Hello dear readers and thanks for checking out the eighth 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 know it possibly seems odd that Section 1 should follow Section 24 (where I had ended in the last instalment) sequentially but it does. Because of my rather perverse decision to start the walk roughly half way round I had “finished” according to the guidebook and websites and was now about to “start”. Why can I never do anything straightforwardly?
I took myself off to Erith train station one mid-June morning although the weather wasn’t all that clever (thankfully it brightened up later). Whilst it wasn’t really the start of the walk for me, it was something of a landmark in that it represented my first trip South of the River Thames which I reckoned put me between one third and one half of the total distance. Still plenty to do then so shall we get going?
The walk officially starts at the Riverside Gardens although the short walk from the station is well-signed. It is also signed for the Thames Path, Green Chain Walk and Thames Cycle Route as we all share the route for a bit. There really is no shortage of walking options in my adopted home city.
Before I had even got to the start point, well directly opposite it actually, I came upon the Running Horses pub. Regular readers will know I have set myself a task to have a drink in every open pub I encounter so in we go. Just a quick one mind, we haven’t even got going yet. Again, I shall let my original Virtual Tourist review from 2013 serve here.
“In fairness, it wasn’t a bad place to start the day, another one of those “roadhouse” type pubs that seem to be able to carry on when litlte local pubs are closing in UK at the rate of four a day currently. There was nothing at all remarkable about it but there was certainly nothing wrong with it. In the next half hour or so I was to encounter two closed pubs and one of these terribly modern soulless affairs with a silly name.
Service was quick and friendly, the menu looked reasonable and of the “pub-grub” variety and it seemed an OK place for a drink.
As a rather sad sidebar, when I was researching this tip I discovered that a number of people had been killed here when a bomb dropped just outside during the Blitz on 29th November, 1940″.
Time to go then and a walk along the High Street as there is no riverside access for a short distance and I happened upon exactly the type of thing I was just referring to in the last paragraph, the closed down Cross Keys pub which is certainly not going to re-open as a licensed establishment. Sad really, although I was told locally that it had been a bit of a rough house.
I went for the obligatory pint in a pretty awful modern type place which just exuded roughness even early in the day. It was called Potion which had formerly been the White Hart looking at the architecture. Whilst originally researching for this piece in 2013 I discovered that it has been closed by the police and Council for all sorts of irregularities, drug dealing and Heaven knows what else. I don’t mind a rough pub, Heaven knows I drink in enough but I really was keeping my eyes open in that one.
Readers know I like to keep my writing up to date and in 2020 I see that it has reverted to the original name of the White Horse and is now an “African and Continental restaurant”. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry!
Almost opposite that I saw something I don’t think I have ever seen before and certainly haven’t seen since on the wall of the Post Office which was remarkably still functioning given that they are shutting at about the same rate as pubs! Obviously not now in use, nor for many years by the look of it, it appears to have been a machine for dispensing stamps. It is amazing what you can see on a day’s walk if you just keep your eyes open.
Walking on again, the next thing I found was the closed down Royal Alfred pub. What a day this was turning out to be. I am not going to bore you with too many images of all the closed pubs nor indeed the first portion of the walk which took me alongside busy roads, up lanes at the side of industrial estates and was not at all impressive.
If you are starting the walk here, do not be discouraged as it really does get so much better later on and is well worth doing.
Eventually, I managed to work my way back down to the River with views along the Thames in both directions. Again, apologies for the image quality as my old camera was really playing up at that point.
The surroundings are OK and you get a decent view of the QE2 bridge but it is nothing like as spectacular as the guidebook had portrayed it, especially when the weather was gloomy. I think the website is being rather more honest when it states, “there are some rather unattractive urban parts.” I concur.
Eventually you come to the outflow of the River Darent which has risen 21 miles away near Westerham in Kent and things start to get a bit better.
The first thing of note you come upon is the structure you can see here which is the Darent Flood Barrier. It is closed if the Thames rises too far and the idea is the two 160 ton gates will keep out the water. Again, I think the guidebook is waxing a little lyrical when it compares it to Tower Bridge. Have a look and decide yourself.
Soon enough you are back in countryside with the path fairly closely following the Darent until it comes to the confluence with the River Cray where you turn West (right basically). You don’t really have an option unless you want to swim and I wouldn’t fancy it here!
Here is an image of the Darent which is not perhaps a Cotswold babbling brook but I quite liked walking along. Maybe it was the relief after earlier.
I was now approaching Crayford, named for the river on which it stands and again walking through industrial estates and beside busy roads when I saw the welcome sign of the Jolly Farmers pub. By this stage I could have done with a drink but my heart sank when I was approaching it from the river direction as I was almost certain I had come upon yet another dead pub. It just didn’t look open. A little further investigation revealed that not only was it open but it was a brilliantly friendly and pretty unusual pub. Happy days.
I should, however, warn travellers that this pub has now also joined the dead pubs list, another tragedy. I do what they did with those wonderful metal statuettes of the musicians, I’d have made them an offer for them although where I would have put them in my tiny flat (apartment) is another story.
Crossing another terribly busy road we are almost immediately back onto a pleasant riverside path, again following the River Cray although you are still aware that there is built-up area all around. I quite liked this tree though.
I would love to tell you that all the London LOOP is wonderful bluebell glades, babbling brooks and whatnot but, sadly, it isn’t. I would stress, though, that there is not too much mundane or unpleasant walking in it and in a major international capital city like this, I think they have done a remarkably good job as I hope the image here illustrates. It was taken not ten minutes walk from a very busy major road. OK, I am not going to pretend you couldn’t hear traffic noise or whatever but it was still very pleasant.
Very soon I reached the next port of call, the Bear and Ragged Staff situated on the busy London Road. Again, this is another of the restaurant / pub combinations and I have deliberately put restaurant first as that is where the emphasis lies but it was pleasant enough for a quick pint before heading on. Again, here is my original review of the Bear.
” It is a fairly large establishment and very much of the popular restaurant / pub variety rather than the other way around. The emphasis is very much on food rather than just drinking. It is part of the Greene King brewery chain and of their Flame Grill marque which, as the name suggests, specialises in grills, particularly their signature sizzling plates.
I didn’t intend to eat but, although it was quite busy for a weekday afternoon I was served quickly enough by a polite member of staff. The pint was fine and the surroundings, whilst completely formulaic for this type of place, were comfortable enough and the toilets were clean and tidy. I have no complaints about this place at all and it is fine for a drink but I just find it hard to get enthused about them, they are all the same and I find them a bit soulless”.
I think that about covers it and, at least as of 2020 it is still there and trading as a pub, at least until we see what the CoVid pandemic does to the licensed trade.
Suitably refreshed, I was off again following a fairly busy road which I knew I had to turn off soon and then what happened? Oh dear, another pub. Well, you should know the rules by now so in I went. This place was the rather pleasant Duke of Wellington freehouse.
For overseas readers, allow me to explain. The vast majority of pubs (bars) in the UK are owned by breweries or their holding companies which greatly restrict how the manager / tenant operates but a freehouse is, as the name suggests, free from what they call brewery “ties” and so are able to purchase their supplies at the best price not at that dictated by breweries to maximise their shareholder’s profits. I generally find them to be far better places than chains. Another original review here.
” It is big enough but feels cosy, like a proper local’s boozer. I was served by what I took to be the manager, resplendent in a pink shirt and tie and looking very smart despite it being a midweek afternoon. I commented on his sartorial elegance as that is a combination I favour myself on the very odd occasion I actually wear a tie!
There were a few locals in and a bit of sport on the large screen television. The toilets were clean and I felt quite comfortable in there although I have read whilst researching this tip that the place did have a reputation as something of a “rough house” some years ago. I found nothing of the sort so presumably it has changed hands. I did rather like it”.
Almost inevitably, it was earmarked for re-development into yet more flats in 2016 but appears to have weathered that problem and was still trading as of January 2020 under it’s new abbreviated name of the Wellington.
OK, that is a couple of pints in a couple of hundred yards. My word, this long distance walking and blog writing is hard work, isn’t it? Best we get a move on, there is still much to see. We walk past the David Evans silk factory for which Crayford was once famous. It only closed in the 1990’s and, apart from some major retailers like the famous Libertys of London, they even managed to supply Sir Elton John. Yet another sad reminder of the decay of the British manufacturing industry.
Passing on along a fairly busy road (it was evening rush hour by now) we come upon another quite quirky little place of which a small detail is shown in the photo. If my guidebook had not informed me I would have wondered at these palm covered posts outside what was a fairly mundane garage. In fact, this was the former Crayford cinema. I found this reminder of a bygone age quite cute and not what I expected to find there.
Thankfully we turn off the main road shortly after and a short walk over a playing field brings us back to the river, as shown in the image. As you can see, it is pretty and it is sometimes difficult on this walk to balance in your head what you are seeing with your proximity to such a built-up area. I know I perhaps over-stress this point in these travelogues but, for me, it is what absolutely defines this walk. I apologise if I am boring you.
The walk then becomes a little mundane, certainly pretty enough but nothing much of interest to see. After having crossed a pretty lively main road by means of a footbridge, you are in Bexley and soon come upon the little delight as shown in the image here, St. Mary the Virgin Church. Regrettably, and in a damning indictment of the current state of British society, the church was closed but I was able to appreciate the outside of this lovely building, not least the very unusual octagonal cupola on the spire. Also, the entire spire is shingled which you don’t see too often on British churches.
Who designed the spire in this style or, more importantly why, I have been unable to ascertain but it is one of the oddest pieces of ecclesiastical architecture I had seen in a long time. It did look very pleasant though. The Church has a long history on this site, having been mentioned in the Domesday Book (census) of 1086 although the current building is much more recent. It is believed that St. Paulinus once preached here. Paulinus was a Roman missionary in the 7th century and was the first Bishop of York. He then spent many years in Kent, eventually becoming Bishop of Rochester where he is buried.
Pleasant though it was, onward, ever onward and the delights of Bexley (yes, I know) lay ahead. Let’s keep walking but another quick explanation first of how things are going to change slightly.
As I have mentioned, the text for this series of posts has been based on work that I had managed to save from the Virtual Tourist website which was bought out, plundered for it’s content and then summarily killed off by TripAdvisor. The original VT designer and former CEO managed to cobble together a system whereby members could save their content which TA didn’t seem to want us to do. That they managed to put anything together in the time-frame available, literally a few days, is remarkable and they didn’t even have to do it but such was the community spirit on that great site that they did anyway. The system wasn’t absolutely perfect but it was much better than losing 12 years of extremely hard work in my case and even longer for others.
Whether it was the emergency system of my complete ineptitude with computers I couldn’t say but I do not have all of my original entries saved and so, for the next few instalments I am going to have to use my images as an aide-memoire, re-do some research, use some individual reviews of places I visited and put something in place. Apologies if it is not as good as it might be, but it was a long time ago and memory fades at my age. Enough of this, let’s walk.
Leaving behind the ecclesiastical architectural quirkiness I was into the very pleasant Bexley Village and knew that the end was very nearly in sight as I had already passed under the railway line that would be taking me home and the station was signposted. Although this section was only eight and a half miles, which was much less than I was normally walking in those days, it just made sense as an end point in terms of public transport. Yes, the station was close but there was a problem and I am sure you can already guess what it was.
It appears the good folk of Bexley don’t like to go thirsty and the place is absolutely full of good pubs, the first of which I encountered was the Millers Arms, so named for a mill nearby, and rules are rules so in I went. At 1800 it was still fairly quiet as I suppose the commuters were still travelling back from the rat race in London. It was pleasant enough and I could have stayed for more than one but I had already seen another pub literally 50 yards away so I was a little concerned it might get a bit messy.
Across the road then and straight into the next one, the George which was yet another of the Greene King chain I seemed to have been encountering so many of on this walk. To avoid this turning into “Fergy’s pub guide to grater London, I’ll spare you the full review. The George was fine, no complaints at all but these just really aren’t my sort of place. Surely, there can’t be too many more pubs before the Station.
I did stop to take a quick image of this rather fine building, the Fremantle Hall, which was built by a gentleman of that name who had come to Bexley in childhood and stayed there for over 70 years in the 19th century. He made his obvious fortune as a grocer in the village and was a man of some reputation, holding various public offices. He had bought two old cottages on this site, demolished them and gave the land for the building of a village hall which is what you see here. It is still run by trustees and used for it’s original purpose of hosting community events, which I think is pleasing. I am just surprised it has not been turned into more luxury flats.
On a little further and there was the Bar Lorcan and I had a decision to make. Sure, had plenty of time and I was most certainly not drunk but I really didn’t like the look of it. It was a bar / restaurant without even a nod to being a pub so I gave it a miss. I’ll bet they didn’t even have cider on tap!
I wasn’t out of the woods yet, though, because there was one more to go, the Railway Tavern. Well, at lest the name told me I was close. Having shunned the Lorcan, I was honour bound to go in here and was very pleased I did as it turned out to be a great end to the day. It was quite big but was a proper old-fashioned pub and I was glad to see from the posters that they are one of the dwindling numbers of such establishments that still support live music and put bands on. Well done.
The locals and staff were very friendly, especially when I explained about the 15 mile pub crawl, the must have thought I was mad. Come to think about it…….! I suspect I may have had more than one in there as it was full dark when I got to the Station and it was just a week shy of the summer solstice. I did make it home in one piece, though.
In the next instalment we’ll carry on through Southeast London through some more remarkably rural areas, knock a few more miles off the total and obviously visit a pub or two on the way so stay tuned and spread the word.