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Long-Distance Walks with Mark Moxon

London Loop: Day 7: Kingston to Donkey Wood

Woodland Gardens in Kingston
Woodland Gardens in Kingston is a totally wonderful little place

This is a fascinating walk, not because it's full of amazing scenery – it's not – but because it's a lesson in how varied London really is. This section of the Loop starts out in Kingston, one of the poshest parts of suburban London, and ends in Hatton Cross, right under the screeching flight-path of Heathrow's jets. It's a walk from rich to poor, a journey from a place where people complain about an imaginary litter problem, to a place where people do nothing about a genuine one. At the start of this walk you're surrounded by people who drink tea at four o'clock; at the end you bump into the poor lost souls who tuck into their first cans of Stella at 9am. This is a nine-mile journey from tweed jackets to tracksuit bottoms, and it's a walk every Londoner should do at least once.

There are no London Loop signs for this entire section, which is odd after the well-signed day 6, and this can make navigating through Kingston high street tricky if you don't know where you're going; if you can find your way past the likes of John Lewis, Waitrose, and Marks and Spencer to the bridge over the Thames, then cross to the other side and turn left into Bushy Park. This would be an idyllic piece of countryside if it wasn't for the constant drone of the aeroplanes above; no doubt the planes of Heathrow annoy the wealthy inhabitants of Kingston, but things get an awful lot louder as the day wears on.

Daffodils in the Waterhouse Plantation
Daffodils in the Waterhouse Plantation

Ignore the planes and enjoy the weeping willows along Heron Pond before crossing the tree-lined Chestnut Avenue that leads to Hampton Court Palace. You can't really see Hampton Court from the Loop and it's too far away for a convenient detour, but luckily the Loop has some wonderful spots of its own. For example, just over the Avenue is the entrance to Woodland Gardens, which is a gorgeous place. I walked this section in spring, and blossom drifted on the ground like snow while ducks quacked around on the grass. It's an utterly delightful garden, as is the neighbouring Waterhouse Plantation, with its lovely keeper's cottage on the outskirts.

Into the Middle Class

The Shot Tower in Crane Park
The Shot Tower

If Kingston is where the rich people live, the Loop soon drifts into the realm of the middle classes. Along Cobblers Walk the Loop takes us through Teddington; this is Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph territory, as you can see from the contents of the green recycling boxes outside the expensive houses by the golf course. The Loop is still very much in the money here, though when I walked across the golf course there was a massive amount of construction going on; it looked like a large, modern block of offices rising from the ashes of the old clubhouse – or maybe it was a new clubhouse, I couldn't tell – but soon enough the Loop ducks back into suburbia, through twee names like Bye Ways and Willow Way, and finally into Crane Park.

Crane Park signals a change of vibe. Until this point the entire trip is very respectable, a showcase of places where everywhere is a desirable residence. Crane Park itself is lovely, following the River Crane through a thin but pretty strip of parkland, but it's the graffiti that strikes you as soon as you enter the park; this is the first piece of urban culture on this section, and it's an indication that things are changing.

It's worth taking a break under the Shot Tower in the middle of Crane Park to savour the halfway point. There's a bridge over to an island, which provides paths through a nature reserve, and there are large earth banks all around that were used to contain the explosions that were all too common in the gunpowder mills that sat here on the Crane back in the 16th Century. These days the biggest noise is from Heathrow; it's a sign that the planes are getting closer.

Under the Jets

An aeroplane flying overhead
Low-flying planes are a fact of life as you approach the runways of Heathrow

From Crane Park the Loop crosses a railway line and enters Hounslow. Compared to Kingston this is a different world, and Hounslow Heath manages to retain its rough edge. The heath has a chequered past and a chequered future; it's a rough place, both botanically and sociologically, and when I was there it was amazing how many people on the heath had long hair, multiple piercings and Staffordshire bull terriers. It's easy to get lost, and a sign on the way in mentions that the adder, England's only poisonous snake, has recently been spotted here. It doesn't help you feel at ease.

But because it's so wild, it's a great place to walk, and if it wasn't for the planes it would be wonderful; unfortunately the traffic over Heathrow is extremely low by this stage, and it's impossible to get away from the roar of engines. Some of them are low enough for you to see through the windows, and as the path enters Brazil Mill Woods, where you can admire the rubbish and smile at the locals out walking with their Stellas and their Superkings, it's difficult to understand how Kingston can be so close, and yet so very far away.

The Loop continues along the River Crane, squeezed between industrial units and the river, and the jets get louder and louder, until in Donkey Wood it's time to duck off the Loop and along a long stretch of the A30, past some huge British Airways hangers and directly into the flight path. And there, on the left just before you get to the tube, is a little farm complete with horses, right under the jets; frankly, it's a bizarre sight.

To be honest, it's a relief to get on the tube, if only to get away from the noise. You're unlikely to want a relaxing pint after this section of the Loop; if you're not bothered about walking the Loop backwards, I'd recommend you do this section the other way round. It's much more uplifting that way, but then again, doing it the right way round certainly makes you think...

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