Saturday, 17 October 2015

London LOOP - Day 1

Erith to Sidcup

13.77 miles / 252m Ascent / 185m Descent

If you'd have told me three months ago I'd be walking in London by choice and enjoying it, I'd have recommended you get your head tested. My dislike of towns, and of the outer reaches of our capital in particular, are legendary.

But back in August we were visiting friends, and were enjoying a nice little walk round Kingston and Bushey Park when we came across signs for the London LOOP (London Outer Orbital Path). Further investigations proved interesting, and before we knew it, we'd decided we might give it a go sometime.

Well, that sometime is now!

The route runs in a clockwise direction from Erith in Kent all the way round to Purfleet in Essex, and has been described as "the M25 for walkers" (not a great way of selling it to those of us who have spent considerable time parked on said road). But aside from the fact it encircles the capital in similar fashion, there is little resemblance as the LOOP has been designed with discovery in mind and interest aplenty, linking green spaces and quiet thoroughfares, and not simply taking the most direct route.  

The whole route has been designed to be doable using public transport, and has been divided into 24 sections each of which link with overground rail, the underground system and local bus networks. The full walk is detailed on the Transport for London (TfL) website - each of the 24 sections has a downloadable pdf with walk descriptions, maps, notes, transport details and other useful information, and along with the on-path signage, these are sufficient to navigate the path successfully (click the TfL link on right hand side of the home page for more details).  

Erith Station

After an early start, we alighted at Erith Station under a leaden grey sky. It isn't perhaps the most auspicious of starting points, but we found signs for the walk straight away, which is always handy.

The obligatory start-of-walk photo

We passed through some municipal gardens, made a quick stop at Morrisons to grab a few vittals, then picked up the path beside the Thames - initially heading East towards Crayford Marshes. The tide was out, and across the muddy banks and sluggish brown water we could see Canary Wharf one way and the Dartford Crossing the other. In the foreground, the river was peppered with small sailing boats, whilst the odd large tanker slid slowly by in the middle distance.

Looking back towards the capital beyond a flotilla of small boats

Checking the way

Seals lazing on the muddy bank

On reaching the Cray River, we turned away from the Thames - the last time we would see the river until we cross Kingston Bridge some 70-odd miles later. Initially tidal, we followed the course upstream towards Crayford where a slim river pushed it's way between tree-fringed banks.

These initial miles were interesting, but not always pretty. Besides Seals, we saw Kestrels, Cormorants, assorted Waders and Little Egrets - there was no shortage of wildlife. It would have been nice to say that the flashes of bright blue and orange we saw by the river were Kingfishers, but sadly not - empty pop bottles and old footballs were the culprits here, strewn amongst the cliche of abandoned shopping trolleys.

Playing fields near Crayford

However, this didn't last for too long. Beyond Crayford, where we stopped for coffee in a greasy spoon, things improved. Crossing the playing fields to rejoin the river, we followed this towards Hall Place (a Tudor mansion, built in the reign of Henry VIII for the Lord Mayor of London).

Hall Place from the gardens

Cottage garden, Hall Place

Reality intruded again briefly as we crossed over and under the main A2 road, but soon all that was noticable was the thrum of traffic receding into the distance as we delved deeper into Churchfield Wood. 

Bexley Village was a pleasant surprise. We don't really know this area, and much of this was new to us. We rested a while on a bench in the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin, at some lunch and watched squirrels playing. 

Autumn hedgerow near Bexley Village

Bexley Village marked the end of Section 1 of the LOOP. With it's air of bohemian chic and a wide range of interesting-looking eateries, it would be a fine place to end the day. But we were carrying on to complete half of Section 2 as well - past Bexley Cricket Club, across an open field and down to join the River Cray once again in Foots Cray meadows.

River Cray

We'd already seen a variety of wildlife during the walk, but Foots Cray meadows provided a first for us - Parakeets! We knew that birds like these had escaped from captivity or been let loose and had survived - even thrived - in the wild. But we'd no idea it was here!

Parakeets in the wild! Hard to see against the colour of the trees,
but there are 3 or 4 birds in this photograph

Passing through Foots Cray, we negotiated a short urban section as we skirted the ground of Cray Wanderers Football Club (formed in 1860, and one of the earliest football clubs in the country). Soon, though, we reached the open grassy area of Sidcup Place. It looks a bit like a golf course, but with no one struggling to propel a little white ball into a small hole with a stick.

Mature Redwood Tree, Sidcup Place

Mark Twain is reputed to have claimed that "golf is a good walk spoiled". Well, I don't know about that, but we'd certainly had a good walk. Sidcup was our stopping point for the day, and our hotel beckoned. 

Never having been to Sidcup before, we were unsure of what to expect. In fact, it's nice enough - we had pizza for dinner, and enjoyed an evening trundle along the high street. We popped into a nearby Waitrose store to buy provisions for tomorrow and were amused to find that "Rosemary and Sea Salt Focaccia" was considered part of their "Essentials" range. I don't know - what is the world coming to that it that considers such an exotic foodstuff "essential"? 

Tasted nice, though!   

NB. This post was originally blogged "live" - the first time I've done so "on the go" - using my phone and the blogger app. Seems to work quite well for short posts, although I still like to tidy them up and flesh them out afterwards.


  1. Dead impressed with your parakeets! Sorry I've not popped in for a while, but I'm just starting to catch up with everyone's walking stories. I've heard about the London Loop before, and I'm looking forward to reading more.

  2. Hi Tracey - no problem, it's been the same for me rather - so much happening I've not kept up with blogs and forums as much as I would have liked. Hopefully, that can change a bit from now on!