During 2016, Edd & Soph are walking the LOOP for the DofE Diamond Challenge. You can sponsor them on JustGiving. These blog posts are not designed to be a walking guide, merely a run down of what see, and we always suggest taking a good map with you.
Another week, another part of the LOOP ticked off – starting by the Thames and taking in the sights of Bushy park before heading off to Heathrow and beyond. From river travel to air travel and back to the waterways, these two sections together proved to be a veritable timewarp. We began where we left off in Kingston-Upon-Thames, although it was less sunny than on our previous visit. A brief refreshment at one of the local Starbucks and we were on our way by ten thirty once again; beginning by crossing the river into the the sixth London Borough of the LOOP, Richmond-Upon-Thames which is the only Borough to lie both banks of the river. On these roads, the LOOP signs change from the usual green and blue to black and white squares, making them much harder to see amongst the jumble of other information aside from the fact they they don’t seem to be placed at the junctions you need nor have arrows on. Once into Bushy Park, however, normality is restored.
The park is where we hit our first real snag. At the corner of the cricket pitch we met a group of three ladies that were also completing the LOOP section 9 today but looked rather lost. In my desire to look like we were more prepared, I forged on to the mown grass track I perceived to be correct from the angle of the LOOP maker. Unfortunately, we wanted the one next to it, which was less obvious, but the mistake was soon rectified by walking across the uneven grassland when we saw we were going to pass the wrong side of the trees and observed a marker post on the other path. I was a tad embarrassed though as the ladies had followed us thinking we knew what we were doing, I heard them say “oh, they’re checking” when I pulled out the trusty map to double check. Once on the correct path, the next hour was probably the nicest and most beautiful part of the LOOP so far. Crossing a little bridge, we walk by ponds filled with fish and fed by the man-made Longford river; built under the instruction of Charles I to supply these ponds and Hampton Court that lies just out of site behind the trees to the south west. The most you see of it on the LOOP is by looking down the Chestnut Avenue as you cross it, but the Diana Fountain and that famous maze get in the way. The avenue was planned to lead to a new grand north wing, but this was never completed leaving this elegant treelined road to not quite take you to the royal palace.
The other side of the road leads us into the woodland gardens that are full of blooming plants in pinks, oranges, reds and yellows on this wonderful spring day. The grounds team were out in force planting more beds too. The waterhouse plantation is equally stunning though the final fenced in area, the willow plantation, is far less so. Returning to the park proper you enter an area which seems to be the most densely populated with the deer introduced by Henry VIII, with the area also proving popular with cyclists and dog walkers of all ages. Enjoy this last bit, it goes urban again now. There are a couple of kilometres walking along the suburban back streets of the borough, although one street sign still proudly bears the mark of the previous District of Twickenham, until you cut across the corner of a golf course and plunge back into housing. Eventually you will reach this sections’ river, the Crane that flows from Hayes (where we finished the day’s walking) down to the Thames near Isleworth.
Crane Park is an interesting place to walk, evidence from it’s time as a key area for the manufacture of gunpowder from 1766 to 1926 are much in evidence. Before that this whole area was part of the vast Hounslow Heath that has been swallowed up to be all but a kilometre square that we walk through shortly. We ate our lunch sitting on old millstones by a large tower where they formally made lead shot by dropping small blobs of molten lead from the top of the tower into cool water at the bottom. Crude but effective. The ladies from the park passed us here while we took the time to visit the little information centre in the bottom of the tower. The island in the middle of the river here functions as a nature reserve, but we elected to carry on walking though the park where the path eventually lead us out onto a busy road. Don’t worry about crossing too quickly, there are zebra and pelican crossings further down towards the heath. This area used to be home to Britain’s second largest railway siding complex, the Feltham Marshalling Yard until BR closed it in 1969. Some signs of its’ past use apparently remain, though nothing is visible from the road with a large amount of the site having been redeveloped into a mail sorting depot.
Hounslow Heath is the next stop for us. An area famous for encampments, highway robberies and military training down the centuries. It was also the site from which the Ordnance Survey began their first triangulation of Great Britain project in 1784. This small remnant of the once vast heathland is now a nature reserve. Returning to the Crane, this area is not particularly pleasant, very overgrown with a lot of rubbish strewn around the path and river it is also rather dark from the dense tree cover making for a less than desirable walking environment. Thankfully it is not long until you come out onto a road by a patrol station via a squeeze between the cars waiting for the hand car wash. Section 9 finishes by passing through Donkey Wood where we bumped into the ladies again having a late lunch. A brief chat with them told us that they were also aiming to compete the LOOP this year, though taking it at a more leisurely pace than us by only doing one section a day though agreeing that you should never try and follow the directions provided by TfL. They had done so when they completed the Capital Ring last year whereas they had chosen David Sharp’s guidebook to navigate the LOOP which was proving to be far more rural and enjoyable. We left them to their lunch and spent a fun while bouncing on a raised plastic wood effect causeway over the boggy ground bring us to the A312 where we cross the river and complete the final few hundred meters on the other bank until reaching the Great South West Road (A30). As has been stated many times, the section should really end here, but you have to walk down to the pedestrian lights shortly before Hatton Cross station spending a kilometre breathing in the fumes of cars and planes. You can see the LOOP signs on the other side of the road too, right next to the Piccadilly line’s tunnel portal.
We waited briefly at the traffic lights to say farewell to the three ladies before starting that kilometre trudge back to the Crane. The road has recently been redesigned down here, finally providing a footpath for us walkers to skirt between the Piccadilly line and the roundabout. Silver Jubilee way has the feel of abandonment with a fire destroyed hut and forever open road barrier but the LOOP soon turns back onto the banks of the Crane to reveal the pond. It was as I was planning this walk that Diamond Geezer coincidentally blogged about section 10. In his post, he describes the path as impassable and thus took a walk through the streets to avoid it. Having come this far and starting to get weary, we decided to go for it and attempt to cross. I had throughly re-waterproofed our boots the evening before in anticipation and, with a stick in hand to poke the ground ahead, began a wary crossing away from the main path, behind the isolated bench. We reached the bench and I abandoned the stick approach in favour of just moving very quickly through the boggy mud and two inch high water. Miraculously we both got through without getting our feet wet, proving it is possible but make sure you have decent boots – I feel the ladies we spoke to earlier may struggle. According to reports, the path is always like this so good luck!
Section 10 is actually pretty short and follows the Crane all the way until Bulls Bridge. A short way after the pond and past signs from Hounslow council warning against grazing your horse here, you reach another short urban stretch in Cranford, from which the river gets its’ name. Cranford itself is a anglo saxon for “ford of cranes” meaning the crossing point of the river that is home to Cranes. The problem is that they didn’t mean Cranes, they meant Herons which are a different species, but we shall close over that. The village is really old, being Saxon in origin, though you couldn’t tell that from the semis and office blocks that are now here. Crossing the delightful bridge that proudly bears the arms of Middlesex we cross into my birth borough of Hillingdon (you were briefly in the borough when walking to Hatton Cross and back, but there wasn’t much to see there). Passing through Berkeley Meadows and on into Cranford Country Park it become apparent that Hillingdon must have a larger budget for green spaces than neighbouring Hounslow with well manicured paths and clear informative signage. I especially liked the mini park map installed on the top of the LOOP way mark posts. The sweeping vistas soon pass behind a ha-ha – an old sunken ditch that the Earl of Berkley used to separate the 1000-acre estate from the gardens of his now demolished mansion. In the car park begins the Hillingdon Trail, newly resigned and inviting to complete one day, and we follow this past the delightful old church of St Dunstan, the Earl’s stable block and under the M4.
The final leg is through the urban outskirts of Hayes to Bulls Bridge. I was rather familiar with the massive road bridge that carries the A312 over the canal as well as the underpasses that give access to Tesco due to a group of us accidentally destroying the gear box of a narrowboat here a a couple of years ago meaning a night spent mored opposite the famous Bulls Bridge before a trip to Harefield in the morning to collect another boat. We did eventually make it to Paddington on that trip but it also means I know the street of the canal along which the next two sections pass rather well. Soph had not been on that trip with me, so we detoured slightly to show her Bulls Bridge before heading north west to Hayes to finish the day – and avoiding the glares of the homeless people camped in the bushes along the towpath.
The day had been a real mixture. Beginning in the splendour of a Royal Park before passing through suburbs then onto a lovely reversed walk which later turned rather dingy and awful. Then, again, more urban environment followed by a splendid open area before finishing once more in an industrial heavy area. It has also been a day steeped in transport and industrial history. Ancient carriages would have passed over Hounslow heath, river transport would have steered up and down the Thames with the Crane providing the means for industrial revolution along it’s banks that lead to railways running through Feltham and Hayes and finally to air transport completely transforming a sleepy Middlesex hamlet called Heathrow.
For this day of walking you will need OS Explorer 161 London South with the a very small amount on OS Explorer 160 Windsor, Weybridge & Bracknell. If you have David Sharp’s guidebook you can probably get away without the latter.
There are twelve Geocaches on or near the section 9 route and five on or near section 10. I do not maintain these bookmark lists so do your own research for any new ones.
During 2016, Edd & Soph are walking the LOOP for the DofE Diamond Challenge. You can sponsor them on JustGiving. These blog posts are not designed to be a walking guide, merely a run down of what see, and we always suggest taking a good map with you.
After our foray into St Albans last week, we got back on the LOOP on Thursday requiring us to venture on to the little Epsom Downs branch line once more to arrive at Banstead for 10:19. Banstead station is nowhere near the village so we immediately retraced our steps to the obscure section start – a signpost in some overgrown woodland in the middle of a golf course. The LOOP Link across the fairway and through the woods is no clearer on the return journey and this time the brambles seem to have grown up even more. Section 7 is really quite boring. From the signpost you track north through the wood then across the end of the golf course before plunging into suburbia with several kilometres spent trudging along roads. Banstead and the golf course is actually outside the Greater London boundary too, but the first half of this urban stretch is the Borough of Sutton, however you soon come across the border and a big sign welcoming you to Epsom & Ewell and it is in Surrey we stay until well into Section 8 – enjoy it while it lasts.
After finally leaving the urban environs of East Ewell, the LOOP brings you out into one of it’s gloriously unexpected meadows once again. This is Warren Farm, managed by the Woodland Trust where a lot of the planting is relatively modern. It connects with Nonsuch Park through the woods on its’ north side. Nonsuch is the remains of one of Henry VIII’s deer hunting parks. He demolished the entire village of Cuddington to build himself a palace here in 1538 although he died before it’s completion. The palace was later demolished in 1682 but you can still see it’s location through three concrete posts (that coincidentally look like trig pillars) that sit along a path just off the LOOP by a modern house on the corner. The pillar furthest away explains the positioning on a plaque. Further along the LOOP you pass an area raised on brickwork, this is a nineteen century recreation of the outline of the banqueting hall that accompanied the palace, that gives you a lovely view down the slope to the Ewell bypass. Although called a banqueting hall, it was more of a hunting lodge where the weary hunters could come and get some grub, although I expect the bypass and sprawling housing puts paid to the ability to stalk deer around here now.
Another short urban section takes you past a school that thinks it is a castle and a church tower without a church before passing through the dog gate (look up to see why it’s called this) to the end of section 7 in the delightful Bourne Hall Park. The newsagent on the way in provided us with cool drinks and we stopped for lunch in a shady alcove by a pond on the northern end of the park. Bourne Hall itself was replaced after the original was demolished in the sixties leaving us with a large, round, flying saucer like building that houses a library, community centre, gym and theatre amongst other things. The ponds you see here are the source of the Hogsmill River, which section 8 imitates all the way to the Thames at Kingston.
Section 8 then; much more pleasant than section 7, though very same-y. We walk along the Hosgmill pretty much the entire way but pass through a variety of different environments. As you’d expect, the river near it’s source is pretty small. From the ponds in the park it runs past what was an old water mill that has been rebuilt into offices. There was a second mill too but that burnt down in 1938. Passing under the railway is an interesting experience. There was no path here originally and only a narrow tunnel for the river to flow under the Mole Valley Line from Waterloo so an ingenious idea was to build a wooden causeway on top of the river to allow pedestrians to (almost) walk on water to reach the other side. Be careful though, there is very little headroom and a sewage pipe on the far side is even lower. I had to duck, Soph did not – lucky her! The river is out of the woodland now and into the open, where is confluences with some of it’s tributaries and forms the Hogsmill Nature reserve. There is a track that crosses the path part way along which is where TfL tell you you can walk on either side of the river. Ignore them, cross the bridge and walk on the western bank until the next bridge; the eastern bank is narrow, muddy and not very accessible. Indeed the signage here only tells you to cross and makes no reference to the other way.
Eventually then, after a wet area where we came across a dozen dogs playing splashy-splashy, the river is joined by another tributary and bends through 90º to become the Greater London/Surrey border. It very quickly crosses the A240 where you can either walk down to the pedestrian crossing our pass over via the central reservation. Here I regretted having removed the bottom half of my trousers (they are the ones that zip off to become shorts – I didn’t just cut them) as the path is narrow and overgrown with stinging nettles, it’s not a very nice path at all being rather dark and dingy. If you are following TfL’s directions you will be thinking now that there is an alternate route you can take at the next road junction, indeed OS also show the diamond path signifier going in two directions. Ignore this. You have to take the alternate route. What is listed as the main route seems to have never been built. Where the path should be is a pit of barbed wire and lots of brambles. Follow the signage to do a bit more Surrey Urban walking along roads and quite steeply uphill to the top and pass along an interesting road where it seems they forgot to build the middle bit. Eventually you pass an interesting church on the return back downhill to the river, it is a patchwork of building styles from medieval, 17th century and Victorian eras.
After our detour we finally rejoin the hogs mill for the last leg into Kingston and fully in Greater London as it passes under another railway. After walking on the eastern bank for a while, you are brought out onto a delightful patch called the A3. OK, I may be being a bit sarcastic there, the problem is that you can’t cross it here, even though we can see the LOOP signpost on the other side. We need to get our daily dose of pollution to line are lungs as we hike up to a subway and back down the other side where dropping onto the river plain again does little to dispel the urban air with concrete and litter in addition to the never ending drone of the A3. This area, however, is actually he Hogsmill River Park Nature Reserve and it does get better as you head north. Enjoy it, after we leave here it is all urban and no green. We found that the reserve got notably busier as we approached the turning out at Berrylands where cycling seems to be king. A word of warning, at the roundabout the LOOP signs are twisted the wrong way, follow your map! You need the right most road going uphill before you drop back down to the station. The station offers no facilities and after passing under the railway the delightful smell of sewage greets you. Leaving behind the sewage works you get light industry and then the massive Surbiton Cemetery before reaching the outskirts of Kingston.
At the main road we took the opportunity of a nearby newsagent to grab ourselves an ice cream before setting off for the final stretch back along the road to find our old friend the Hogsmill who we had been without since we came out of the reserve back in Berrylands. When we find it, though, we have to keep going past the school to reach a newly paved footpath that can bring us back onto the banks passing Kingston University and very much in a man-made concrete channel now. Two small detours away from the river to skirt a block of flats and then a large road junction bring us under the guildhall complex and onto the final road crossing of the river. On the bridge look back into the front car park of the guildhall to see the coronation stone on which it is said that seven kings were crowned. Cross the road and look back at the bridge from the path on the other side to see it’s original 1293 arches. The final few hundred meters are now swamped with chain restaurants vying for your trade before you hit the Thames and probably a large crowd of people in this very busy area. This section ends rather disappointingly with a small direction sign outside TKMaxx and John Lewis underneath a sign for the Thames Path national trail – but that is one for another day!
For this day of walking you only need one map for a change; OS Explorer 161 London South. As usual we also had David Sharp’s excellent guidebook with us.
There are three Geocaches on or near the section 7 route and 13 on or near section 8. I do not maintain these bookmark lists so do your own research for any new ones.
During 2016, Edd & Soph are walking the LOOP for the DofE Diamond Challenge. You can sponsor them on JustGiving These blog posts are not designed to be a walking guide, we always suggest taking a good map with you.
Our fourth day of walking was our longest yet undertaken. Picking up section 4 where we left off last week, we preceded to then complete the following two sections resulting in a route of approximately 21km. I admit, I probably elected to stop mid-section last time as an excuse to ride the trams but we were also were building up to walking further in the future, the first two walking days disappointed me in how little we walked and worried me that it’d be winter before we finish. So here we go, longer walking days.
Returning on that handy Watford to Croydon train service which Southern never seem that bothered about running we alighted onto a Tram back to Coombe Lane, the change from “Tramlink” to “Trams” starting to become clearer with a few changed roundels. The LOOP soon passes into the grounds of Heathfield, with its’ curious mixture of signage styles (at one point a finger post has a pointer for one direction but a round plaque to show the other way), eventually bringing you out to the house itself, now a training centre for Croydon Borough Council, that looks out onto an impressive view of the Addington area. A similar view is also afforded shortly from the Bramley Bank Nature Reserve, a tiny little wooded area at the end of a lane. This section seems to constantly repeat the pattern of urban, woodland, urban, woodland as it joins the Vanguard Way in Littleheath Woods and emerges into Seldom and Forestdale villages but only after a very confusing turning where you almost double back on yourself after the water tower that is not clear on the map or in the guidebook writing. The Vanguard Way, which the LOOP follows for a few kilometres here, is a 66 mile trail from Croydon to the south coast at Newhaven first developed in 1980 by the eponymous rambling club.
Soon you find yourself climbing steeply in Selsdon Wood, owned by the National Trust but managed by Croydon Borough Council under an agreement dating back to 1936 when the community saved this small area of the former hunting estate as a nature reserve. After descending slightly again the path you turn on to my seem the same as many others but is actually the Greater London boundary with the Tandridge District of Surrey. The track is also part of the Tandridge Border Path meaning that three trails are running as one for this short stretch. The Vanguard Way is the first to split off, it passes down a drive as you pass over it to follow the road behind a hedge. The edge of Fairleigh village is a picture postcard of a surrey village, with a farm and a few houses dotted around, but the LOOP doesn’t linger and presses on down into the valley and back up the other side. The house on the hill in the distance is Selsdon Park Hotel. Soon you pass Kingswood Lodge and enter into Hamsey Green. This path of this final stretch was once again the Croydon/Tandridge boundary and you will see the welcome signs as you come out onto the B269. A big LOOP sign is on the grassy area opposite. Section 4 is complete at last.
The beginning of Section 5 is very exciting. In fact, this whole section is really great. The reason? Trigs, Trains, Planes and the views. So let’s cover each of those in turn. The LOOP soon passes through Display’s Field, unusual in the fact that is is owned but two councils and a charity that have come to gather to provide this open expanse. The path soon goes along the top of the Riddlesdown Ridge, which offers stunning views of the surrounding towns and hills, and passes a concrete pillar. This is the only Ordnance Survey triangulation (or trig) pillar on the LOOP. It is one of around 6500 forming a network around the UK that the OS used to retriangulate and newly map the country from 1935. A vast majority still exist around the country to this day. Once down off the ridge the second reason begins to form. You cross a railway, then a road, then another railway and finally climb a steep road to Kenley Common, but look back when near the top of the road to see the railways spread out in front of you, the one further east high up on a ridge crossing and old quarry. A really impressive sight.
Kenley Common is the next stop, and what was a very important place during the Second World War. After passing through the open area with the pointless gates (why leave the gates in place if you remove the fence?) you can detour into Kenley Aerodrome where you will find the blast bays that would have housed Spitfires during the Battle of Britain. In fact, the whole aerodrome retains pretty much all of it’s WWII appearance, bar a few buildings that were destroyed by fire in the 1970’s. The area was first used to test planes during the First World War before they were sent over to France and proved to be a useful location, remaining an RAF airfield until 1974 when it became a gliding school. We had lunch in this area and watched numerous gliders circling overhead. Finally, the LOOP passes though Old Coulsdon, past the site of two old windmills at Coulsdon Common and into Happy Valley with stunning views all around. The map is not particularly useful here with a conglomeration of so many trails making it impossible to discern which are the LOOP diamonds, but eventually you come to the final leg of section 5 on Farthing Downs. If you thought Happy Valley had nice views, you ain’t seen nothing yet. From the top of this ridge you can see for miles with the skyline of the city discernible to the north. Take some time to read the information boards to find out the history of the area where are there remains of a 7th century cemetery amongst other things. Coming off the hill we reach Coulsdon South Station, which is the end of section 5.The LOOP sign here is an embossed metal one on the station building.
Section 6. We were getting a bit tired by now but were determined to keep going, it being a fairly short section of just 7 kilometres. It’s an interesting section of contrasts but without the lovely views of the previous leg. Soon after setting off you begin climbing a road that never seems to end and contains curious half height bus stops without the roundels on top. Halfway you change boroughs too, leaving Croydon for Sutton, and eventually reach an aptly name pub at the top; the Jack & Jill. This area seems a bit rough, passing along the trail back down hill, we found a lot of litter and fly tipping but also a wonderfully old 1898 metal sign by the side of the path marking the long departed Carshalton Urban District Council. There is a view across the landscape to the centre of London here, by the weatherboarded houses that Surrey County build for soldiers returning after the First World War in an aborted idea to give everyone smallholdings to grow their own.
Lavender fields are the next interesting thing you come across, gloriously bright and fragrant it is a pleasure to walk through here, even ever so briefly. After this you enter Oaks Park where a LOOP sign greets you with information on the area. The estate used to be prime hunting and racing grounds, the house was demolished in 1960 and only these grounds remain. The final leg takes you along a muddy bridleway past the back walks of Her Majesty’s Prison Highdown and on to a golf course that spans across a railway cutting and a very busy road. Section 6 ends very strangely – at a signpost in an overgrown area of woodland between the fairways. The link section to Banstead Station is not particularly easy to follow either, nor is the station itself, that also bears and embossed metal LOOP sign, particularly useful with only a twice hourly service on its’ single track branch line.
For this day of walking you need two maps; OS Explorer 161 London South and OS Explorer 146 Dorking, Box Hill & Reigate. As usual we also had David Sharp’s excellent guidebook with us.
There are twenty-seven Geocaches on or near the section 4 route (some are on the previous walking day), fifteen on or near section 5 and eight on or near section 6. I do not maintain these bookmark lists so do your own research for any new ones.