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Long-Distance Walks with Mark Moxon

London Loop: Day 1: Erith to Old Bexley

The Thames at Erith
The River Thames at Erith, where the Loop takes its first steps

The Loop doesn't start off on a particularly high note, though that's not to say that the first day's walking isn't interesting. Thankfully the last half of this short introduction to the Loop contains enough treasure to make it worthwhile; the only problem is the first half from Erith to Crayford, which is a little bit depressing. Luckily it's not that long; at 8.5 miles, day 1 is one of the shorter walks on the Loop, so it's not long before you can get stuck into happier places like Hall Place and Bexley.

The Great Wrecker's Yard in the Sky

A pile of cars east of Erith
Wrecked cars piled high in the industrial quagmire to the east of Erith

As the metal factories grind to a halt at the edge of town, you're plunged straight from suburbia into greenery, a familiar event on the Loop. The Crayford Marshes are at the very edge of London, and they feel like the ends of the earth; indeed, the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge that carries the M25 over the Thames at Dartford is clearly visible in the near distance. Huge ships chug up the river at this point, and littering the landscape are obvious signs of man's endeavour; the Dartford power station stands erect in the distance, and over the river the mounds of greenery aren't natural hills, but the results of landfill. However, the most obvious imprints from man's big-soled hobnail boots are the car wreckers' yards that line the last mile of the River Darent. They're fascinating, and oddly profound.

The River Cray
The River Cray in one of its prettier moments; here the first day of the Loop graduates from industry to suburbia

Wonderful Hall Place

Topiary hedges at Hall Place
The entertaining topiary hedges of Hall Place are well worth the detour

It doesn't take long to wander through Crayford, with its pleasant park breaking up what would otherwise be a fairly nondescript town centre. Luckily the Loop soon ducks off the road and back to the River Cray, where I bumped into a group of elderly walkers who nodded with the friendly recognition of fellow walkers; the full backpack I was heaving round the route in training for Land's End to John o'Groats was a bit of a giveaway. But I'd decided to check out nearby Hall Place as a good spot for lunch, so waving goodbye I plunged along the river, weaving through crowds of kids who'd been let off school early to enjoy the blossoming spring weather that was making this walk a real pleasure.