Saturday, May 12, 2012

London Loop: London's Own Long Distance Path

The Marker for the London Loop-
The Kestrel
There are many long-distance walks in the England. There is the Coast-to-Coast (my favourite) clocking in at 200 miles, the Pennine Way is about 270 miles(ok this does end in Scotland, but just barely) , and for those who really didn't feel like going to work for a few months there is the South West Coast Path which is a staggering 630 miles.

Now as I sit here in my London flat I wonder, are there any long distance paths around London? There is of course the Thames Path, but that only traipses in thru London. It starts (or finishes) in the hilly Cotswolds (where there is another long distance path, the Cotswold Way). Is there one that can be tackled easily in weekends if need be, and utilises London's already awesome transport system? Why yes-- the London Loop!

Dubbed 'The M25 for Walkers'. this trail is 140 miles long and pretty much circles around London. The joy of it is that the path really takes advantage of the green spots in London. Yes, you will go thru residential areas, but most paths do that... and in this manner the trail can be broken up into manageable chunks. In fact, there is only 1 section that has a start/end point outside the 6 zones of the London Transport System....

Grab you oyster card... Lets Go!

The book we will be using on this fun adventure to guide is 'The London Loop' by David Sharp. You can pick it up online, at your favorite bookstore, or if you are still unsure, rent it from your library!

Section 7: Kingston to Donkey Wood

We arrived at Kingston station about 20 minutes after leaving Waterloo Station. There was a trail marker right outside the station indicating where we were to head to. Now I should mention there were spots on the trail where it was NOT entirely obvious where to go. If you look at our GPS map it is quite obvious where these points are. I would never suggest walking a path going solely on signage. Use a book, plot your route on a map/GPS... never rely on one source!

I will only touch on some of the aspects of this section of path.

Bushy Park

The deer didn't seem to mind us....
This was the first section of our walk and by far the nicest part of it. Bushy Park is one of the Royal Parks and the 2nd in size only to Richmond Park. What it lacks in size though it more than makes up for in content. Seemingly almost domesticated deer graze idly as you walk within mere feet of them. If you are lucky they may look up at you, only to return to their munching. This park was once owned by Cardinal Wolsey as well as the beautiful estate adjoining it, Hampton Court. However, a visiting Henry VIII liked it so much, he decided to take it from the Cardinal. I suppose that is a compliment? If you only fancied staying near Bushy Park or if you wanted an 'easy' day-- I highly recommend going to Hampton Court. It looked like a lovely place, with its own gardens and maze!

Bushy park is full of lovely grassland, ponds, wooded areas, and gardens. In fact, I could not get over the colors bursting from some of the flowers in the park, particularly in the Woodland Gardens. Azaleas and rhododendrons from soft white to bold pink were surrounded at their feet by small carpets of bluebells.  Top it off with a quaint cottage and you half expect Snow White to pop out from around a tree.

Shot Tower in Crane Park

Crane Park

Crane Park logically follows the Crane River. There are numerous paths to take here, but if you follow the river you can't go wrong. The highlight of this section was the Shot Tower, which back in the 16th Century was part of a gunpowder mill. Its function? Men would drop molten lead into a vat of water to make shot... seems a bit extreme? Nowadays it is used as a Nature Center.

Hounslow Heath

After another road diversion (there is a pub there, stop if you want a pint or food!), you are back on green at Hounslow Heath.  And what green it is! It seems a bit untamed and wild, a contrast from the nicely designed Bushy Park. However, that is one of its best attributes. As far back as the Norman Times Hounslow Heath has been in the record books. It has had many uses: hunting ground, prime location for highwaymen and robbers, agriculture, and even a dump. Luckily most of its former functions (sadly except the last) have disappeared, leaving a lovely nature reserve full of paths for walker, cyclists, and horses.

According to the book, the Crown and Sceptre Pub was shortly after Hounslow Heath on Staines Road. However, much to our stomach's dismay, the pub was boarded up. With not much farther to go, we trudged thru Donkey Wood and then shortly came face to face with Heathrow Airport. A quick walk down the A30 (on pavement of course) brought us to Hatton Cross Tube station.


Blue bells
 All in all-- I think the path in this section does a great job in trying to highlight the green spots in the area. It is hard to top a spot like Bushy Park or Hounslow Heath, however Crane Park and Brazil Mill Woods had a few tricks up their sleeve. It was sad to see so much trash around in some areas, and if I had gloves and a garbage bag I might of made it a litter pick-up walk as well. (some parks have volunteer groups to help in this aspect, so I may just have the opportunity!)

I hope I have persuaded a few of you to pick up a book on the London Loop or check the website and go out and walk a section of it. Everyone's perception of a trail is different, so go out there and make your own memories :)

GPS Mapped Route

View London Loop: Kingston to Donkey Wood in a larger map

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