Tolworth to Cranford
18.81 Miles / 196m Ascent / 185m Descent
Today started with at a brisk pace across frosty grass and a thin skim of ice on the puddles, and ended with a rush to the hotel in the dark. In between was almost 19 miles of walking - beside the Hogsmill River and the River Crane, through the centre of Kingston and over the Thames (last seen 5 walking days ago at Erith) and across busy Bushy Park.
After a cold start, clear skies and sunshine prevailed. We retraced our steps back to where we had left off last night, and picked up the path beside the Hogsmill once again.
|Bright but cold, beside the Hogsmill
Near Cromwell Road, the riverside path appeared to be blocked, so we took the longer detour option via Royal Avenue. Beyond St John the Baptist Church in Old Malden, the two routes rejoined, and, after crossing the A3 again, we traversed the Hogsmill Open Space, bypassed the shops by Berrylands station and followed the streets and alleys into Kingston town centre.
It was time for a break, so we stopped for a coffee in a little cafe just back from the Thames and had a delcious cappucino.
|Crossing the Thames - last seen 60-odd miles ago at Erith
After crossing the Thames via Kingstone Bridge (the end of Section 8 of the LOOP) we entered Bushy Park from Church Grove. As it was a Sunday - and a gloriously sunny Sunday, at that - it was pretty busy, but so beautiful and autumnal and warm in the sunshine despite the fact it was late November, who could forgive folks wanting to be out?
|Bushy Park in the sunshine
After a short comfort break at the Pheasantry Welcome Centre, we tootled through the woods of the King's River Garden and saw a Greter Spotted Woodpecker and Parakeets in close-up. We have seen many of the birds: obviously, these colonies have established from escaped or abandoned birds, but they seem to be surviving very well indeed. I wonder what food they have found to allow them to thrive so well, and what other species might be losing out as a result? Whatever the situation, they do add a bit of exoticism to the parks and commons round here, and are a heartwarming sight.
Continuing through the park, we passed the Upper Lodge and exited by the Laurel Road gate. Lunch beckoned, so we detoured into Hampton Hill to see what options were available. Being a Sunday, the choices were limited, but of those available the little Italian restaurant we found looked best. And so it proved: it's amazing what can be done with pasta, tomatoes, garlic and parmesan!
After lunch, a long walk along the length of Burton's Road brought us to Fulwell Golf Course, We crossed the corner to exit on to Staines Road.
|Seen on a wall near Fulwell - presumably this house used to
be a shop or supplier of such goods
Another longish road walk took us through more residential streets until we turned into Crane Park. The River Crane was to be a regular companion over the next day or so - here, the banks were wooded and the paths muddy, and this was pretty much the norm for this river.
One interesting sight cropped up as we walked through the park - the Shot Tower. Apparently, this is the remains of a Gunpowder Mill, built in 1766, and there are not many of them left (I hear the gunpowder trade is not exactly booming at the moment). I wonder what Fred Dibnah would have made of these? A building already primed for self destruction at the end of its life ....
|Shot Tower, Crane Park
More road walking followed, then we crossed a recreation ground and entered Hounslow Heath Nature Reserve. We took an indirect route across the heath, regaining the banks of the River Crane after skirting a golf course.
By now, the bright sunshine had faded, and although it wasn't quite dark yet, the overcast skies and overhanging tree canopies conspired to suck the light out of the scene. Although there was the odd bit of detritus strewn in the river, and low-flying jets thundered overhead (we were passing Heathrow Airport) the whole feel of the walk was quite jungle-y.
|Weeds in the River Crane
Finally, though, we reached the A30 - the Great South West Road - where Section 9 of the LOOP ended. Having done around 17 miles by this stage, we had a little further to go. With the light fading fast, what we didn't really need was a mile-and-a-half detour to cross the A30 and access to the next bit of the trail blocked by engineering works, although this is exactly what we got.
Not to worry, we knuckled down, made the detour and found a way through the streets ourselves. A local we met had advised us that part of the route ahead may well be flooded anyway, so perhaps not best tackled in the dark. In the end nothing was detrimental, and we arrived at our hotel in the dark, the street lights around us blazing.
Besides the Greater Spotted Woodpecker and parakeets mentioned above, today's list of birds also included Little Egrets, another Green Woodpecker and Grey Wagtails.
It had been another good day on the LOOP. OK, so there were some long stretches of road walking and other sections you might not describe as beautiful, but there was often interest, Kingston and Bushy Park in the sunshine had been lovely, and we expected the areas around Heathrow to perhaps be scenically more challenging than, say, Petts Wood. We were tired, but we were also happy, and good progress had been made. We should sleep well tonight.