I stepped out from the front door and headed for the river. With 15 miles to walk, I decided that starting by walking in the opposite direction to pick up the riverside path the easy way wasn’t really the best idea, opting instead for a nondescript footpath between houses and a fence that should lead straight to the riverside. I reached the railway to find the way barred and even if I could have got across, the path the other side looked like a jungle. Retracing my steps, I found the sign closing the path. A roadside detour finally brought me back to where I should have come out by the Proctor & Gamble factory, pumping sweet fruity fumes into the air. The factory, that is, not me.
Back on track, the first stop on the short walk to the river itself, was St Clements Church, scene of the funeral in Four Weddings & A Funeral.
Along a tree-shaded path, a series of piles of boulders showing the way, although I think their purpose was as much to inhibit cycles and horses as anything.
Turning right onto the riverside path itself, I began the trudge upwind along the industrial wasteland that decorates this stretch of the Thames. I reached the graffiti wall which had so surprised me the last time I came this way, and noted a few new pictures in the gallery.
The Dartford Bridge approached (or technically, I approached the bridge, I guess), and I passed below it’s soaring magnificence.
Dodging along the path at the back of a series of industrial sites, the long-seeming walk into Purfleet began. I emerged onto the road and turned briefly right to visit the station a couple of hundred yards along the road. An uninspiring place to start the London Loop.
Nothing to mark the start of the walk here, but I suppose it is officially a circular walk – at least if you put to one side the huge river in the way and which has no crossing between the two ends of the loop. The first waymark was encountered walking west along the A1090.
Back on the river a short way after this, I took the opportunity of the first bench of the day for First Lunch, gazing out across the river and feasting on the allure of Erith opposite. A couple of hundred yards further on, the first of several historic sites – Purfleet Magazine. All that remains of the 5 sheds that once stood here is one long rectangular building – Magazine No. 5. Built between 1761 and 1773, this was once the main gunpowder storage facility for the British military.
Just past the magazine, I was saddened to see the metal arch detailing a historical timeline of the area, and erected for the millenium, had been defaced. Apparently it seems if you want a good seedy time, Kaye is the go-to girl in these parts.
I crossed the Mardyke and strolled past the RSPB visitor centre, now encountering my first people on the route, out for a Saturday stroll over this challenging terrain.
It’s pretty bleak here as much of the land is marshland, or reclaimed marshland. Rough grasses, stunted isolated trees and mud dominate the landscape on my left.
Ahead, a large green mound rises seemingly from the water’s edge. Today was calm, but when I passed by there back in January, the sky was dark with birds circling above the landfill that lies beneath this hillock. One day it’s destined to be a country park.
As I reached the landfill mound, so began a wide well-made and flat path with distance markers every 200m, counting down the distance back to Purfleet and ahead to Rainham. This seems to make the walk drag on and on, especially with very little to look at on the right. Eventually I reached the end of the mound and the path wound back slightly from the river to go around the next factory. An attempt to lighten the mood by someone, resting on the foreshore:
Also here, several rusty barges lie rotting at the water’s edge – apparently these date back to D Day.
The path left the river and headed for Rainham station along industrial estate roads. Last time I came this way, my walk ended here as it was only ever intended to be a riverside exploration. But now I felt I was really embarking on the London Loop proper, with every step from now being a new one. Much following of roads and a crossing of the Ingrebourne River brought me to the edge of the Forestry Commission site that is the first part of a 4 mile long stretch of greenery along the river. And here my diligent following of the waymarks in an attempt to faithfully walk the official route let me down somewhat. I crossed the road into the park arrived at a crossroads of paths and pondered which way to go. As it happens the route marked on the OS map continues a bit further along the road, entering the park near Albyns Farm, and this caused some confusion – especially as I was by a car park and the only car park was at Albyns Farm. Clearly the path on the ground and the path on the map weren’t quite in sync.
So I followed my nose. The sun behind(ish) me meant I was heading north(ish), the fact I hadn’t reached the river and could see the green corridor stretching out ahead of me, made the rough direction obvious. I followed a small lake on my right until the path began to wind up a hill. I reached the “summit” to find this empty plinth and a view to Hornchurch and Upminster in the distance. I continued on, down through wilder terrain and walking along the edge of empty fields. By now I’d pretty much worked things out, saw a gate and expected to pick up waymarkers the other side of it – and duly did.
And I strolled again along manicured paths, encountering picnic tables and a flock of Canada Geese milling about by the lake. To either side dense patches of trees and intriguing (to a wild camper at least) glimpses of grassier ground were spotted. Dotted around were pillboxes and several strange lampshade-shaped concrete remains. An appeal on Twitter yielded the information that these were Tett Turrets – another form of pillbox. Their main advantage being that they were cheap an easy to install, with much of the space being underground, and offering both a 360º field of fire and a certain degree of unobtrusiveness, they had one glaring weakness – they were extremely vulnerable to a well-lobbed grenade. This was very much an all or nothing defensive position.
I crossed the river and was into the Ingrebourne nature reserve, or the Hornchurch dogwalk track as I shall call it. The rain started as I passed St George’s Hospital, and I seized the opportunity to try out the new Montane Atomic Stretch jacket that Blacks sent me recently (more about that in due course). I slogged my way to the road, crossed and continued on the even less inspriing other side. I emerged to the sound of AFC Hornchurch getting stuffed by Hereford in the adjacent stadium. A walk along residential streets brought me to the A124 and the point where I had to part with the London Loop for today. The path turned left, and I turned right heading for Upminster station and the train home.
Distance 15.5 miles, about 100m of up and own (all in tiny bits), taking just a shade over 5 hours.
As usual, clicking on the map takes you to a zoomable map on Social Hiking.