Thursday, 17 December 2009

London LOOP section 2 Old Bexley - Petts Wood

Bexley High Street
During the winter months I always think it pays not to be too ambitious with the distance for a day’s walk.  Fortunately the LOOP is ideal from that point of view for there are numerous staging points and the walk has been set up for more casual walkers, with each ‘official’ section not being more than about 12 miles long.  This section in particular is ideal for the short days available in December (although I am sure it would also be ideal for a summer’s evening).  Weighing in at only 7.5 miles (including the station links), it is a far cry from the previous section with far less urban walking and some ‘real’ countryside en route. 
Loring Hall

Public transport wise, it was actually a bit of a pain since I had to contend with the dreaded rail engineering works that extended my journey somewhat.  Instead of changing at Hither Green I was forced all the way into Central London and had to change at London Bridge, meaning that my journey from one end to the other was in excess of an hour (rather a lot for 7 miles as the crow flies!).  The weather was looking fairly grey as I emerged from the train at Bexley but I did have high hopes that it might clear up as there were odd breaks in the cloud.

Bexley High Street was quite busy for a Sunday, with people still getting ready for Christmas.  For me though, I soon left the crowds behind as the LOOP disappeared back under the railway and on the other side I was back into open countryside.  This is a feature of the LOOP; it leaves the urban areas behind at every opportunity.  I passed by some very small kids having hockey practice, which was quite encouraging to see (I thought kids were only interested in football these days).  After passing by the hockey club I climbed up onto a rather featureless field that looked suspiciously like a landfill site (it was as I later discovered).  It wasn’t the greatest introduction to today’s walk, especially as I discovered pockets of flytipped material across the field.
Five Arched Bridge

Luckily this rather boring introduction was soon forgotten as I rejoined the River Cray near to Loring Hall.  Almost immediately my spirits rose as this started what would become a delightful walk along the banks of the shallow babbling river.  I also became aware of a rather horrible screeching sound overhead and remembered that other walkers have reported a colony of parakeets living in the area, having escaped from captivity many years ago.  I soon spotted their colourful green plumage flashing through the bare trees, with many roosting high up in the branches.  One suggestion is that the original birds escaped from the film set of ‘The African Queen’, a 1950s film starring Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn and filmed in Shepperton Studios in south west London.  This exotic explanation may or may not be true, but what is undeniable is that these birds are causing concern due to their numbers and their competing for the same nesting spots as native birds.
Cray Meadows

This section of the Cray valley forms the Foots Cray Meadow Nature Reserve and was obviously very popular with dog walkers and joggers who were out in force on this Sunday morning.  I soon came upon the defining structure of the reserve, the much-photographed Five-Arched Bridge.  It was easy to see why this landmark is much loved – it adds to the natural beauty of the park in a fairly understated way. Apparently it is the remnants of a country estate that surrounded the erstwhile Foots Cray estate, which was destroyed in the 1940s. Almost underneath the bridge is a weir, which holds quite a lot of water back and producing a pond rather than the fast flowing river that the Cray is.  The pond was a focus for water birds and ducks, swans, moorhens and coots were all busy swimming around and looking for people to feed them.  They soon were satisfied by a local family who had come bearing bread, precipitating a flurry of activity largely dominated by the swans. 
St Paul's Cray Church

About half a mile further on, the path alongside the Cray abruptly ended at a bridge and very high fence surrounding an industrial factory.  This was the last I would see of the river, with the path heading into Foots Cray.  I took the opportunity to have a look at the church adjacent to the path, which was a quiet and tranquil spot.  Foots Cray itself is a strange mixture of old and new, with some fine old buildings at one end and some fairly anonymous 1960s housing at the other.  As with so many urban walks I had to take a great deal of care getting through this section, courtesy of the jokers who think it’s a great laugh to turn signs around.
Cray Wanderers

The path does its best to avoid most of the urban area and winds its way through various alleyways and bits of greenspace through Foots Cray.  As I negotiated the twists and turns I passed by the ground of Cray Wanderers, the second oldest football team in the country.  The players looked like they had recently finished training as they were all huddled by the rather modest stand having drinks.  I passed by the deserted scout and guide halls before heading into the grounds of Sidcup Place.  I climbed the modest hill to the house, which was once Council Offices but now houses a public house.  There views back across the Cray Valley and despite the fairly countrified nature of the walk so far I was quite surprised how built up the view actually was. 
Sidcup Place

The grounds of Sidcup Place are delightful and I had a peek at the formal garden adjacent to the house.  The roses were still manfully continuing to flower, but were far from the riot of colour that they must be during June.  After the delights of Sidcup Place I had a rude shock as I had to negotiate the large junction with the A20 Sidcup by-pass.  Fortunately walkers and cyclists are well catered for, with a series of walkways, subways and bridges to enable a crossing of this major junction without getting mown down.

On the other side of the A20 I crossed into the London Borough of Bromley and immediately into Scadbury Park.  Notwithstanding the traffic sounds the path took on a very remote feel as it crossed the park.  Indeed it was very hard to believe that I was in London at all – I could easily have been on the North Downs judging by the scenery and feel of it.  The path looped around the very strange looking Scadbury Manor, which has long gone but has left behind some strange looking remnants.  Alas, I forgot to take some pictures of what I saw so I might come back and get some shots when I walk the next section.  Some good pictures can be found at
Park Wood

From Scadbury Manor the LOOP continues through Park Wood, a lovely woodland walk that was a lot quieter than previous sections despite being surrounded by housing.  Having the path to myself for extended periods of time was not what I was expecting from a path around the suburbs of London, but that proves to be a lot of the walk’s charm.
William Willet Memorial

From Park Wood I had to cross another busy road and headed into Petts Wood.  Sandwiched between Chislehurst, Petts Wood and St Paul’s Cray, this piece of woodland was once under serious threat of housing development but thanks to local campaigners and the National Trust it has now been preserved for all to enjoy.  I was aware of a couple of monuments to look out for in the woods but as both were a little off the path I had to be careful not to miss them.  The first is a monument to William Willett.  His claim to fame is that he campaigned for the rather taken for granted notion of daylight saving time.  I have to say that I have a lot to thank him for as I couldn’t imagine summer evenings ending at 9pm rather than 10pm.  That extra hour makes all the difference!
Late Fungi

The other monument is for Francis Edlmann for his work in helping to preserve Petts Wood for everyone to enjoy.  Even on a gloomy winter Sunday, it really is a delightful place so thank you Mr Edlmann!

As I walked on I came upon yet another railway line.  This proved to be a busy one, with trains rattling by every few minutes.  The path turned to follow the line, eventually leaving the woods and heading into farmland briefly.  At this point I crossed the tracks over a caged footbridge (presumably to help protect the tracks below from hooligans chucking stuff on trains.  I can’t help but feel sad about this development.  The tracks below revealed that a little further on is a massive railway junction as two main lines cross each other.  The trackwork gives every permutation of joining the two lines together in any direction.  Almost as soon as I crossed the bridge I was surprised to cross another bridge, this time over a single line that I assume is rarely used since the bridge had no caging over it.
Cage Bridge

I cut along the back of a rather attractive housing estate and came upon yet another railway bridge crossing the north-south line.  I could see the extent of the rail works that had forced my earlier train diversion, with several engineers working on the track, only feet from trains continuing to rattle past.

For me this meant the end of the official walk for the day.  All that remained was to head along the link path the half mile into Petts Wood and reclaim my car from the station car park.  It was a short but very satisfying section of walk feeling a lot more like a country walk than a circular route through suburbia.  If you are walking this way in the summer, it could easily be tacked on to the first section, but I wouldn’t in December!

No comments:

Post a Comment