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ROSL members David and Kathy Howe, from Carlisle, talk us through the many and varied walks available to city dwellers dotted in and around the capital. 

A scheme to promote and make London a National Park City may come as a surprise to some members but there is more to this scheme than meets the eye. We are two members, David and Kathy Howe from Carlisle, and we use the clubhouse for about five weeks a year, spending some of this time exploring the capital’s countryside.

Our first foray into London’s countryside was to walk the Thames Path. This starts near Kemble in the Cotswolds and ends at the Thames Barrier.  It is a delightful, easy walk of 184 miles, and we took 16 days walking with overnights in Swindon, Abingdon, Reading and, of course, the clubhouse for the London section. What a contrast in countryside, from the rolling hills of the southern Cotswolds to the desert-like terrain of the infant Thames, gradually growing in stature to be a navigable river! As we trekked eastwards civilisation appeared more and more – Oxford, Abingdon, Reading, Henley, Windsor and, at last, the conurbation itself.

The London section was an urban geographer’s dream throughout. The new buildings, plush developments, modern transportation, land reclamation, new marinas, community facilities, farms and the Thames were by our side all the way. The Barrier was a fitting end.

Urban walking had whet our appetite and we had heard of the London LOOP from Overseas magazine, as former Director-General Roddy Porter had just walked it. Due to time constraints for our next walk we opted for the Capital Ring of 78 miles instead. The Ring and Loop, together with the Jubilee Walkway, Green Chain and Lee Valley make up an initiative by Transport for London to get Londoners (and visitors from Carlisle) to get out and about in London’s countryside. Paths are shown on OS maps and are well marked on the ground. The idea is that walkers take a train/tube into the suburbs and walk to another station. It was not surprising that we saw very few “distance” as opposed to “day” walkers. The Capital Ring starts at Woolwich and perambulates around the capital, approximating to the North and South Circular Roads – but in reality you rarely see or hear them.

We visited some delightful places – Severndroog Castle with super views over the city, Beckenham, the vast open spaces of Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park, Grand Union Canal, Harrow on the Hill, Welsh Harp, Stoke Newington, the Lea Valley with the Olympic Park. From London City Airport it was a short walk by the tunnel under the Thames to Woolwich. What a wonderful six days walking with a day off for the League’s House of Lords Afternoon Tea.

Green Park Station became our daily starting point and we took the tube from there to main line stations and on to the suburbs, and sometimes the journey was by tube alone.

This summer, we decided on the London LOOP, which means London Outer Orbital Path and runs a few miles inside of the M25.   The distance was 150 miles and two weeks of walking. As with the Ring, we walked clockwise, starting at Erith. The first few miles followed the Cray valley inland via Bexley and Petts Wood to Whyteleafe, the southernmost part of the walk, and Coulsdon. After this short meeting with the northern North Downs we headed north-west via Ewell and the Hogsmill River to Kingston and our old friend the Thames. Crossing to Bushy Park we hit the River Crane and the Grand Union Canal to Uxbridge. Now the trail turned east via Moor Park, Hatch End and Elstree and along the delightful Dollis Valley Greenway towards Barnet and Cockfosters. Still heading east we reached the Lea Valley at Enfield Lock, climbed the heights to Chingford, on to Chigwell, and through Hainault Forest before a southern turn took us to Upminster following the Ingresbourne Valley to Rainham and Purfleet, where we finished at the Thames. For most of this route we used overground rail.

Should London be a National Park City? An unreserved “Yes” from us. From a walker’s point of view, there were many places, especially on the LOOP, where there was no indication of being in an urban area, let alone the capital. This is to be expected, given the nature of urban planning, and many miles were in Green Belt and farmland.  A particular observation was how nice it was to see local parks being used – residents really value their open spaces. There are 3,000 parks in London alone and 47% of the capital is green space. We liked the inventive use of the Thames tributaries and the canals as Greenways, some having good facilities for the public to use, like cafes, loos, playgrounds, display boards and visitor centres.

O.S. 1:25000 Explorer maps should be used and the delightfully readable and informative guide books by Aurum Press are well recommended. 

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