counting down until there was only 3 miles to Purfleet, the Loop suddenly branched off on a different path to Purfleet that was a mile longer than the bike path!
Finally the Thames appeared, at a small plaque marking the point of the old Rainham to Erith ferry, that had been established in 1199 AD. A pity that it didn't exist any more, as being able to join back up with the start would have given the route a better sense of completeness (and it would have made the trains easier to get home). Instead, the Loop now followed the river along a concrete cyclepath, which was quick going, although a bit tiring on the feet. It skirted a huge landfill that seemed to be undergoing landscaping, with giant trucks and diggers moving soil about. There were good views of the QE II bridge again, that I had last seen back on the first day.
Finally the riverside path arrived at the futuristic looking RSPB building, complete with two drawbridges, that marked the edge of Purfleet. The path crossed over a small inlet from the Thames, where a few people were swimming, and a guy jumping in from high up on the bridge, invited me to join them. There was a last little bit past an old gunpowder shed, to the town itself, then a short walk to the station. There didn't seem to be any grand official finish that I spotted, the signs just petered out somewhere near the station! Two tubes and one train got me home.
All in all, a worthwhile route. The weather was excellent, hot and sunny a lot of the time, which was amazing considering the rest of the summer had been a total washout. Here are the statistics, although I forgot my altitude watch on day 1 and day 3, so the ascent figures are for two thirds of the route only!
The walking itself isn't too taxing, there is nothing majorly steep or high, so you can probably do a bit more daily mileage than you would on a more hilly route. Having said that, the total altitude over the whole route did add up to two munros worth! Thats excluding the two missing days of data, so it could even be three munros worth. Almost as challenging as the walking itself is the commuting back and forth to the stages, and adding it all up I averaged 3 hours each day on top of the walking, travelling to and from the endpoints. On the plus side, its a good way to improve your navigation of the tube network. The Loop also passes right by a lot of tube line endings that you have probably seen on the front of tube trains but never actually been to - Upminster, Cockfosters, High Barnet, Uxbridge - so finally you will be able to put a picture to them.