Thursday, 22 October 2009

London LOOP section 6 Banstead - Kingston

London LOOP
During the winter months I like to do different types of walks than I do in the summer and I find October is about the time I change my perspective a bit.  Two walks I have had my eye on for a long time are the Capital Ring and the London LOOP.  Both walks circle the capital through the inner and outer suburbs respectively largely through green spaces and parkland areas.
Borough of Epsom and Ewell

Last week following an Ebay purchase made by my wife I had cause to visit south west London and so the opportunity arose to walk one of the sections of the LOOP, which passed within ¼ of a mile of the collection address in Old Malden.  My original intention with the route was to start at the beginning in Erith but obviously I couldn’t look this gift horse in the mouth and so started this walk at an unconventional point.  I parked at Malden Manor station nearby, thinking that if time was against me at least I could walk just as far as here.  If I had more time I could press on as far as Kingston a further three miles distant.
Nonsuch Park

The train journey from Malden Manor to Banstead was a bit convoluted and took over an hour for the seven mile journey as the crow flies (maybe there is a quicker bus route? I didn’t check).  Anyhow, after changing at Wimbledon, taking the Croydon Tram and changing again at West Croydon I eventually arrived at Banstead station.  This is not on the route but a waymarked link route took me to the route proper about half a mile away.
Nonsuch Palace

Initial reactions were good as I crossed Banstead golf course and found some decent signage declaring distances along the route.  The course was quite busy with golfers on a resolutely grey day and I am sure that they, like me hoped that the weather would improve (it never really did, despite threatening to a few times).  After crossing the golf course however, I entered a large slab of suburbia.  Unfortunately for the next mile and a half the path has not managed to find a greener route and is directed through some pleasant, if rather boring, 1930s suburban streets.  It was unusually quiet, with only a small handful of householders out in their gardens.  I hurried through this section as quickly as I could.
Epsom Castle

About halfway through I passed into Epsom and Ewell Borough, announced by a large sign and proudly proclaiming their twinning with Chantilly (of lace fame?).  I can’t say the scenery changed though, although I did note a rather unusual road layout around the corner when I noticed a single carriageway main road with equal sized service roads on either side.  It seemed very indulgent compared with today’s town planning requirements to squeeze as many houses into a given space as possible.
Tower Without a Church

After passing a very ugly looking church I eventually passed under a railway line (the first of several today) and into Warren Farm, a large but uninspiring greenspace owned by the Woodland Trust.  I had had high hopes for this area as I passed through suburbia and although initially disappointed I was heartened when I entered Nonsuch Park ( , an adjacent open space with an interesting history.  This apparently was once the estate which housed a royal palace built by Henry VIII as a hunting lodge.  There are few remains of the place, which was apparently demolished by a mistress of Charles II who had the estate broken up to help pay off her gambling debts.
Well House
On a grey autumn afternoon the place was delightful with odd leaves lazily drifting to ground and squirrels busily running about gathering up acorns and conkers to stash away for the winter.  Conscious of time I didn’t venture off route but apparently the Mansion is well worth a look and I might avail myself another time if I come pack this way.  The path continued on the south side of the park and before leaving for good I did come across the remains of the banqueting hall, which shows the outline of the former structure.  Now reduced to head height, the walls are still extant.
Bourne Hall Gate

I crossed the busy Ewell by-pass and headed into the town centre.  Ewell is delightful, with lots of old and unusual buildings, including a ‘castle’ (now used as a school, once attended by Oliver Reed apparently), the 18th century ‘Well House’ and most unusually a church tower without a church!  The old St Mary’s church at first glance looks the part but as you get closer you soon realise that there is no nave and the tower itself is surrounded by an iron railing fence.  After the disappointment of the early part of the walk I now found myself getting more interested in the route.  I crossed through the busy ‘village’ centre (as locals still refer to it) and through the impressive gateway to Bourne Hall.  This was once a traditional mansion with surrounding grounds but was swept away in the 1960s to be replaced by a library resembling a flying saucer.  Nevertheless the grounds were still very attractive and were abuzz with birdlife and even more squirrels frantically going about their business.
Bourne Hall Pond

Beyond the park I passed by Upper Mill, yet another historic building that is currently being refurbished.  I entered the enclosed and wooded world of the Hogsmill River, which I would now basically follow for the remaining part of the walk into Kingston (a local Councillor has put together a website about it, which can be found at   The initial part of the valley was quite interesting as I crossed various tributary streams from other springs and their associated bridges.  I soon reached another railway underpass and this time the walk hijacked a bridge used by the river.  I crossed the railway by walking on a bridge across the river but under the railway, it was all rather ingenious!  I took care on the other side to duck under the large pipe that also crossed the path.
Hogsmill River

From here the pathway is pleasant but somewhat monotonous for the next few miles.  The Hogsmill River Valley is a surprising green strip of land hemmed in on all sides by housing estates, municipal parks and sports pitches.  The walking is pleasant enough and in parts there are some features that have been added to the river to make it more interesting.  The river itself was clean and tidy (contrary to reports from other walkers) and there was some evidence that it is being looked after by volunteers or park wardens, with notice boards about various issues.  The sports pitches were pretty popular with many games of football and rugby in full swing.
Stepping Stones

I eventually reached the very busy A240 by a rather convoluted route using the available pedestrian crossings.  The path itself continued to the left of the Tolworth Bridge (it’s not obvious!) and resumed its journey along the Hogsmill for another half mile or so.  I soon became aware of the sound of what I initially took to be lawnmowers (a rather strange sound on a day like this) and was rather surprised to pass an impressive looking go cart track that was full of people having an afternoon of fun.
Hogsmill River

Just past here I left the Hogsmill for a bit as no path exists along the bank for half a mile or so.  Instead a circuitous route loops around Malden, past a Toby Carvery (could be a good place for lunch!) and up around to Malden Church.  This is an odd building, seeming to be a mish mash of styles as it has grown bigger over time.  Nevertheless it has a fine lych gate and remains an oasis of calm in this corner of London.  Just past the church I dropped back down into the Hogsmill valley and passed under the Chessington Branch Line at Malden Manor.  Time was still on my side so I decided to press on to the end of the section at Kingston.  Not much further on and I had yet another main road obstacle, this time the busy A3.  A long dog-leg was required to cross the road via a subway and given how busy the road was I would not be tempted to cross by any other means!
Malden Church

Once across the A3 the path continues for another mile or so alongside the Hogsmill past yet more sports fields and recreation grounds until eventually I reached Berrylands.  At this point the river becomes inaccessible once again and so I initially wandered along a couple of residential streets before crossing underneath another railway line at Berrylands station, which was perched on an embankment high above me.  The approach to Berrylands is impressive enough, with a 1930s shopping development but once across the line the approach couldn’t be more different.  The lane is only used by cyclists and pedestrians and is obviously a target for the local vandals, with graffiti daubed everywhere.  Why they would want to hang around though is beyond me for the air was permeated with the stench of the local sewage works.  Across the way, the Kingstonian faithful were singing their hearts out for their team.
Berrylands Approach

The path into Kingston from here followed various roads and alleyways so keeping an eye on the signage is very important so as not to get lost.  On the way I passed a newish) development called Margaret Lockwood Close.  I remembered this to be an actress for Hitchcock films but wasn’t sure what the local connection was.  I am sure she would be thrilled to have a road named after her though if she were still alive.
University of Kingston Bridge

Eventually as I reached the end of an alleyway a little further along I was reunited with the Hogsmill River for the last section of its journey to the Thames.  Now it was a confined river; its course determined by its concrete channel.  Almost hidden from view, one could be forgiven for thinking that it was an unnecessary nuisance flowing through the heart of town.  Only the University of Kingston seemed to acknowledge its existence fully and the bridges and seating areas in this area made it a feature of the academic landscape.  The main bridge outside the university was a little odd though as it once clearly had been a main road but was now closed to through traffic.  The bridge although still fairly substantial looking was not much more than a footbridge or monument, depending on how you looked at it.
Heading Into Kingston
From here I was plunged into the heart of Kingston and was slightly confused for a short while as some joker had turned some of the signage around.  I soon realised though that I was to be following the river once again past the Guildhalls, old and new.  I crossed one of Surrey’s oldest bridges and headed down through a new riverside development before reaching the ultimate destination; the River Thames.  There is a uniqueness about this river – it simply oozes class.  I don’t know whether it is the river traffic or the buildings alongside or the fine bridges crossing over.  Whatever it is the river definitely makes up for any deficiencies of this walk and makes you want to keep exploring.
Meeting the Thames
The riverside was very busy with people enjoying meals and drinks in the riverside bars, people jogging along the banks and others feeding the birds.  For me my day was done, but I do feel like I want to see more of this walk.  Maybe next time out I shall start at the beginning!

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