Hello dear readers and thanks for checking out the 13th or 14th day of day of my walk round the London LOOP. To be honest, I have lost track myself, it is so long since I wrote this up but I really should finish this series as I have spent so much time getting the series to this point. 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 may have just landed here.
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 XXXX if you start at the beginning to discover what lunacy had compelled me to undertake such a large project.
If you have read the last episode you will know that I had finished a good day’s walk at Kingston-upon-Thames in utterly appalling weather. Still, I suppose it was inevitable as it was Mayday Bank Holiday so rain was a foregone conclusion.
It was to be a full four weeks before I got the walking boots on again to do another section or two and the boots were definitely required as it had been tipping it down the whole month of May, the weather had been appalling which is probably most of the reason I had not done any more. As you shall see later, I was to be very glad of the trusty old Line-7’s later in the day. As the images will indicate, he weather wasn’t too brilliant his day either but it wasn’t actually raining when I set off but it looked as though it might.
I made it to Kingston without incident and headed off over the bridge which meant I passed from the Royal Borough of Kingston-upon Thames to the much less grand sounding London Borough of Richmond. This has always struck me as strange as within five minutes walk of the Richmond end of the bridge you enter one of London’s eight London Parks, namely Bushy Park.
I say it is five minutes walk but it took me slightly longer as I stopped to pay my respects at the War Memorial you can see in the images.
At an impressive 1,100 acres Bushy is the second largest Royal Park in the capital and it is stunning although obviously not seen to it’s best effect in the dismal weather that day, yes, it had started raining. My mood was somewhat lightened by watching some of the lovely wild deer that roam the Park freely. I say they are wild but they are so used to humans now that they will actually approach people looking for food and this has led to some unfortunate incidents recently, according to the excellent website. It is packed full of information should you wish to visit and I suggest you do if you get the chance.
Despite the fairly dreary conditions I did go on a bit of a shutter frenzy as there is certainly no shortage of subject matter. To make life easier for you and so as not to clutter the page more than necessary, I have created a slideshow here. Please feel free to skip it if my amateur snapping is not to your taste. It is OK, I won’t be offended, honestly. If you do care to have a look thank you, and I hope you enjoy it.
Bushy Park first came to prominence when King Henry VIII appropriated nearby Hampton Court Palace from Cardinal Wolsey in 1529 as his “little place in the country”. Henry was known as a keen huntsman (anything that moved by day and anything in a skirt in the evening) and he fancied the area as a private hunting estate so he did what mediaeval monarchs were prone to doing and just took it. Nice one Hal, sorry, Your Majesty.
In more recent history, the Park was home to a Canadian military hospital in the First World War and in Second it was home to (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) aka SHAEF. It was from here that General Eisenhower planned the D-Day landings. A memorial stands now on the site of his tent but I did not detour to see it as I just wanted to press on. The weather was deteriorating further and I rather envied the ducks I saw as they must have been loving it.
As you pass through the Park, you will see the rather attractive Longford River which is not a river at all but a man-made canal built in1638 on the orders of Charles I at huge expense merely so his wife would not go short of water at Hampton Court. I told you these mediaeval kings had it made.
The road you can see in the image below above just looks like an ordinary road albeit in very pretty surroundings but, like so much else on the LOOP and everywhere else in London, there is an interesting history behind it. This charming thoroughfare was designed as a grand entrance to Hampton Court by no less a personage than Sir Christopher Wren. He was the man who more or less single-handedly redesigned London after it had been razed in the Great Fire of 1666.
The centrepiece of this rebuilding was the iconic St. Paul’s Cathedral which still attracts visitors from all over the world or at least it would had this damned virus not been unleashed upon us all. Obviously, I am posting this retrospectively to try to maintain some semblance of order on the blog. It is being written in December 2020.
Eventually, I exited the Park in the Northeast corner and there was a bit of roadside walking but not too much and it is pleasant enough, this is a very affluent area. For the most part this Section (Section nine if you are using the excellent TfL website) is through parks and is very easy walking. Your biggest danger in the next little section is of being hit by an errant golf ball as you are walking alongside Fulwell Golf Club for a while. Fore!
After the Golf course there are a couple of busy major roads to negotiate but there is ample provision for pedestrians to cross so don’t worry. Eventually, you will come to Crane Park which is very beautiful, even in the rain. Compared to Bushy, it is tiny as it is really only a narrow strip of land on either bank of the River Crane, for which it is named.
Small it might be but it punches well above it’s weight. Today, it is home to numerous species of flora and fauna but this rural tranquility in a built-up area belies an often literally explosive history. Another short slideshow will hopefully give you a flavour of this charming place.
As with running water nearly anywhere in the UK, there were mills and the first ones here were recorded as far back as the time of the Norman invasion in 1066. In those days, they were used for producing flour and so on but all that changed in the late 1760’s with the granting of a licence to the Hounslow Gunpowder Co. to produce that product here. If you have read my previous entry you will know that the nearby Hogsmill River near Ewell was similarly utilised. I don’t know why this area to the Southwest of London was such a hub of this particular activity but it seems to have been the case.
Obviously, given the Health and Safety standards of the age i.e. they were non-existent, devastating explosions were commonplace. Remarkably, the company were allowed to continue operations until 1927 when their licence was revoked. The local Council bought the land and converted it into the forerunner of the lovely amenity we have today. On now to the “centrepiece” of the Park and trust me you will not miss it as it is a pretty impressive structure called the Shot Tower but the chances are that it was probably nothing of the sort.
If you needed to make perfectly spherical little lead balls, specifically for use in weapons, and did not have access to modern technology, how would you go about it? I had always guessed that moulds were employed and it was only relatively recently that I discovered that is not at all how to go about it. You need a Shot Tower to employ a technique patented in 1782 by a clever man from Bristol called William Watts. Prior to that moulds had indeed been used which just goes to show you how backward my thinking is in matters of science!
You go to the top of your tower and pour molten lead through a sieve which causes it to form little drops. As they fall through the cooler air a physical process called surface tension causes them to become perfectly spherical and also the fall causes them to cool and solidify. Just to complete the job, you catch them in a large container of water at the bottom which arrests their descent and stops them becoming mis-shapen by hitting the floor. Of course, the water has the additional property of being cool and so completes the hardening process. Absolute genius and I have no doubt he ended up a rich man.
The only fly in the ointment is that the experts now believe, despite the structure having been called the Shot Tower for centuries, that it was nothing more than a simple windmill for recycling the water to keep the mills going. Ah well, another lovely story gone to the wall but it is amazing what you can find out just researching a simple day’s walking in the cold and rain. As I always say, perhaps too often for some people’s liking, “every day’s a schoolday”.
After you emerge from Crane Park which, as I say is not very big, you have a bit more road walking before you enter Hounslow Heath. Don’t worry, it is not that far. It did take me a little longer than it should have for reasons as illustrated in the images above. Well, it was the first one I had seen since leaving Kingston so in I went for a quick pint. It was fine but nothing remarkable, just a fairly typical suburban boozer but you don’t need to worry about that either as it closed in late 2017 or early 2018 like so many others all over the country and that was BEFORE the pandemic.
What you do need to worry about when you do eventually get to Hounslow Heath is what you have on your feet, especially after a month of unremitting rain. My suggestion would be flippers. Don’t take my word for it, I’ll let the images speak for themselves.
The ground underfoot, if indeed such gloop could properly be called ground, went through phases quicker than an adolescent whose hormones are playing up. It started off by being merely unpleasantly mucky and then propelled itself with indecent haste through, “they’ll have trouble getting round me on this narrow path” before arriving at, “Within every large muddy puddle lies the soul of a small lake”.
Even the normally placid River Crane, in full spate, was trying to get in on the act by doing a passable if somewhat modest impersonation of the Colorado River. Whilst the mighty Colorado has taken two billion years to carve out the Grand Canyon, the Crane seemed determined to start small and erode a two foot deep culvert in a bog in West London without the benefit of any appreciable gradient. Come on, look at that white water, that has to be a Grade 0.0000000000001 in any whitewater rafting guide. I suspect that if the mill upstream were still operational they would have had to disengage the wheel lest the axle caught fire.
Thankfully, they had installed a boardwalk in some of the presumably permanently swamped areas but it would have been a lot better if it had extended from the Hanworth Road to the A30 which would be the entire length of this section. I eventually did make the A30, a horrible busy road and I started the three day trek to Hatton Cross tube station in what was now a torrential downpour. Deep joy.
OK, I was being a bit silly just now but it really was a miserable experience. I was literally soaked through and my boots, brilliantly waterproof as they were, cannot do too much about water coming in over the top of them. I was also so muddy I was genuinely worried they might refuse me travel on the Tube home. After enduring the A30 I finally made my destination which has to be the ugliest Tube station of the 270 on the system. I reckon I have probably been to 80+% of them in the 30 odd years I have lived here and I mean what I say. It really has nothing to recommend it at all.
They didn’t stop me getting on the Tube, very possibly because I didn’t see a single member of staff which is about par for the course in many stations for many years now. At least I had no problem getting a seat as Hatton Cross is only one stop in from Heathrow Airport which is the terminus of the Piccadilly Line but this is a bit of a double edged sword. Yes, I got a seat because it is so far out but my problem was that I live on the other side of London. If I am flying from LHR I always allow two hours just to be on the safe side and this is not just travel paranoia. I have just checked the official TfL website and it quotes one hour and 21 minutes door to door from Hatton Cross so add another ten or so to the airport. Thinking about it now, I may even have been cutting it a bit fine with that.
I got my book out (I always carry a book on day’s out) and sat there feeling fairly miserable not to mention forming a small puddle on the floor before alighting at Stepney Green. I will tell you how bad it was, the pub my mates drink in is about two minutes walk from the station and I normally cannot resist but I didn’t go near the place that night. I squelched my way home, put my boots into a basin to dry out (it was too big a job for the usual newspaper), threw every stitch of clothing in the washing machine and went for a long, hot and well deserved shower.
Don’t get me wrong, I am having a bit of a moan here but I have been walking long enough to know that you are going to get days like this every now and again, there is nothing you can do about it. It cannot be sunshine and little bluebirds twittering in the trees every day out, that would get bloody boring after a while. Besides which, there is a certain perverse satisfaction in slogging through a day like that and I had walked through some lovely parks (and one bog!) but best of all was watching the lovely deer. That is a thing you don’t get to do every day, well I don’t anyway.
Right, Hatton Cross as the start point next tiime and we are tantalisingly close to my start / finish point at Uxbridge. Although it seemed like a lot more, this day’s walk was only 8.5 miles (13.5 kilometres) and it is 11 miles to the finishing line. Do you think one more day will do it? As always, if you want to find out you’ll have to stay tuned and spread the word.