If I asked you to think of London, images of sky scrapers, double decker buses and crowds of people might come to mind. Probably not open spaces, wild forests and peaceful fields. While on a recent city challenge though, this was the side on London that I got to experience. The hidden outskirts that so few know about that provide the perfect nature trails for day hiking.
Images © The Ordinary Adventurer
I had already heard of the Capital Ring Walk but it was by accident that I one day came across London's' lesser known longer trail, the London Loop. The London Loop is a 240km route that goes a full circle around London, never leaving Zone 6. It is sometimes called the M25 for hikers.
In 2016, I had set myself the task of taking on an adventure, along with my husband Gil, to raise money for charity. The London Loop seemed like the perfect challenge, allowing me to explore my favourite place and the city I had called home for 6 years. I decided to do things a little differently though. Instead of hiking I would be completing the Loop on kick scooters. To make it a challenge worthy of sponsorship, I gave myself a 5 day time-frame and committed to only wild camping each night.
Although the walk officially starts in Erith, we decided to 'kick off' in Surbiton where we could easily catch a train to. Needless to say, we got lots of curious looks as we scooted past, ladened with panniers full of our camping gear.
Images: Surbiton Station by Marathon (via Geograph), The London Loop on OS Maps, Harrow Weald footpath by David Kemp (via Geograph), Harrow Weald Common by Martin Addison (via Geograph)
The trail quickly went from the bustling high street of Kingston to the stillness of Bushy Park. This stark contrast became a feature of the trip. The signs were sometimes hard to follow and the more rural paths a little overgrown. But we had printed out maps which worked well in ensuring we didn’t get lost.
We didn't meet another sole walking (or scooting!) the London Loop the entire time, revealing just how few know about its existence. Because if people did know, there is no way it wouldn't be a well trodden route. The scenery was beautiful and varied, switching from nature to city views. There was always interesting things to see and people to talk to (and of course plenty of good pub stops along the way). Some of the paths followed busy over crowded council estates, some past wealthy mansions and prestigious golf courses. Then, suddenly, you find yourself back in a woods where, after all the noise, you can really appreciate the stillness around you. It sums up exactly why I love London so much. Because of its variety.
Gateway to Moor Park by Des Blenkinsopp (via Geograph)
Scooting from Harefield West to Moor Park (section 13) Was probably my favourite part of the adventure. Our target was scooting around 30 miles a day to ensure we completed the challenge in time. When we reached Batchworth Heath we were about 25 miles in. The sun was starting to set when we found ourselves in a picturesque field, birds flying over head and horses running in the distance. It was the ideal wild camping spot but I knew that we had to push on.
We put on our headlights and continued on, progress slow because the path here was so overgrown. Until we reached a residential area where we picked up the place, now scooting along paved paths. The roads and streets were empty. The house lights on as people got ready for an early night - it was a Monday after all. We stopped briefly to ask a kind stranger to fill up our water bottles. Then for a short conversation with a pair of confused police officers who were admiring our gear. They declined our offers to have a go on the scooters, although I could see they wanted to.
The London Loop near Pinnerwood House by Des Blenkinsopp (via Geograph)
Eventually we called it a night near Hatch End when I felt my energy levels dip and I couldn't go any further. A large rugby field made the perfect place to discreetly roll out our bivvy bags for a few hours. I had never wild camped like this before, in an bivvy, in a city. I thought I would have a restless night but it wasn't the case. The bustling city lights and traffic noise in the distance was a comfort. And with my body tired in a way that only a long day in the outdoors can induce, I drifted off into a long dreamless sleep. The first of 4 good sleeps on the trip.
The London Loop passes 6 boroughs and has been broken down into 24 comfortable day hikes that start and end with a tube station, making it comfortable for section hiking. I whizzed around the Loop and had a wonderful time doing so. But, I hope to do it again, this time slowly so I really have time to soak up the places you pass.
For Londoners needing a break from city life or wanting to ease back into walking with gentle treks, or looking for anongoing weekend challenge to get them outside more. Look no further - the London Loop is waiting.
The official London Loop website
Bex's day-by-day write up on the London Loop challenge
More from Bex and her UK and overseas adventures
View on OS Maps