A new challenger for my favourite part of the London Outer Orbital Path?I did it. I stepped out on the trails again. My knee is nowhere near 100% but I’m at a point where I have to keep working the muscles and balance out their action. I figured that a 9 mile walk that included massive and repeated gradient changes would prove to be a good challenge. Earlier in the year I completed Section 4 of the LOOP clockwise to Hamsey Green so it was here that I picked up the trail and aimed to walk from Hamsey Green to Banstead Downs (Sections 5 and 6 of the LOOP) before I had to rush home for a family lunch.

Starting point: Hamsey Green, reachable by 403 bus from Croydon

Finishing point: Oaks Park near Carshalton, reachable by 166 bus.

Length: 8.6 miles (13.8 kilometres).

Ordnance Survey Maps app link here

Download the GPX file for this route here Hamsey Green to Oaks Park

Looking at that map you might immediately be able to discover two things about how this walk went. First, it doesn’t go all the way to Banstead Downs because I ran out of time. Second, there are a couple of small deviations from the actual LOOP path due to poor signage, particularly between Hamsey Green and Kenley airfield. But if you have managed to spot these things then you’re a genius/map freak (in the best possible sense)…

Anyhoo, I alighted from the 403 bus from Croydon at Hamsey Green and turned up Tithepit Shaw Lane, flashing a quick salutary nod to the place where I last touched this part of the LOOP. I was already gnashing my way through a pack of Fruit Gums before I’d even walked 200m. It’s nice to be back on the trails!

Very soon you pass into a field, the track busy with joggers and dog walkers, and no more than 10 minutes into today’s walk I made my first mistake. The path forks left or straight ahead, on the far left hand side of both forks there is a wooden post with the LOOP logo pointing in the direction of this left fork. Naturally I took the signed turning as I knew I had to turn left at some point. As usual though my over-exuberance had turned me astray. The post was a lie and this alternative path cuts a significant chuck out of the actual LOOP. No matter though, I was rewarded with some really pretty views from this chalk cliff down onto Whyteleafe.

Section 5 of the LOOP, looking down on Whyteleafe

I gingerly stepped down the massively steep chalky staircase and passed under the railway line into Whyteleafe. I headed north so that I could reconnect to the actual LOOP route and spotted some blazes along my accidental route anyway, so maybe it used to be the real route after all? Who knows?

The chalk cliffs over Whyteleafe, section 5 of the LOOPI turned left onto Old Barn Lane, which allows you to cross the second set of rail lines by footbridge. As you head up the hill, headed west, don’t forget to turn around and look back the way you came – the chalk cliff and the pleasant dip of houses is quite nice. This part suddenly gets very steep indeed with log stairs to carry you up to Kenley Common. Bear right and into the woods (despite the lack of signage) and follow the main path. You pass through carefully managed woodland here with a strange almost cobbled path underfoot. Lovely tree along the LOOP, section 5, with blazesWhen the path forks you should take the left one even though it looks less ‘main’. Again there are no signs. It doesn’t matter if you do what I did and take the right hand side one though as you come out onto the same field. Head towards the far-right corner and the path becomes obvious again.

Soon you’re in a paddock with an angry-looking horse glaring at you from his barricade of homemade turds. It is a pooey minefield of a path here! Kenley observatory looms on the other side of the fence and you pass just behind it. I knew there was going to be an observatory here but I hadn’t really considered that this wasn’t going to be the Royal Observatory, thus the size of the domes was a little underwhelming. Silly me.

Kenley Observatory from Section 5 of the London Outer Orbital Path

It was about here that the constant barking of dogs could be heard in the north, away from Kenley Aerodrome. It made my hairs stand on end with the weird sensation that I was about to come across a hunting party. Maybe I was the prey? I never did see any packs, but it took a long time until I was out of earshot of the hounds…

Down a muddy path you go, across another road and up Rydon’s Lane. Be careful here as it’s a bit of a rat-run and cars are hard-pressed to pass each other safely. Impatient drivers came past me at an uncomfortable speed and I was already almost clambering into people’s gardens to avoid them!

You come to the busy B2030 road and cross straight over. There is a large area of grass here with a water fountain in the middle, or ‘The Fox’ pub just ahead, should you need watering. The reason there’s a car-park here with loads of people unpacking dogs and children from their vehicles is because next up is the massive Happy Valley Park.

The path is really obvious so just keep going and nodding ‘Hello’ to the elderly people. If you are desperately in need of some more vigorous exercise there are various wooden structures for you to vault over or swing from. You turn right and enter what I assumed is the eponymous ‘Happy Valley’ – a beautiful vale of grass, hedges, chalk path, and benches. There were hardly any people here at all but it was a really lovely place to have a brief sit down. A picnic here would have been perfect. Alas a KitKat sufficed and attracted an eager dog to me, even though I told him it would kill him. The mutt didn’t understand but his completely out of breath owner weirdo fellow finally called ‘George’ away from me. His hungry head kept turning to look at me for at least 100 metres.

Happy Valley Park along Section 5 of the London Outer Orbital Path

Another ragged old tree along the London Outer Orbital Path, section 5Sadly after I stood up the signage went all to hell and I had to pick my way between distant blazes with trepidation. Into the woods I went and thus ended any semblance of directions. You might say I’m hung-up on poor signage when the routes are available online, but I believe that a walk like this shouldn’t need me to look at a print-out at every junction – it spoils the walk! This isn’t a wilderness where you really do need to refer to a map, it’s a leisurely amble through the outskirts of a legendary metropolis. Make it easy and people will use these routes.

So, I knew there was a road somewhere to the west. I also knew that if I found that and headed north I’d come to Farthing Downs and it would be easy from there. I found the road and followed it. Out of nowhere I had to stop myself from bursting out laughing – there was a group of people in the woods scuttling along fast on all fours! Now I’ve taken a leap of imagination and assumed that rather than demonic possession they were following this military fitness regime that’s become trendy. The man barking instructions also told his freaky clan to “Feel the soil, it helps with grip tension” whatever the **** that means… ?

I stifled my chuckles and soon found a paddock with the tiniest horse I’ve ever seen. Sadly nothing else was nearby so scale is hard to judge – but it was minuscule!

A teeny tiny horse in a paddock just south of Farthing Downs, along section 5 of the LOOP

Farthing Downs came into view a couple of minutes later, and what a treat it is. A strange ridge of heathland populated by huge brown cows, a road bisecting the summit. The views are magnificent and I think exceed those found at along Section 4 because you have sections of chalk cliff and a windswept majesty to add to the distant tower blocks. Those all sit in a strange haze that tries to render depth-perception impossible. Are Croydon, Norwood and Docklands all in the same place? The illusion says ‘Yes’. Farthing Downs is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to various rare flowers but sadly I didn’t spot any of these. Probably because I don’t know what I’m looking at?

The view from Farthing Downs of Upper Norwood, London, and Croydon towers

A cow on Farthing Downs, along section 5 of the LOOPAgain hardly anyone was enjoying this lovely bit of South London so I got to descend into Coulsdon largely alone. Section 5 of the LOOP concludes at the train station. I did a quick mental check on my knee and my watch and decided I could do at least some of Section 6 before I’d need to call it a day. With renewed energy and optimism I strode up hill along the super-long Woodmansterne Road. I ducked into the bushes on the right and followed the bridleway for half a mile or so, whizzing past a family having a much more leisurely stroll than I was. In the distance I spied Wembley Stadium’s huge arch and remarked to myself how close it looked. I also smugly congratulated myself on thoroughly beating the hell out of Southeast London’s LOOP, it would be very much Southwest London from here on in.

Nipping across a sunny but scrubby field I found the B278 and snarled right back at the careering vehicles. There’s no pavement, and barely any verge so be careful here too.

Across the road and over a style I avoided a much happier looking horse than before even though the laminated sign warned walkers not to approach him. I’m glad horses can’t read as I got the impression this one might have been offended and quite possibly distraught that the humans were avoiding him. Instead he just wiggled his ears at me from far away.

This had been a walk of many surprises and excellent views but on the other side of this field you cross two more styles and emerge on the edge of a beautiful lavender plantation. Parallel rows of gentle blue flowers and a really delicious smell emanating from them. It appears to be a Pick Your Own kind of affair, with a shack at the bottom of the field dealing with customers. The field was pretty bare overall though, late in the season I assumed. The north side of this plantation is guarded by the busy A2022 road so you can use the safe crossing point to reach Oaks Park and continue on to Banstead Downs.

Beautiful lavender field near Woodmansterne along section 6 of the London Outer Orbital Path

Unfortunately I couldn’t fit any more walking in due to the imminent arrival of my lunch, several miles away. The 166 bus whisked me back to Croydon and I was home in no time at all. I really, really, enjoyed this walk. There’s endless variety, with waterscapes being the only thing missing. For now I think it actually exceeds the beauty of Section 3 of the LOOP and I get the impression that I’ll be back to do part or all of this walk in the future.