Prowling into London’s controversial south-west corner.

I can’t believe that despite my best intentions I haven’t done a LOOP walk in around 14 months. Rectify! Martyn came with me to link Oaks Park to Kingston in October 2012 but since then I’ve been distracted onto other paths. Now came the time to utilise a sunny winter weekend day and end that drought on a route taking in wide open parkland, rivers and low-flying planes.

Starting point: Kingston railway station

Finishing point: Hayes & Harlington railway station

Length: 13.8 miles (22.2 kilometres)

Ordnance Survey Maps app route link

Download the GPX file for this route here Kingston-Upon-Thames to Hayes & Harlington

The sights as you enter Bushy Park, LOOP section 9Kingston seemed pensive when I got off the X26 bus from Croydon. I alighted beside the train station and reached the Thames via shopping streets populated with dull-eyed Kingstonians waiting for Bentall’s to open. A different and much more depressing way to spend a Sunday morning. As always I was taken aback by the glistening view to the south, the low winter sun leaving long shadows, and the shade leaving a fine frost on the pavement.

Across the Thames I went, avoiding the turn off to the south towards Hampton Court which completes the Thames Path as it exists in London. The heavy iron gate clanged shut as I entered Bushy Park. The skate park on the left looked dangerously wreathed in frosty shadows. The fence-lined path ends in another gate and Bushy Park suddenly spreads itself out in front of you in all its withered but colourful splendour. Green grassy paths criss-cross the brown heather and gnarly bare oaks stand silhouetted against the pale blue sky. It was yet another one of those ‘Ah yes, THIS is what I walk for!’ moments that I experience so often but which appear to diminish in my memory whenever life gets in the way and prevents me from going out on the trails for a few months. I love those jolts though – I’m happy to let my memory lapse.

Bushy Park in winter, LOOP section 9

I texted Martyn to mention that I quite like winter walking, prompting his jealousy, and continued.

I did need a more important memory jolt regarding the ability to spot trail blazes. These were around but they felt a little bit sneaky hide-and-seek-y. Sometimes there was the ghost of a blaze – the tell-tale circular pattern left in paint on a railing, or a blaze missing from a slot in a piece of wood, but luckily I had remembered to print off the map from the Walk London site so I had a good idea of where to head.

Just before the excellently-named Leg of Mutton Pond I was approached by a tiny growling dog and felt the urge to kick it for its impudence. But then I remembered that I don’t kick dogs so I didn’t go down that psycho road.

The copse of trees to the left looked delicious wrapped in gold sunlight and the blue shadows under the frosted grass gave the area a pointillist feel with colours vibrating off of each other. Rounding the pond I overheard a father asking his little boy if he wanted to stand on an icy puddle ‘I’d rather not.’ he politely stated, clearly wary. The father said ‘That’s okay, I’ll do it instead.’ which was the agenda all along. Big kid! I approved.

Winter sun through trees seen across Leg of Mutton Pond, Bushy Park, London LOOP

Moments later another little boy was wide-eyed with wonder as a remote-controlled speedboat appeared in the Boating Pond, but this father wasn’t very playful and opted for a ‘Yes we can go back and look, but you’ll have to be patient and wait for me.’ and then proceeded to walk as slowly as possible. Poor lad.

A heron popped up unexpectedly from a little stream and eyed me nervously, but apart from the ducks I hadn’t spotted any other wildlife nearby. Notably absent were the famous deer.

My subconscious decided to lead the way for a while and almost took me the wrong way into a service track behind the Woodland Gardens, but I corrected myself and found the actual gate. The Woodland Gardens have paths snaking throughout, over little streams and under chirping birds. The flora changes every few metres and I have to say that even with all the supposedly ‘yummy mummies’ dotted around it was very nice. However I got inwardly annoyed at one who broke the mood and shouted way too loudly at her boy to ‘Come on!’, then told him ‘Stop crying!’ because that ALWAYS WORKS, before ‘Go and play nicely with Gabriela’. Nope, I think he’s just going to whine and grizzle for the rest of the morning because he knows it will piss you off. That’s what I would have done.

Pretty scenes around the Woodland Gardens and in Bushy Park

You have to exit this fenced zone to enter another fenced zone, the latter much emptier of public. I imagine that getting away with camping in here would be very easy indeed. Completely outlawed of course but possible. Just sayin’…

Deer in Bushy ParkI located the long straight track north,  taking in a pair of decorated Christmas trees en route. The rest of Bushy Park was passed jumping over large boggy areas and splooching through mud. I did however finally locate deer at the far north edge of the park. Sadly I still haven’t found my camera since we moved house so I had to use my mobile phone all day – hence the less than impressive photographic results.

I started to hear rumblings from Heathrow by this point. Like a distant storm or that noise you get in the Highlands when jet fighters are out training but you can’t see them. For the first time that morning I began to ponder the Heathrow residents’ objections to enlarging the airport.

You have about a mile of silent residential roads between Bushy Park and the next brief greenery at Twickenham Golf Course. I saw the X26 headed back towards West Croydon and forgot how close to Kingston I still was. It’s a twisty path to get this far.

Some less attractive houses came and went before I entered Crane Park and minded my head under the unreasonably low bridge, whilst walking at a snail’s pace behind Moleman from The Simpsons.

Fallen trees in Crane Park, LOOP section 9

The River Crane seems clean and pleasant. There were a lot of fallen trees to clamber over because of recent storms but generally it’s a nice place to stroll. I found a carved bench to rest on briefly, and gobbled my nuts (oo-er).

A bench in Crane Park, LOOP section 9

Around the next bend I found a really odd lighthouse-like structure but I had to work out what it was when I got home because I couldn’t see any interpretation panels:

The Shot Tower in Crane Park, London Outer Orbital Path

That is a ‘Shot Tower’. They were used to make the lead pellets, ‘shot’ if you will, that fill shotgun shells. Molten lead poured through a copper sieve at the top of the tower, the separated droplets fall through the air fast and plop into a pool of water at the bottom. The pressure and temperature of the water forces the lead to solidify into regular little spheres so that they are ready to be fired from a gun. In this way they wouldn’t just turn to powder when they are blasted out. The River Crane provided a constant supply of lovely chilled water for the pool so this was a choice location. Pretty damn cool I thought.

Hanworth Road ends the peace of Crane Park. And it’s rubbish. Monotonous. Actually, I lie: There is a parade of shops which allowed me to buy a drink and some sugary snacks. Plus the Sikh guy behind the counter was chatty and friendly. So, yay for Hanworth Road!

Big Willie Stile, on the edge of Hounslow Heath, LOOP section 9Continue northeast where a LOOP blaze takes you into the park and through some trees. The first stile of the day, with a great big penis graffitied on a nearby tree, took me into Hounslow Heath. This is an impressive bit of open space. A red kite flapped in the sky to maintain its position while it turned its telescopes over the field for prey. It never found any but it could be forgiven for being distracted by the steady stream of jumbo jets roaring over and into Heathrow. I found the scene quite exhilarating really. There’s something about the raw power of a plane that makes my hairs stand up. With the lethal and beautiful bird lit up by the sun it was a sensory overload in the best way. There was also only one other human in the area.

A red kite and a jet above Hounslow Heath, LOOP section 9

You’ll have to click on this image to be able to see the red kite a bit more clearly.

I traversed the Heath and the accompanying golf course before rejoining my old friend the River Crane. An extremely large puppy bounded up to me to say hello before bouncing away happily. Brazil Mill Wood follows the river northwards. It is fairly densely wooded but the wind had taken many casualties here so I often had to go off-road to get around obstructions. This was troublesome at times.

Fallen trees in Brazil Mill Wood and Donkey Wood, LOOP.

Crossing a road takes you into Donkey Wood, which lies directly under the jets. As I walked through here I spent very little time watching the floor or the trees, I was fixed on the planes. I found a large clearing with a ruined brick wall to sit on and admire a few of the arrivals passing only a few dozen metres above the tree line.

Low jets coming into Heathrow, seen from Donkey Wood along the London Outer Orbital Path

When I headed on I found a shambling walkway through a swampy area reminiscent of Krull or the Forest Moon of Endor. The planks underfoot were wobbly and sometimes curved in strange ways but despite the inherent danger I still kept looking up onto the belly of the jets.

The rickety walkway in Donkey Wood, LOOP section 9.

The A30 road is a desolate stretch around Heathrow so it is unfortunate that as you exit Donkey Wood you have to walk west alongside it. If the traffic is heavy you have to walk all the way to Hatton Cross tube station before there is a safe place to reach the other side, and then you backtrack all the way to the Crane again. As it happened I made it across the light traffic in a naughty way and saved myself over half a mile of monotony. A British Airways hangar at HeathrowThe LOOP takes you east past a BA hangar, through some barriers, past some decrepit snack van and burned-out shed, and into Cranebank Water Meadow – where you probably won’t see a soul. It’s just okay here. Quiet but not a lot to see in the dead of winter. The various interpretation panels give hope there is a lot more to spot for the rest of the year.

After the weird high of the low jets I was once again in residential areas. Cheap-looking houses but a lot of Mercedes, BMWs, and pricier coupés give the street a confused aura. I then began to question the motives of the anti-expansion groups. In my albeit limited view I have scant sympathy for local residents who moved to the area after Heathrow became the behemoth it is today. Similarly I detest the people, pleading prior ignorance or not, who move into new flats above the Ministry of Sound and begin campaigns to get it shut down. There’s simply no logic to that stand point. Retro-NIMBYism is a scourge. Unless you start to wonder if they are trying to sabotage the airport for other reasons? If the airport doesn’t expand it seems probable that it will enter a spiral of decline as traffic moves on. If you accept that premise, which itself is debatable, then might it not be the case that some in the ‘anti’ camp are basically property speculators? If you take advantage of the relatively low property prices here and then get the airport removed then surely you end up with a huge space that can be converted into a shopping centre, facilities, and homes. Wouldn’t prices then rise quite quickly as lower earners leave often rented housing and move away to find new jobs? I have a lot of sympathy for the airport workers themselves because many live in the area. These people need to have their voices represented more clearly because as far as I can tell it’s not usually the case. Whatever the motivations are I sincerely hope that the Johnny Come Lately folk and large landowners/developers have their views handicapped in preference to long and pre-existing residents and those with employment stakes in Heathrow’s existence. Otherwise I might smell a rat.

The Hillingdon Trail now carries you away from the A4. It’s a stuttering kind of a walk here, not really pretty but a means to an end. There’s litter in the bushes but points of interest include fallen riverbank trees which have peeled up the riverbank itself as though it were a huge muddy carpet. Quite an odd-looking effect which put me in mind of Hobbiton or The Wind in the Willows.

The loneliest man in the world in Cranbrook Park

Cranford Park made me laugh because the Loneliest Man in the World™ was playing football with himself in one of the wide meadows. He lamely flapped his legs at the ball, did a couple of kick-ups, and then trudged wherever he had accidentally passed the ball. Maybe he was waiting for friends to arrive, but it just looked like he was waiting to make some friends. And that seemed unlikely as yet again the area was deserted.

My shadow in the winter sunAs I reached the M4 I considered the day’s route and how unlike a LOOP walk it felt. It is somewhere between Capital Ring and LOOP. This walk has a lot of compromises. It’s not unpleasant but it doesn’t have the ‘getting away from it all’ feel of, say, section 3 or 5-6 in the south of London. When the planning laws finally degrade and the vultures descend on precious Metropolitan Open Land I think the West will fall first. London will grow an immense spur down the M4 corridor. I foresee urbanisation all the way from Heathrow to Reading. Perhaps another tentacle further south subsuming everything as far as Basingstoke?

You pass a clock dating from 1721 and pass under the M4. I tried nodding a hello to a guy walking in the woods beyond and got a suspicious stare back, and then I saw his shadow turn its head to make sure I was still walking on my way. This does not feel like a LOOP walk.

A roundabout and the Parkway bridge raise the altitude significantly so I could see the golden domes of the Gurdwara in Southall to my right, beyond some industrial tower from Necromunda.

I dropped to the Grand Union Canal via a spiral staircase and headed up to Hayes & Harlington station. The Nestle factory on the other side of the canal belched steam which was lit prettily by the setting sun. I do like a bit of industrial landscape, it’s just so mysterious. What are they doing and how do they do it? It’s often fascinating, like the Shot Tower.

Dramatic steam from the Nestle building along the Grand Union Canal, LOOP section 10

Steam billowing around the Nestle factory near Hayes & Harlington

Anyway, as I reached the train station I found I had clocked up the whole route in 4.5 hours. Which is probably too fast with too little rest as yet again I have a certain amount of pain in a knee. I’m out of practice and unfit. At least I managed to finally touch on the LOOP in 2013, just in time. This isn’t my favourite walk by any means but Donkey Wood and Bushy Park make sections 9 and 10 worthwhile. This is a part of town I’ve never experienced so in that respect alone it had to be done, but a Sunday as glorious as this would be wasted without a good walk!