Sunday 4th August 2013
9 miles approx, including detour to Hall Place
Toilets: Pubs and cafes in Erith; large supermarket on Wharfside Close, Erith; public toilets at Waterside Gardens near Barns Cray Road, Crayford; pubs and cafes and Crayford; cafe and facilities at Hall Place.
We’ve finally started the London Loop, and it was a much nicer experience than I’d been expecting. I’ve been reading lots of blog posts with tales of gloomy, windswept landscapes with paths going through smelly industrial estates. Maybe it would feel more like this on a gloomy day, but the perfect weather during our walk meant that everything was bright, and we had an amazing feeling of open space. I didn’t feel like we were in the countryside, but more like the forgotten fringes at the edge of town.
Unlike the Capital Ring, the London Loop didn’t appear to have a grand starting point. We just got going. From Erith Station it was a short walk down to the riverside, where we could see across to Rainham Marshes. As a Londoner, I found it fascinating to see enormous areas of land on the banks of the Thames that hadn’t been built on.
The route continued across huge (by London standards) areas of marshland, surrounded by a scattering of industrial estates and recycling plants. I’m not going to pretend the industrial estates were beautiful, but they were interesting, containing a mixture of working industry and random, forgotten items left to rust for years on end. I wouldn’t say there was a post-apocalyptic feel or anything like that, but the contrast seemed perfect. The path was on an artificial raised embankment, helpful for flood protection. The Queen Elizabeth II Bridge could be seen in the distance.
We passed by the Darent Flood Barrier and continued along the River Darent. We saw several lone horses along the way, as well as a field of cows. Although it can’t be seen in my photos, there was a motocross track nearby where the bikes were producing quite a lot of noise.
Further upstream we joined the altogether more genteel River Cray. It had a much more refined feel as it flowed through the urban area of Crayford, although the guide book did tend to gush on about it in a slightly over-the-top manner.
Upon reaching Crayford we passed through a tiny waterside garden, before stopping for lunch at the Bear and Ragged Staff.
The rest of the walk was very different to how we’d started out – a lot less wild, and going through a sports ground. We took a short detour off-route to reach Hall Place, with its historic house, gardens and topiary, carved into the shapes of the Queen’s Beasts.
For some reason, it really hadn’t felt like we’d walked nine miles. It felt a lot less strenuous than other walks we’ve done. There have been a few rail replacement services around Bexley at weekends recently, but depending on where you’re going, you might find it easier to get a bus to North Greenwich in order to get back into town.
I highly recommend this walk – it was absolutely brilliant. Choose a bright and sunny day, keep an open mind, and appreciate it for what it is. Enjoy the open space and the variety.