Friday 4th July 2003
8 1/2 miles
0946 Streatham to London Bridge 1008
1015 London Bridge to Erith 1046
Erith to Bexley
Make my way from Erith station to the Thames to embark on this major series of excursions. Using The London Loop by David Sharp as my guide. Beginning - a riverside path with impressive views along the Thames also directly opposite where the walk will end on the north bank looks extremely bleak on this warm but overcast morning. Stays cloudy but dry all day.
Pier stretching out into the river, now a leisure resource once must have served large ships moored here. Tower blocks and shiny new apartments line the south bank, but would you want to live here? Answer given when I attempt to buy a bottle of mineral water. First try a Post Office that looks like something from the Lower East Side boarded up - I wasnt even sure that it was open. Crepuscular interior not a single bottle of mineral water a few isolated cans of industrial strength lagers got out quick, still thirsty.
Walked down to the river again then around the edge of an industrial area and along a busy road thick with racing lorries and lined with abandoned cars wonder about the romance of walking maybe this stretch should be approached psychogeographically. Pass the first of numerous works, mostly scrap metal dealers, (semi-domesticated gypsies, ponies grazing out on the mud flats). I found a shop that did stock mineral water before walking to where the industry petered out and the marshes began. A raised bank that wandered along to Crayford Ness Queen Elizabeth Bridge in the distance. Suddenly I saw a familiar sight, the sluice gates in their concrete towers but the memory wasnt from another walk, but from the painting on the hall wall by Renchi Bicknell of the Darenth Valley walk he undertook with Iain Sinclair. Great moment to see this and it spurred me on.
Saw many interesting and unusual birds but I didnt know their names passed one or two solitary walkers, but otherwise alone. River Cray entered from the west and the path diverged from the muddy banks of the Darenth. Saw ploughing in the field I walked past, then realised that almost all the land here is landfill more industrial lorries everywhere past the Jolly Farmers pub a misnomer if ever there was one it hardly looked inhabited - dilapidated, intimidating. Crossed over to follow the Cray along a quiet stretch, semi-rural lined with huge Giant Hogweeds (Genesis song from Nursery Cryme kept going through my head sadly, I still know all the words) - three cars dumped off the side of the path in the undergrowth area obviously popular for fly-tipping felt hatred for many of my fellow humans sign at the end threatening fines of £20,000 for anyone caught lets hope they manage it one day.
Typical suburban road with gardens leading down to river quite pleasant then rough path with houses oblivious to the river suddenly emerged in heart of Crayford walked along busy London Road before branching off - then past garage to huge grassy recreation ground which was so deserted I was strongly reminded of Blow Up. Cray reappeared in more favourable surroundings historic house Hall Place nearby but didnt see it felt like finishing quickly followed hedges to A2 and railway. Path under road and along Churchfield Wood pleasant rural walking to Bexley Church St Marys open, but with obstructively helpful welcomers- how I prefer an empty church - but it was amazing that it was open in an area like that so many locked up these days. Bexley was a pretty town although the through traffic was incessant old mill turned into a pub, a smattering of 18c houses. Wandered up to the station and got 1400 to London Bridge and 1439 to Tulse Hill, 1501 to Streatham lot of the day left to re-read the relevant passage in London Orbital and watch some Wimbledon tennis on the tv. Felt inspired to continue very soon Monday?
Monday 7th July
7 3/4 miles
0946 to London Bridge (10 minutes late)
1027 London Bridge to Bexley 1053
Bexley to Petts Wood
Even though the train was late (muttering nutter on the train from LB) it didnt seem to take long to get to Bexley within two minutes of getting off I was on the Loop and walking beside the railway embankment beautiful sunny morning.
Crossed an extensive landfill site, reclaimed and sprouting grass and vegetation to walk between aggressive metal fences frequently threatening Keep Out Danger that appear so frequently in the countryside these days I love an open path so much staked-out land. Then to the River Cray once more, this time in peaceful parkland with few souls around water looks clear and cool although marred by large chunks of polystyrene trapped against logs or caught in the flow. I guessed that these were used by kids as rafts, a speculation confirmed further upriver when I see a young girl balancing on a big piece midstream. Beautiful Five Arch Bridge where the Cray forms a large pond, probably very popular at weekends but quiet on a Monday morning a Land Rover with a couple of young female rangers creeping to examine a swans nest.
I get lost briefly by taking a wide path towards some houses but soon regain the river and re-enter urban life at Foots Cray, past a lovely 18c house called unimaginatively The Old House. A boring section of suburban streets and shabby paths behind buildings and past Cray Wanderers football ground combined with the local Conservative Club to suddenly emerge onto rising ground with a view back over the Cray valley a pretty park surrounding Sidcup Place now a pub. Busy with injured people getting air a hospital next to the park - then crossed through underpasses beneath the A20 and A222.
Cross a stile and immediately into peaceful woodland Scadbury Park the only hikers encountered today (as usual) are dog walkers, some looking like sarf London villains on a day off. All very rural fields to the right with horses a beautiful nature reserve hardly anyone around hot in midday sun. Continuing through the wood, a sign directs to the remains of a moated manor house on an island in a lake with incongruous 1930s rebuilding of a banqueting hall ruined but very atmospheric and tranquil. Birch wood to the A208 and crossing into more woodland this time Petts Wood completely deserted. Owned by NT I see a recently tacked-up notice warning of men exposing themselves in the woods. I seek out the monument to William Willett campaigner for Summer Time in the form of a sundial obelisk in a quiet clearing. Many rabbits bounding across the path and large numbers of grey squirrels no humans. Pass a field with a copse of trees in the centre and come across another stone monument by the path.
The sound of trains becomes louder and all of a sudden Im by the track but a path leads off back into the woods skirting the railway crosses one set of tracks by a footbridge plenty of engineering work going on and soon another bridge major junction hope to see a Eurostar but dont anyway I have to keep up the pace to get to the station Petts Wood itself a very bland parade of shops there is of course the Petts Wood Pet Shop get to the station with time to spare remember having to get a train from here during some diversionary engineering work on the North Downs Way journey home fine.
1356 Petts Wood to Herne Hill
1427 to Streatham
Wednesday 9th July
1002 Streatham to Herne Hill
1017 Herne Hill to Petts Wood
Petts Wood to Hayes
Once more reach the beginning of the Loop fairly briskly feeling a bit groggy and unfocussed overcast but very warm weather with periods of bright sunlight, particularly in the afternoon. Pleasant walk through Jubilee Park Country Park, then through Stepford Lives territory of suburbia so few people around everyone drives, they dont seem to walk anywhere occasional woman with pram - no wonder we are becoming a nation of fat bastards. One long street ends in a wood and a more relaxing section ensues. More boring suburbia and then off through Darrick Wood uphill to the sound of cheering and shouting a school sports day, which I eventually encounter after ten minutes of increasing din.
Nice open grassy space after this with a walk downhill to the village of Farnborough actually does look like a village with a couple of decent looking pubs and the Old Forge. Get lost because of crap directions in the book and retrace my steps to the peaceful church of St Giles the Abbot huge yew tree in churchyard. Rural section follows through the unusual High Elms Country Park with a variety of exotic trees and a fives court distinctive High Elms Clockhouse across a golf course and reacquaint myself with Bogey Lane that we walked along earlier this year eventually realise that we came from the other direction this stretch is idyllic: a cornfield in bright sunlight no people, no sound seems miles from civilisation Farthing Street to fields by road and uphill past Holwood house. It now seems to be some Metropolitan Police training building very heavily fenced off, including, ironically, the bench on which Wilberforce and Pitt discussed the abolition of slavery. See two people on this section speak briefly to a passing man about the bench.
Woods to Keston: a series of tranquil ponds with bare-chested, heavily tattooed men fishing in front of the No Fishing notices. Caesars Well supposedly the source of the Ravensbourne one bonus of the Loop has been the opportunity to see some of Londons rivers that have not been lost and to follow their courses for a short while. Long walk close to the road through woods owned by the Corporation of London to Hayes station thirties terminus another place Id never seen before and will probably only see once more.
1520 Hayes to Elmers End
Tram to East Croydon
East Croydon to Balham
Balham to Streatham Hill
Friday 11th July
1039 Streatham to East Croydon
Tram to Elmers End
1115 Elmers End to Hayes
Hayes to Riddlesdown
All these strange places Ive never seen (or heard of) before: Hayes, Keston, Shirley. Perfect walking weather: bright, warm with a breeze after returning to where I left off at Coney Hall walked through a park past a meridian stone to the church of St John the Baptist excellent situation on a hill overlooking fields atmospheric churchyard walked down a field to playing fields and across and uphill into Spring Park Woods (Corporation again) and then Threehalfpenny Wood straight track peaceful, isolated again very few people except one walker who was ahead of me at the church disappeared and then reappeared later in Shirley where he sat on a bench obviously waiting for me to pass I accelerated past. Shirley was edge of town I am always struck on these south London walks (except at Erith) by the sheer conspicuous wealth and comfort on show, especially around here a lot of people are doing very nicely thank you out of Blair and New Labour.
Past a school and on to Addington Hill amazing viewing point with Canary Wharf, Harrow on the Hill and (I think) Windsor Castle visible looking straight up towards Streatham. Next stretch past a tram stop (how efficient and fast they are) to Heathfield Gardens seemed deserted but probably busy at weekends pretty lake where I had a brief rest to devour a packet of crisps before climbing to a beautiful London Wildlife Trust reserve with views over to New Addington noticed a portable cell phone mast parked right next to the wood but probably a different landowner Trust must be annoyed.
Joined the Vanguard Way for a while walked through some lovely areas of open grassland and then woodland for a couple of miles nobody around very rural and peaceful. Through to the road and past Elm Farm cows in the fields and down to a beautiful quiet valley shielded by trees the best walking so far on the Loop apparently some of it is the very edge of South London and it feels like it God/Prescott preserve the Green Belt. Cutting through a pretty field I could see Canary Wharf in the distance through the trees. Down tracks past dull detached houses man washing his car was the spitting image of the actor who played the union man Godbolt in Edge of Darkness reached Hamsey Green.
I had intended to carry on as far as Coulsdon South but was feeling very weary when I realised that it was another 6 miles I became less keen and looked for somewhere nearby to finish past the village a track leads across Dipsley Field again very peaceful and remote seeming drops down to the Riddlesdown Road, the ancient track south, now gravel path descent to the main road and feeling exhausted read in the book that some serious climbing follows and look for a bus stop. Fortunately one nearby and after ten minutes bus comes going to Croydon surfeit of schoolkids leads to an early exit at Purley, but the station is close by and I get the train direct to Streatham Common quick pint in the Pied Bull and the bus home feeling really tired slightly annoyed that I couldnt make it to Coulsdon, but I completed the stage in the book I think all this exertion is catching up with me. When I look at the East London OS map the distance I have walked since last Friday is phenomenal. Ill be on to the West London map on the next stage so I need to buy it. Also remembered that I wanted to read the book written by the man who walked the Meridian Line through Britain good book to take to read on the train journeys, that will soon be getting longer. Currently reading Waterlog by Roger Deakin seems fairly appropriate beautifully written. I want to continue on Monday if I can I believe that the good weather is supposed to continue until then.
Monday 14th July
1009 Streatham to East Croydon
Late running train from East Croydon to Purley
Fairly long wait for the 407 bus to the Rose and Crown
Riddlesdown to Ewell West
Began with a steep climb up streets and steps to a wood and then a field with three unexpected cows - across this to the edge of Kenley WW2 airfield important in Battle of Britain. Also passed a small isolated observatory in middle of fields and on the dropping path through woods into Old Coulsdon a startled deer ran from the path on my approach. Walked past Fox pub and onto a large common area the next stretch was one of the most rural and beautiful so far, heading north to Farthing Down. Really peaceful combination of woods, a gorgeous valley and chalk downs, for the first time springy downland turf that is so easy to tramp across.
On the Downs stopped by what were once seven birch trees only two left but rest replanted lovely views across Croydon and over to City (Corporation owns the land). Past Coulsdon South station and the strange farm by the road that weve seen from the car on our way down to the M25 another wearying climb then dull streets finally peter out to a narrow path past allotments and caravans. Then on open ground looking over the Woodcote Estates black weather boarded houses the view is absolutely panoramic must be one of the best of London from West to East extremely impressive and the weather was clear very hot. Got lost after this point as I decided that I would do without the guide book not a good idea as I had to double back on myself and wasted half an hour.
Entered Oaks Park and rushed to the café which had almost run out of cold drinks took what I could get and drank it rapidly water rations running low. Pretty park soon became woods and pleasant track passing Highdown Prison to the north then the heath of Banstead. Encountered a shifty looking young man who stopped walking towards me and stared as I went past probably gay waiting for a pick-up (wasnt I rough enough?) or had he just escaped? I picked up pace after this and made good time to the golf course crossing the busy A217. Felt more energetic and decided to carry on, as I would have had 45 minutes to wait for the next Banstead train. Beyond the golf course what seemed miles of suburban houses again thoughts of wealth and privilege but so boring! Landowners wont allow access to the lovely fields I have seen from the road so I have to trudge the tarmac.
Beneath a railway bridge and then the relief of a large open area that leads into Nonsuch Park but from an angle that Im not familiar with. Very quiet and pretty inside memories of gathering conkers here as a child - take a woodland path Id never seen before and pass some remains of Henry VIIIs palace that Im sure Id not previously noticed, crossing very busy A232. Strolled into Ewell surprisingly nice lovely 18c houses and a second hand bookshop isolated church tower in graveyard but no church attached. More canned refreshment - then into Bourne Hall a delightful park with futuristic library and civic centre at its heart beautiful lake then out by a gate in the wall to Ewell West station for the train to Wimbledon.
Ewell West to Wimbledon
Wimbledon to Streatham
Sunday 20th July
11 miles (approx)
1204 Streatham to Wimbledon
Wimbledon to Ewell West
Ewell West to Fulwell
Fast journey to the starting point Acorn has gone camping in Sherwood Forest Im bored and the weather is promising so Im carrying on. Park very pretty in Ewell and then on to follow the Hogsmill river through pleasant woods and open ground. Looking at the maps it seems so urban streets crowding in on both sides yet at times it seems fairly remote even midday on a Sunday there arent really many people around. Large grass verges at points leading to playgrounds and culs de sac. An uphill diversion of a few streets Wandgas Social Club brings back memories of the early 70s historic church of St John the Baptist Old Malden but do not venture inside. I feel like Im in a hurry today maybe its because I started later than usual also said Id go over and see the parents later so I cant dawdle. See the tower block at Tolworth suddenly in the distance and realise how urban it all is. Quite a long detour to get over the A2 and then continue through a rural park.. At a footbridge over the river I misread the instructions and get lost rather than ask people or retrace my steps I decide to find my own way back. Of course most roads lead nowhere and I make a long detour, lose time and motivation in a funny mood of resignation and apathy.
Soon follow signs into central Kingston surprised how horrible the surroundings are very busy in the pedestrianised high street identical to every other in South London and increasingly all over the country. More interesting down by Kingston Bridge where I rejoin the Loop deserve a fanfare as I have now met the Thames again, after having left it at Erith. Now in a rush once more to get to the station at Fulwell replacement bus service at Kingston the first occasion on the Loop that Ive walked on a Sunday and what a difference in public transport.
Follow a mother and child into Bushey Park on the opposite bank along an impressive horse-chestnut avenue and then into the vast park. Pass ponds and postSunday lunch nappers lots of people as it gets closer to the car parks (of course) then swerve off to cross over the road and enter the Woodland Gardens very pretty and idyllic, surprisingly quiet meandering river and prehistoric stumps of trees. Exit by a house and head north, picking up pace as I realise that I might miss the train. The park is very extensive and is roamed by large herds of deer huge open space in West London. I knew in this section that Id begin to see the aircraft entering and leaving Heathrow. Exiting the park Im in suburbia again and head for the station (very badly signposted) to catch my train and arrive with ten minutes to spare. Then I find that the internet timetable was wrong it must have been the weekday timetable even though I entered the correct date - and I have 40 minutes to wait very annoyed but I leave to find a phone box and a pub. Looking forward to a lager shandy I stand at the empty bar for about five minutes even though there are indolent staff down the other end - without being served, so leave in a huff. My ability to pass unnoticed worries me sometimes maybe like Crowley I could claim that I have mastered the art of invisibility I would make an excellent thief or terrorist nobody would see me.
Probably, on reflection, the least satisfying of the walks so far. The one before was probably the best for variety of landscape and feeling of rural isolation.
12 1/2 miles
Thursday 4th September
1304 Streatham to Wimbledon
1347 Wimbledon to Fulwell
Fulwell to West Drayton
A long break necessitated by summer holiday and driving around Europe France, Switzerland, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium.
Rejoin the Loop on a warm day but the summer heatwave is past glad I wasnt walking then. On a weekday Fulwell has large numbers of cars parked higgledy piggledy outside, some hopelessly trapped and I start back down to where I left the walk some weeks ago. Burtons Lane seems interminable hedges and trees conceal a golf course to the right eventually I cross the course at the far west end book says a club house is on my right no sign of it but there is a massive new development to my left that seems to have been built over part of the route (no signs on any of this section until I hit Hillingdon). Emerge on a busy suburban road (first of many today) and hear the increasingly loud roar of jet engines I was not looking forward to this stretch especially given the close proximity of Heathrow.
Really boring streets (past a St Anthony house) and out to a park by another teeming road but theres a short cut down to the River Crane and a modicum of peace follow the river for some time past an impressive shot tower? not so many people again nobody who seems to be actually walking the Loop. Considering the mass of development in this area the walk here is fairly sylvan one bad aspect is the ferocious amount of rubbish along many sections masses of cans, plastic bags and other detritus disgusting humans again. Some boards warn of pollution and its effect on the wildlife but this seems to have been ignored by fairly large numbers do they think that someone comes along to sweep it all up at night? Some of the trash has been thrown into the river as well probably the worst area on the walk so far for rubbish.
Road walking to a recreation ground schoolkids gathering and suddenly find myself on Hounslow Heath. Scrubby, dry with the heatwave and in many places burned black - accident or deliberate? Get the impression that people are hidden in the bushes and hurry on past vast areas of burned bracken. Down a gulley to yet another golf course, cross a millrace and meet the river again.
Walking quite fast keep close to the Crane, passing crouched under low road bridges until Hatton Cross, where I emerge by another dual carriageway leading towards the airport. Noise overwhelming cargo area with huge warehouses and sheds everywhere - and they want to keep expanding this air travel city. Hazard a crossing without lights and have to walk past a wall concealing the Piccadilly line and along a busy slip road wayside caff- rejoin the river almost like a secret off this hell no one walking here path much wider and clearer fairly precipitous earlier towards large clearing and grounds of Earl of Berkeleys (demolished) Mansion. Pass a ha-ha, car park and a historic church (closed) bizarre empty building with a hedge in front formerly used by Berkeley Hunt (Cockney rhyming slang, although the guide book decorously fails to mention this). An underpass leads under the M4 acoustic footprint audible for some time although the aircraft noise diminishes rapidly to the normal background roar of London.
Eventually meet another massive road and strange, conspiratorial power supply building with a roundabout leading over the Grand Union and a long ramp descends to the canal. I start walking towards Birmingham. Again few walkers lot more cyclists despite the gates erected every few hundred yards to deter them not too much of an irritation. Quite pleasant, as the sun is going down slowly and its a good evening for strolling by the water. Try to keep up a good pace - Ive decided that Im going to carry on the West Drayton 3 miles past my original destination of Hayes & Harlington. Some stretches almost idyllic huge Nestlé plant on the opposite bank near Hayes, but further on much quieter. Take a detour across reclaimed corporate landfill big post-modern blocks looking very new fountains and water features Aspect is the company name- pleasant avenue of trees leads to yet another golf course (Wogan territory) and a gravel track that meets an impressive single pylon bridge across the road this is Stockley Country Park. An artificial hill offers a surprisingly panoramic view of the Colne Valley and planes taking off from Heathrow, which now seems a fair distance away. Follow the deserted path and bridleway to a road and then some unpleasant industrial estate roads to the towpath again feeling really tired and glad to see West Drayton on the other side of the canal stagger to the station to discover that a train will arrive in ten minutes ticket office is closed and I get away without paying for the journey - this time I have a weekly travel card 1-3.
1837 to Paddington surprisingly long ride Circle Line to Farringdon and a late running Thameslink to Streatham. Very weary and footsore need to get back into walking shape. Would like to continue tomorrow, but know I wont.
Friday 12th September 14
Streatham to Farringdon 1219
Farringdon to Paddington tube
Paddington to West Drayton 1312
West Drayton to Moor Park
14 1/4 miles
Long journey to start this walk, but back on the Grand Union towpath within a couple of minutes of disembarking. Excellent weather for walking: warm, sunny but not overpowering, bit of breeze, cloudy but not threatening rain. Soon striking left along the Slough arm of the canal over a small aqueduct then over a footbridge across the canal and on to Little Britain Lakes. Really pretty and peaceful with the River Colne running through, surprisingly deep in places, looking clean and with plenty of fish little if any litter. The charming lakes are reused gravel pits, of course, but the impression is that theyve returned to nature. As I near a road a field corner contains a large number of cows and horses one or two of the cattle have long horns.
Walk continues alongside an industrial estate, or post-industrial estate, as much of it is being demolished huge boilers and pieces of machinery stand rusting, waiting for recycling? Enter the outskirts of Uxbridge and quickly regain the canal towpath, which is much more interesting on this stretch, mainly because there are plenty of barges to look at. Some seem really run down and others are beautifully maintained again romantic thoughts of living on a barge drift through my mind, although I realise that it would probably only be on a holiday we are both too tall.
I seem to be covering a lot of ground, which is good because this is going to be a very long walk. Uxbridge Lock very pretty and peaceful Denham Lock has a wonderful-looking tea-rooms and garden by the canal, but I do not stop. Main impression is of quiet such a contrast with last weeks jet-ridden hiking. Walk too far at one point and have to retrace my steps to cross over to the other side and walk along a wide track separated from the canal by trees and beside some more gravel pits reclaimed as lakes walk past a well organised marina and across a rather scary-looking area obviously used by teenagers to crash and burn cars. Once more into the woods and a picnic area then out to a road. Beginning to feel a bit weary but continue at a good pace further north along the canal a really idyllic stretch with hardly anyone around - Black Jacks Lock beautiful.
Pass a pub supposed to be the Minnow according to the guidebook, but now called the Coy Carp, although its a fried carp as they are closed owing to fire damage. Copper Mills area ex industrial and converted to offices and housing units where I reluctantly leave the canal and strike east up a peaceful path through woods. Reaching a road I pass a former pub now an early learning centre, then off to the right to cross a field as the sun begins to descend across stiles into more fields its extremely peaceful and rural and Im enjoying it. Past Fieldways Farm and the inevitable barking dogs and then on to a very busy road with no pavement for far too long before disappearing along a long a narrow footpath across another field to the Bishops Wood Country Park, where I go sharp right into the dark woods directions in the book fairly vague and Im getting very tired, hoping Im not lost nobody about at all. Emerge at Batchworth Heath, large pub opposite walk beside the busy road to the Prince of Wales pub: Exotic Dancers, Over 24s Only id required and head down another path, strangely half-paved, with some of the piles of decaying paving stones scattered beside it.
Suddenly Im back in suburbia but few people around and walk through the Moor Park Conservation Area consisting of Brookside-style closes of Barrat Homes what are they conserving? Also, every car entering this area is photographed by a gadget on a post claiming to represent the local neighbourhood watch. The surveillance future? Very tired, Im nearing the end and reach the railway line where I head north away from the Loop and towards Moor Park station though darkening woods. I try to phone Steven when I get there but no reply so catch a train south change at Wembley Park for the Jubilee and get off at West Hampstead Steven answers and I arrange to meet him at St Pancras his train is very late as usual but I dont have to wait for too long we end the evening at the Pineapple. On reflection an excellent walk (if a bit too long) one of the best of the stages hope the next stage is also fairly rural.
Wednesday 17th September
Streatham to Farringdon
Farringdon to Moor Park tube
Moor Park to Elstree and Borehamwood
Repeat the walk through the wood beside the railway to regain the Loop and cross open ground an then the inevitable golf course cross a busy road. A few dull suburban streets and then Oxhey Woods pleasant uphill walking through deserted woodland some time spent on forest tracks then emerge onto a field path and a lovely view of north London as I head downhill towards Pinnerwood Farm earth very dry. Well kept farm and nearby Pinnerwood House with delightful pond once home of Bulwer Lytton new biography of him just published, but Ill probably never read it. More fields narrow path by terrifying fence alongside railway cross by road-bridge and a boring trek up to another busy road cross and walk uphill through scrubland littered with burnt out cars and motorbikes.
Reach Grims Ditch the ancient boundary marker bank. As I strike off of the main path into the trees and along the dyke I notice the graffiti on the sign Fuck off, Goths only what scenes of diabolical mayhem to a soundtrack by Fields of the Nephilim await sadly there is nobody around, as usual, but I soon see Grimsdyke House designed by one of my favourites Richard Norman Shaw and once home to W S Gilbert (according to the Loop guide) who drowned in the nearby lake which appeared to have totally dried up during this excessive summer.
Very pretty woodland walk follows notice a couple of young men, who dont notice me, acting suspiciously by some trees bordering the house grounds and hurry on as they squeeze through the bushes. Emerge from the woods at a car park on Harrow Weald stunning panoramic view, definitely the most impressive of the entire Loop although theres a lot of competition a huge vista of London from East to West on a very clear afternoon. Reeling from this and with a raging thirst I enter a nearby pub, the quaintly titled The Case is Altered apparently a corruption (arent they always) of the Spanish casa alta or high house Im the only customer and I gulp down a welcome half of lager and return to the path once more entering cool woodland. Have to stop to adjust concertinaed socks and then on to pass Bentley Priory Command Headquarters in the Battle of Britain lots of former airfields on the Loop this one is still operating in some capacity as evidenced by high security fences and dog patrols. Winding concrete path around the perimeter pass a middle-aged couple walking dogs he looks like a flying officer on a break soon emerge on yet another really busy A road thick with evening rush hour traffic have to wait a couple of minutes until someone slows down to let me cross.
Ponds of Stanmore Little Common Warren Lane nearly get lost outside a hospital as the path takes a really narrow route right up against the fence, but then continue into broad fields with a view across to the M1. Follow a broad farm track and its surprisingly peaceful, although the motorway traffic becomes increasingly obtrusive as I progress. Over a grassy hill towards the motorway and eventually onto a road that passes beneath tricky crossings and then a brisk road walk to the huge expanse of Aldenham Reservoir late afternoon, Im relieved to get off the main road and beside the water children learning to sail. Cross Watling Street and then a welcome return to fields really rural and lovely walk as the sun goes down and I can see a church spire in the distance one lone walker up ahead and I slow down to let him get further ahead he soon disappears. Reach the edge of housing and walk down to a B road and make my way towards Elstree and Borehamwood Station, knowing that Ive missed the train I intended to catch by around 20 minutes. Unsurprisingly, with Thameslink, when I reach the platform I see that the train is running half an hour late so I board it and travel all the way across London without having to change the only such opportunity on the whole Loop. Evenings are beginning to creep in so I must finish this Loop walk in the next month.
Monday 22nd September
1302 from Streatham to Elstree (direct!) 1402 (5 minutes late)
Elstree and Borehamwood to High Barnett
Weather improving on the journey up but forecast warned of light showers however within minutes of leaving the station the cloud thickens and the heavens open. Put on my waterproof top and continue thoughts of turning back, but I hope it will be over soon. Have to walk beside the busy A411 with fast cars and lorries splashing past relieved to cross over and enter Scratch Wood. Rain stops and I attempt to dry off not too wet and the sun emerges in a cloudy blue sky and I feel a lot better.
Quiet wood with open spaces cross a car park with huge fissures in the earth owing to previous lack of rain walk downhill to the A1(T) not looking forward to this stretch as it involves walking for some distance to a subway and back on the opposite side to Moat Mount Park beside the throbbing road grateful to leave the torrent of traffic and adjust my socks and rucksack on a bench in the park. Soon very peaceful and the best bit of the walk across lovely fields dappled with sunlight track to another road and another long walk to a path. At this point I have dried off but the clouds are gathering once more although it doesnt look too bad plenty of blue patches. I finally find the path Im seeking, but just as I cross the stile the rain starts again suddenly when I look around the sky is dark grey, all blue vanished rapidly. Heavier than before, the rain continues as I strike across country, following the course of the Dollis Brook would be pretty but the rain and hood have reduced my vision to a narrow tunnel begin to weigh up the options looks like this rain is here to stay Cockfosters is at least 7 miles away, but there is a station at High Barnet in a couple of miles. As I get soaked more thoroughly I decide to curtail the walk there and curse myself for having bothered to walk today any future walks will not occur if there is the slightest hint of rain in the weather forecast have been exceedingly lucky so far this year although the ground is excessively dry the curse of global warming?
Feeling more and more miserable. I am so wet that I am finding it harder to walk eventually hit the outskirts of Barnet which seem to go on forever finally get to a road by playing fields the saturated guide book tells me I can cross the fields to the station and I make my way as I turn north the rain and driving freezing wind are directly in my face and I get even wetter and colder final coup de grace as I approach the tube station a lorry showers me with water although my clothes can hardly absorb any more. Grateful to reach the tube I run to board a train about to depart and sit down creating a pool of water fortunately my upper half is fairly dry after I remove my waterproof but my hair, trousers and boots are saturated cannot wait to get home but of course the journey takes ages. Fortunately this branch connects with Kentish Town so I can get a Thameslink connection home, where I immediately fill a hot mustard bath and sink into it whilst attempting to dry my stuff on the radiators which are turned on for the first time since Spring.
Wednesday 24th September
1249 Streatham to Kentish Town
Northern Line Tube to High Barnet
High Barnet to Enfield Lock
Complete contrast in weather today as the sun is shining, the ground is dry and the weather perfect. Retrace my steps and begin climbing to some open ground where there is a great view of London Hadley, scene of the Battle of Barnet in the Wars of the Roses home of Livingstone (I presume?) some lovely houses prime commuter land and much prettier than many of the outer suburbs that I have recently traversed. Look like rock star mansions walk along the wide grass verge of the road and soon enter Monken Hadley Common very pleasant cross the railway and onto a broad forest track to Cockfosters which I briefly skirt past the station and past a cemetery into another wood and Trent Country Park memories of meeting Stephen at Middlesex Union bar and the sometimes interminable wait for the mini bus to the Union seems many years ago now 20 years this month since I went to Leicester.
Climb away from a lake and glimpse the house at the centre of the University used for interrogating captured airmen in WWII enter another wood come out by a quieter road by a strange obelisk cross into fields and a delightful rural section - so peaceful, the reason for doing a walk like this see Botany Bay on the hill to the north and reach the Ridgeway Road long farm track and under a railway past greenhouses and enter a lovely park sun beginning to go down, very atmospheric meet the Turkey Brook for the first time as it winds beside the path. Seem to be making very good time until I hit the New River and one of its abandoned courses. The guide book is ambiguous a number of paths lead off and I suddenly lose confidence in the path I have taken as it doesnt seem to correspond with the instructions I turn back, retrace my steps and worry about getting lost in the end I go back along the same path again and eventually find a Loop sign but Ive lost the chance of getting my early train.
Make a brief detour to see Forty Hall from a distance very impressive but decide to strike on past lakes with early evening fishermen cross the New River (final version) and a busy road by a footbridge. Feeling weary, I tramp through scrubland and see the Turkey Brook again, although this time it is choked with detritus and is an indictment of stupidity and fast food consumerism. Depressing terraces of houses lead to Enfield Lock station train very crowded - 1845 to Tottenham Hale, where I change onto Victoria Line and get to Kings X then Brighton train to Farringdon visit the remainder book shop there and buy the book about Britpop and a cheap copy of Burroughs last journals, which I read in the pub by the station over a welcome pint of cold lager. A very good days walking not much road and a lot of green space and fields. Decide to carry on tomorrow.
Thursday 25th September
Should have been 8 but probably nearer 10 miles
1349 Streatham to Kings Cross
Victoria Line to Tottenham
1445 Tottenham Hale to Enfield Lock
Enfield Lock to Chigwell (intended destination)
Very soon back on Loop beside the rubbish-strewn Turkey Brook soon reach the Lea Navigation and very pretty, if short, stretch of canal then River Lee towpath ridiculously narrow and choked with vegetation so I watch my step. Cross some bridges and open ground to a road and Freddies pub (those apostrophised pub names are so over) and enter a field to climb up towards woods. View astounding across the George V and Girling Reservoirs (25% of Londons water supply) towards the dismal Ponders End and over NE London.
Down to a road and then enter Gilwell park Scout Centre (Acorn would be pleased) very quiet and no scouts around take a woodland track which is beautiful and peaceful bear left across open ground and climb again to another wood very pleasant walking if a little strenuous for the Loop try to dispense with the (still damp) guide book as much as possible as the broad track continues through the sun dappled woods to the road into Chingford but fortunately theres a track in the trees parallel to the road so I can avoid the traffic. Large buffer land owned by the Corporation model aircraft being flown dogfight possible? Pass Queen Elizabeths Hunting Lodge with its vista across the former hunting grounds Butlers Retreat walk onto another stretch of quiet open ground gradually rising past a cricket green and some good looking retirement flats Roebuck pub with an earnest-looking group of people sitting in a circle on the grass outside not drinking Christians or a corporate confidence-building session?
Pleasant cottage-like houses and a track across fields to cross the Central Line and head towards Chingford I have made excellent time and start to look forward to getting the 1914 from City Thameslink short walk from St Pauls tube. By a beautiful lake with many Canada Geese (another former gravel pit) the route suddenly swings in another direction not in the book. Thinking its a short diversion I follow it until after 20 minutes I realise something is wrong the route has been completely diverted, but with no indication on the posts or signs. Suddenly emerge by a stinking dual carriageway on the wrong side of the motorway, very angry and lost. Luckily I have my large OS map and, on checking, discover that there should be a tube station a few hundred yards away I must have been two miles from Chigwell tube. Getting dark as I ran onto the platform, narrowly missing the train another one came along in five minutes, but I just missed the Thameslink again. Got off at Bank Northern Line to London Bridge and 1919 to Streatham. What am I going to do at the start of the next stage carry on from where I left off or go to Chigwell? We shall see. Nearing the end.
Thursday 9th October 12
11 1/2 miles
1232 Streatham to City Thameslink
walk to St Pauls and tube to Debden 1 hour
Debden to Harold Wood
I decided to rejoin at Debden and miss Chigwell to maintain continuity. Read in the Britpop book that Damon Albarn spent some time in Debden poor bloke seems very anonymous. Worried about the weather, as the journey into London and sky around St Pauls was very overcast and depressing. However, as the tube emerged from tunnel near Stratford the sun was shining and it continued all day.
I had copied a section from a large scale OS map for the first stretch of walk as it wasnt in the guide book I speculated that Debden might be easier to reach by tube which it was and that this was the reason for the diversion but there were no signs from the station to the Loop and I worked out my own route back to the walk. First negotiate busy dual carriageway under M11, having to cross from one side to the other to find a verge, sometimes having to walk up the central reservation (surely the diversion cannot take this route?) I get to the A113 with relief. More pleasant roadside walking past various large houses walled off from the road and one very pretty 18c house until I decide to take a bridleway called Green Way that I see will join up with the Loop from Chigwell. Soon out in open fields and its really beautiful walk to pass a reservoir and emerge into Chigwell Row a row of cottages and a church - crossing the road into an utterly deserted park.
Head towards a Victorian church and meet a busy road and soon cross to enter Hainault Forest Country Park. Directions in the guide book very unclear, a faint path; anyway I take the wrong one, as I realise when I am walking near houses and the map indicates that I should be crossing open ground decide to detour across on forest tracks and successfully meet the Loop again and walk down a lovely path to a lake. Congratulating myself on not getting badly lost, I then get lost again the route in the book seems closed off and there are new posts with Loop signs pointing in a different direction so I naturally follow them. As with the Debden diversion the signs suddenly peter out and Im left standing by a junction of three or four tracks. Angry at these stupid half-finished diversions, I follow the widest track which appears to correspond to a bridleway on the map after a fairly long walk I decide that I must be near the point where I rejoin the Loop, but everything looks the same Im supposed to be near a golf course, but I cant see one anywhere. I head down another path at right angles and then decide to strike across open country hoping to hit the golf course fortunately within ten minutes I do so Im back on course then the directions in the book are frustratingly vague yet again and I go on another detour past groups of golfers until fortunately I stumble on the Loop again only because I remembered that the book said that the trees had yellow stripes painted on them.
Emerging from the golf course there seems to one on every stretch of the Loop I cross lumpy ploughed land and walk along a field edge, a welcome relief to pass a ramshackle farm with lots of vehicles parked outside and a ridiculous new house next door with ostentatious iron railings and the usual stupid gateposts proclaiming its owners importance. Further on I climb a track beside Havering Country Park and am afforded an incredible view across London, mainly Docklands and the City Fosters erotic gherkin is certainly a major landmark now more so than the increasingly hemmed in Canary Wharf (1 Canada Square to be pedantic). Enter the forest for a delightful walk past tall sycamores - towards the end of this straight path more views north across the rural Roding valley. Forest finishes at Havering-atte-Bower, a stranded picture book village on the hilltop great views south towards the end of the walk stocks on the village green suitably heritaged, some charming weather-boarded cottages, many painted black. Take a tiny path by a garage and into fields yet again, seeing a strange water tower in the distance really good walking elaborate gates from an entrance to Pyrgo Park rusting away - climb onto a ridge with beautiful views and springy turf one of the best sections of the entire Loop nobody else visible for miles feels like Im on the South Downs sun going down - more field boundaries and then along a road - turn off before the forbidding gates of a farm usual KEEP OUT TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED signs that identify the true English countryside.
Now rural walking to the finish although the first section is in a hidden dell beside the Carters Brook that becomes the Ingrebourne soon emerge into semi-detached territory looking very similar to the Barnett section seems poor people I pass (dog walkers predominantly) are overweight, stodgy. Cross a number of roads and a park negotiate A12 into Harold Wood and trot into the station just in time to catch the 1746 to Liverpool Street. Really tired as I flop into my seat with delays (failed train out of LS) the journey takes 45 minutes still time for a quick pint at Farringdon buy Platform by Michel Houellebecq at the cheap bookshop, as I was so impressed by Atomised. At last manage to catch the 19.15 home. Penultimate stage completed, so I really want to finish the whole thing this week weather forecast for Saturday very good so I decide on that day for the conclusion to my pedestrian peregrinations.
Saturday 11th October
1032 Streatham to Blackfriars (no cross-London connection)
Blackfriars to Liverpool Street tube
1120 Liverpool Street to Harold Wood
Harold Wood to Coldharbour Point
On this final stage Im accompanied by Acorn the only occasion on which shes had the time although realistically Ive preferred weekdays, for obvious public transport reasons, so the bulk of this walk had to be done alone. Arrive at Harold Wood just before 12.00 and get going immediately as the Loop passes the station entrance. Along an unadopted road, which soon enters a park where someone says good morning from a hut as we pass the first occasion on the walk that this has happened. Another country park, where we track the Ingrebourne on a very pleasant stretch surprisingly hot for October Im still wearing a t-shirt havent needed anything warmer apart from the wet Elstree to Barnet stretch when I froze. Fields in the distance feels rural but soon out of the park and onto main roads for a depressingly long stretch pass a house that screams Essex villain pretentious wall, diamond-pane windows, Tudorbethan, stretch limo parked outside! Acorn depressed, as I have been, at the amount of roadside litter predominantly emanating from McDonalds we have to wade through eat a burger in the car while youre on the mobile then chuck the packaging out of the window some other wage slave will sweep it up although this doesnt appear to have been the case around here.
Almost get lost by a school new Loop signs - but Ive decided that Ive had enough of these unfinished diversions and we carry on along the original guide route. Field of horses and then more boring suburban streets to Upminster Bridge (overground) tube station. Pass Hornchurch stadium and then enter another good section by the Ingrebourne again stop for sandwiches making good and rapid progress Acorn always walks fast and I struggle to keep up. River in a small ravine as we continue through the park realising that soon this idyllic scene will be replaced by more roads and industry. Pass into Hornchurch Country Park across the site of another Battle of Britain airfield the odd pill box and hard-standing remain as evidence an irritating, scramble-biking teenager roars up and down the pedestrian paths, ignoring complaints by parents of threatened children leave him behind swiftly as we pass some very dry looking ponds and lakes hope it rains for days after Ive finished these walks still deep crevasses in the earth along some stretches.
Go around a pleasant lake near Albyns Farm with lots of waterfowl tempted to cross a landfill site which is supposed to form a short cut eventually but stick to the traditional route, although its horrible busy main roads down to Rainham village guide book recommends taking a bus but you have to walk it really no cheating. The village is quite pretty old pubs Norman church beautiful National Trust Georgian House only open by appointment we make our way to the station.
Acorn decides that she has to leave to attend a swimming gala at Dulwich College the right decision at it turns out and gets the 1528 to Fenchurch St. I have to see it out and carry on past the CTRL works extensive and deserted past an increasingly surreal landscape small mountains of multi-coloured containers beside the road opposite the desolate Rainham marshes I pass a corpulent man leaning over a fence looking at the fetid water for ages without moving. I realise that because the walk hasnt been able to connect with another station at the end I have to come back the same way, but I grit my teeth and continue.
Pass beneath the busy A13 the stilts of the overpass section look very new but a wasteland exists underneath so much empty space. On the other side I can see the Queen Elizabeth Bridge in the distance and I know Ive almost completed the circuit. Unfortunately I have to keep up my record and I get lost, briefly, once more this time I take a road called Coldharbour Lane and soon realise that Im going nowhere it isnt even on the map tiredness is affecting my judgement. Return and find the south end of Ferry Lane absolutely nobody around in this industrial estate - CCTV signs everywhere but little evidence of cameras who would want to come down here?
A vast yard contains dozens of retired Routemasters and Green Line buses with tightly parked articulated lorries in serried ranks. Then, a new looking path rises up beside the road which leads to the Thames. Great relief on having almost reached my destination. Bright late afternoon sunshine river beautiful very few ships Im completely alone on this path almost uncanny. Head towards Tilda Rice factory think of spectral Tilda Swinton machinery clanking away, but nobody to be seen further down, another weird sight many abandoned concrete barges by the shore, half sunken at crazy angles once a component of Mulberry Harbours for the Normandy landings now home to hundreds of birds awaiting a new life as an installation courtesy of Artangel perhaps? Another Country Park and yet again consisting of a partially reclaimed landfill site (recurrent theme of the London Loop: golf courses and landfill; the former often a result of the latter, Iain Sinclair writes about it in London Orbital).
Cross the jetty where the detritus must arrive in barges see one of the artificial hills is capped with an eminence- an ancient Iron Age hill fort? On closer inspection its revealed to be a heap of black bin bags encircled by predatory gulls. A verdant green path continues and as I trudge along this I realise that this is the very final stretch it terminates abruptly at a rusty padlocked gate to another lorry park covered with the usual Keep Out and high security notices wooden sign at the side Havering Riverside Path, the Peoples Path what a joke. No Congratulations on finishing the London Loop board, but thats probably a good thing the intention is to continue the path to Purfleet, which I sincerely hope will happen in the next few years Id return to finish that last bit. But for now I must stare across at horrible Erith cannot see the beacon at Crayford Ness, but Im only a few yards from the bright red Coldharbour beacon frustrating that the path doesnt carry on. Fortunately, a bench has been placed at this point for a few moments contemplation which is what I indulge in. Deep gulps of water and the return trek has to begin, taking the only snaps of the whole Loop trip. Earlier a paddle steamer had passed decks crammed with people this was no Mississippi repro version but resembled one of the sturdy ships that were once so common around the coast probably some special excursion.
The return walk wasnt as strenuous as I had feared being able to see everything from a different direction was more interesting maybe I should do the whole Loop going the other way passed a couple of small groups of people, otherwise totally deserted. Back past the yards and container parks to Rainham station asked for a spare cigarette by a couple of young girls they seemed disgusted that I did not smoke strange that they should ask me, as everyone else on the platforms was smoking. When the 1728 arrived I was surprised at how luxurious it was the Fenchurch Street line was once notorious as the worst, with the most outdated filthy trains c2c (terrible logo) had obviously invested a lot in the new fleet, but I suppose, as the CTRL would be running alongside, visitors to England would have been shocked to see the old clapped-out carriages. Very pleasant journey to Fenchurch Street but feeling shattered walked to Tower Hill got a tube to Blackfriars and a Thameslink home.