Monday, 23 November 2015

London LOOP - Day 6

Cranford to Harefield

15.50 Miles

Another frosty, bright morning greeted us as we set out: another Monday morning when we were walking whilst most were heading for school or work.

River Crane, Berkeley Meadows

We crossed Bath Road and Cranford Bridge, and dropped down into Berkeley Meadows beside the river once again. After following the river for a while, the path struck off across Cranford Park - an open grassy area - towards St Dunstan's Church.

You 'avin' a larff? This ha ha separated the Earl of Berkeley's mansion
house from the 1000 acres of parkland that surrounded it

Stable buildings of Cranford Park House and St Dunstan's Church

Soon we passed easily under the M4 via the underpass linking the nearby houses to the church. Looking at the traffic above, we were probably making quicker progress than they were. After another grassy area and a bit or road walking, we dropped down to meet the Grand Union Canal.

Grand Union Canal links Brentford and Birmingham

Strange to think: 90 miles northwards beside the
canal and we'd nearly be home!

What followed next was a mile-and-a-half or so beside the canal. At the Old Crown pub, we passed the end of the Section 10 of the LOOP, and carried on into Section 11.

Grand Union Canal near Stockley Park

We turned off the canal towpath at Stockley Park, passed through a Science Park and between two golf courses, crossed Stockley Road and climbed to a small hillock with great views and benches to sit and rest and drink and eat.

Moving on, we descended to an industrial area, A couple of turns later, we rejoined the Grand Union Canal to follow the towpath.

All the bridges on the Grand Union are numbered from the Birmingham
end. This is 191st from the beginning, and there is approx
one bridge every two-thirds of a mile

After a distance beside the Grand Union, we left the main canal and struck off along a side branch known as the Slough Arm. Just beyond the Packet Boat Marina, the canal crosses the River Fray by aqueduct.

Aqueduct: canal to the right, River Fray to the left

Leaving the canal behind, we followed a gravel path into the Colne Valley Regional Park, passed a lake, crossed a bridge over the River Colne and ended up in Buckinghamshire. There was a peculiar feeling in realising that although our home seems quite far away, it is only at the far end of the neighbouring county.

We followed the course of the river. With river beside us, small lakes nearby and sunshine overhead, this was one of the most attractive sections of the LOOP so far. We stopped to sit on some logs for lunch.

River Colne near Cowley where we ate our lunch

We rejoined the road soon after, and 5 minutes later picked up the Grand Union again, following the towpath until it reached Oxford Road and the end of Section 11. There are many houseboats along these sections of canal, and it is interesting to see the difference between the boats - many are lived in, but while some are beautifully decorated and cared for, others are scruffy and strewn with rubbish and look uncared for.

Section 12 continued beside the canal, passing under the A40 Western Avenue to eventually reach Denham Deep Lock. Near here, I thought I spotted a Kingfisher, but the sighting was very brief and I couldn't be 100% sure. 

Lake, Denham Quarry

Beyond, the canal and river run close together, and a series of lakes formed from former gravel pits sit either side. We wove between the waterways for a while, until finally meeting the Grand Union again at Widewater Lock. The final stretch of walking for this weekend was a simple canal-side walk to the end of Section 12 by the Coy Carp pub. 

Heron beside the Grand Union

We caught a bus back to Uxbridge, where we browsed the shops briefly and went for pizza - a great way to end the long weekend. Again, we'd had a good three days - not classically beautiful walking, perhaps, but always with some interest close by, with wildlife, industrial heritage and scenes from modern life all intermingled with country parks, residential estates, golf courses, woods, rivers, lakes and common spaces. The key is to take the best from what you are seeing around you, because it's never dull!

I'll be planning our next stages soon: one thing is for sure, we are looking forward to it!

London LOOP - Day 5

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. 

Wild Parakeets

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.  

Saturday, 21 November 2015

London LOOP - Day 4

Coulsdon South to Tolworth 

12.47 miles / 381m Ascent / 436m Descent 

So here we are looping the LOOP again. After a few weeks of other commitments, we have another long weekend in which to explore the green spaces surrounding our capital.

The forecast for the weekend had been good, but it didn't look too promising as we set out at 6.00am amidst the first snow flurries of the winter. Little was settling though, and by the time we reached Euston it was at least dry - if a bit nippy!

For the first section, we were to be accompanied by our friends Nick and Celia, so a rendezvous at Victoria station was organised, followed by a full English to set us up for the day. Suitably fuelled, we set off from Coulsdon South station at around 10.30am. 

Leaving Coulsdon along a sunken path

The first stretch included a long-ish climb up on to the downs, from where great views across London awaited.

Looking across London, with the Wembley Arch clearly visible

We walked through woods, across fields and down lanes, past the Woodcote Smallholdings (built after WW1 as new homes for returning soldiers - Lloyd George's "land fit for heroes") and on to pass through Mayfield Lavender fields. 

Sign explaining about Lavender growing

The sun gradually broke through, and a beautiful autumn morning emerged. We stopped at The Oaks Park for coffee and jam doughnuts, and measured our progress for the morning and our prospects for the days to come.

Progress: Kingston Bridge tomorrow, Uxbridge Lock the day after

Soon after, at a bus stop somewhere near Banstead, we said goodbye to Celia and Nick. It had been a lovely morning, and a real change for us to walk a path like this with friends.

With just ourselves for company, we set off across Banstead Downs. Now, I must admit that for years I had only known of Banstead as the title of an Atomic Rooster song and had never really considered it as an actual town. The song, with its insistant refrain of "Please take me out of this place", suggested bad things, but from what we saw of the Downs (to be fair, mostly the golf course) it didn't seem too awful - although crossing the A217 was a slow business and we could see how it might live up to its sobriquet of the "Mad Mile".

The weather continued to improve during the afternoon, as the route took us through an alternating pattern of golf courses and expensive-looking houses. After passing through Warren Farm and Nonsuch Park, we eventually reached Ewell and stopped for a break in Bourne Hall Park - the end of stage 7 of the LOOP and our second of the day.

Lake, Bourne Hall Park

Then began the last couple of miles to Tolworth and our digs for the night. Walking alongside the Hogsmill River on mostly grassy paths, we spotted Little Egret, Tufted Ducks and a Heron to add to our earlier sightings of a Green Woodpecker and more wild Parakeets.

Stepping stones across the Hogsmill

Darkness was descending as we arrived in Tolworth, but we safely negotiated the underpass beneath the bust A3. We did a quick food shop and made for the hotel. Although it was still quite early, a busy week, another 5.30am start, a few miles walked and lots of fresh air combined to make a lazy evening a very attractive prospect after another good day on the LOOP.