I was very glad to have someone accompany me today as this route isn’t the most exciting I’ve ever walked.

Martyn was one of my two best men at my wedding. He was also probably more than 50% responsible for my haute couture look on my stag do to Riga. I’ve forgiven all that though, time heals all wounds. Even mental ones. His singular type of lunacy prompted him to cycle from Bristol to London in one day. It nearly killed him in the 18 hours it took but by God he just had to do it. He’d often talked about joining me on one of these strolls and jumped at the offer to join me now. I picked the day after some heavy rain, an early start, and the mission to finish the London Outer Orbital Path in South London.

Starting point: Oaks Park, Banstead, reachable by the 166 bus.

Finishing point: Kingston Bridge, reached by many buses or Kingston railway station.

Length: Approximately 13 miles (21 kilometres).

Ordnance Survey Maps app route link

Download the GPX for this route here Oaks Park to Kingston-Upon-Thames

We traveled to Oaks Park from Croydon town centre, which took about 30 minutes. After grabbing a cuppa from the cafe in Oaks Park we soon found ourselves admiring the beautiful gardens. The range of colours all around was quite brilliant considering that it was October, and I’m not even including the normal autumnal foliage that was happily rusting away.

The beautiful garden at Oaks Park near Banstead

The walls of HMP High Downs from Freedown Lane along the London LoopThe LOOP plunges into muddy paths pretty much immediately and we got into a discussion about my favourite gripe – bad signage. Martyn’s cycle ride had been beset with confusion, with numerous wrong or missed turns adding at least a couple of hours to his journey. Today we really needed WalkLondon’s printed maps as the blazes tried hard to mislead and confuse us. Luckily I had bothered to waste some paper and we were well guided as a result. Up a filthy but dead-straight road we went. On the right a stable hummed with the pong of manure and then the austere walls of HMP High Downs were regarded through the eyes of free men. They looked awful from without, I can’t imagine how horrible it must be within. It’s only whilst writing this that I discovered this road is called Freedown Lane, appropriate…

Merrily chatting away we completed section 6 of the LOOP in no time at all, in the middle of a golf course. I had to strip my coat off as I was literally steaming hot in the cold morning. As we crossed the course I feared for my safety as people teed-off all around us, but I think they were just miffed to see two vagabonds interrupting their round. For about a mile after this you leave the manicured greenery of golf courses and undertake some residential road walking.

The intermittent stink of dog poo kept wafting across from somewhere but apart from that, and the weird sight of several abandoned pewter beer jugs in a ruined front garden, it was uneventful here. When you reach a busy roundabout the printed directions come into their own as the trail blazes point in completely the wrong direction! Happily it’s only a short nip alongside the busy A232 before you dip downhill, under a bridge and into a wide space called Warren Farm. This area of heather is surrounded by trees and the time of year made that perimeter sparkle with colour. There are several paths around here but the LOOP is obvious.

Autumn colours around the edge of Warren Farm on the London Outer Orbital Path

Next up comes Nonsuch Park, one of my tippity-top favourite names for anything. This used to be one of Ye Olde Henry VIII’s choice hunting grounds but today all that’s being hunted are tennis balls. By endless scores of different dogs. The place was absolutely teeming with the blighters, their owners chucking balls left right and centre. This could be an attraction in itself to dog-watch and learn how the different breeds behave, it was quite stark and something I’d never bothered to notice before. We both spent too much time watching these mutts and chatting away, we almost missed our turning off of this main path into woodland. Suddenly there were no more animals and that sense of calm that pervades most of the LOOP returned.

Martyn posed on a 5 mile stone marker like some kind of buttercup gnome wally and then we found ourselves beside the nasty roar of the A24. When the traffic finally deigned us free to cross over we passed down a tight alley and I cracked open my flask of odd-tasting tea. I don’t know quite what makes it taste that way, but I refuse to find out incase it’s something life-threatening.

Beware of Buttercup the gnome when he guards the woods of Ewell

We were now on the edge of Ewell and passing along Church Street, with its eponymous church and a lovely array of 18th century buildings that wouldn’t look out of place in Mayfair. There was even this watch house cum-prison at the end of the row.

The watch house along Church Lane in Ewell

Notice that Martyn has somehow morphed into a rather round Asian lady in this image. He does that sometimes.

Turning right here we came face to face with the monstrous doggy edifice marking the entrance to Bourne Hall.

The weird entrance gate to Bourne Hall in Ewell

Soreen does strange things to walkersThis small park is nice enough despite the ugly modern library building lurking to the west like some kind of parked UFO. This is where you begin to follow the Hogsmill River all the way to Kingston. The river provided a change of scenery and a good length of time removed from roads and speeding cars. It also provided Martyn with the perfect time to reveal that he’d been carrying one of Doreen’s Soreens (malt-loaf for those who don’t get that reference). I was instantly hooked on this chewy marvel and when I got home that night I slammed some onto my shopping list. Great stuff. Proper walkers food too.

I didn’t understand the following height restriction under a bridge until I got to the far side.

Beware the Rat Spiders! Under a bridge near the Hogsmill River

And then I cursed the author of this graffiti for not warning us BEFORE we’d entered the tunnel of doom!

Though these mythical beasties must have been scared of us.

In fact it was about now that our thoughts started to turn towards insects, ticks in partickular. Apparently 1 in 3 British ticks now carries the potentially life-threatening bacteria responsible for Lyme Disease, and it has even been recorded in London parks. Every movement of a hair on my legs now felt like the approach of disability and pain. Wonderful.

We followed the river for several miles, admiring stepping stones and some bees desperately trying to get at the last of the year’s pollen. The overgrown and evidently rarely-used path alongside Worcester Park Road provided us with a coating of cobwebs to increase our insect paranoia and Martyn gained a ‘cobweb stick’ to try and snag them in advance. From then on we were both inundated with tiny little spiders dropping from our hair, hours later.

The signs let us down again at Grafton Road as our chatting meant I wasn’t map reading any more, luckily I realised quickly and got us back on track. We had left the river for a while and climbed the only real slope of the day up to Old Malden and St. John’s church which dated from Saxon times. There’s not much to see of that original structure now. Unless the Saxons discovered double glazing? Still, there were nice bits with ivy shrouding the walls.

St. John's church at Old Malden

Back downhill we prowled and found the Hogsmill again. Just in time to find some amusingly childish graffiti under the rail bridge.

Frankencandle under a bridge along the London Loop.

Happenis under a bridge along the London Loop

Signage took us off the correct path and almost all the way to Malden Manor railway station before we realised our mistake but it wasn’t a large detour. Back on track the serenity of Hogsmill Open Space was pretty impressive. The little cells of meadow amongst the trees contained blackberries and some attractive wildflowers. Martyn changed his socks here as the soggy ground and his trainers weren’t getting along.

And then we hit it. The A3. I complained about the roar of traffic before but this is on another scale entirely. Utterly disgusting. We could barely talk over the thundering vehicles and just had to pity the households enduring a life beside this muck. At least there was an underpass to get us safely across, and then this amusingly impossible sign:

The horror of the 'Low Emission Zone' that is the A3

A step to the left and we were back alongside the Hogsmill again, and trudging through the worst mud so far. It was fun though! The river also forms part of the Thames-Down Link from Kingston to Westhumble, near the North Downs Way so that’s a bit I won’t have to walk in future if I don’t fancy it.

Just before Berrylands train station the LOOP leaves the river and diverts you onto suburban streets. The first runs alongside the sewerage plant. Woo.

It was about here that our conversation turned to cooking and eating. Neither of us had eaten much more than malt-loaf since we left home and we were starting to salivate at the prospect of a pub lunch. This conversation became our fuel and our pace noticeably quickened. Banal roads connected us back to the Hogsmill as it wound through concrete walls. Signs became sketchy at best again and I blamed the locals for knicking them. Shamefully that’s the kind of thing I would have done ‘back in the day’. Oh maturity. And having things to alleviate boredom…

The Centre for Useless Splendour on the outskirts of Kingston town centre, beside the HogsmillWe admired the apparently derelict ‘Centre For Useless Splendour’, which on further research used to be an art gallery, and followed the river all the way to THE river. On the way I almost lost Martyn on the Clattern Bridge as the path takes you through a tiny opening. When he’d finished taking a picture he didn’t realise I’d gone. This pretty old bridge is named after the noise of hooves passing over. Apparently.

Martyn discovering me beside the Clattern Bridge over the Hogsmill river in Kingston

This final stretch feels strange. The Hogsmill becomes more urgent and tumultuous as it races to its own death and then rebirth as the River Thames. The surrounding architecture becomes dismal and hodge-podge. But then it empties into London’s real artery and you find yourself standing on a pretty promenade overlooking the water. Kingston Bridge is just north of here, and it’s a pretty bridge for sure. We dived into the Young’s pub before completing section 8 of the LOOP and enjoyed a well-deserved couple of pints.

Kingston Bridge, the end of the LOOP in South London

We mulled over what makes a good walk and agreed that some aspect of ‘drama’ is what makes it memorable. A wonderful view, a strange sculpture, a nasty injury. This walk didn’t provide drama. Martyn provided the company that set it apart from all the other walks I’ve done and I’m grateful that I had that company. These parts of the LOOP feel like they are targeted purely towards Kingston’s bridge. The only alternative anywhere near here is Hampton Court Bridge, a few miles to the west and therefore too far removed from London’s boundaries to be a sensible option along an Orbital Path. as an introduction to the walks I’ve been doing I should have chosen more wisely for his sake, but never mind, it’s done now. The achievement of completing the whole of South London’s LOOP, after this year’s setbacks, buoyed me anyway. The Hogsmill is worth a walk, I’ll happily concede that, but I won’t be walking this day’s sections of the LOOP again.