The London Loop – Ewell to Coulsdon

It’d been too long since my last walk on the London Loop back in August 2019, when I’d walked section 8 from Kingston to Ewell. Summer felt like a distant memory when I alighted at Ewell West Station to pick up London’s 150-mile orbital walking trail.

London Loop Section 7 (walking in the reverse direction)

This section starts with a magnificent piece of modernist architecture at Bourne Hall, a giant flying saucer shaped 1970 building that landed on the grounds of the former Garbrand Hall. The route takes you through a fine park with a lake and fountains close to the headsprings of the Hogsmill River that was the principal feature of Section 8 of the London Loop.

Through the village of Ewell we cross into Nonsuch Park, once one of Henry VIII’s hunting grounds that boasted a palace unlike ‘nonsuch elsewhere in the world’, so it’s said. This is a park that invites digression from the main route of the Loop across it’s wide lawns and along avenues.

Ewell

There’s a mile or so of road walking on the other side of Nonsuch traversing streets of postcard suburbia before coming to the end of Section 7 (or the start if walking in the clockwise direction) on Banstead Downs Golf Course. This was the site of one of the more intriguing features of the walk, and one not mentioned on the Tfl guide. Marked on the Ordnance Survey map are a series of tumuli that at the time I found difficult to identify. Checking online after the walk it seems if the Gally Hills Tumuli are in fact Saxon ‘hlaews’, a relatively rare type of burial mound in England with only around 50 or so being identified. The Historic England listing states that these would have been for ‘high ranking’ individuals. An excavation revealed “an extended inhumation with a bronze hanging bowl, a shield- boss, a split socketed iron spear-head and an iron knife.” Two of the mounds still stand in the rough beside the fairway watching the golfers and the ‘loopers’ pass by.

There is a detailed archaeological report here: THE SAXON BARROW AT GALLY HILLS, BANSTEAD DOWN, SURREY by JAMES F.BARFOOT and DAVID PRICE WILLIAMS

Banstead Downs

London Loop Section 6

Section 6 continues across Banstead Downs with some glorious views back across the London basin, towers poking up on the horizon. We then follow Freedown Lane – a long track that runs behind High Down Prison. The prison wall that we walk past is one of the remains of the Victorian asylum that previously occupied the site. Just beyond the prison, there were the remnants of what must have been a signficant building half buried along the top of the bank. Being that the prison was built on the land of the former asylum and hospital, I’m not sure what was here, my best guess is that they were ancillary buildings connected to the hospital, perhaps relating to its wartime use.

The Loop takes us through Oaks Park, landscaped for the Earl of Derby in the 18th Century (the fella who gave his name to the famous race at Epsom). Many of the old trees remain as does the stone grotto. I would liked to have dwelt here awhile but was up against the light, although I was still able to enjoy more fine views back across London.

Banstead Downs

The path progressed across a lavender farm with an old red phonebox in the middle of the field – glorious I imagine in summer. Then across Carshalton Road Pastures, a ridge of chalk downland at the northern extremity of the North Downs. We pick up a sunken path topped by what the Tfl leaflet calls an “ancient hedgerow”, bringing us out onto a housing estate initially developed for returning soldiers from WW1. It’s streetwalking from here down the hill to Coulsdon, with its appealing High Street blighted by angry rush hour traffic and the end (or start) of Section 6 of the London Loop.

Can’t wait to get back out there – the London Loop never disappoints.

London Loop – Section 8 Kingston to Ewell

London Loop Section 8 – Kingston to Ewell

Always great to revisit summer walks in these cold winter days. Back in August I picked up the London Loop Section 8 in Kingston and followed it to Ewell. This section of the London Loop follows the Hogsmill River for long sections, crosses over a barrow in slumbering suburban streets, and passes through one of Britain’s most beloved sitcom settings in Surbiton.

 

Here’s an edited transcript of the video

Great to be back on the London Loop down here at Kingston on Thames? I don’t even know bit of a walk I’m doing here through Kingston along the Charter Quay is actually on the London Loop, but I’m going to walk along anyway.

This is the beginning here at Kingston. Picking up from where I left off in May and I don’t know where I’ll end up, but I want to have a look at the King Stone. This must be the Hogsmill River, which is where we start the walk, before the Hogsmill is about to make its confluence with the Thames. And here’s the London Loop sign, which I found by accident, next to this kind of really old battered phone box.

The King Stone, the famous Anglo Saxon coronation stone, and these are the names of the Anglo Saxon Kings, that are said to have been crowned upon this stone:
Edmund, Adelstan, which I think is Athelstan – Michael Wood, the great historian considers him the greatest of Anglo-Saxon Kings. Edward, Adelred, another Edward, Edwic, Eadred. Actually the name Kingston isn’t derived from this coronation stone,  according to Steve Roud and his book London Lore a really wonderful book, Kingston actually was already in use before the first known coronation and it means a Royal estate or palace and the actual word is Cyningestun. What a great thing to kick off this section of the London Loop.

Coronation stone kingston

I started the London loop, I think it was January, 2018 this is the furthest out for me being in Leytonstone and I started at Enfield. I come all the way around now to Kingston, took a while to get here. I’m walking the London Loop anti-clockwise. I don’t think there should be a way you do it personally, but all the directions are given in a clockwise direction.

The walk I’m doing today is territory which is completely unknown to me. So we’ve come across that dreadful roundabout there.  It has the feeling of Slough or Reading. It’s like a big town. Then we’re going to go pick up the old footpath here.

I had a brief chat with my friend Nick Papadimitriou on the phone, and he said, apparently this is a Richard Jefferies river, mentioned in piece called London Trout (in his book Nature Near London).

We have an interesting I bridge above the Hogsmill opened in 1894. We now go down this little path between the river and the school.

London Loop sign

What’s the other association with the Thames at Kingston, of course is Jerome K Jerome’s three men in a boat. That’s another area where the associations of Caesar’s invasion of Britain.

The Stanley Picker Gallery, which I wanted to visit for a while, looks closed. Had some interesting exhibitions in the past. Center for Sseless Splendor, sounds great.

You can mostly do the London Loop without a map. I think. It’d be interesting to see if I can get away with it today. I have got both the TFL maps I printed out and an Ordinance Survey map. I’ll see how far we get just following the London Loop signs.

[I went the wrong way almost instantly] It’s quite funny after saying that about the London Loop signs, I followed the sign in the direction it was pointing and actually took me away from the river and when I looked at the map on my phone,  it was quite a long way off course.

I think that’s King Athelstan school. Well after that rather curious contradiction in the London Loop signs, we’re back on track.

Athelstan Road
We continue down Villiers Road and head towards Berrylands Station. Turn off Villiers down Lower Marsh Lane, which promises great things, doesn’t it?

The Western section of the London Loop really is an edgelands ramble, isn’t it? Here we’re walking between a water treatment works and a cemetery can’t get much more edgelands than that.
Wow. It’s really is a major water treatment works, isn’t it? These great temples rising from the undergrowth.

Berrylands Station, believe we just carry on under the bridge here. This is great. This little stack of pallets here, stuff with straw and twigs and what have you is a breeding habitat for stag beetles. Isn’t that great? This is an interesting parade of shops here.

London Loop

The Hogsmill at Kingston

So I’ve managed to go a little bit astray there just as I was saying about freewheeling it. But at that point  I ended up following a tributary of the Hogsmill, so I’m just going to loop back on myself slightly.

[In a street somewhere in Surbiton] This is a history of really fascinating architecture. It’s kind of like a mixture of arts and crafts and and kind of modernism Bauhaus in suburbia.

It’s not as bad as I thought. It only took me about 10 minutes to get back to the Hogsmill. I don’t regret that little diversion as a delightful little tributary of the Hogsmill.

You down the road here and then there’s an underpass. I just have to find the path now.

Here we go back on the London Loop. I really got that urge to go backpacking again.

Wow. This is lovely, beautiful, big open space opening up, green parakeets, glycerine through the branches. It this really beautiful Willow arch somebody made.

This mosaic on the wall. They’ve really captured the magic of the edgelands in this bit of artwork. It’s a reference to a Millais, the famous image of Ophelia floating drowned in a river. Well that’s actually was painted, near here in the Hogsmill river.

London Loop

There’s climbing quite steep Hill now. This is the parish church of St John the Baptist Malden

Barrow Hill, ‘barrow’ as we know is a burial mound that makes you wonder whether that was once a burial mound on this Hill here.

At that point in the year, now we’re about two thirds of the way through the year when you start to reflect on the walks you’ve done throughout the year. Some, absolute cracking walks this year. It’s been a great year of walking and they come back to in little snippets again,

A Toby Carvery a real symbol of the edgelands of as much as I bought a water treatment works.

A sign for the County of Surrey, you have to come up on cross this race track here they call a road then just on the other side carry on.

I have to say the Hogsmill has been one of the most of the delightful London tributaries that I’ve ever walked along. Really picturesque the whole way.

Somehow managed to turn this into an 11 mile walk. West Ewell Station is where I think I’ll end today’s walk. It must be what, six o’clock ish? What a cracker, the London Loop always delivers.

Walking the London Loop – Hayes to Kingston

It was great to be back out on the London Loop – picking up in Hayes on the May Bank Holiday Monday (6th May), where I’d finished back in March on the section that I’d followed down from Uxbridge. The first part of section 10 continues along the canal a short distance, past the rubble of the Nestle factory, as far as the River Crane, which takes on the role as titular spirit of the walk for much of the day. Then we visit the peaceful storied church of St. Dunstan’s where a memorial to the great comedian Tony Hancock is nestled in a corner of the churchyard.

The next part of the walk through Cranford Country Park towards Hatton Cross is characterised by jumbo jets skimming the rooftops as they came in to land at Heathrow. Seeing London’s great terminus sat on what was once a corner of Hounslow Heath (the ‘heath row’) gave me an enormous desire to jump on a plane and head off traveling once more.

London Loop Section 9

Section 9 finds us again following the River Crane down through spindly woodland to Hounslow Heath, full of memories of ending the first walk here for my book, This Other London. I even found the bench on a mound were I sat and ate a snack in the May sunset those seven years ago.

There was more roadwalking ahead, another section of the Crane, and skirting Fulwell Golf Course before reaching Bushey Park just before sunset. The deer roamed and grazed and I meandered to the gate exiting to Hampton Wick as the dark arrived.

The Thames twinkled as I crossed the great stone bridge into Sunday night Kingston, too late to seek out the King Stone which awaits the start of my next venture out onto the London Loop.

 

Walking the London Loop – Section 11 Uxbridge to Hayes

A walk along Section 11 of the London Loop from Uxbridge to Hayes and Harlington.

This was a glorious section of the London taking in the Grand Union Canal, River Colne, and Stockley Park on the route. One of my favourites so far. This western edge of the London Loop is characterised by watercourses – rivers, canals, lakes, and the industrial western fringe of London. It is classic edgelands territory.

This was an eventful walk. I was pelted with great lumps of hail and briefly lost my bearings where the River Colne feeds a series of fishing lakes.

London Loop Section 11 map

Then there was a curious a towpath encounter with a guy in shades at the junction of the canals near West Drayton who told me how the barges were once used for drug dealing (in the 1980’s), stashes in the bushes, even underwater, old Hippies making a few quid and serious criminals with connections at Heathrow. It’s all changed now, he tells me, but “it was a war zone down here 30 years ago”, he says as his parting shot. Walking on, not more than 100 yards, three skinny pale furtive blokes hunched under a bridge over the towpath – doing business. They shoot me a furtive look. Is this what prompted the man in shades to stop me – a warning of what was ahead?

The other side of West Drayton, at Stockley Park is a Black Mirror Techno World presaged by a large Tesla dealership. Eerily silent on a Sunday afternoon as early evening light broke through the leaden clouds.

The London Loop always seems to deliver – looking forward to the sections ahead.

Walking the London Loop – Moor Park to Uxbridge

I’m resting after walking Section 11 of the London Loop from Uxbridge to Hayes, so now seems the perfect time to revisit my walk along sections 13 and 12 of the London Loop from Moor Park to Uxbridge taking in Batchworth Heath, Bishops Wood, Park Wood and the Grand Union Canal. This picks up from my previous London Loop walk in July 2018.

Filmed on 20th January 2019

London Loop District Beaconsfield

 

Walking the London Loop – Elstree to Moor Park

I’ll be honest, in the past when I crossed paths with the London Loop signs on a walk I was slightly disdainful. ‘What’s the point’, I thought, of following this orbital trail around the edge of London when the capital is so rich with places to walk and explore. You didn’t need a pre-ordained, officially endorsed path to point the way. You could wander randomly anywhere in London and it would throw up a route as rich as any promoted by Transport for London, and I still believe that to be true. But now having walked 5 sections (well 4.5 really) of the London Loop I’ve been forced to revise my opinion of this 150-mile path.

London Loop 15-14 v.2.00_01_58_02.Still003

 

I did my first section – from Enfield to Cockfosters (Section 17) back in January when I needed to hit the road but lacked the energy or imagination to work out my own walk. The London Loop guided me through a territory largely unkown to me. A couple of weeks later I found myself heading back to Cockfosters to pick up the trail through to Elstree & Borehamwood (Section 16), although on this occasion I branched off on my own path for a large portion of the way to take in areas I wanted to explore that were off the London Loop.

At that point I thought I was done with the London Loop and it wasn’t until the beginning of July that I returned to Elstree to continue the path through to Hatch End (Section 15) carrying on to Moor Park (Section 14). It was a glorious walk across meadows and woodland, the inevitable golf courses, past lakes, and over hilltops offering incredible expansive views. It opens your eyes to the extent and beauty of London’s open spaces and farmland encircling the city – spaces that were often fought over to be saved for the people of the London and the surrounding suburbs, precious resources not to be taken for granted.

London Loop Section 14

Will, I return to continue my counter-clockwise walk on the London Loop? I’m still not sure. I did leave home to walk Section 13 to Uxbridge two weeks ago but instead meandered from Ruislip to Denham and beyond into Bucks. But this time when I passed the London Loop signs on the towpath of the Grand Union Canal, instead of a dismissive glance I gave them a nod and a smile and a thanks for the magnificient walks.

London Loop Section 20 in the snow – Grange Hill to Havering-atte-Bower (then to Romford)

This time a week ago London was covered in snow – the ‘Beast from the East’ returned and plunged us back into the Ice Age (or so it felt, the hyperbole is justified). Looking out at my snow-drenched garden I had a strong urge to hit the high ground, walk head-long into a blizard, confront this beast face-to-face. So I got the tube to Grange Hill bound for Havering-atte-Bower.

Hainault Forest snow

I’d done a portion of this walk with Rick Pearson for his podcast, London’s Peaks, and at the time vowed to return, partly to capture this majestic route on video but also to see how the walk could be extended.

London Loop section 20

From the top of Grange Hill to Havering-atte-Bower (the highest point in the London Borough of Havering) follows most of Section 20 of the London Loop, which starts at Chigwell. I’d covered the Chigwell end with Rick and also about a decade ago for my radio show, so I cut that part out in favour of extending the walk at the other end.

Redwood Trees Havering

As you would expect with the temperature below freezing there were very few people about, Hainault Forest virtually deserted. The climb into the foothills of Havering Country Park, wading through deep muddy puddles was tough but the reward more than adequate compensation. There’s an avenue of majestic Californian Redwood trees that runs though the top end of the wooded park that takes the breath away – it was an honour to be in their presence, these huge benign gods of the glade.

Havering-atte-Bower snow

The snow started coming in horizontal when away from the cover of the Redwoods, the wind whipping it up off the Havering Hills. Edward the Confessor had his hunting lodge here, some say this is where the pious king died. Havering-atte-Bower feels like an ‘out-of-place artefact’, a hill village in London that would be more at home in the Chilterns.

Havering-atte-Bower snow

I push on through the intensifying flurry, to Bedfords Park, losing my bearings in Bower Wood before crossing into Rise Park and out onto the A12 to catch a Route 66 bus home.