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.