London Loop Route 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.