“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”.
I don’t know much about Samuel Johnson, but he certainly had that right.
We both thought we knew London pretty well. It turns out that we (still) only knew parts of London.
One thing leads to another, as it does, and my various walks through London parks alerted me to another walk: the Capital Ring. By chance Malcolm also came across it by some other route, and by chance we both had the same idea about our first micro-adventure: walking the Capital Ring.
The Capital Ring is a walk around London, mainly around or near to the outer edges, as far as possible taking in open spaces, common land, parks and woodland. You can read all about it by clicking on the link above to the Transport for London (TfL) website, which details the walk and provides good maps and instructions. There’s also a very good book, which Malcolm bought and we used (pictured below with added cake). The instructions are excellent – clear, concise, and accurate. Plus interesting background information about many of the places we passed along the way.
The walk is 78 miles long, broken into 15 separate sections. We chose to do three sections on each of 5 days, but you could equally easily do one section at a time, just dipping in when you have a spare day, and thus have more time to explore and enjoy along the way.
We wanted to do the walk in one go. We were able to find a whole clear week, which enabled us to spend a day getting there and a day coming home, with 5 days in between for the walk. We were fortunate to be able to arrange to stay with oldest son and d-o-l for most of the time, plus a couple of nights with good friends who helpfully live not far from Richmond Park. We were able to invite them to join us for a day each, leaving us three days walking just the two of us.
It also meant that we were wonderfully well looked after at the end of our long walks. I should confess that I could barely hobble by the end of our first day (20 miles). Part way through day 2 I developed a strange burning rash on one leg and foot, which when we arrived at our destination revealed itself to be quite swollen, and continued to be swollen for the rest of the walk, so my evenings were spent with my leg up and feeling very tired indeed. Fortunately mostly it wasn’t painful, just uncomfortable, and I coped by skipping either the last few or the first few miles each day.* (No, not literally skipping, I mean missing out). I think I missed about 8 or 9 miles altogether. (Cunningly, the bits I missed were without fail the bits that weren’t much fun anyway – fancy a walk alongside the N Circular? no, I thought not).
We began the walk down by the Thames, next to Woolwich Ferry, and we knew we would be back there 5 days later, crossing from the other side.
Being on the outskirts of London, quite a bit of the walk was on the high places: Woolwich Common; Sevendroog Castle; Oxleas Wood; Crystal Palace; Richmond Park; Highgate Wood. There were fabulous views over London.
There were places we had never been before but will certainly go back to (Sevendroog Castle; Oxleas Wood; Eltham Palace). There were lovely parks (two in Charlton alone; Clissold Park; Springfield Park). There was an enchanting (enchanted) historic cemetery (Abney Cemetery).
There was ancient woodland – several remaining parts of the Great North Wood – with bluebells for added delight.
There were rivers and canals (and former canals) and docks (and former docks) and reservoirs and ponds and lakes. And a lovely former railway line which took us from woods to park (Highgate and Queens Woods to Finsbury Park).
The images below may give you a flavour of some of what saw.
There were also the bits that were not beautiful, nor picturesque, not even pleasant to walk, but which served as useful reminders of what we (collectively) do to the environment when we prioritise motor vehicle use. (Try walking along or even near to the North Circular, the M4, or any other very busy road. And then imagine living there).
The good, the bad and the ugly, all brilliantly connected by excellent signs; rail tube bus and ferry links; and great cakes.
As people born and raised in London, there were also many memories sparked by places along the way, and reflections about the past. Particularly for me, as the day we came to London turned out to be the day of my very dear aunt’s funeral. The last of my aunts and uncles.
We had a great feeling of achievement when we arrived back at Woolwich Ferry, and an appetite for the next walk.
No need to travel to faraway places for this kind of adventure. There’s plenty right on the doorstep.
*a week later, my ankle and foot are still a little swollen but definitely much better and on the mend. A couple of days at the weekend with my leg and foot up (sewing in crochet ends) helped, as did some ointment the doctor prescribed. And thank goodness for the wonderful NHS, which sent me very swiftly for a scan to make sure the swelling wasn’t caused by a blood clot. It wasn’t, but so reassuring to know that.