Hello dear readers and thanks for checking out the fifth day of my walk round the London LOOP orbital path. If you’ve been reading the previous posts then just skip down to the read more button as the next paragraph is merely a cut and paste of an earlier one for the benefit of readers who have just landed on this post
The London LOOP is a little over 150 miles of designated and way-marked public right of way which is just concentric to the M25 motorway and as always I start with a quick word of advice. This post is one of a series and it will make more sense if you read from the beginning as it will explain what lunacy had compelled me to undertake such a large project.
Thanks for clicking and welcome to this instalment.
I had left you on the last section at the rather pleasant King Harold pub in Harold Wood and I have to say it was a difficult place to leave but leave it I did to resume the walk two days later on a fairly bright June day. Back to the station and, very manfully eschewing the very obvious delights of the pub I took off to walk again.
I have to say that at times it was a bit of a drag doing this journey but I had started and I was going to finish. OK, that is just the way I am. The thing is that with this walk, brilliantly designed as it is, you never really know what you are going to get on any particular day.
Certainly, there are a few places where you have to walk along the side of a fume-filled major road but these are few and far between. Far more often you will walk through a quiet suburban street and ten minutes later you are in the middle of a glorious bluebell field or a beautiful view over the downs or whatever. I really cannot recommend this path too much.
The first part of the day’s walk was fairly mundane, through a housing estate (this is a very residential area) but I had got used to that by now. OK, it cannot be all gorgeous countryside, we are still in greater London, remember?
However, a fifteen or twenty minute walk and the equilibrium was restored. Now, I have no problem walking through a well-ordered London suburb but it is not what I set out to do. As a matter of interest, I have checked my timings on my images and the one open space one you see here was recorded exactly 25 minutes after the one at the front of the train station. I have other images from earlier so I could have claimed 15 minutes, which would have been true but they are not that good so I thought I would put this one up here. It is just to give you a sense of how close the country is to public transport all along the route.
This is a path in the wonderful (and rather large) Pages Wood. This really is a wonderful place, boasting 100,000 trees, 6.5km. of paths and even 2.2km. of bridlepath should you just happen to have your horse with you. I don’t want to sound repetitive but the sheer joy of walking along with this path not more than a couple of miles from central Romford (known in the East End as being a right rough place) was a total eye opener.
During this section we are going to be vaguely following the course of another river, in this case the Ingrebourne which rises near Brentwood and continues South and West where it empties into the Thames. Sadly because of access issues it is not possible to actually walk beside the river for certain sections but you certainly get to see enough of it.
Emerging from Page’s Wood you are again reminded how close you have been to a built-up area all along as you take your life in your hands and try to cross the ridiculously busy A124 road. The reason for crossing the road you can see in the image, the very welcome sight of the Windmill pub and the first stop of the day. The pub is named for a nearby refurbished windmill.
Alas, I had only time for the one pint as I had decided to “step it out” a bit that day and try to get some miles under my belt and so off I went again. How I wish I could do that now as I edit it this in 2020. Who knows where the time goes, as Fairport Convention once so brilliantly sang? The time went far too soon for poor Sandy Denny. Look her up if you have not had the privelege of hearing her before.
The walk then took me through Hornchurch and directed me into Ingrebourne Valley Local Nature Reserve. As I had been walking in a very busy area immediately prior to that and along the frighteningly busy A124 road I mentioned, I frankly wasn’t expecting too much but I was to be very pleasantly surprised. As you can see from the images it was quite rural and well-kept and it was hard to imagine just how close to housing estates and light industry you were.
The Park is home to a very impressive variety of flora and fauna and has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The London Borough of Havering are to be commended on the park and I think especially for the 4km. of specially adapted paths they have constructed that are fully accessible for wheelchairs and strollers. I saw not one but two wheelchair users enjoying the place when I was there so well done for that.
There is also what looks to my untutored eye to be a fairly impressive BMX park although it was understandably unused at this time on a weekday. I’ll bet it gets busy at weekends and during school holidays.
I also saw a pillbox which you can see here and of which there are a surprising number around the outskirts of London. These things were built to withstand aerial bombs, tank shells and who knows what else so it is probably no great surprise so many of them still stand. I have no doubt they would be a complete pain to try to demolish and why bother? They stand as a memorial to a period of history still remembered by and increasingly dwindling number of old folk in these parts who lived through the Blitz and they don’t do any harm so why bother wasting money on trashing them? I am guessing that apart from a general plan to counter German invasion these structures were here due to the nearby RAF Hornchurch airfield.
Originally named Sutton’s Farm and home to anti-airship squadrons in the First World War when one of it’s pilots won a VC, it was sold off and then bought back by the Air Force in the interwar period, being once again converted from use as a farm, and was again home to several squadrons during the Second World War. It was eventually closed in 1962 but is commemorated in numerous local street names.
As luck would have it, the path continued for a short distance bringing me straight to the huge pub you can see in the image, Albion Inn and so I popped in for the obligatory drink. It was yet another of the chain restaurant places that I seem to have encountered so many of on this walk, but pleasant enough. In this case it is a “flaming great pub” of the Greene King chain which specialises, as you might imagine from the name, in grills. I did see some food served and it looked great. The Albion is huge, as the image shows, but it was friendly enough and I have no complaints.
I restricted myself to the one pint as I knew I still had a bit to go and walked down into Rainham village proper. What was the first thing I came upon? You’ve guessed it, another pub, this time the Bell Inn. Not only that but I could see yet another one just over the road. Oh dear, this could turn out messy.
I only had the one quick pint and headed on. It is probably just as well I was there during the day when it was quiet and do I know how to look after myself as it appears the premises had it’s licence revoked in 2017 following a samurai sword attack in it, open cocaine snorting in the bar and a handgun being brandished about. I’ll put that one down to a lucky escape.
I mentioned another pub across the road and, well, rules are rules, so I had to stop in. My latest port of call was the New Angel Inn which was a wonderful place, very friendly and with a hidden gem of a wood sculptor’s workshop in the charming back garden / smoking area. It’s amazing the things you find on a day’s walk in these parts. Sadly, since I visited, the Angel has not been free of trouble as a couple of men were badly beaten up there back in 2015. One of the victims was reported by a local councillor, who witnessed the sorry incident, as being 6’7″ so it must have been a serious punch-up.
I know the reason for all the violence and general lawessness in Rainham but British law prevents me from stating it openly. If you have the slightest interest, contact me privately and I’ll tell you.
OK, I had made Rainham and only 5.5 miles to go to get to Purfleet which I had decided was my stopping point for the night. We’d better get a move on then.
On my way through town I did have to stop for a quick look at the War Memorial, a fine clocktower. Readers of my other pages will know that war memorials fascinate me.
Apparently the memorial, originally to honour the dead of the First World War, was dedicated in November 1920 by a Colonel Whitmore having cost what now seems like the very small sum of £60 but would have been a lot of money then.
An interesting little sidebar here is that one of the dead commemorated is a 2nd. Lt. Ralph Luxmore Curtis, a World War One flying ace credited with 15 victories before being shot down and killed by none other than Herman Goering, later in charge of the Luftwaffe. If only the outcome of that particular dogfight had been reversed I wonder how the Blitz that was to come and wreak such havoc in this area might have been different.
Subsequent additions to the Memorial commemorate the fallen of the Second World War. Somewhat unusually this includes a plaque to the 54 men, women and children of the town killed as the result of enemy action in that conflict. I can only presume this must have been in the Luftwaffe Blitz as there were plenty of military targets in this area.
As always, the memorial gave me pause for thought as I went about my business, they always have that effect on me.
Did I say we would have to get a move on? You do realise what is going to happen next, the image is a bit of a giveaway. I thought I was never going to get to Purfleet that night but I had set myself the challenge at the outset so here we go again and I was so close to getting out of the place too! The Phoenix was very pleasant with a lovely big garden where I could have happily sat for a while but I really did need to get on and so get on I did.
As well as being the London LOOP this section of the path is also the Rainham – Purfleet path which I suspect is more functional than aesthetic. Frankly, it is not an overly attractive place to walk. Cross the channel tunnel railway line, walk along through what looks like untended wasteland, under the thundering A13 flyover and then down to the mudflats with all the detritus of the Thames there. After that you have the joy of negotiating the industrial estate before you come to anything vaguely interesting.
One of the images above is of the path going under the elevated section of the A13 just to prove that not all the LOOP is gorgeous although my experience, having walked every step of it, suggests that the vast majority of it is.
I mentioned in the previous paragraph coming to something interesting. Note that I did not say attractive and the images shows this. A group or rusting weed covered hulks lying abandoned on the mudflats at the side of the river. These rather sorry looking wrecks have a bit of a history behind them. They were originally built in the Second World War and towed to Normandy in 1944 as part of the Mulberry harbours supporting the Allied beach-head. After the war they were dragged back and used for a while as part of the flood defences of the Thames estuary but apparently nobody knows quite what to do with them now.
I’ve left the best till last though. Would you believe that these things are made out of concrete? A concrete boat, whatever next, lead aeroplanes? Come on, Purfleet beckons, it’s only three miles distant.
OK, I wasn’t being entirely honest with you, there is something more of interest on this section although, again, I find it to be a bit incongruous. What you see here is a piece of art by a self-taught sculptor called John Kaufman and is a memory of his grandfather who was a clearance diver in London Docks at the turn of the 20th century. I don’t envy him that job.
It was, and is intended to be viewed at any time of day and any state of the tide. I suppose it has the advantage of at least looking like what it is meant to represent but it is not really my thing. Now, it stands as a memorial not only to Mr. Kaufman’s grandfather but to the artist himself as he sadly died not long after the statue was placed. As always, I’ll post the image here and let the reader decide for themselves.
The next thing worth looking at is the rather impressive Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) Centre. The area round the Rainham Marshes is apparently very good for birdlife and twitchers come here a lot. It is obviously better now as I just explained. It was shut when I passed it and I am not much of a birdwatcher anyway. I wouldn’t know a sparrow from a Sparrow Hawk, really.
It is interesting to think that this whole large area was, for many years, a military firing range. When they stopped making loud bangs it became a massive landfill site and part of it was still being filled when I was there. They do something to the landfill and then grass it over thereby making an ideal habitat for the birds.
Just a couple more things to see before we are done for the day.
First is this rather large if functional looking building which is an old gunpowder magazine known as Magazine Number Five and is all that is left of the huge Royal Gunpowder Magazines complex centred in Waltham Abbey. It was not open when I passed but I did read that it now houses a local history centre. It has fairly limited opening times but, should you wish to go and have a look, here is a link.
Apologies for there being rather too much of me in this image but the sun was getting pretty low.
One other small thing of interest is a feature that I have mentioned before in writings elsewhere and which often confuses visitors to our shores, one of which you can see here, a beacon, one of over 4,000 constructed to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of H.M. Queen Elizabeth in 2012 so this was still fairly new at the time of my image. Whilst a lot of them were constructed to this fairly standardised design, there were many more lit on church towers and natural locations which had been historically linked with the lighting of beacons in days past to warn of impending danger. So, if you are in UK and you see one of these strange looking constructions, you know what it is now.
Nearly there now, dear reader. Walking into Purfleet at the end of a long but satisfying day (in every sense) I came upon the town war memorial and, as stated often before, I had to stop and have a look.
Whilst looking at the Memorial, I noticed a small plaque on a nearby wall which has a literary reference albeit a pretty tenuous one. Judge for yourself.
A fictional character buys a house that is “probably” based on a house that no longer exists and now has a church built on the site. One purely for the Dracula fans, I feel. Goths, form an orderly queue and try not to bite each other!
I was following the signs towards the train station and what hove into sight but the rather imposing edifice of the Royal Hotel. Well, you know the rules by now so in for a quick pint. This proved not to be a problem although I was a little worried as it had been a long day and I was pretty hot and tired and probably not at my fragrant best. It was pleasant to sit on the terrace and look out over the Thames as the sun was going down.
All too soon, it was time to go and I was off to Purfleet station for the train back to London.
I should explain a little about the London LOOP here if you have not read from the beginning. Purfleet actually signals the end whether you are using the website or the guidebook or the beginning if you want to walk it anti-clockwise. I don’t recommend this as, when the signage is sketchy it always seems to favour the clockwise route.
The official beginning is from Erith on the other side of the Thames from here. I had started, somewhat perversely, about halfway round the circuit at Uxbridge so I was roughly half way through.
In the next instalment I manage to start at the beginning in Erith and we shall have another spell of walking along the Thames, find far too many closed pubs but fortunately a few open ones as well and we’ll get another few miles done so stay tuned and spread the word.