The London Loop
Colin’s book, published by Aurum Press (an imprint of Quarto), is the definitive guide to the route. The latest edition, published in 2017, can be bought or ordered from most bookshops including Stanfords in London (7 Mercer Walk, Covent Garden, WC2H 9FA) and Bristol (29 Corn Street, BS1 1HT), or through Amazon and other online bookshops.Make sure it’s the latest 2020 edition, as in the image above.
Launched in 2001, the 150-mile (240 km) London Loop is one of the best-known walkers’ trails in England. Supported by Transport for London, it encircles Greater London, closely following its boundary through an amazing variety of scenery including parks, woods, farmland, rivers and canals.
The official start is at Erith, but being circular you can start and finish at any point you want. It’s divided into 24 sections averaging about 6 miles, but with public transport at frequent intervals you can make up your own daily distance.
Going clockwise, the route closely follows rivers Thames, Darent and Cray for the first 10 miles through Crayford and Bexley, then heads westwards across the surprisingly rural southern outskirts of London, through a succession of parks and commons, via Petts Wood, Farnborough, Keston, Hayes, Kenley, Happy Valley, Riddlesdown and Coulsdon. On reaching Banstead Downs, it turns northwards through Ewell to join the Hogsmill River into Kingston, where it crosses the Thames to reach Bushy Park.
Another river, the Crane, leads the route via Hounslow Heath to the first of two stretches along the Grand Union Canal’s towpath, with a diversion through one of London’s newest open spaces, Stockley Park. A miniature ‘lake district’ is traversed through Uxbridge, then at Harefield the route turns eastward to reach Oxhey Wood, Harrow Weald Common and Stanmore Common.
Skirting Aldenham Reservoir, the route comes to Elstree and Barnet, now joining Dollis Brook for a while. A long stretch through Hadley Woods leads to Cockfosters and Trent Park, then joins Salmon’s Brook to cross Enfield Chase. The trail follows another watercourse, Turkey Brook, through Forty Hall Park to the Lea Valley, then climbs into Epping Forest, Hainault Forest and Havering Country Park, passing Chingford and Chigwell.
After alternating between glorious woodland, farmland and downland, the route finally enters its homeward stretch, heading south along the Ingrebourne valley to Harold Wood, Upminster and Rainham, to rejoin the Thames beside the recently-created Rainham Marshes Nature Reserve, and finish at Purfleet.
Many grand houses and other places of historical and cultural interest are passed, such as the Darent Flood Barrier, Hall Place, High Elms, Kenley Aerodrome, Bourne Hall, the Coronation Stone at Kingston, Bentley Priory, Monken Hadley, Gilwell Park scouts centre and Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge.
Of course, in London, you must sometimes follow roads between these places, but the route has been carefully designed to keep this to a minimum. The terrain is very varied, sometimes on a level hard surface but often on tracks and paths across undulating rough ground, which may be muddy after rain.