Monthly Archives: November 2013

The London Outer Orbital Path, 2013

The LOOP index.

Day 1 – Erith to Petts Wood, 15½ miles.
Day 2 – Petts Wood to Hamsey Green, 19 miles.
Day 3 – Hamsey Green to Banstead Downs, 11 miles.
Day 4 – Banstead Downs to Kingston Bridge, 11 miles.
Day 5 – Kingston Bridge to Hatton Cross, 8½ miles.
Day 6 – Hatton Cross to Uxbridge, 12½ miles.
Day 7 – Uxbridge to Moor Park, 10½ miles.
Day 8 – Moor Park to Elstree, 14 miles.
Day 9 – Elstree to Enfield Lock, 20 miles.
Day 10 – Enfield Lock to Harold Wood, 21miles.
Day 11 – Harold Wood to Purfleet, 13miles.

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Looping the LOOP – “the M25 for walkers.”

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It’s been a long cold lonely winter, as George Harrison once sang but now here comes the sun! So it must be time for a walk – the legs are rusty and need stretching, but with nothing organised it’s going to have to be an easy one. One almost on my door-step, a cheap one.

The London Outer Orbital Path – the LOOP – is it then. Rather worryingly billed as “the M25 for walkers” (except at 152 miles v. 117 miles it’s a fair bit longer)  I was hoping it would be more like the official quote : ” a great way to get to know London better”.

All the info you could possibly need is available for free online so, to paraphrase the Prancercise lady, let’s do some printing and let’s get walking.

Day 1 – Erith to Petts Wood, 15½  miles.

Alighting just 10 minutes later than planned at Erith, which given the lie-in I’d awarded myself wasn’t bad, the beginning of the LOOP isn’t the most inspiring, but then all walks must start somewhere and I’m sure that this walk isn’t going to be most picturesque walk anyways. The first signpost – always a reassuring sight – points out how many walks there are round here. All along the same path however, but still… nice to see lots of walks available!

But once away from the station approach and across the road we’re at the Thames. And it all looks pretty much the same as it did last time I was here when I was nearing the end of the Thames Path. One walk ends and another one starts! And pleasingly the air wasn’t thick with drizzle today.


I don’t remember the horse though from last time. There’s a notice with a number to ring if you’ve got any worries about it. His enclosure was so dry and barren I thought about ringing it to complain on his behalf. Anyways, a few handfuls of grass went down well and he saw me off briefly before returning to his bale of hay.

A few more roads and houses and backs of supermarkets and past the little pedestrian symbol with his yellow hat again and the country opens up, and we’re at last in fresh-air. The Thames is wide, and the marshes are salty.

But just behind us there’s still much industry.

And interestingly a large radar tower and what I believe is the Crayford Ness lighthouse, but annoyingly didn’t think to take a photo, obviously I more interested in a crane chucking about scrap iron. So you’ll just have to go and see yourselves.

We’re only alongside the Thames for a short while, and as we get to Crayford Creek with the QEII bridge still some way off we turn away and say farewell to the old big River, for a good few days anyways. We’ll see it again at Kingston – a very different looking river!

Most of the rest of the day is going to be spent on the Cray Riverway, although at this point we’re actually alongside the Darent. And it looks to me like its flood barrier is down. I wonder if they were expecting some impending tidal doom?! The marshes here are one of the few remaining areas of Thames grazing marsh in London – and lots of horses seem to be taking advantage.

After a couple of miles trekking inland through the marsh tidal plains of the Darent and Cray, we hit a few more roads and recycling plants, before returning to the Cray. Here it looks more like a canal. We’re told that the reeds here are common reeds – Britain’s tallest grass. It can reach 10feet high on a good day. We’re told nothing of the Cray monster caught on the bridge though.

This stretch of the Cray is quite penned in by backs of houses on one side and light industry on the other. There was a bit of urban wildlife about – a fox must have had his eyes on the bunny rabbit before he saw me and scarpered. And the cormorant was frustratingly camera-shy.

We then find ourselves in buzzing Crayford town centre, in a small park in the middle of two parades of shops. Many of the shops have the word “Cray” in the name, so I was disappointed that the chippy I bought my lunch-time pie from was just called “The Parade Fish Bar” rather than some humourous punning “Cray Fish” or “Chips n Cravy” type thing. Although I was barely 4 or 5 miles in the late-ish start meant this was a good place to stop, and very pleasant too. Thankfully the octopus didn’t get me on the way out.



More urban walking now through Crayford, although there are some historical notes here that my pdf pamphlet is keen to point out. The Bear and Ragged Staff was the badge of the Earl of Stafford, who was killed in the Wars of the Roses in the Battle of Barnet just after he’d joined the Lancies. It doesn’t say what his connection with Crayford was though.

Then at a car showroom we’re told that the attractive gate posts are all that’s left of the old Crayford cinema – progress! We’re then back into open country, well playing fields at least. And at this point the instructions let me down somewhat. They say, and I quote, “At point (E) [heading from London Road] … ignore the first bridge but cross at the second one and turn left… follow the hedge and cross the little creek…”. Simple! So I followed the instructions but when I emerged on the other side, via the 2nd bridge, I turned left but something felt wrong. I could see a hedge and see a little creek but I was nowhere near them going away from them. Most confusing!
The map showed no bridges and no hedge, this is what it should have shown (I’ve added the bridges and hedge myself) :

Count the bridges… yes, there’s three not two. The LOOPer should really ignore the first two bridges and cross at the third to avoid being rather puzzled at the mark of the ?. Anyways, only a small confusion. And we’re soon back on track. No time sadly to visit Hall Place (“a fine Tudor mansion, with paneled great hall, minstrel’s gallery and fine plaster ceiling decorations…”) but its award-winning gardens look very nice.

Much nicer than the A2 which accompanies us for a short while! But the A2 is soon forgotten as we enter Churchfield Wood and its blooming wood anemones. We take a crafty short-cut, or rather a long-cut through the grave-yard of St Mary’s as I do like a good grave-yard, and we’re in Bexley.

Bexley, and its quaint tiny pavements, has shops! So refreshments were taken here. The good thing about the LOOP is you don’t have to pack much – you’re never far from a shop or cafe or pub or such, but of course there’s pros & cons to this! A long open path through open land – possibly an old landfill site – and farm-land takes us past a pumping station and back to the Cray.

The Cray here is very picturesque, especially with its 1780 brick weir-bridge. Foots Cray meadows beyond makes for a pleasant stretch. Unlike Foots Cray High Street and its unfeasibly huge crossroads. You don’t have to be away from traffic for very long for you to get used to not seeing traffic.


The football ground we pass is, we’re told, the home of Cray Wanderers who are one of the oldest football clubs in the country, founded in the 1860s. But the sign saying “Seven Acre and Sidcup FC” and indeed the internet suggest Cray Wanderers play somewhere else.
This little bit seems to be the scout hut & allotment district as the fenced in tarmac path takes us on way. Plenty of garden birds are to be heard, although not always seen. This house sparrow was just waiting to have his photo taken though!

Up a long shallow hill, towards “majestic giant redwoods” and a “great view back into the valley” neither of which were unpleasant but neither of I got excited about enough to include a photo of here either. At the top though there is a rather grand looking pub, with a nice looking walled garden. I didn’t have time to pop in though, and now having read up on it I’m quite glad. Type “The Bickley, Chislehurst” into your favoured search-engine…


After negotiating a rather disorienting Sidcup bypass underpass, we’re in the very nice Scadbury Park with its fine oak and birch woodland. And jays… and bloody parakeets!

Scadbury Park changes effortlessly into Petts Wood, the change being marked only by crossing St Paul’s Cray Road (the Cray is never far away, even in name only!)

The wood is owned by the National Trust, and part of it is the Willet Memorial Wood. William Willet was the man who invented British Summer Time, and therefore he gets a wood named after him. There’s also a Edlmann Memorial Wood here but the guide glosses over his or her contribution to mankind.

Where the LCDR Main Line crosses the Kyd Brook we leave the wood. In fact the number of lines we have to cross, via 3 big bridges, reminds us that we are deep in the commuter belt here.

We emerge on Tent Peg Lane, and into a very genteel suburban street lined with the type of houses that Reggie Perrin might have lived in. And here we are on Petts Wood high street, and very thirsty we are too. But its one pub is very busy, it is after all early Friday evening. So I go to check out the train times, and a train to London Bridge turns up at that very moment. Top

Day 2 – Petts Wood to Hamsey Green, 19miles

It seems – and is obvious really – that the start and end points of the LOOP sections are not really too near train stations. And as last time I missed the all important turn-off for Tent Peg Lane and ended up deep into the Jubilee Park at Petts Wood I decided today it would quite acceptable today to miss out that bit and just make a bee-line for the route. It would only mean missing out some streets, so nothing lost really.

First into the pleasant Crofton Woods, where even the path diversion owing to it falling into the stream is does in a pleasant manner. And I’m sure the fallen tree over the stream is a favourite for daring young boys from all over the neighbourhood.

The guide tells us that Crofton used to be owned by the Archbishop Odo who fought at Hastings and commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry. Apparently he used a heavy club to kill people rather than a sword as members of the church weren’t allowed to draw blood. One can only assume he was very gentle with his club.
After Crofton there’s more woods – Darrick Woods, in fact there’s going to be lots of woods today. And woods are often tricky to navigate through – especially Darrick Woods where we’re given instructions like “keep the wooden bollards to the right and walk past the fence towards the bench”. Darrick Woods is full of wooden bollards, fences and benches! Anyways, I just walked in the right direction and eventually popped out not far from where I was supposed to. I had to do this three more times in the course of the day. But when we do pop we’re greeted by a nice wide view and a lovely big sky.

Farnborough is a lovely little village, and not to be confused with its air-show namesake – some good-looking pubs here too. But sadly they’ll have to wait for another day. The Saxons called it Fearnbioginga – “the village among the fearns”, so now you know. St Giles the Abbott is the resting place of Gipsy Lee, so I spend a good 15 or 20 minutes looking for her grave. But not having all day to waste on such frivolities I give up.

But as often happens once I’d given up, I only spot her straight away, and her Gypsy husband’s, grave right by the path near where the exit to grave-yard. The grave-stone is slightly damaged, Mr Lee’s inscription reads “LEE BOSWELL GYPSY ..HIEF”. I’m sure if must mean “chief”, surely no other letter could be substituted and still make sense in the context of gypsies!
On we go to High Elms Country park, where again the directions manage to confuse. The say “turn left”, when “straight on” is what they should say. Luckily the yew avenue it describes is quite obvious and right in front of us.

After passing by the High Elms Clockhouse (about which there is no info in the directions nor nearby – the plaque there is waffling on about the community orchard we’re in) we stroll up Bogey Lane. Not a name I would pick myself! Ho ho. This leads us out onto Farthing Lane and Shire Lane. They have some old lanes round here!

Taking care not to get caught up with any trainee police dogs, the directions tell us to head for a bench. But what it doesn’t tell us is that the bench is right by the Wilberforce Oak. Surely such an important tree might merit a mention!

Down from the Oak and above the Keston fishing ponds, there is a spring which gushes forth more generously but the source of it is as still as millpond. Enchanting! Then onto Coney Hall – where a local bye-law says all the houses must be white.

We cross the prime meridian in Coney Hall rec – it’ll be some time before we cross it again! And via a St John’s, Corkscrew Lane, Sparrow’s Den playing fields and Spring Wood we’re in Three Halfpenny Wood. Thankfully free to access today, although I did think I’d have to pay to get out! We’re in the LB of Croydon now – always a thrill!

After a lengthy chunk of street walking, we enter the Addington Woods and go up Shirley Hills (also always a thrill!) With her gravel, gorse and heather it feels quite rural – it’s apparently the largest area of heathland in London. There’s a viewing platform at the top built for Croydon’s Millenary year in 1960. At first I read this as “Croydon’s Millinery Year” I wondered why Stockport hasn’t got something similar. Anyways, the views looking north over London are spectacular, especially if you like television transmitters. (The one on the left is the one that first brought me to London, all those years ago.)

The trams and rubbish remind us that we’re in Croydon now, but nothing tells what the huge water tower is for though.

The path now goes through the gardens of Heathfield House, and annoyingly the entrance we’re supposed to go through is marked as “authorised and disabled users only – please use entrance 100m on the left” or words to that effect with no LOOP makers, so I wander walk down 100m to use the entrance on the left, which is marked by LOOP waymarks, and bound down the shady leafy steps in to the gardens. But only to find that I have to go back up – the proper entrance to Heathfield I’d taken was in fact the exit of the path – hence the waymarks (for anti-clockwise walkers). Very annoying – I wish it had been made clear that I was supposed to use the entrance that I was otherwise being told not to use!
Anyways, I’m soon distracted by a very sinister-looking water tower in the Bramley Bank nature reserve. A water tower or GCHQ spying station – or aliens!? Who knows.

More poor directions “cross diagonally to a path on the other side of a metal hand rail” should really read “cross diagonally to a path on the other side of a metal hand rail, walk along this path for 20 yards and turn left so you’re going in the same direction as before”. Or even more helpfully “just keep going and duck under the metal hand rail”.
We’re in Puplet Wood now and the Puplet Beast that guards the woods is awake, but in a benign mood thankfully! She’s no doubt enjoying the wood anemones.

After passing Elm Farm we drop down a steep muddy path – Mossyhill Shaw – and the early-evenin view across the back of (I assume) Elm Farm is lovely.

Climbing back up brings us out in Sanderstead where we get the 403 to West Croydon. After a fair old hunt we find the entrance to West Croydon and head home. Top

Day 3 – Hamsey Green to Banstead Downs, 11miles.

Supposedly just 11 miles today, but at the start of the day and then half-way through I stupidly took two “detours”, caused by me just marching on and not looking at the map. This stuck another two miles on the total! Oh well, all good fun!


The first common of the day is Riddlesdown, where we rare chalkhill blues live. But we don’t see any today, if fact we don’t see any butterflies at all. A bit early I suppose. We also told that a trig point is a “concrete block used for surveying”, although how much use this one would be for surveying I’m not sure.


On Kenley Common, the site of a WWI airfield – perhaps this gate was part of it, there’s no pyramidal orchids in evidence. But one or two buttercups are spotted.


Just past the Kenley Observatory the guide says that there are earth banks that were blast bays to protect wartime Spitfires, but I couldn’t see them. Perhaps a telescope might have been handy?
Lunch is taken on a bench over-looking Happy Valley, with Devilsden Wood on the other side. It’s not the Happy Valley I know and love, but it’s very nice anyways. It’s home to one of Britain’s rarest plants – the greater yellow rattle – but I didn’t see any. Not that I know what one looks like. I didn’t see the devil in Devilsden Woods either, but who knows what he looks like!?

 

 

 

 

Farthing Downs is very pleasant, high (475ft – high for round here!) and flat, with Saxon burial mounds (that I couldn’t see) and fine views over the chalk valley and all the way back to central London, and the old Cane Hill Asylum which I’m told is currently being turned into luxury flats.

After a bit of faffing about at Coulsdon South station I’m back on track. But if it weren’t for such faffing about I might have missed the mile-post telling us the distance to Westminster Bridge in Roman numerals, and the distance to Brighton in English. Or Arabic rather. I’m realising that it’s a good idea to actually read the Loop section guide before you get there, or else you may well miss such little marvels.


Out of the busy centre of Coulsdon South there’s a long and tedious slog up to Clockhouse. The houses up here were built for soldiers returning from WWI – bit harsh to make them walk all the way up this hill! But once of the road and back out in the fields it’s all very nice again. The thick cow parsley shielded the view of the twin prisons of HMP Highdown and HMP Downview. And the Mayfield lavender farm is as unlike a prison as you could possibly get. In the height of summer the scented air but be so pleasant as to be over-powering!

We pop up in the middle of Banstead Downs Golf Club, and after dodging slices we then pop out on to the busy A217 where we change to dodging cars and look back to London in the distance.
As this is the end of day’s section I see a likely looking bridle way that runs alongside and high above the Epsom Downs Branch that will take me home, so I follow it straight to Banstead station. Sadly there’s no little shop to reward myself with an ice-cream though. Top

Day 4 – Banstead Downs to Kingston Bridge, 11miles.

A rare warm day today which hopefully should make for a pleasant day’s walking. Pleasant that is if you like walking past lots of big post-war well-to-do stockbroker-belt detached houses. Lawns being mowed and extensions being erected. But occasionally there is a bit of greenery and shade when the patch dives in to some woodland.


The shady path above right is The Ghost Road, which sadly isn’t as spooky as it sounds. It’s just an unfinished – or more accurately unstarted – housing development, curtailed by the war and the new fangled green-belt.

Just after here things get slightly more interesting with Henry VIII’s Nonsuch Park.


The concrete pillars show where his palace used to be, and the bricked-in clump of trees are where his banqueting house was. A banquet back then was actually just light refreshments. You learn something new every day on the LOOP!


Ewell Castle School (1814) and Bourne Hall Park make interesting sights as we pass by one, and pass through the other.

Now we join the Hogsmill River, and follow it more or less all the rest of the way to Kingston – and very pleasant it is too.


The Hogsmill River is where John Everett Millais painted Ophelia and you can still see the resemblance today. Apart from the railway tunnels.


Sadly we don’t get to cross the stepping-stones today, but we just carry on along the river and very nice it is. Apart from all the Japanese Knotweed. You have admire the noble efforts of some to try to cut it back, but wonder how futile they are.


As we hit the suburbs of Kingston we switch between road & river. Past the Duke of Buckingham – the Duke himself was killed at the battle of Surbiton Common in the Civil War. More to Surbiton than the Goods and the Leadbetters it turns out! Despite being channeled through concrete through the town centre the Hogsmill is clean enough for a few plump trout to dwell in.

Kingston’s rich with history, so we make time to have a good look at Saxon Coronation Stone and the Clattern Bridge.

And also to have a gentle look round the town centre, and fortuitously the museum is open late on Thursdays. Top

Day 5 – Kingston Bridge to Hatton Cross, 8½ miles.

A shorter day than I’d planned today as owing to someone under the train at Wimbledon the train was very delayed on the way to Kingston. Although during the enforced downtime I realised that the wrapper that the free waterproofing samples (themselves very useful!) would make a great impromptu map-case! That would surely be handy with much rain forecast. As it turned out it hardly rained at all for the rest of the day.

After a brief but none-the-less disconcerting walk through the shopping precincts of central Kingston, we reach and breach the bridge back over the River. And back into North London, technically. The next time we see the Thames we shall be done and dusted with the LOOP.


We enter Bushy Park via horse-chestnut avenue that the guide describes as “grand”, I don’t want to sound mean but it’s not really that grand. Nice yes, grand not so. At the end though as we come to the park proper we see two most enticing signs of a “beware of the deer” variety. How exciting, it hadn’t occurred to me that there might be deer in Bushy Park – rather stupid. I wonder if we’ll see any today!!


But I wasn’t going to be disappointed! Less than a minute into the park there they were. A dozen or presumably happily serviced does all lounging round their stag. A couple of onlookers were just feet away from them, and two women with prams and a girl jogging while hula-hooping went past and didn’t bat an eyelid. Must have been here before I thought as I stooped and stalked through the long wet grass trying to stay down-wind of them* hoping to get a good photo. I didn’t have to worry, they were clearly way too use to people snapping their likenesses to worry about me. And I was so see plenty more anyways.

* – not really.


Time was getting on – it would be dark in just a few hours – it had been some weeks since my last stage of the LOOP, so I had to leave the stag and his ladies now to push on. He let out a call as I went, presumably to bid me on my way.


Happily my stalking had landed me back on the path, and next up are a couple of pleasant ponds, the Leg of Mutton Pond and Heron Pond. Connected by a long canal like feature. There was no mutton to be seen nor herons. But many of the usual water-fowl suspects, and sea-gulls of course. And these days lots and lots of bloody parakeets.


Past a rather out-of-place looking water pump, stuck in the middle of the park with no explanation we come to some avenues of trees – horse-chestnut and lime. Now these are grand avenues! The guide says that they were planted in 1622, but the avenue (ie. road) running up the middle was Sir Christopher Wren’s idea.


We pass a couple more grazing stags as we head towards the very pleasant Waterhouse Woodland Gardens. Which would be a lot more pleasant if it weren’t for the afore-mentioned parakeets.


In the Waterhouse Woodland Gardens we see some odd riverside posts, the odd pheasant. And a rather sad-looking bunny rabbit, suffering badly with myxomatosis. Poor thing, it will probably be dead by now.


Notice the “small bench”. I took this photo of a bench to illustrate what a “small bench” looks like – we shall return to that later. The trees in the avenue we pass are horn-beams. Must remember what a horn-beam looks like for next time!


More deer await as we head towards Upper Lodge and the park exit. Several of these younger stags were right in my way – and they didn’t look very young to me! They soon moved though, with a holler and a bray just for good measure. But over under the trees some other young bucks put on a good show with some high-spirited rutting practice.


As we emerge into Hampton Hill there’s a rather boring lengthy road stage, until we pop into Fullwell Woods – only to soon pop out again on the Uxbridge Road, from where more road walking eventually leads us to Crane Park – a large patch of mud alongside the River Crane. We pass under the road bridge, accurately described in the guide as “dark” and hug the river for a little while, clambering over the odd victim of the recent storm. THe guide then says “after a while the River Crane splits…” by which I think it means two branches of the Crane come together. Anyways, around here there was an arc of posts in the river with what seemed to be some submerged stepping-stones leading to them. Curious!



By a weir on the river there’s the Shot Mill – an 18th Century Gunpowder Mill. My plans to have a sit down for a few moments here were scuppered by a brief drizzly shower a minute or two before, so I rested upright admiring the shot-tower and headed on. Headed on along another long road stretch to Hounslow Heath. By now darkness had fallen – and quickly so. The guide says to look for a “small bench” and turn left here, but the only bench I saw was normal size. “Small” being akin to the one above, and I could see and turning to take anyways – it either not being there or it being dark. My new path took me straight out of the Heath and to the busy Staines Road again, and past a large ghostly looking dragonfly. I had intended to trek on to Hayes today, but as the path carried on through park-land along the Crane where it would be pitch black (I’d actually replaced the batteries in two torches just that morning but neglected to bring either) though I’d better call it a day. A long and tedious walk to Hatton Cross tube station ensued, constantly , being dive bombed by jumbo-jets coming in to land at all-too-near Heathrow. Top

Day 6 – Hatton Cross to Uxbridge, 12½ miles.

When I left the house in the morning for today’s LOOPette it was raining, but after the long tube ride out to Hatton Cross it had stopped. It was still grey – but hopefully I wouldn’t need my waterproof trousers that I had packed away for the first time on the LOOP.


Today’s instructions were going to leave something to be desired as it turned out, and navigational problems started as soon as I left the tube station – I was sure what side of the road I was supposed to be and there were no LOOP signs anywhere. After the large airport buildings the guide says to follow a large concrete wall – which was nowhere in sight, and therefore a tad confusing. An instruction like “Continue to the large concrete wall and then follow it” would be more useful. Anyways, with only airport shuttle buses for company we arrive at the Crane Bank Park.



We’re told that green woodpeckers and kingfishers can be seen here, but all we see is a very deep litter bin! And all we can hear are parakeets – they almost drain out the roar of the aeroplanes coming into land.


The guide points out that all the houses round here have double glazing – and it’s easy to see why such a luxury is more of a necessity round here!


There’s been a crossing over Crane here since 1276, and current bridge is still rather nice. Although the dual carriage way it carries is more functional. Entering Berkeley Park sadly the promised natural hazards are not encountered.


We do encounter an 18th Century ha-ha though. And much as I’d love to see the “crinkle crankle” wall in the grounds of St Dunstans, but alas the work going there was preventing access.


Past the lovely restored stables of famous Berkeley Hunt (beloved of burks everywhere!) and under the M4 courtesy of St Dunstan’s Passage.


By now the greyness had cleared completely and it was turning in to a very pleasant day indeed. Blue skies and sunshine, and a slight chill – good walking weather! Dog Kennel Covert was looking lovely in the currant bun, but the same couldn’t really be said for the brief walk alongside the North Hyde Road.


As we get to the Grand Union Canal we see the huge Nestle factory – the home of Milky Bars?? No, the semi-pleasant aroma of coffee in the air suggests it’s the home of Nescafe. Along the canal in the wrong direction we see the “gleaming whiteness of Bull’s Bridge”, over a branch to Paddington apparently for before the Grand Union was completed.

Now we were on the canal the directions were going to get very strange indeed. There’s constant talk of going through kissing-gates, but there aren’t any kissing gates on the tow-path. So unless they’ve been removed I’ve no idea what they’re talking about – but when does any tow-path have kissing gates? There are some to join footpaths leaving the canal but that’s it.
And then the instructions seem to differ wildly from the map, the sign-posts and the geography. It makes much mention of brick bridges – which we never see. I was definitely wasn’t lost, as the sign-posts alongside the canal confirmed.


But this sign must be ignored! No mention anywhere is made of Yiewsley, but it makes sense to follow the sign, right? Wrong – the actual path is 90degs clockwise away from Yiewsley, basically just the same way we were coming anyways. Not a very helpful sign at all! Passing through Stockley Park – a high-tec industrial estate and a golf-course the guide catches up with us. God knows where they’ve been. But then there’s more confusion. As we leave the golf-course, the guide says “Look out for the ‘London Loop’ sign and follow it to the right…”. What they actually mean is look out for the THIRD sign-post you’ll encounter from this point. As the first two indicate keeping left this too is very confusing. At least the A-frame bridge over Stockley Road is hard to miss!


After a long walk through another industrial estate, with some rather out-of-place looking houses and a pub that was obviously there long before anything else, and after passing the massive & mysterious JOhn Guest factory & offices – what do they do!? (snap-fit plumbing fittings apparently) we rejoin the canal! It would have been much quicker just to stay on the canal, and we would have missed nothing interesting really. Sure, two industrial parks and a golf-course break up the monotony but to be honest I think the monotony of the canal would have been preferable.

But more seriously the guide says “To carry on, keep going under the bridge. The next one is number 191, according to the plaque. Go under the bridge through a kissing gate.” This is quite wrong, firstly – again – there is no kissing gate. But secondly DO NOT GO UNDER THE BRIDGE! Turn right away from the bridge otherwise you’ll be walking the wrong way – back to Paddington rather than towards Birmingham which we want to be doing. I might email the LOOP people about this as I reckon it’s quite a slip-up. It’s not even as if the access to the canal has changed as it specifically mentions “at the bridge, head down the steps on the right, back onto the Grand Union towpath” which is correct.


Anyways, we carry on along the canal and over the “black bridge” to the Slough Arm, which itself crosses Fray’s River.


Oddly no mention is made of the pill-box here. I assume it is a pill-box anyways. Mention is made of the granite coal tax marker up ahead, but sadly not until it’s told us to leave the canal and enter the Colne Valley Regional Park and I couldn’t be bothered going back to have a look. But here it is should you miss it too. It’s not as nice as this one we saw on the Thames Path though. I really should’ve learned by now to read these directions a paragraph or two at a time rather than a sentence at a time as they do jump around a bit.


Eventually we come to the end of the park and witness the spectacle of Little Britain lake – I’ll leave it to you to figure out why it’s called that, but I think the above photo was taken looking from Penzance.



After a lengthy seeming stretch alongside the Colne, and venturing in to Buckinghamshire we find ourselves back on Grand Union again! And this time stay on it until we get to Uxbridge and head home. And we eventually see a Braunston mile post, which I’m sure we’ve been promised twice already but no mention is made of this one. They were really concerned about Braunston back in the day!

And at this point I’m reckon I’m half-way round! I would’ve though some congratulatory message might have been in order from the guide, but apparently not. Top

Back to index, or carry on to part two.

West Highland Way, May 2012

West Highland Way Index.
Day 1 – Milngavie to Balmaha, 19½miles.
Day 2 – Balmaha to Inverarnan, 21½miles.
Day 3 – Inveranan to Bridge of Orchy, 19½miles.
Day 4 – Bridge of Orchy to Kinlochleven, 21miles.
Day 5 – Kinlochleven to Fort William, 14miles.

 

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The West Haggis Way.


Day 1 – Milngavie to Balmaha, 19½miles.

After a long and not particularly restful night on the Cally Sleeper up from Euston, I wish I’d bothered to read some of my chosen guide-book – rather than just looking at the map. The guide I’d chosen was the HMSO Official Guide for the walk which I’d picked up on eBay for a couple of quid. The 1996 edition but it was still fine, and comes with the necessary 1:50000 OS sheets which is handy. Also handy within the first few pages of the guide are instructions on how to pronounce “Milngavie”, the start of the walk. Having not seen this it had to be explained to me by a rather bemused ScotRail employee at Glasgow Central, although he must’ve heard a million daft Sassenachs ask for “Miln-gavvy” rather than “Mul-guy” before. So be warned, it’s the train to “Mul-guy” you want! Apparently it has something to do with the Gaelic for windmill.

So here I am in Mulguy – sorry, Milngavie. With a Costa Coffee on one side and a Greggs on the other, there’s something for everyone while you queue up to have your photo take by the starting-obelisk.


Milngavie is in the northern suburbs of Glasgow, so although the first stretch along the Allander Water is leafy it is still fairly urban. And as head we head towards Carbeth we’re careful not to take the Kyber Pass.


But we’ve soon left the Glaswegian urban sprawl behind us and are up on the upper reaches of Allander Park, with fine views of the Kilpatrick Hills and Campsie Fells.


As we pass through Mugdock Wood we see the first sign post for Fort William – already a bit closer than I thought it might be. The first 8 miles have flown by – these five days will be a doddle, surely?! The Beech Tree Inn would be very tempting any later in the day, but the frothing sewage works reminding us the civilisation is not far behind are not so enticing.

The path climbs and views get nicer and nicer as we approach and pass Upper Gartness. Some recent clearances in the Garadhban Forest give us our first view of Loch Lomond. A loch with which we’ll become very familiar tomorrow!

Now the showers started, brief and squally, but punctuated by warm sunshine. The kind of weather that plays havoc with waterproofs-decisions! The climb up Conic Hill was steep, and made no more fun by the rain. But once at the top the views down over the Loch were magnificent. As was the generosity of a group of fellows with whom my arrival at the top coincided. While we taking photos, admiring the view and generally catching our breath, one of them got a bottle of whisky out to celebrate the first big hill of the walk. As it well after midday it would have been churlish to refuse their kind offer of malt-refreshments! Sadly I didn’t see them again for the rest of the walk.

All down-hill now to Balmaha, and worth a quick look back towards Conic Hill and the blue skies.

Sustenance of ale & haggis were tasty and welcome at the Oak Tree Inn, and their proud boast that the haggis was “locally caught” resulted in very clean plate! Then off to the lovely Passfoot B&B, just a shortish walk up the road from the pub, to be well looked after by Mrs Betty Twaddle. Top

Day 2 – Balmaha to Inveranan, 22½miles.

After a good night’s sleep, a hearty breakfast and much talk from some Americans in the dining room, it was looking to be a fine day over Loch Lomond.
This view is straight from the B&B. The weather forecast was good, just as well given what a long day it would turn out to be.

Thankfully I was blissfully ignorant of that at this early time, and the views over Loch Lomond were still looking good. I was expecting a pleasant though fairly uniform loch-side stroll today but it’s very different. The path often veers away from the loch, up hills and down to the shore again, or up into forested sections which almost completely blot out the view. But at least this all makes for a varied day’s walking. Well varied-ish, as if I remember correctly, most of the day is spent in woodland.


The birds liked the woods though, with this chaffinch and an oyster-catcher milling about in the Rowardennan Forest.


The views over the loch continue to impress – when the breaks in the trees permit.


Although the walking was overly tough and the scenery and view were very pleasant, it did still mainly consist of walking in a straight line. And a lot of it is on well made tracks. So not an awful lot of navigating is required – just keep the big wet thing on your left and you’re ok. So things did become a little boring, so I was more thank thankful when I was able to decide it was lunch-time when I found a picturesque resting spot near the Rowardennan Hotel. And as you can see, a fine luncheon it was too!


There is apparently a choice of routes to take here, the low-level loch-side one or one higher-up in the trees. But any tricky decision-making was taken away from me by the low-level one being closed because a fallen tree. So up we went!

Which of course means more ascending and descending, but the upside of ascents are the views – and the fine views continued. Continued on a theme mind you! But that’s not necessarily a bad thing round here.

After the two routes join up again, I completely missed Rob Roy’s cave (I’m pretty sure I don’t have a photo of it anyways). Unless I’m confusing it with one of the other crevices and you have to carefully clamber through – alleviates the boredom if nothing else, but you really do not want to lose your footing on some of these bits. But it’s worth pausing at Bill Lobban’s memorial for a second.


With still much of the Loch yet to go, it’s easy to be come a little used to it. The guide-book mentioned a waterfall by the Inversnaid Hotel that’s worth checking out. You make up own mind from the photo above! And I wish I’d made a note if what this snow-capped mountain was called. I think by now I was just thinking of a beer and a bath! (It’s Ben Lui – thanks Colin!)


But hoorah and hooray! After some 20miles or so we’ve reached the end of the loch at last! At least it makes a nice photo op, despite the idiot spoiling the view.


All that was left today would be a few feral goats, a seemingly long walk down through some woods, finding a water bottle and then shortly afterwards reuniting it with it Policewoman owner. I mananged to catch them up as she was really struggling – and I knew how she felt, past the Beinglas Farm, through a field, over the River Falloch, along the busy A82, a view of the Ben Glas burn coming down Meall Mor nan Eagand, and then at last…


… the Drover’s Inn! And a welcoming party of a house sparrow [ID thanks to Rambling Minster!] as I enjoyed a pint in the last of the day’s sun.


Now, I’d heard a lot about the Drover’s Inn when I was planning the trip – most of it bad. But with bad reviews you often get the picture that the reviewer simply just didn’t like the thing, rather than the thing being bad. And so it is with the Drover’s – I thought it was great. Perhaps a little tatty here & there, but quirky & full of character, warm & welcoming. If you want all your hotels to a Travel Lodge don’t expect to like the Drover’s – but if you want ten ghosts per bedroom do! I even felt a bit sorry for the people who were staying in the modern bit over the road. The beer & evening’s haggis concoction were spot on too. Top

Day 3 – Inverarnan to Bridge of Orchy, 19½miles.

Another fine day up in the Highlands – would my luck with the hold all the way to Fort William I wonder…?

We head back along the A82 and over the Falloch to Beinglas to rejoin the path to Crianlarich. The views up Glen Falloch are a lovely sight first thing in the morning. Or indeed any time of day I’d say!


The Falloch is a fine companion through the glen and thankfully the A82 and West Highland Line, neither of which are very far away, are both quiet.

Skirting past Crianlarich we get a nice look up Strath Fillan, and continue along Bogle Glen. Apparently it means “valley of the pixies” but sadly they were not coming out to play today.


I think that’s Ben Challum with a healthy dusting of snow looking down over Inverhaggernie, and I think that’s a song thrush looking up towards it.


After emerging from the woods above Inverherive I stopped for some elevenses under the viaduct over a seemingly nameless burn trickling down to the Fillan. And then after another brief stroll along the A82 we cross over the Fillan heading towards Kirkton Farm and St Fillan’s Priory.


Here we see Annette and Yette, the lovely Dutch mother & daughter team, enjoying views of Fillan flood plain. I’d been walking with them a bit on & off for a last couple of miles, and I think they were stopping for lunch so we said our farewells. Just a little further on is the Lochan of the Legend of the Lost Sword. What do you mean you’ve never heard of it?? Apparently it has something to do with Robert the Bruce fleeing the MacGregors…


I stop for lunch at the comparative bustling metropolis of Tyndrum and its famous Green Welly Stop shop. Well, famous if you saw the same TV programme as I did once. After Tyndrum we continue along side the A82.

In the shadows of various looming mountains, annoyingly – and again! – I can’t remember the names of any these rocks that I photographed. The above photo is looking back down Strath Fillan from what I remember, before we disappear behind the Mealle Buidhe.


At a crossroads of footpaths where we could if we wanted take a right up to Beinn Odhar, the A82 finally drifts away to the west to leave in peace to march on towards Beinn Dorain – the kilometre high pointy peak in the photo above, and Bridge of Orchy a few miles beyond that. The hard surface of the old military road is getting a bit rough on the feet now.


Just by the Bridge of Orchy railway station I spy a lonely looking caravan. Who’d ever want to stay in that I wondered?? I would, as it would turn out!

We reach the hotel via an underpass under the railway, and then the bits of pieces of the village that are all dotted along the road down to the hotel.
Despite saying earlier what I did about bad reviews, I am about to give the Bridge of Orchy a bad review! Firstly, having booked in and freshened up with a beer and a shower (not at the same time), they told me they couldn’t fit me in for dinner as they were fully booked. Despite the fact I was staying there. I eventually persuaded them to let me have a bar-snack at the bar, by which time there were plenty of tables available so I was granted one of them. The food itself was very nice though, although I can’t remember what I had – it would have been haggis and something. Then when it came to time to pay (I’d already paid for the bunk-house room, so anything else was extra) there was large queue at the one till. So I wandered off for a couple of minutes across the road to post a post-card. When I returned to pay them I got a right bollocking off some little madam for attempting to do a runner. My protestations that I was staying there didn’t convince them that I wasn’t intending to avoid my £15 bill by running off into the wilds of the Trossachs. So they’d not impressed me already with the service and manners. But then the room we’d been given (not the usual royal we – there was three of us) was tiny. With three tiny beds and not enough room for more than one person not to be in bed at any one time. Nor room for more than one person’s stinky wet walking apparel. And then to make it worse, one chap – a French fellow who was asleep when I got there and was asleep when I left in the morning – snored so loudly that much sleep was not forthcoming. Definitely my least favourite accommodation on this, or perhaps any, walk. Top

Day 4 – Bridge of Orchy to Kinlochleven, 21miles.

Having barely got to sleep, waking up wasn’t difficult. And leaving the Bridge of Orchy Hotel was difficult either, despite the fact the fair weather had finally come to an end. Surely the sun will be shining again by the time we get to Rannoch Moor surely!?


At least the hotel is directly on the path, so we just have to continue where we left off. Immediately crossing over the Orchy over the eponymous bridge. Just after the river we enter some woods and climb upwards – through a soft lazy drizzle. On Mam Carraigh at the top we get our first good views of Rannoch Moor – our companion for the rest of the day.


I couldn’t help but be impressed by the hardiness of the this little tree – a birch? – standing up bravely to the elements looking down on Loch Tulla. I wonder how old it really is…? The other pic is I think from low down alongside Loch Tulla looking up to the Black Mount and Rannoch Moor. But I’m not really sure to be honest!

As we carry on along the well made path, over the Bá gushing through a rocky crevice via Bá Bridge, and then past Bá Cottages, the rainy moors are a lonely place. Well not so much lonely – but a place of solitude. Bá Bridge, my guide tells me, is the remotest spot on the walk. Only the occasional red deer was to be seen – and she had clearly seen me first. No sign of the white hind of local legend though!

As the moor goes on, there’s not an awful lot to see. Especially with this low mist drizzle obscuring any views. We pass the highest point on the path so far – some 1500ft. All downhill from here then! Oh – highest point so far… more uphills to come then!
The guide mentions that we pass Ian Fleming’s brother’s memorial cairn. But I don’t see it. I am briefly distracted by a sign to a chair-lift but I have to keep slogging on.

Past the Black Rock cottage and Buachaille Etive Mor and on to the King’s House Hotel, where more than a few people were staying. Which I thought was rather odd as the day still had a long time to run and Kinlochleven isn’t too far to go. Now they’re all stuck in a place where’s not much to do, and this would then make it a rather long day to Fort William. Who knows?! Indeed, who cares? Although I was briefly envious when I popped in to go to the loo – the lovely warm dry loo…


But I pressed on alongside the River Coupnall as the rain got rainier. It was well after my lunchtime but finding a sheltered spot had been predictably fruitless. So a much-needed rest on the Devil’s Staircase was combined with lunch-time. A father & son passed me, and the father wasn’t having fun at all. All downhill from here I assured him, but as it was to be that wouldn’t have been very reassuring at all.

The total climb to the top of the Devil’s Staircase from the Coupnall is a good 800ft, and when we eventually had finished our rainy lunch and got to the top the clouds were beginning to lift. The mist rising from the valley of the Leven was an eerie spectacle.

Now the descent started into Kinlochleven. When you start the final descent of the day after much ascending you can’t help but think to yourself “hooray! easy now all the way to the pub!” but it rarely is. The path down here was long, steep and hard with a lot a sizeable loose rock on the surface. I was fed up with it after not very long.


But there was one brief distraction on the way down. You can’t fail to notice the large water pipes that provide hydro-power for the aluminium plant down in the town. And I noticed that there was the occasional large leak, presumably where a gasket had split. I decided to take a small detour from the downward zig-zags to take a closer look at one these large plumes of water. Which I did for about 1/2 a second, it being exactly that – a large plume of water. Having been under the influence of downwards moving water most of the day it failed to impress me as much as I thought it might. So I turned round to return to the path. And behind me were two pairs of walkers looking at their maps rather puzzledly. “Hmmm” I thought. I bet they’d just blithely followed me assuming that I was going where they were going! Which I suppose I was, but not as directly as they reckoned. But that is an easy mistake to make – as I know only too well!

Anyways, I eventually got to the bottom of the hill by the impressive aluminium plant – which seemed to be still working. Thankfully my B&B “Quiraing” was on this side of town. The landlady was wonderful – it was more a private house than B&B – very homely. And none of this TAKE YER BOOTS OFF! type thing. She just had tramp upstairs muddy and dripping with all my gear to warm up and dry off, but recommending a very pleasant eatery (I had the house special – chicken stuffed with haggis) in town, via a little detour to a nearby waterfall. The one pub in town I tried wasn’t that great, but everything else in Kinlochleven was very nice. Top

Day 5 – Kinlochleven to Fort William, 14miles.

After a perfect night’s sleep I was all ready for the last day – and looking forward to relatively short day, although there’s always mixed emotions about getting to the end of a long walk.


The day started off very grey and the walk out of Kinlochleven was a little damp. Sadly there was no time today to visit the Aluminium Story.


Even the pavement was slippy here – yikes indeed! Although it was reassuring to see a sign-post for our destination. “Lairig” means valley or pass I think, and I can’t recall now whether this is actually the route we took. I’m guessing it must be. With a hindsight though and on a clearer day it might be nice to take a ridge-top route over the Mamores.

The path climbs steeply providing us with a fine and final view of Kinlochleven.
Again we’re on the well-made track on the old military way, and despite the low cloud the views over the valley are super. Above is Meall nan Clereach above the Allt na Largie Moire.


But, as is often the way, I can’t remember what all the views are of! The peak above could be Meall a’ Chaorainn… does anyone know?!


Despite the scenery slogging along such a clear track can get a little tedious (relatively tedious!) so the opportunity to cock about in some old ruined crofts is a welcome break! These are at Tigh-na-steubhaich I think.


The path breaks away from the old military road at Blar a’ Chaorainn and heads towards the Nevis Forest. Lochan Lun Da Bhra is near here – apparently the resting place of that old Scottish King MacBeth. But these days it’s probably best not to go too near in case the nasty kelpie that lives there gets you.

At least I don’t think we’re on the old military road anymore, but it is still very well-kept path. And as we progress through the woods in turns into a road. Easy walking and tough walking at the same time. But it is here that we get our first sighting of the majestic big old Ben Nevis.


And as it’s going nowhere we end up getting constant views of it. And why not? She makes for a fine view.

As we drop down the forest track I spy on the map a “rocking stone”. Intriguing! And not very far away. When we were kids we’d come up to Fort William on holiday and always stay in the same caravan park, which I knew was round here somewhere, and I remember well a huge glacial erratic there. I don’t remember it rocking, but surely it had to that? I thought I’d go and take a look. But unfortunately after a good hour or so I couldn’t find it anywhere, the location on the map was quite vague and it had been some 30 years since I’d seen it last. And as you might imagine the caravan park had changed too. I popped into the nearby visitor centre to enquire – neither of the people there had heard of it, until I showed the older chap the map. “Oh that hasn’t rocked for years” he said, rather uninterested – presumably because I wasn’t buying anything! Anyways, I gave up – I’m sure it’ll be there next time. So I continued on towards Fort William, a very long and boring walk along a busy road. I also remembered another large glacial erratic by the roadside that I’m sure had been painted to resemble a skull, and it meant we were nearly back at the caravan. I couldn’t see that either. Oh well!


Having got over my failed rock-hunt I got back to the business of finishing the walk. And the WHW is in the curious position of having two finishes. The original finish comes first, and as I got there I was greeted by a toot from the Jacobite, just leaving for Mallaig. Too bad I didn’t notice the sign inviting me in to claim my certificate. Maybe I was just thinking of the other finish, which half a mile away or so in the town centre.

Having posed for the obligatory and cliched finished-it-photo I popped in the nearby Ben Nevis pub for a pint of something Orcadian. A few more pubs & pints followed, including some with my policeman/woman friends whom I made friends with at Inverarnan earlier (them of the water bottle.)


Then back to the Cally sleeper to head back down south. The first hour or so of which spent enjoying the view from the back of the train.

What a wonderful part of the world!