I had seen signs for the Capital Ring when doing other shorter walks, and was intrigued enough to go and buy the guidebook. As it happened, I ended up with some unused vacation that needed to be taken before the end of March, and didn't have anything else planned, which seemed ideal. Especially since the UK seemed to be in the grip of a heatwave. Some browsing of the train times on the internet convinced me that with a bit of planning it would be possible to do it spread over a few days, and still get home every night. Kris from work was up for a few of the stages, which I took as a good sign, given that he already done the whole thing once already!
It was a chilly Monday morning when I set off from home, with a layer of frost over the grass on the way to the station, so I needed my fleece and waterproof tops on. Taking the train towards London it was to hard to shake the feeling that I was on my way to work. However two trains got me to Woolwich without too much difficulty, followed by a short walk from Woolwich Arsenal station to get down to the actual start by the river. I finally got walking at exactly nine. It was already bright and sunny, and there were superb views up the Thames, past the Thames Barrier, with the hazy city in the background. The route soon left the river, and through a few streets before arriving at the first of many parks, one of which had a small farm, and a large black pig watched me through the mesh of the railings as I went past. At Eltham Common the path disappeared into pleasant forest, before arriving at the small Severndroog tower at the top of a hill (and the highest point of the entire Capital Ring, at 121m).
I soon arrived at the excellently situated cafe at the top of Oxleas Meadows, and got a drink and a quick snack whilst gazing out over the swathe of grass stretching away below, then some superb forest trail through the rest of Oxleas Wood. A bit further on, the path went by the very grand Eltham Palace, protected by a moat. The palace was a bit frustrating for keen photographers, as only a small glimpse of it could be seen from the path. Shortly after the palace, the route took King John's walk, a wide path between fields that gained some height, giving more cracking views back over the suburbs and all the way back to the city.
There was quite a bit of pavement walking for a while, through various suburbs, but things improved immensely when the trail entered Beckenham Place Park. It was a lovely spot, lots of trees, and good views of the large white mansion across the other side of the valley. A couple of bright green parakeets appeared on a tree nearby as I was sat down on a bench having a snack. After passing by the front of the white mansion the route pushed on into New Beckenham, where there was some rather intriguing routing. Rather than take a direct route down a (not unpleasant) street, the route seemed to take wide diversions off to each side in order to pick up (very short) bits of path or park.
At Crystal Palace there were a superb set of dinosaurs, spread around the park and the little lakes. I took a short diversion up to the summit, which turned out to be a bit longer than expected, as there seemed to be some sort of filming that was going on, with temporary fences and barriers up all over the place. At the exit to the park was Crystal Palace station, which was a possible finish point. However it was still fairly early, so I stopped at a small shop and got some energy drink and a few snacks and pushed on. The next bit traversed through lots of quite hilly residential streets. Near the end the route turned into Norwood Grove, with good views of the mansion and its gardens. Finally, a short descent down Streatham Common got me to Streatham station at about 4pm. Two trains got me home without too much difficulty.
Another frosty start on Tuesday as I walked to the station, and I needed fleece and waterproof tops on again. There were some delays and cancellations on the trains, but in the end two trains got me back to Streatham station and on the go again for quarter to nine. Quite a bit of street pounding for the first couple of hours, although the route did go through some pleasant enough parks. There were also a few interesting buildings, a very elaborate water pumping station, and the rather imposing front of Wandsworth prison. There were a surprising number of people out running or exercising in the parks, and many of them seemed to have a personal trainer standing telling them what to do, which seemed like a new trend. A long road past a cemetery soon got me to Earlsfield, and then to the rendezvous point at Wimbledon Park, where Kris was already installed on a bench in the sunshine. It was nice and warm by this time, and I was able to strip off a couple of layers, down to a T-shirt.
We pushed on, and soon got to Wimbledon Common, where things really picked up. Nice dirt trails through the trees, passing the very pleasant Queensmere, which had a swans nest floating in the middle. At the end of the common, the route passed some sports fields, where an inter-school rugby tournament was in full swing. A special horse-rider crossing got us over the A3 and into Richmond Park, which was very pleasant walking, past a couple of lakes, lot of clumps of trees, and groups of deer hanging about. Despite it being March, the unseasonally hot weather meant I had actually caught the sun a bit the day before, so we stopped near the lakes and put sun cream on. Nearer the edge of the park, we took a short diversion to King Henry's Mound, where there is a superb view (with in-situ telescope) all the way back to St Pauls (a whole 16km away), which is actually an official 'protected view'. We dropped down out of the Park and adjourned to a bench by the River Thames for sandwiches and to watch the comings and goings.
After the snack break we carried on along the river past Richmond, and then crossed over the Thames via Richmond Lock. There was a great section of riverside scenery beside Isleworth Ait, and at one point the path crossed a pub veranda, picking its way through tables, which strained our resolve a bit. We kept going though, and soon reached the impressive Syon House. Round the side was an interesting looking large glass dome, which only just peeped out from behind a wall. Soon the route joined the Grand Union Canal, which periodically turned into the River Brent. The canal section passed by some interesting old iron bridges and locks. It was quite industrial in places, and at one point the canal-side path passed right through a huge corrugated iron shed which sheltered an old disused dock. Further on things got a lot more rural, with a pleasant section of meandering river past Hanwell, with views up to a church spire on the hilltop. A final push through a golf course, sports fields, and a few streets got us to Greenford station at about 4pm. There were surprisingly good views from the platform, which was high up over the surrounding area. Kris seemed to have an encylopaedic knowledge of the underground system, and two tubes got us back to Wimbledon without too much bother, then one train to get back home.
Yet another chilly start on Wednesday, the grass was covered with a layer of frost again, as I walked to the station. One train and three tubes finally got me back to Greenford, and I was on the go again at about quarter to nine. Only a few minutes from the station was a quiet canal section, with quite a bit of bird life on the water, which was very pleasant in the early morning sun. This was followed by a short climb up to Horsenden Hill, with the first good views of the day, and a nice bit of old forest after the summit. Soon the route climbed up to Harrow on the Hill, and passed through some of the rather grand old school buildings, with good views back to the city through some of the gaps, and the Wembley arch dominating the foreground. It was starting to get quite warm again, and after descending from the school and passing a hospital I stopped and took off a few layers, put some sun cream on, and had a quick snack.
Quite a bit of navigating suburban streets got me to Barn Hill, with an interesting small pond on the summit. This was followed by a bit of a dogleg through the rest of Fryent Country Park to take in a small high point. It was fairly quiet, only a few dog walkers about, and I stopped for another snack on a bench. A few more residential streets got me to Brent Reservoir, which was a pleasant enough spot, followed by more plodding through suburbs to pass by Brent Cross shopping centre. After meeting the North Circular road, the route left the streets for a while and joined a small stream. Shortly after joining the stream I caught a glimpse of a slightly unusual animal in the water out of the corner of my eye, which looked like some sort of terrapin. It was still hot going, and the riverside route surfaced to cross a road as it got nearer to Hampstead Garden Suburb, so I bought some extra water and energy drink from a nearby filling station. The stream walk seemed reasonably tranquil, although one section where it went through a tunnel under a road had its own CCTV camera, which seemed slightly ominous.
After leaving the river there was a short traverse through the eerily quiet Hampstead Garden Suburb, lots of large houses, and immaculate streets and gardens. There was an excellent bit through Highgate Wood, which seemed very popular, people everywhere. Even better still was the much quieter and hillier Queen's Wood, with a small cafe at its entrance. After the two woods, the route emerged at Highgate Station, and shortly dropped down a hill onto the Parkland Walk. This was a cracking stretch, one of the best bits of the day. The walking was easy and flat, along the route of an old railway line, but surrounded by greenery. It was often high up above the surrounding streets and houses, which gave an interesting effect, and excellent views through the trees and undergrowth. Occasionally it passed through through deep cuttings, and even an old railway station. It was very popular, with lots of cyclists, walkers and runners out. After a few kilometres if finally popped out at Finsbury Park, where the whole of North London seemed to have decamped, to sunbathe on the grass or just stroll about.
In total contrast to the park, the next bit was almost totally deserted, along the New River Path. To the right, behind tall spiky railings was a large housing estate, and quite a bit of building work seemed to be going on. The river side itself was very quiet though, with quite a lot of birds on the water. As I passed by, two coots seemed to bullying a much smaller one, and kept pushing its head under the water. Further on there were two swans sitting on a large nest. Eventually the New River arrived at two large reservoirs, where some smart new flats had sprung up. There was a final circuit round Abney Park Cemetery, which was very interesting, slightly wild and overgrown, and now maintained as a nature reserve. From Stoke Newington station, two trains and one tube got me back home without too much difficulty.
I couldn't do a stage on Thursday as I was already booked up, but I was back and raring to go on Friday, and Kris was up for for the final stage too. It wasn't quite as chilly first thing, no frost on the grass, and two trains and one tube got me back to Stoke Newington. I strolled down to the rendezvous point at Springfield Park, and took a few pictures, and Kris arrived shortly afterwards. We crossed over the River Lee Navigation, and then pushed on along its bank. It was quite a pleasant stretch, fairly quiet, with a contrast between all the houses and flats back on the other side of the river, versus marshes and fields on our side. Further down we passed a building site, where people had put up placards protesting about the building of Olympic facilities on the marshland. We soon reached the Greenway, where the path ran along the top of a large embankment hiding a large sewage outlet, with good views of surrounding buildings and rivers. Near Pudding Mill, the route left the Greenway for a short diversion past the Olympic stadium, and the red twisty sculpture, before rejoining it again.
At Beckton the route finally left the Greenway and passed through a grassy park, where some horses and carts were racing round on the grass, before reaching East London University. It was a nice spot, right on the bank of the Thames with great views of London City Airport across the water. There were a lot of students sitting in the sun, and we followed their lead and sat down on a bench for a short snack, and to watch the comings and goings over at the airport. We pushed on past the cylindrical buildings of the University. After all the people milling about at the University, the route took us along some quite deserted sections of river side walking, with views of mud flats below, and picking our way past various locks. We eventually arrived at North Woolwich, although there didn't seem to be much official sign of the end of the Capital Ring route. We were determined to find it though, and after some poking about, we came across the final signpost, hidden by scaffolding and plywood boards. Also half hidden behind the boards was the entrance to the foot tunnel, which we took to get back to the South side. All that remained was a celebratory swift half in a pub that was apparently "just round the corner", with very pleasant views of the river, before three trains got me back home.
A bit different from the sort of thing that you might normally have in mind when considering a multi-day walking trip, however all in all it was a reasonably interesting walk. The unseasonal March heatwave helped as well, I actually caught the sun a bit on the first day, and had to take some sun cream with me for the other days. Quite surprising how many green spaces there are encircling London, and the Capital Ring does a good job of piecing them together, with a fair bit of variety, although at times there is quite a lot of pavement pounding between the more leafy stretches. The signposting is usually very good, and it is only very occasionally that you need to bother getting the guidebook out of your pocket. A few of the highlights included: Oxleas Wood and Meadows, Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park, the riverside past Richmond and Isleworth, the Parkland Walk, and the sections along the Thames at both the start and the finish. The final route statistics are as follows:
Not too bad, all things considered! Doing the Capital Ring left me tempted by the London Loop, which does a circuit further out, at a slightly longer 240 km (150 miles), and I got round to it a few months later, see the London Loop trip report.