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 resumed my walking on 01/07/2013 about two weeks after my last outing on a reasonably fine day and made it to Bexley at lunchtime as I was following my usual practice of avoiding the rush hour. I knew I would have reasonable light until at least 2100 so that would give me a good day’s ramble. I would be starting at the beginning of Section 2 which is only seven miles so I knew I could get that done easily in those days when I was still a bit fitter. The next Section was nine miles so I wasn’t really expecting to finish that as well, I’d just start it and see how far I got. As I have mentioned before, public transport is rarely a problem on the LOOP and especially not in this part of town and I certainly wasn’t in any hurry to do a route march
I should also briefly explain to those who may not have read the previous entry that I had hitherto been basing this series on old notes salvaged from the website I originally wrote it for but somehow I didn’t salvage it all. This is being re-assembled in May 2020 from my images, a few other fragments I have saved elsewhere and some internet research. I feel slightly like one of those guys on TV who has a load of old parts and puts them back together to make a car, boat or whatever. I suppose that makes me a travelogue restorer! If I really cannot remember something I’ll let you know but take it easy on me, I’m old.
If you did read the last instalment you will remember that I had ended up in the wonderful Railway Arms and it had got a bit messy which didn’t make the start of the walk easy as it goes up Tanyard Lane which runs right up the side of the pub. It was well after opening time but I didn’t even look to see if they were and just motored straight up the side of it without looking back. Hard, very hard as it is a great little boozer.
For new readers I should explain that one of my self-imposed tasks on this walk was to visit every open pub that I passed on the route, that is why it had got messy last time as I had had my first pint before I started walking and I passed a lot of pubs!
Literally immediately you walk from the Station you are into the country again. This image is less than five minutes from the one I had already taken of the start point. Lovely, isn’t it?
Not much further on and we re-acquaint ourselves with our friend from the last section, the River Cray. or what is now an urban watercourse along most of it’s nine mile length from Orpington to where it joins the Darent at a spot we passed in the last instalment. It must have been very important locally as it gives it’s name to no less than five areas (Foot’s Cray, Crayford etc.) and the area was once a very important centre of flour milling. Darent flour was famous all over the country. There is an old building not five minutes walk from my home, formerly a bakery with a “ghost sign” for the product. I recently wrote about the sign on the blog at the start of another walking project and you can read about it here.
In the appropriately named Foots Cray Meadows, which is very attractive, I came upon this rather magnificent bridge which looked totally out of place as it was so grand but, as always, there is an explanation for it if you care to research a bit.
It is the work of the famous landscape artist Lancelot “Capability” Brown who seems to have designed half of the great gardens in England and was originally designed as a rather grand way of joining the large houses of North Cray Place and Foots Cray Place. Luckily for Mr. Brown he was engaged in landscaping the gardens of both at the same time.
Sadly neither exist now. North Cray was destroyed by a German bomb in 1944 and was finally demolished in 1961 and Foots Cray survived the war only to be ravaged by fire in 1949 and pulled down the next year. Shame really, but at least we still have the 240 acres of grounds to enjoy, and enjoying them I most certainly was on this lovely day.
At the end of the Meadows, I kept following the Cray, noting in passing a much more prosaic bridge than Capability Brown’s structure although it has the much more poetic name of Pennyfarthing Bridge.
Another short walk brought me to the Church of All Saints which, like St. Mary the Virgin in the previous section has a shingled spire. That really must be a feature of this area as I cannot recall having seen it anywhere else. There is also a lovely lych gate, a feature of which I am rather fond.
Regular readers will know that I am fascinated by graveyards in general and military graves specifically. I also have an interest in War Memorials and contribute to the Imperial War Museum War Memorial website.
I certainly had plenty to do here as there was a Commonwealth War Grave, the local War Memorial and also a rather fine Celtic cross which, on examination, was a memorial to Sir John Pender, KCMG GCMG FSA FRSE (impressive eh?) and with my natural curiosity I had to research him. As usual it wasn’t a waste of time.
John Pender was born in Vale of Leven, Scotland, which probably accounts for the Celtic flavour of the memorial, before moving to Manchester and establishing a very successful textile business but that it is not what he is best remembered for.
By the 1860’s there had been several unsuccessful attempts to lay submarine telegraph cables between Europe and the Americas. One of Sir John’s companies (he had diversified by then) came up with a new method of laying and laid the first successful transatlantic cable from Ireland to Newfoundland in 1866.
By the time of his death in 1896 his companies owned one third of all the telegraph cables in the world and had a value of £15 million which would be an astronomical sum today. No wonder his momument is so grand but there is more.
Regular readers will know that I have theory about certain historical figures “stalking” people and turning up wherever they do and my particular “stalker” seems to be the artist J.M.W. Turner. Sir John was an avid art collector and I suppose he could well afford to be. When he was living at the now demolished Foots Cray Place that I mentioned earlier, he owned several Turners including arguably his best work, the “Giudecca La Donna Della Salute and San Georgio, a view of Venice” which was sold in 2006 for $35.8 million US!
Leaving behind the many delights of the churchyard I was soon enough in Footscray village and it really was time for a pint so I wasn’t at all downhearted to see the Seven Stars coming onto my radar and I was in like a shot. It was a grand pub and I could have happily sat outside it all afternoon in the sun but I really was in a mood to get a few miles knocked off this day so I got back to it.
I walked on up through the village but I was soon back into open country again where a sign informed me that I was now in Sidcup Place which turn out to be the grounds of one of the oddest shaped buildings I know.
I really could not make sense of the footprint of it until I read it had originally been designed in the 18th century by a Royal Engineers officer. It is, in fact, in the shape of ‘star fort with angle bastions’. I kid you not. Obviously, the engineer was keeping his hand in although I don’t believe Sidcup was in any danger of foreign invasion at that point.
It was originally a private dwelling but was then used for various purposes including a preparatory school and council offices. Although I did not know it at the time (it looked like a very posh restaurant to me) it is a pub, currently owned by the Marston Group and called the Star at Sidcup Place. Shame I missed it as it was nearly three by then and I’d only had one pint.
On I went alongside and over some pretty busy roads until I came to the relative sanctuary of Scadbury Nature Reserve, some 300 acres of it and very well-tended. It appears this is due largely to a group of “friends” whose website I have included above and who are obviously very active.
The current park was part of the land attached to the manor of the de Scathebury family from about 1200 onwards but passed into the hands of the Walsingham family to whom they were related by marriage. They owned Footscray Manor which we passed earlier.
One of the members of the Footscray branch of the family was Sir Francis, Queen Elizabeth I’s head of intelligence who foiled the Babage Plot, thereby ending the ambitions of Mary, Queen of Scots to ascend the English throne.
There is no shortage of history on this walk and we have already encountered “Good Queen Bess” several times. The locals must be pretty proud of Sir Francis as the village sign of Chislehurst (where we are heading) depicts the Sovereign knighting her trusty spymaster.
I am getting a little ahead of myself as we are not quite in Chislehurst yet but although not too far but there is something to be done first.
Almost immediately on exiting the wonderful Scadbury Nature Reserve, I was greeted by this very welcome sight, the Sydney Arms pub, another fine establishment. I reckoned I had earned a pint and was still in good order for plenty more walking, so in I went. I do miss those days so badly!
I didn’t actually manage to get too far as I was soon walking past the Bull’s Head in Chislehurst village, or rather not walking past it, you know the rules by now. It was actually quite posh and I did feel a little scruffy but nobody batted an eyelid. It is a hotel, albeit one owned by Young’s Brewery so I suppose they are used to all sorts coming and going.
I really did want to get more than just this section of the walk done today so I didn’t stay long. I reckoned I had still five hours of light left so I should be able to get something done.
Dragging myself out of yet another pleasant pub, I put an inch to my stride and soon found myself back in the woods, Petts Wood this time. That was a good sign as the area which the Wood gives it’s name to is the end of Section 2 and I’d then be into Section 3. Petts Wood is another attractive and well-kept resource, administered by the National Trust. It is home to a variety of deciduous trees and is a most pleasant part of the LOOP. It was originally just 88 acres, bought by public subscription and gifted to the Trust but it increased massively in 1957 when two local landowners gifted them another 250 acres in 1957. This is the portion known as Hawkwood.
The original publicly funded wood was given as a memorial to a man called William Willett who you may well not have heard of. He was the man you have to thank for the concept of “Summer Time” although you may not thank him at all, depending on where you live and / or keep forgetting to put your alarm clock forward or back.
A portion of the Wood is known as Willett’s Wood and there is fitting memorial of a stone (he was a builder) with a sundial on it.
Back out of the wood I had to negotiate no less than about eight railway lines by means of a series of footbridges. Great fun for a rail enthusiast like myself but there did not appear to be too much traffic when I was there. Once I had done that I was officially at the end of Section 2 and could have walked the short distance to Petts Wood station for a train but I just kept right on walking.
Section three begins with a few streets and then you head into Jubilee Park, so named for Her Majesty’s Silver Jubilee in 1977.
You skirt Thornet Road and the LOOP is well signed on this section so it is easy walking and pretty flat. After a while you come to Sparrow Wood which becomes Roundabout Wood. The path is well-defined and surfaced so there is no danger of getting lost. I skirted past the charmingly named Gumping Common but this is actually all a bit misleading.
All the places I have mentioned and a few more besides are all component parts of the Crofton Woods natural habitat which the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds tells us is one of the largest ancient woodlands left in greater London and is home to a number of species including woodpeckers. I didn’t even know we had woodpeckers in London.
The woods and the whole surrounding area were part of the Manor owned by Bishop Odo who fought at the Battle of Hastings and commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry. I did tell you there was a lot of history on the LOOP.
Having negotiated the perilously busy Crofton Road without injury I kept going more or less due South, passed the big tennis centre, risked life and limb yet again on Farnborough Way and was soon approaching the village of the same name. It was gone 1900 by now and I had knocked off the few extra miles I wanted to. I thought there would be at least one pub in the village and I deserved another pint at least so it would make a decent stopping point. Job done.
Farnborough is lovely place although I had never been there before despite having regularly been invited to appear at the local Folk Club by some mates of mine who ran it at the time.
For non-UK readers Farnborough on the LOOP is not to be confused with Farnborough in Hampshire where the internationally famous air show is held. Although it has the feel of a village somewhere much more rural it is still in the London Borough of Bromley.
Whilst it is now predominantly a dormitory town it was formerly best known as being an overnight stabling point for coaches on the London – Hastings run. The horses were turned out in the field opposite which is now the village recreation ground and the coachman stayed here whilst the passengers were deposited in a more salubrious inn in nearby Locksbottom. This is reflected the name of the first pub I found, the Change of Horses.
It really is getting far too late in this piece to be lumbering you with full-bore pub reviews so I shall forebear but it was a decent place where I restricted myself to the one pint as I had already spotted the Woodman pub about 100 yards on the other side of the High Street. Another friendly place and another well-kept pint. I must say, as the biggest pub crawl I had ever attempted, the London LOOP was turning out to be a beauty. I got home easily enough, slightly tired but very content with my day out.
In the next instalment we’ll find a very historic church, a beautiful old car, the very seat where the abolition of the British slave trade was planned, not to mention rather a lot of very good pubs!
I should warn you that the next day’s walking is some time in the future chronologically so don’t press the “next” button at the bottom unless you want to find out about several other great trips. If you want to follow the LOOP narrative, you should click here and it will transport you forward in time as if by magic.
In the next episode I also go on something of a shutter frenzy with my new camera (you’ll be glad to know you don’t have to look at smudged images any more) so stay tuned and spread the word.