We have set up a sub-group of the Longer Walks Group to walk the London Outer Orbital Path, a 150 mile route around the periphery of the capital. We are dividing the walk into 14/15 sections each being between about 10 miles in length, starting south of the Thames at Erith and finishing at Purfleet near the Dartford Crossing. All walks take a place on Wednesdays.
To begin with at least, there will be a maximum group size of 12 on each walk, including the 2 group leaders (Ruth Hayes and Betty McAskie).
Please note that only members who have joined the Longer Walks Group are accepted on the London Loop walks. You may join by completing this form.
Please read the walk descriptions carefully before booking. A number of the walks require train journeys south of the Thames to reach the start point.
On each walk we will take breaks, including one for lunch approximately mid-way through. This means all walkers will need to bring their own packed lunches and enough drinking water to last the whole day. There may be the possibility for further refreshment at the end of some walks.
North of the Thames now and the journeys are getting easier. For this one, we only need to use the Underground, with the walk starting from Hatton Cross Station (Piccadilly Line).
We begin by re-joining the River Crane, and passing through a country park, the remains of the Earl of Berkeley’s estate. The house became ruinous, but the old church survived and is worth seeing. We then pass through Hayes to cross the Grand Union canal and go through Stockley Country Park, before meeting the canal again and entering a complex water system of canals, an aqueduct, a river and finally some flooded gravel pits now pretending to be lakes. There is a granite obelisk with the City of London arms which was a coal tax marker built in 1667, the tax helping to rebuild London after the Great Fire. Shortly afterwards, we leave the canal to follow the River Colne upstream to Uxbridge Lock where we encounter the grand Union again at the very end of the walk.
The walk starts at Uxbridge Tube station and makes it way to the Grand Union Canal, which it follows for most of this stretch, passing through Denham Country Park. The second stage goes through remote countryside, parks and woods, highlights being the ancient Park and Bishop’s Woods before finishing at Moor park tube station
This high undulating section goes through some lovely Hertfordshire woodlands, highlights being the Old Furze Wood, Oxhey Wood nature reserve, Pinnerwood House, (home of the famous Victorian author Bulwer-Lytton), Bentley Priory Open Space, Grove Fields and Aldenham Country Park. On clear days there are some great views. The walk finishes at Elstree and Borehamwood on the Thameslink Line.
Despite a high proportion of road walking, this walk takes in some attractive open spaces and commons in North London, including Scratchwood Open Space, Nut Wood, Moat Mount Open Space, Monken Hadley Common and Totteridge Common. The walk finishes at Cockfosters tube station.
London Loop Route Loop 7 : Kingston Bridge to The Causeway
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.
London Loop Route 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.
London Loop Route 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.
London Loop Route 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.
London Loop Route 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!
London Loop Route 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 Edlman and others. This was an indeed as splendid section of the Loop, and we wondered if this would be bettered on our orbital journey.
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.