Monthly Archives: April 2014

The London Outer Orbital Path, 2013 / 2014

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.


Looping the LOOP – “the M25 for walkers.”


Day 7 – Uxbridge to Moor Park, 10½ miles.

The forecast said rain today, so prepared for rain I went. Turned out it was to be a lovely day – lovely overheard anyways. Also I didn’t want to be wandering through strange woods in the dark, being aware of the shortened hours of daylight, so I made sure my torch was working and put it somewhere obvious so I’d remember to take it. But I forgot it, predictably.

So after a brief, but not brief enough scurry through the pedestriansed shopping centre of Uxbridge once past the Crown & Treaty pub, where apparently an attempt at a peace treaty as made during the civil war although it looks very much like it has been rebuilt since the war. The Guldf Ware, we’re back on the Grand Union Canal, and lovely it looks too in the soft winter sunlight. This is Uxbridge lock and the last lock on the canal until the Hampstead Road lock in Camden Town some 20 miles west. The slight disturbance in the water just before the bridge is the cooling water from the electricity cables under the towpath discharging back into the canal. Disappointingly it’s not in the slightest warm – I checked.

After this lock somewhere is the site of the old King’s Mill, where flour had been milled for a thousand years. I couldn’t see any sign of it, but William King’s old mill now gives it name to a popular brand of Chorleywood bread.
We pass another all-important Braunston mile post, and a derelict boat. I wonder if anyone’s doing anything with it…?

The river Colne flows nearby for some way along this stretch, and we see more boat work going on. This time it’s a boat in a boat. Someone once told me that the definition of a boat is “something that goes on ships”, so I wonder if this is actually a boat in a ship?

Denham lock is the deepest lock on the whole canal – 11ft, owing to it being just after an aqueduct over Fray’s River.

Like the last stage we now leave the canal and wander off down some very boring wide path – The Quarry Trail – between the canal and some large lakes. Many joggers huff and puff their way past. The only real point of interest is a large railway viaduct. When we rejoin the canal we pass a very sad-looking crazy golf course.

Back on the canal we’re not at Black Jack’s Lock. Black Jack was a slave of yesterday who was sold with the land the Domesday-era mill was on. Apparently he and his donkey & cart delivered flour, and there’s a picture on the wall of the mill-now-a-tea-room to prove. I wonder what he’d think now if he could know he was immortalised in canal navigation?

Further along the by the weir providing water for Black Jack there’s nice peaceful hippy’s garden. Or it would be if it wasn’t by a noisy weir. And we leave the canal again… passing but a huge old copper mill and the former-owner’s now empty home. The guide tells us that the copper for the dome of St Paul’s was made here according to legend. You’d think someone would know for sure!

We miss the turning just after the copper-mill as it’s not signed posted. Once again it must be my fault for reading the guide in advance! In fact, yes it was my fault. When will I ever learn! Not today it would soon become apparent…
Park Wood promises much, but it’s not much more than a steep climb and a fenced-in path.
This stretch is described as “keeping away from settlements” which sounds nice, but as by now i was very peckish and hadn’t brought any provisions it was more of an inconvenience. So I was very much relieved to see Rose & Crown just up ahead. Cheers!

Leaving the pub we head off into some very pleasant meadows and farmland. And the guide starts wittering on about some golf course. A golf course that you can’t see at all, until you miss the turning and carry on the wrong way – which I did. The turning is actually a rather anonymous looking gap in some trees and again not signposted. A tad annoying. But not as annoying as the mud that was too with me for the next mile or so, and then on & off for the rest of the day until the Tube station taking me home. I don’t mind getting muddy but walking through mud is such a bloody tedious pain, and so it all became painfully tedious after not very long.

A rickety bridge and a pylon directly straddling the path help distract from the mud briefly.

We finally emerge from the muddy-woods at a junction on a busy main road, and a sign pointing the way to London. How far from London have we come if there are signs pointing back towards “London”!?
The junction is by a pub called Ye Olde Greene Manne, and like every pub that may be possibly pre-Victorian Dick Turpin came here. The guide tells us, according to “story”, that he escaped through the back while the Bow Street Runners came through the front. You’d think that even a fledgling police force would have thought of this. But there again as by my reckoning Dick Turpin was hanged in 1739, the Bow Street Runners weren’t founded until ten years later I’d take this particular Turpin-tale with a pinch of salt.
Just down the road we see a coal-tax post, meaning we officially back in the London. So the sign-post 100yds up the road wasn’t pointing far!

The path directly opposite the coal-tax post logically follows the Middlesex / Herts border and takes us all the to the rather nice and very well-heeled suburban housing estate of Moor Park. But the mud doesn’t stop here! Footpath no.51 takes us under some trees that form a tunnel so dark and water-logged it’s more like a canal tunnel.

The next tunnel we come too, under the Metropolitan Line that will taking us back in to town, is restricted to 30mph. Looking at the tightness and the approaching bend you wonder why any speed restriction is necessary at all. 3mph is a more likely speed than 30.
Then we see an unusual sight – a three way split of the LOOP. We take the muddy path that leads us home, darkness is setting in and a torch would be very handy!

Like I said I don’t mind getting muddy at all – indeed one of the benefits is that no-one sits next to you on the Tube!


Day 8 – Moor Park to Elstree, 14 miles.

The forecast had said rain today, from 10am until 3pm. And not just rain but heavy rain. But by the time I’d started walking from Moor Park at 11.30am it was still day. Cloudy but dry, so maybe they’d got the forecast wrong. Again!

The local authority round here is Three Rivers. Odd to have the council not named after the geographical area. As I started tramping through Oxhey Woods I wondered if I was walking in one of the council’s said rivers. It had obviously been raining a lot already! And then it started to rain again. And it wouldn’t stop until I’d got to a cafe for a warming sausage roll at the end of the day.

But no matter – I’d got my waterproofs on, and walking in the rain is invigorating right?! It’s the not the rain that’s the problem – like the last stage it’s walking through the bloody mud. Mud gets very tedious very quickly. On leaving the woods not only was I glad they were doing their best to get rid of the horrible rhododendrons but also glad to walking along a med-free road. Even the uninspiring bridge over the WCML made a welcome change!

After getting battered and blown about trying to march up the Grim’s Dyke golf course through horizontal rain (oddly not many golfers out today…) we get to glimpse the eponymous dyke itself. But annoying the path takes a turn off the track here, exactly opposite the dyke’s explanatory plaque, so I missed it and was quite puzzled for a short while to figure out where I should be going.

One of the less glamorous way markers put be back on track though!

A little further on we come across Grim’s Dyke Lake, where WS Gilbert died in 1911 trying to rescue a girl who’d slipped in and got into a pickle. A poignant moment and a spooky setting – I tried to remember a few librettos as I passed. The good thing about this rotten weather is that no-one else is about to hear you heartily and badly belting out a bit of G&S loudly to yourself in the woods! Apparently Lady Gilbert had the lake drained after William Schwenck died… but we have had a lot of rain lately!

The guide says that the picnic area off Old Redding (the name of the road) offers wonderful panoramic views across London. Not today it doesn’t! The curiously named “The Case is Altered” is where you really want to be on a day like this. But alas not for me.

I quite liked the address of the house just up the road from the pub. Across the road in a sort of bus-shelter there was an information board explaining what The City was, but I can’t remember now! I do remember being impressed by the theory of Bazalgette’s intercepting sewers being demonstrated in the path I was walking along on Harrow Weald Common.

As we walk through Bentley Priory Open Space the guide now says that we can see glimpses of the famous mansion-house used by the RAF during the war here, but I see nothing. Just a pillbox reminding us of the importance of the site.

Shortly after here, my the rain got the better of my phone and the lens of the camera became so misted up that no more photos were possible. Ironically the only thing really worth taking a photo of now was actually the rain, as it get heavier and heavier. The track through a stud farm became a rushing torrent of muddy rain-water and hay flotsam.

Shortly afterwards the walk presented an irresistible shortcut! Warren Lane will do for me thank you!

Only I missed the turning and ended up going as far as Wood Lane, but at least this gave me opportunity to shelter out of the rain courtesy of some Islamic retreat or something. Once back on track the rain started to let up a bit as we passed the Adenham Reservoir, but I thought twice about the next obvious shortcut along Allum Lane this time. After slogging through a horrible water-logged farm and a very boring golf course I wish I had taken it! But shortly after this we at Elstree & Borehamwood Station – it’s just like Hollywood, Hollywood on a very rainy day.Top

Day 9 – Elstree to Enfield Lock, 20 miles.

Today was going to be my longest day so far, but not to worry – the weather looked good and Elstree is by far the easiest starting point on the LOOP to get from my house. So in under an hour from leaving home I was off.
After a lengthy climb through suburbia we spy some green – although still on a very busy road.
I’m sure I heard a train whizz under the Midland main-line ventilation tunnels which I’d just passed under myself half an hour earlier. I’m also sure I saw some movement amongst the rooftop menagerie on top the chocolate-box Little Manor – but it might just have been the traffic thundering past making them wobble.

After passing through the pleasant and ancient Scratchwood, it’s somewhat disheartening to be walking alongside the A1. And walking alongside it for sometime. Getting to the underpass involves a detour of a good mile. I did consider scampering across the dual carriage ways, but a pesky fence in the central reservation has been put there presumably to prevent people doing to just that.

With Scratchwood (below) far behind us now we pass by some nice new houses – one of them seemingly occupied by Scooby Doo.

Once in Totteridge Fields the mud begins. It’s nice today but the mud is still tenaciously hanging on. And often at narrow paths where you’re hemmed in by hedgerow so you have little alternation but to trudge through it. Most annoying! You’d think the juvenile Dollis Brook might help to drain it here but the mud is sticking, and stick it does.

We follow the Dollis Brook for some time. I like the LOOP signs on this stage: They do all they have to! I’m not so sure about some of the exterior decor when we emerge in to High Barnet though.

Arrival in Barnet was confirmed by the old BUDC marker post, but the “LOOP Pub” the Old Red Lion tempting as it was had to be left for another day. Sadly I wasn’t quick enough with the camera-phone to record the car whose number plate was “BED M3” as he/she tore off down the A110.

Here I spy an irresistible short-cut and shamelessly ignore the King’s Park and cut through the Tudor Park Housing estate. Thus missing out on Dr Livingstone’s house, I presume, but making it into Monken Hadley Wood a little quicker.
No time to play on the twin-swings in the woods but the Monken beast looked friendly enough. I gave him a stone to eat and she was happy.

The meaning of the feather-tree isn’t explained in my guide, but its claim that “it’s worth diverting to take in the surprising view of Jack’s Lake” is a little exaggerated I think.

But Pymme’s Brook looks picturesque enough despite being culverted in concrete. It shortly takes on the Shirebourne before wending its way to join the Lea at Tottenham – for those interested!
After a very welcome stop off at the Cockfosters M&S Simply Food we enter Trent County Park and pass the nice gate house.

Into the park proper now, part of the old Enfield Chase – a Royal hunting forest with 4000 swine in 1086 apparently, and in the distance we see a mysterious obelisk in the distance. We also pass by the moody Camlet Moat. Beware witches here!

On the way out past a rare GLC farm sign we get a much better view of the mysterious obelisk. All the guide says it that’s from 1702. But according to the internet that’s not quite right but it’s interesting what these 18th Century rich folk did with their money.

The view back down Cuckold’s Hill is much nicer than the average cuckold’s. And with the view the other way looking down to Rectory Farm it’s hard to believe we’re still in London sometimes.

At this stage of the day the instruction by the Turkey Brook at Rectory Farm not to gallop was gladly heeded!

Next we find ourselves in Turkey. Turkey Street station, the Turkey Pub and the Turkey Brook never far away. Albany Park is very pleasant in the warmth of the lowering sun.
Maiden Bridge, according to the guide, is where Sir Walter Raleigh laid down his cloak for the Queen to cross. I’m not so sure, but was more interesting in the warning to traction engine drivers instead. By the time I got to Enfield Lock station I was glad I hadn’t chosen to cycle along this particular cycle lane!

Time for a quick light ale and packet of salt & vinegar in the Railway Inn – quick so thy didn’t notice the amount of mud I had with me – and off home for another day. Top

Day 10 – Enfield Lock to Harold Wood, 21miles.

Another long day today so up bright & early. And a nice bright day it’s looking too – although the forecast says rain all afternoon, so the kaghoul is at the ready.

Starting off back alongside the Turkey Brook in Enfield I couldn’t help wondering what the ramp is for down into the sorry little river. Surely no-one was launching boats in it were they? No sign of any such activity now, just as there were no signs of any swans or pike in Swan and Pike pool.

Apparently the old Royal Smallarms Factory is around here somewhere, where the Lee Enfield rifle came from, but I couldn’t see it. But not to worry – up ahead there is a bridge with “fancy steel work on it”. Stopping off to feed some irresistible little Shetlands, I couldn’t help but be a tad let down by the said steel work. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder they say!

Leaving the Lee and the reservoirs behind by crossing a flood relief channel, we’re presented by some very rural unLondony scenes indeed. Firstly, Netherhouse Farm.

Then the view from the Sewardstone Hills, were I made friends with a 4-month old Belgian shepherd called Molly who’d been barking at me all the way up. The directions left me wondering how to get out of the fields here but eventually I made my way back to the road, passing by the rather idyllic Carroll’s Farm on the way.

After Gilwell Park, home of the Scouts, I was quite prepared for Epping Forest.

I wasn’t quite prepared for all the mud though, and was glad the Corp of London has banned horse riding here through Hawk Wood they obviously don’t help.
The guide tells us that golfers of Chingford are “forced by ancient law” to wear red so the y can be seen (and avoided it says). Clearly not enforced these days! Probably as people are quite happy to avoid the golfers of Chingford no matter what they’re wearing!

After Chingford we pass Queen Elizabeth’s hunting lodge, built in 1543. Open all day and free entry, sadly we don’t have time for a visit today. The Butlers cafe next door looked like an ideal spot for a break but alas it had already been utilised by some awful noisy people so I passed up and stopped off about a mile later, and enjoyed a quick sarnie looking down towards Chingford Plain.

It was about here that it started to rain. That light rain that gets you wet! And continues all steadily all day. The khagoul came out and did its job… I just wish I’d brought my waterproof trousers too!

Much more rurality and wildlife reserves and like come before Buckhurst Hill. Not long after which we pass through Roding Valley Nature Reserve, and the river Roding. The lake was dug to provide gravel for the M11 – which we could hear long before we saw it. A slight navigational error meant it took longer get to it than intended. The map here just shows the path passing through a plain white area, when it reality it’s in the middle of some woods criss-crossed by paths isn’t helpful.

But we find our way out of the woods, and cross the M11. Disappointingly no-one waved at us. The lovley Tudory Ye Olde King’s Head is apparently the most famous pub in Essex. A claim to fame indeed. Famous enough for Dickens to include in Barnaby Rudge.

Leaving the roads for some farmland, the map become not terribly helpful again, and the directions vague : “Veer left into the paddock diagonally opposite and if there isn’t a patch made clear diagonally through the crop turn left to follow the paddock’s edge along the bottom…” etc. This might be of some use if the directions could refer to points on the map, but the map again is just a large blank area with the route criss-crossing through it. We were not passing through a large white area!
Anyways, we just blazed our way through the ploughed field, hoping that the farmer didn’t take pot-shots at us.
Into muddy Hainault Wood we were lucky not to splash through this particular puddle – the stick in it was easily over 3ft long!!

Here we got very lost. Well, not lost – I knew exactly where I was thanks to my GPS – but I couldn’t place myself on the LOOP map. The guide says “carry on straight ahead, ignoring all lefts & rights until you get to some water”. But I never did get to any water. Perhaps distracted by the tree which briefly looked like a humanesque woodland monster, I think with hindsight I got to a split which was more of a Y junction and just carried on up the wrong path which ended up taking me completely the wrong way. Again, a featureless map with no North pointer,vague directions, and information points in the forest with no “You are here” pointer on them didn’t help. I had no idea where the path was, but just made my way towards Havering-atte-Bower. As I got near I spied a line of giant sequoias – I should have been on the avenue that’s lined by them.

The big round tower the guide correctly says we can’t miss was apparently once the home of Joseph Hardwick Pemberton (“a true giant in the world of rose breeding”). Looks more like a water tower to me, but what do I know. I do know that the path would be soon blocked if this steaming pile of horse shite encroached any further. But it wouldn’t matter, it’s not actually on the LOOP path – I’d just wandered up to sit down on a covered bench.

What are these fancy old gateposts doing in the middle of nowhere?? They mark the entrance to what was once Pyrgo House where a young Mary and Elizabeth happily grew up together – now only these “time defying rusting sentinels” remain of it.

Another unintentional detour now, but more the fault of no clear markers on the ground. You do get used to relying on markers on a walk like this, which is clearly not a good idea. You’re actually supposed to take a sharp left at the blue barrel. Look out for it! Otherwise you might never see the rickety slippery bridge some time after.

Damp legged and a little chilly I was happy to see some blue skies again at last as we approached Harold Wood. Named after King Harold – Harold Godwinson II, him of the arrow in the eye. I wasn’t so happy to be sent down through some trees in a very overgrown and not very pleasant stretch of muddy woodland alongside Carter’s Brook by Priory Lane, just to pop up again back at the road a short time later. It’s as if the local hoodlums had turned the signs round to lead us astray. I’d just stick to the road if I was ever here again.
Never straying far from the brook we pass through Central Park and its three random inhabitants, before a lengthy urban stroll to make it just in time for the next train home.

Day 11 – Harold Wood to Purfleet, 13miles.

My my – the last day of the LOOP, and hasn’t it come round quickly? Seems like only a year ago we were starting off plodding through Erith. How the time flies! And what a nice day for it. I was pondering which coat to take but as it turned out I didn’t need a coat at all, and almost didn’t come one with one! But more of that later.

After leaving the station and passing Aethelstand and Ethelburg (Roads) we head along the oddly pleasant Archibald Road before getting to Harold Wood Park. The mower was out on the cricket pitch heralding the approaching summer, but thankfully the teenagers were not out in the “teenage area”.
Crossing the Ingrebourne we head in to Pages Wood – although the welcoming Rainbow Arch at the entrance wasn’t there. The disappointment of being promised a rainbow that isn’t there…!
But that was the only let-down the guide had for us in Pages Wood. At the junction in the photo below right, the directions very clearly say “Turn left here then right over the bridge and onto the permissive footpath.” It actually means “turn right here then over the bridge…”. Oh well, at least we didn’t get lost. Not yet anyways.

Marching on through much open farmland – past a rowdy cheering school, I wonder what was going on there??, we come to a hungry little pony who stamped his little hoof demanding the lush grass just beyond his fence. How could we resist treating him to a few handfuls? He was still stamping as we reluctantly left. It was getting rather warm now.

Getting to the end of the farmland the guide instructs to look back over the Ingrebourne valley, and a nice view it is. But it also says to look out for the “unmistakable outline of a windmill” – I couldn’t see it anywhere. Maybe I mistook it for something else.
After the built up area around Upminster Bridge we’re back along the Ingrebourne.

We stick with the Ingrebourne through the very pleasant Hornchurch Country Park, still full of relics from when it was a wartime airfield.

At the end of the Park we pass Albyns Farm Lake before careful avoiding the mountain bikes zooming about the Ingrebourne Hill Bike Park, which wasn’t difficult because there weren’t any.

Approaching the outskirts we come across these oddities by a car-park. The blue things are I think fun-speaking tubes for the kiddies to play with. But the other construction – white bowls on the black poles of various heights but all aligned the same way, with some steps at the back – I have no idea about. Any clues readers…?

But more confusion was to follow. As  we approach a large Tesco’s, the directions say “Once past the Tesco petrol station the unexpectedly attractive village of Rainham comes into view”. So we pass the petrol station and follow a sign for Rainham village – I don’t recall seeing any LOOP signs here. But alas this takes us into the wrong bit of Rainham, and although unexpectedly attractive it did indeed all go wrong here. Firstly I stopped off for a bite to eat, that culminated in the horriblest Magnum I have had for a long time. Then I carried on along the High Street towards the station. For some time I saw neither any station sign-posts or LOOP way markers and quickly figured out I’d gone the wrong way. So headed back. But one I’d got back to rejoin the correct path I realised I’d dropped my jacket at some point (it was draped over my shoulder bag) so went back to retrace my wrong steps to find it, which thankfully some kind soul had picked up and placed on some railings and returned again to the join the path. But then I realised I the directions and map had fallen out of my pocket too!! So again I had to march along back up the High Street to hunt them down. Rather hot and bothered now I pondered carrying on without them figuring they’d probably blown away or gone under a car or goodness knows what. But luckily I found them and eventually rejoined the correct path, failing to see the humour in the going the same wrong way three times!

Back on track now we establish that guides claim that “it is well worth taking a moment to go over the footbridge opposite the Bell Inn to discover Rainham Creek Open Space” is basically bollocks, unless you want to marvel at some scruffy overgrown waste-ground and a railways, and having wasted a good half an hour “exploring” Rainham we have don’t have much time to enjoy Rainham Hall and carry on over the commuter line, the Channel Tunnel link and into Rainham marshes. The Thames can’t be far away now!

Briefly enjoying the shade under the A13 we continue through the marshes, passing the “500”. I have no idea what the “500” is.

Shortly after leaving the marshes we find ourselves back with what the guide rightly calls “an old friend” – an old friend we’ve not seen since Kingston, and my how you’ve grown! Nice to see you again Thames. Although this particularly bit isn’t very pleasant, the inclined concrete path is a bit overgrown and popular with the local flying insect population. It’s not until the Tilda factory that it gets a bit nicer. But then on it’s very nice indeed.

The path is wide, flat and level, with expansive views of the Thames on one side, and the odd bit of industry on the other. And a huge landfill site. But even that has started to grass over.
There’s also what looks like an evil diving robot marching out of the water to get us (which I originally thought was some sort of beacon or light but it turns out to be exactly what it looks like : an evil diving robot!), but we felt safe in the presence of the D-Day concrete barges, placed here in 1953 as a flood protection. Had the tide been further out I would’ve gone for a closer inspection, but not today.

The Coldharbour Point beacon passes by, as does a strange wooden post with a speaker, a switch and a winder. I wound the winder and switched the switch but nothing came out of the speaker. I hope I didn’t cause any life-boat alerts or such like!

No time to sit down on the temptingly placed rotten old deck-chair as the end is in sight now. The actual patch follows the cycle path to left in the photo, but someone I found myself on the flood defence barrier and a much nicer route it was I think. I wondered why the route-proper doesn’t come along here until I got to the open gates at the end, where it rejoins the path, and are labelled “DANGER NO ENTRY” but I saw no danger, and recommend this way!

Into Purfleet now, past the RSPB Centre – a building so ugly it must surely scare away and sensible birds, and past the Gunpowder Magazine no.5. I would have loved to linger round here for a bit longer as it’s now the Purfleet Heritage and Military Centre but that will have to wait for some other time.

The excitement mounts as we enter in to down town Purfleet, passing the town crest and beacon. Just a few more yards to go until we’ve reached the end… the end of the LOOP! We about to have LOOPed London! What kind of congratulatory message will be waiting at the end…?? Will we be able to hold back the tears?! Will there be a souvenir shop or welcoming party? A free pint at the local???

Nope, none of that nonsense for us serious LOOPers. No message, no sign-post or notice, no nothing – not even a kestrel way-mark that had been guide for the last 152 miles or so. I did have a look about, to the bewilderment of the traffic held up at the level crossing but no, there’s nothing here. Just Purfleet station busy with homeward bound commuters. Not even a pub nearby! Maybe that’s the English way, no bragging, no big deal – just knowing that you’ve done is enough.
So we swiped in, and sat waiting for the train the to Fenchurch Street. The LOOP had been looped.

Finally, don’t forget to claim your special certificate – just in case people don’t believe you!