After the stunning ridge walking of day 5, this section comes as a bit of a disappointment. Sure, there are some pleasant bits, but there's an awful lot of walking through town, and although a large part of the walk is along the River Hogsmill, there's little charm left in this choked-up old stream as it struggles through a thin green strip, hemmed in on both sides by pretty uninspiring suburbia. Luckily the destination is one of the best ways to end a day's walking; this is the only day on the Loop where you can end your walk with a pint by the Thames (the final day doesn't end anywhere near a pub) and that's got to be worth the effort.
But there's a long walk between Banstead Downs and the welcome beer of Kingston, and it starts off in pretty uninspiring style, with a short stint across a golf course and a longer one through the backstreets of East Ewell. Thankfully things take a turn for the better once you step out of town and into Warren Farm, when the countryside finally kicks in. The next bit of greenery, Nonsuch Park, is well worth exploring, and although Nonsuch Mansion requires a short detour from the Loop, it's highly recommended; as with so many days on the Loop, the stately homes en route are serene, well-maintained and happy reminders of Greater London's more rural past.
Nonsuch Mansion may still be standing, but Nonsuch Palace has all but disappeared. Dating from the reign of Henry VIII, all that remains of this grand palace is a wall that the Loop follows soon after leaving Nonsuch Park, but if your imagination is keen then make sure you turn right just before leaving the park, where three stone markers along the side of the pavement mark out parts of the old palace. The furthest stone has a map of where the palace stood, and although it's no work of art, it's worth the short detour.
The River Hogsmill
From Nonsuch Park the path winds through a thin wood and past the wall of the old banqueting hall of Nonsuch Palace, and a few minutes later you reach the little town of Ewell. I liked Ewell; it's got plenty of interesting buildings along the side of the road, and you get the feeling that you're walking into an area of London that not only has history, but rather a lot of old money invested in it. Perhaps this is no surprise, as today's destination, Kingston, is one of the more exclusive addresses in London, but before then you have to brave the River Hogsmill, which the Loop now follows all the way to the Thames.
Perhaps I'm being a little harsh, but I found the Hogsmill profoundly disappointing. I really fancied the idea of following an urban stream all the way from its source to where it meets the Thames, but where some urban rivers are pretty, some aren't, and the Hogsmill isn't. It starts off promisingly enough, draining from its source in the pleasant Upper Mill pond in Ewell's Bourne Hall Park, and the walking is easy and not unpleasant for some time. But it soon palls, and the real problem with this part of the walk kicks in: it's monotonous. The green belt through which the river winds is, for the most part, bland inner-city parkland, and although the buildings on either side aren't that intrusive, this is a long, long way from the sweeping countryside of previous days; it's the sort of environment that's suitable for a quick walk to get the dogs settled down for the night, but it's not that good for a day's excursion. Basically the walk along the Hogsmill is boring.
The river was also pretty grotty when I walked along it, and if there's one thing that's depressing it's seeing a river choked with rubbish. I have to say I was surprised; in some areas of London I wouldn't raise an eyebrow at the piles of litter and rusting shopping trolleys you so often see in the muddy banks of the city's streams, but I really didn't expect to see such a mess this close to upmarket Kingston.
The final kick in the teeth comes a mile from the Thames, when the Loop passes the lovely-sounding Berrylands station and turns west to head for the centre of Kingston. This cycle path, which follows Lower Marsh Lane, would be pleasant if it wasn't for the fact that it runs right past a sewage works; unfortunately, though, it stinks, and once you've managed to get the unpleasant smell out of your head, you're plunged into the suburbs of Kingston. There are a couple of interesting things on the way – the Coronation Stone and the late 12th Century Clattern Bridge – but if, like me, you've already had enough of the Hogsmill, put your foot down and get to the Thames, where the Bishop Out of Residence serves a fine pint of Young's bitter.
This is by far the best part of the whole day. It's not a great part of the Loop, this.