A new year dawned, and with it snuck in the resolve to really push myself in 2012 to explore far more of the UK. Starting locally.

Starting point: Petts Wood railway station.

Finishing point: Hayes (Kent) railway station.

Length: 9.7 miles (15.7 kilometres).

Ordnance Survey Maps app route link here

Download the GPX file for this route here Petts Wood to Hayes (Kent)

Southeast London is somewhere I really don’t know very well at all.  Which is perverse seeing as I’ve spent a lot of my life a matter of miles from that area.  I decided to start walking the London Outer Orbital Path, AKA The LOOP, with the knowledge that it passes through more green spaces than urban spaces.  The sections are relatively short at no more than 11 miles each.  Section 3 of the London LOOP runs through suburban Kent from Petts Wood to West Wickham Common, I had a perfect sunny January morning to stroll its 9ish miles.

Starting from Petts Wood railway station it’s not far to Jubilee Country Park, which is where the section starts proper.  It was a frosty morning and about half ten when I reached the first expanse of greenery.  The low winter sun was carving the frost apart with the shadows of the treeline leaving bars of ice on the floor.  It wasn’t cold and the clear skies reinforced the joyful feeling of stalking out into new parts of London.

Brambles along the route of the London LOOP, Section 3, in Jubilee Country Park. The low winter sun shining from the background lights up the leaves.

Reminded me of Fruit Pastilles.

I was wearing my newly acquired Montane Terra Pants and first impressions were very favourable.  Soft on the skin, just as warm as needed, wind-resistant, and apparently relatively waterproof as well, they passed this day’s rain-free test magnificently.

On my feet were my usual Berghaus walking boots and brand new ‘1000 mile’ socks.  They too caused me no problems today.
The most important test though was my new Go-Lite Jam backpack.  It’s an ultralight pack with a capacity ranging from about 30l to 55l ish.  I put a small load in there of my tent, seeping bag, walking poles, and flask.  It was easily adjusted and seemed to rest comfortably on my back with minimal padding.  Seeing how it felt over this short walk was pretty important as I intend it to be my pack of choice for all future multi-day trips up to around a week without re-supply.  Apart from water that should be possible in everything except the worst winter conditions. And I ain’t likely to get that in the UK.

The path soon left the country park and used a quiet residential road to reach some lovely woodland.  I soon noticed that the frost was evaporating away in the sun.  I tend to listen to music on my headphones while I’m in urban areas but in the woods I was free to enjoy the soundtrack of squirrels and birds.  On the other side of the woods was another small patch of residential road before my first opportunity to get lost…

Section 3 of the London LOOP passing along a wooded section in winter. The trees are bare and there is blue sky overhead. The tree trunks are lit by the morning sun.

The winter sky and glowing tree trunks made for a nice walk

I’m pretty sure that the blaze on Crofton Avenue points you into an alleyway footpath to the right, it ends on Partridge Drive but there are no more blazes to be seen.  Luckily for me some children asked if I was lost and directed me towards the woods via a different entrance to the one I’d expected.  Once in those woods I still couldn’t find a blaze and quickly took a wrong turn.

A friendly lady walker in there sent me on the right route and suddenly there were blazes everywhere!  Time to crack open the flask and down some odd-tasting and still searingly hot tea.

Reinforced and relieved to be on the right track I marched on across a large grassy park and down into Farnborough Village with its quaint sign and some fairly pretty shops.  The main event here was St. Giles Church which was, like everything else, lit up splendidly.

This little idyll empties walkers like myself into a huge field fringed to the left by more woodland.  I followed that edge until a blaze took me into the dark of the foliage.  Crossing a busy road you enter High Elms with its formal gardens and neighbouring golf course.  Sadly I don’t think they’ve been particularly designed for winter as there wasn’t much colour in there.  I also managed to get a bit lost when the blazes stopped instructing me.  After finally spotting a post pretty much entirely obscured by tree growth I was back on track and rising up, away from the lower golf course and into farmland.

Now this felt good.  The day was truly glorious and I was tramping along hedgerows demarcating huge fields.  I was however starting to feel thirsty again and began to regret not taking advantage of the last bench I’d seen in the golf course.  I gave a lost motorist some directions and climbed the hills around Keston.  The stately Holwood Park manor overlooked my progress before I finally found a bench by Wilberforce Oak – the place William Wilberforce told Prime Minister Pitt that he intended to petition Parliament to ban slavery.  The views from here were wonderful, all the way into rural Croydon.

From here the LOOP took me downhill and into a park hosting the Ravensbourne River’s source spring, framed by a small bricked area and emptying into a series of pleasant lakes replete with quackage desperately trying to escape the potentially murderous forays of loose dogs.  The far side of this park popped me out into Keston village and the route directed me into less interesting woodland beside the A232 which connected to the end of the section.

It had been a lovely walk, completed in about 4 hours which was a bit longer than I’d hoped but still not too bad.  My only wish is that I’d recorded the walk with my own GPS as it didn’t feel like it was only 9.7 miles, closer to 11 at least I’d thought.  Still, all the tested equipment turned out perfectly and the day couldn’t have been better.

Only 23 more sections of LOOP to go but I tackled Sections 2 and 4 days later…

NOTE:  I got it wrong when I turned off of Crofton Avenue, obviously.  I must have misinterpreted the signage and headed off-piste.  Where I turned right I should have gone straight ahead and there would have been plenty of blazes.