London LOOP Stage 6: Kingston to Hatton Cross

Published 16 March 2016

Leg of Mutton Pond in Bushy Park

Weeping willow trees surround a pond in Bushy Park

“I remember doing this section last time,” I remarked to Catherine as we walked over Kingston Bridge. “Don’t remember much about it other than being horribly hungover.”

I’ve never been a massive drinker. Finding me with a massive ranging stonker of a hangover is pretty rare. So goodness knows what we’d been doing the previous night, all those years ago, but I can still remember walking over the bridge and having an absolutely desperate need for a can of Coke. My brain was screaming at me to down a can of that brown, sugary, sticky stuff; doing its uttermost to persuade me that it would make me feel better.

And so it is, that that intense craving is most of what I remember of that day on the LOOP over ten years ago. The loveliness of the views? Forgotten. Admiring the deer in Bushy Park? No chance. No, my primary memory was of feeling terrible and an intense, overwhelming craving for a soft drink, and not finding anywhere to purchase it.

It was time to rectify that.

Kingston Bridge, crossing the Thames

The section from Kingston to Hatton Cross was the last section of the LOOP we’d walked all those years ago. Our attempt to circumnavigate London just petered out. In total we’d walked about a third of the trail before being distracted by other – slightly nicer – parts of the South East. And now we were back. Not that Catherine had been particularly keen on returning. Her memories of the LOOP were walking down streets, and being surrounded by litter.

To be fair, the LOOP features both heavily. So on a rare day when we could both we child free, her idea of fun wasn’t to return to Kingston and join me on my journey round the capital. She’d wanted to go out further afield; a plan that was instantly thwarted by oversleeping, and the fact that it can take an incredibly long amount of time to get a toddler and two grandparents organised for a day out together. We didn’t even make it out of the house until 10am, and the chances of heading to the South Downs or something, doing a good walk in beautiful countryside and being back for tea, were pretty slim.

So the LOOP it was. And at least this time I was feeling rather perky.


LOOP sign in the grass of Bushy Park

Catherine’s attitude to the LOOP mellowed in Bushy Park. With the sun shining, and a gentle breeze in the air, there can be few finer places to walk.

Bushy Park owes much to Henry VIII. After taking control of nearby Hampton Court Palace from Cardinal Wolsey, the king also grabbed the land that the modern Bushy Park stands on, and set about converting it for use for one of his favourite hobbies: hunting deer.

Later monarchs remodelled the park, adding more attractive and decorative features, however the deer remain to this day. Some 300 Red and Fallow deer roam the parkland, although now deer are only hunted in order to actively manage size of the herd. Selective and humane culling takes place to ensure that the herds never get to big, and that the deer have enough food available to eat.

A group of deer in Bushy Park

Deer in Bushy Park

The deer are, of course, wild creatures; something that some of the park’s patrons seem blissfully unaware off. As we neared one group of animals, with young fawns in toe, we watched with grim fascination as an overweight man in a red baseball cap headed towards the deer, hand held out. Quite what he expected to happen was anyone’s guess, although our immediate concern was that the deer would instantly balk and head off in our direction. Either that or bite his hand off. The thought of it reminded of a tale told by Bill Bryson in his book, ‘A Walk In The Woods’, where a parent smeared the hand of a toddler with honey so a bear could lick it off. The bear didn’t quite get this and instead bit the whole hand off. Well, how was it to know?

Thankfully the deer remained calm – they must be used to idiots – and the man eventually backed away, leaving us to breathe a huge sigh of relief as we walked on to nearby Leg of Mutton pond, and neighbouring Heron Pond.

Curved trunk willow tree in Bushy Park

It may have fallen but this willow tree hasn't been put off growing

Fish flittered around in the pond’s water, and beside it stood one of the many willow trees that were dotted around the park. This one was something special: a fallen tree that had continued growing. Most of its roots were in the air, and the main trunk was lying on the ground, but enough of it had survived and over several years it had curved itself the right way up. For good measure, the trunk’s position meant it made a large, but useful bench, allowing you to sit on it and sit underneath the tree and admire the dappled sunlight coming through the leaves.

Leaving the ponds, the LOOP went to the more formal parts of the park, introduced by those of Henry’s successors who were fractionally less obsessed with killing things. The Woodland Gardens, walled off to keep the deer out, were a joy to walk through, especially as the tree cover meant the bright sun was being kept out of our eyes. After the gardens came a grand drive densely lined with trees, and then after a quite burst of the deer park again, we were exited the park at the edge of Hampton where we’d planned to stop for lunch.

A short way up the road we spotted a pub and wandered over. From the outside the Roebuck just looked like most other suburban boozers, but inside it was clear we’d stumbled upon somewhere truly special. Every single wall was filled with knick-knacks, memorabilia and all round general stuff. Bottles, jars, barrels, old beer pumps, navel insignia, and a framed boxing glove all adorned the pub’s main room, and attached to the ceiling were model planes and fishing rods, and a wicker bicycle. That’s a full-scale model of a bicycle made out of wicker by the way. There was even an old bus stop attached to the wall. The pub’s interior looked absolutely stunning, although I wouldn’t want to be the person who had to dust it all.

The bar offered a choice of five ales, and the thought of abandoning the whole enterprise and just settling in for the duration crossed my mind. With pints in hand, we took up a pew under a collection of bank notes, sitting at a glass topped table under which were old newspapers dating back from the Second World War. This was a fantastic find and no mistake, and thoughts crossed my mind of abandoned this whole walking thing and simply settling in for the duration. There was just one problem. The pub didn’t do food at weekends. If we wanted more than a liquid lunch, we’d have to move on. Reluctantly, we did, heading up the main road towards Fulwell station to see what we could find, which wasn’t much: the odd takeaway and a few Indian restaurants.

Eventually, opposite a bus depot we found a pub. The menu of the oddly named ‘Brouge at the Old Goat’ made it look more like a restaurant, but there were some serviceable dishes and it looked large enough that we’d be able to find a small table amongst the weekend dinners. With stomachs rumbling and expectations high, we went inside only to find it absolutely deserted.

We stood at the bar, expecting to see some staff but saw no one. We made a little noise. Not much happened. We shuffled around expectantly. The place remained quiet.

After about five minutes a man rushed past with a plate, but didn’t bother looking our way or even acknowledging our entire existence. Then he disappeared, never to be seen again. After ten minutes we finally got bored and we walked out the door; our departure entirely unnoticed.

Rescue came in the form of a branch of a garden centre across the road that advertised itself as having a café, and we headed inside hoping for better look. With fish and chips, and roasted pork belly, the menu could be best described as ‘Best of British’. And looking around, it was obvious why the Brouge/Goat/whatever was absolutely deserted; most of the local population were here instead. They had great food, served drinks and, most importantly, had staff around to serve you. Within minutes we’d obtained a table and were soon happily filling our stomachs.


The River Crane in Crane Park

River Crane

Our search for a lunch venue had resulted in us bypassing about two miles worth of the original route. For most of that time it had been wandering around housing estates, and the one bit that wasn’t was about an eighth of a mile walking over the corner of a golf course. So when we re-joined the LOOP a mile or so up the B358, we didn’t feel particularly guilty. We hadn’t missed much.

Not long after meeting it again, the LOOP left the road and headed down a river. We’d met the Crane, an eight and a half mile tributary of the Thames that rises in Hayes. The LOOP spends quite a bit of time with it, and it provide the dominant focus for our afternoon, mostly in various parks which surround it.

One was Crane Park, a delightful little area adorned with elaborately carved wooden benches, and dominated by the 25m tall Shot Tower that is the sole remnant of the park’s previous life. For this was once home to Hounslow Gunpowder Mills; a mighty site where gunpowder was milled from the 16th century until 1929.

It was a dangerous business, with many explosions recorded over the history of the mills. The effects of one such event in 1758 were felt thirty miles away in Reading. Hence why – or so it is believed – that the Shot Tower was built in the first place. The large stone tower provided a vantage point from where a watch could be kept for fires and explosions.

After decades of disuse, the tower has been restored, and is open to visitors on Sundays. This proved little use to us as we were a day earlier. Still, those that make it on the right day can climb the steps to the top and admire the view. Well, what view that can be seen over the tall trees that surround the tower, anyway.


At the entrance to Hounslow Heath, a large group of teenagers had decided that the best thing to do that day, was sit around on the fence next to a kissing gate. By the look of it, the gate was the most exciting thing locally. We’d walked down a busy main road to get to the Heath, and found little more than a few shops and an Indian takeaway. When that’s all there is, who wouldn’t sit on a fence at the entrance to a park?

Although if they’d ventured deeper into Hounslow Heath, they would be exploring an area steeped in history. The armies of Cromwell and James II both camped here, and it was here too that a project began that would eventually see the Ordnance Survey map accurately the whole of the country. It was even the place where London’s first civil airport was located; operating for two glorious years until the aeroplanes moved to Croydon.

Exploring teenagers wouldn’t see much of that now; these days Housnlow Heath is simply a large patch of grass and woodland, with some wetlands thrown in. Not that it is completely devoid of interest. We found blackberries growing, caught glimpses of planes preparing to land at nearby Heathrow, and – most excitingly – saw a cow in some woods, eating leaves off the trees. The heath even includes a golf course, although one that the LOOP wisely avoided, preferring instead to return us to banks of the Crane that it had left a short time earlier.

Poster for improvement works at Donkey Wood, lying on the ground

'We are improving Donkey Wood. Coming soon, a new place to put signs so we won't have to put posters on the floor!'

A quick cross of the A315 took us into Donkey Wood; the name perhaps coming from the donkeys that used carry materials to and from the gunpowder mills. Or perhaps it was named as someone once saw some donkeys there. Who really knows? There were no information boards to give us a a potted history, although we did find a piece of laminated A4 paper entitled ‘Donkey Wood Improvements’ lying on the floor next to some bushes. Still, at least something was going on.

Donkey Wood contained a myriad of paths, boardwalks, and waterways. And not many signs. Our map told us we needed to stay to the left of the Crane, but that’s easier said than done when you’re not particularly sure where the river actually is. There were so many channels and streams that it was difficult to even know where the LOOP was.

As planes roared overhead, somehow we staggered though on the right path, narrowly avoiding several incorrect detours. But it all came to a head when the LOOP came to another main road. The main path headed up to the road via a substantial ramp whilst a smaller path appeared to carry on up ahead; blocked slightly by a wooden barrier. There was no LOOP signpost anywhere, but our map told us the trail stayed on the left of the river, so we squeezed past it and carried on.

Battling through undergrowth in Donkey Wood

The Battle of Donkey Wood

All started fine, but quickly the path got more and more overgrown and it wasn’t long before we were battling through undergrowth, and wishing we had a machete to help fight our way through. But it was when we were squeezed in a narrow gap between a metal fence and a large group of trees that something came back to me. What should have been a simple quarter mile stretch at the end of our day, had become a right horrendous mess. For it turned out that there was actually something I could remember about the last time we’d done this section of the LOOP.

“You know, we made this mistake last time too!” I shouted ahead to Catherine who was busy untangling herself from a bramble bush whilst I slurped through some gloopy mud.

The LOOP was on the other side of the river, accessible via the ramp we’d ignored earlier. But with no signs to tell us this, and the Ordnance Survey maps in our guidebook being incorrect, we’d missed this. We’d made that error ten years earlier, and we’d made it again now. Indeed we weren’t alone. Not long after we found another couple who had also made the same mistake.

The ‘path’ ended at the side of the A30 dual carriageway, on the periphery of Heathrow Airport. I strolled a little way down and found where we should have been; on a nice, wide, easy to walk path on the other side of the river. It should have been a simple way to end our day’s walk, and had been far, far from it.

The A30 dual carriageway at Hatton Cross

Certainly a fine ending...

We looked at each other, sighed a little and began to walk down the dual carriageway that seemed to be in a completely different world; one of cold and clinical looking buildings. Of hangers, hotels, car parks, and box-like warehouses.

Despite having been so near to the airport for much of the afternoon, the airport hadn’t been massively noticeable. The closest we’d got was seeing the underbellies of aeroplanes as they flew over at a low height as they approached the runway. Even struggling through the last section on a non-existent path, there had been little to notice.

But here on the A30, as we prepared to head home, it was all too noticeable. It was an abrupt entry to the world of Heathrow, and one that we couldn’t wait to escape. This wasn’t a place to loiter. This was one to leave as fast as you could, and we did just that, storming down to the road to nearby Hatton Cross tube station, and the welcoming embrace of the London Underground.

The contrast with the joyous start of the day in Bushy Park was just immense. There are times when it seems a shame to leave the LOOP behind for the day. And this certainly wasn’t one of them. It was time to go home.

View all 45 of my photos from the day.

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Your Comments

Michelle

14 July 2018 at 2:14 pm

Dear Andrew,

Myself and two friends walked the loop back in mid-June on a Saturdays. Ha we got lost on Hampton Heath and ended up by the immigration office! Then by chance found an entrance to Donkey wood! We managed dont ask how how we got on the right side! I did love reading your comments and laughing. We ended up at Fulwell Golf course private cafe ( they let us in) for refreshments a good half way mark and my friend got served a caramel latte which she hated it we had waited twenty mins for it and then we ended up with someone’s drink I had to drink it as we had waited so long and the poor staff were struggling with a dodgy machine at that particular time. But the toilets were welcome. I enjoyed your photo’s. We got on the tube at Hatton to meet other friends who had walked another section in Central London, we were very late as we got lost! But they held out for us and we got a decent coffee at Nero’s near St Martin’s Church of the field.

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