The second day of the Loop is by far the shortest, coming in at a leisurely 7.25 miles, but it manages to pack in some wonderful sights. You start off in a lovely little village, wander along a delightful rural river, pass a church with a spectacular graveyard, skirt through boring suburbia, climb a hill to a delightful pub, negotiate a huge road junction, wander through pretty forest, discover some historical monuments, and finally you arrive at the end with plenty of time for a pint or three. That's not bad for such a short walk, and if you're a masochist like me you can easily combine day 1 and this day to create a full day's walk of 16 miles. Don't push it, though; day 2 of the Loop is best savoured slowly.
The start is promising enough, though Bexley's many pubs won't be much of a draw at the start of the walk (well, not if you want to finish it, anyway). As with most days on the Loop, leaving suburbia is a sudden event, and so starts a slightly boring patch of scrubland, which, if you're lucky, might be peppered with rusting cars and landfill activity, as it was for me. Don't worry; today's walk is nothing like the industrial quagmire of day 1, and this is about as grotty as the landscape gets.
As I'd decided to combine days 1 and 2 into one long walk, I was rather pleased to end up back on the old River Cray, which forms the backbone to a lot of day 1. I was pleased mainly because the stretch of the river on day 2 is utterly delightful; whereas day 1 follows a choked Cray, surrounded by litter and industrial waste, day 2 sees a lovely stretch of clear-watered rural river, populated by swans, spanned by picturesque brick bridges. It's a perfect place for a wander, and if you're doing this walk on its own, then you'll have plenty of time to bring along a picnic; the River Cray at this point is a great spot to drop the cloth, crack open the hamper and start on the sandwiches. Enjoy yourself; discovering this sort of place is what the Loop is all about.
This stretch of the river also sees the first London Loop markers (at least, the first that I spotted). The first day isn't way-marked as the London Loop – instead you follow the obvious signs for local walks such as the Cray River Walk – and here, for the first time, you can see the kestrel logo of the Loop on the distinctive round markers.
Through Foots Cray
Foots Cray itself doesn't take too long to cut through, though there is a rather long walk along the back of the houses and past the football pitch where the local football team, the Cray Wanderers, struts its stuff. It's not too long, though, and suddenly you come out into an open grassy area that can only be described as bizarre. To your left is a factory that looks like something out of a science laboratory; it's quite possibly the back end of St Mary's Hospital, but there's something distinctly chemical about its make-up. Just up from that you can make out the telltale flags of a golf course, the first of many golf courses that the Loop cuts through. And up ahead, under a couple of monstrous redwood trees, is a distant red brick building that turns out to be a pub, and a lovely little pub it is too. This is Sidcup Place, which apparently used to be council offices; this is the kind of office that most people would only dream of, and happily the council has left, leaving the building to give people pleasure instead of endless bureaucratic grief.
Unfortunately the next stage of the walk is a good example of the kind of work that would have filled the drawers at Sidcup Place before the beer barrels rolled in; it's a hideously complex interchange between the A20 and the A222, and while you wouldn't even give it a second thought in a car, I found it a bit of a shock to be walking through a cacophony of busy concrete after such lovely countryside. Luckily it doesn't last long, but if anything it rubs in the need for green spaces and walks such as the Loop; without the Green Belt, all of London would be like this. It doesn't bear thinking about.
I got a little lost in the next stage, Scadbury Park, but only temporarily; the good thing about the Loop is that it's very hard to get genuinely lost, and soon enough I stumbled on the kissing gate that the guidebook had been going on about. The markers on the way into the wood had been prised off, broken and sprayed by the lobotomised twats who make up a small but irritating percentage of city dwellers, but I can't blame them for getting lost; I simply stumbled onto a fork in the path that I couldn't find mentioned in the text, an unusual event as the Loop guidebook is one of the clearest walking guides I've ever had the pleasure to use. Still, it wasn't long before I found the hill up to the strange moated manor house in Scadbury Park, and there I met a scraggly collection of kids, out enjoying the heady air of the start of the school holidays. They marvelled at my pack, and they marvelled at the fact that I'd walked all the way from Erith; they couldn't even believe that I was planning to walk to Petts Wood station, which to them might as well have been on the other side of the planet, rather than just a couple of miles away. As they waved goodbye and wished me good luck, I found myself warming to this area of London. Not every section of the Loop is pleasant, but this section most definitely is.
As for the moated manor house, it's weird. There's a moat, loads of tumbledown brickwork, and a bloody great chimney standing up in the middle of it all, making it look like a strange industrial homage to the oracle at Delphi. It's just off the track and it's a worthy detour, as is the short back track to visit the memorial to William Willett in the next wood. Apparently Willett was a staunch supporter of daylight saving, and according to the memorial this wood was purchased as a tribute to his defiant insistence on the introduction of British Summer Time. It's a strange thing to be remembered for, but I suppose someone had to do it; as I hobbled towards the end of my long day's walk from Erith, I was certainly glad for the extra hour that Willett's campaigning had given me. It enabled me to take my time on what is one of the easiest and most pleasant Loop sections in south London.