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.