The Final Frontier – The Thames at Gravesend

The London Spiral is a walk around the whole of London. The final stage of this epic circumnavigation began at Longfield (trains from London Victoria station) in July 2019, walking across chalky farmland into the riverside town of Gravesend.

This stage brings to a conclusion the whole walk conceived over four years ago (2015) by Tim Ingram-Smith, Charlie Fox and Gail Astbury, and now becoming a recognised trail. If you’re looking for your next challenge, this could be it.

My purpose in the walk was to get to know London, encapsulating it, cutting tangentially across its arterial road and rail ways, exploring the well known and local. In that I’ve succeeded. I’ve not just walked it once, but due to reconnaissance, I’ve walked or cycled it at least once more; that turns 250 miles or so into 500 miles, and a song by the Proclaimers.

This last stage concludes with a celebration of achievement for all those who’ve taken part, and a chance to look back on all the stages of the London Spiral.

Meadow at Longfield, Kent

Harvesting lambs lettuce, Southfleet Kent

Hook Green farm house

Southfleet village, Kent

By Broadditch Pond, Southfleet, click for larger size

Wheat field by New Barn Lane

Polytunnels growing blackberry plants, Kent

Dogrose bushes above A2 in Kent

Hogs Lane field with Watling Street (A2 motorway) beyond the green hedge

Pocahontas statue, who came to this town 400 years ago. Now Gravesend has many newcomers from all across the world (Map of population across London)

Statue commemorating Mahinder Singh Pujji who came to the UK and Gravesend from India to participate in the second world war; lighthouse boat behind.

View from the north bank back across to Gravesend, whose buildings are dwarfed by the scale of the supertankers carrying freight up the Thames.

Thanks to RIVA restaurant for hosting our arrival celebration.

Meeting place: Longfield station (trains from Victoria)
Date & time: Sunday July 14th 2019, 1 pm
Distance: the walk is approximately 6 miles, across open farm land, then through the suburbs of Gravesend
End point:
At Gravesend Pier, in sight of the ferry across the Thames, and the continuation of the spiral, then celebration at Riva. Trains to Victoria
Cost
: free
Contact: email: tim.ingram-smith@virgin.net   mobile: 077932 00932

Pictures by Jane:

Pictures by Colin:

Fame at last – media coverage of the London Spiral

My Spiral Walk around London has been published in the June 2019 Country Walking magazine as part of a feature on walking in London and National Park City.

https://pocketmags.com/country-walking-magazine
Available at all big newsagents for another couple of weeks!

The walk also got coverage in May on cool things-to-do site Londonist.com prompting site visits to rocket from a typical 14 per day to 2,900! They also saw click throughs rise to their Matt Brown article.

https://londonist.com/london/great-outdoors/that-new-walking-challenge-you-were-looking-for-try-the-london-spiral?rel=handpicked

So it has taken 4 years, 42 stages and 240 miles of walking to get noticed 🙂

Andrea : Well done Tim – that’s brilliant
Mark : Well done that man. Great coverage and your passion has been evident since the inception. I remember those conversations on the train. When is the last leg scheduled for? 
Emma : Brilliant! Don’t forget to invite me to the next walk!
Sara : That’s great! Fame at last….
Andrew (Museum of Walking) : CONGRATULATIONS – will add to your Co-Creator profile
Georgia : You Star! I want YOUR autograph! How lovely that they recognise a good thing.
Jane : Well done! Winding London up.
Janet : Well done Tim. We need to get back to it. Got as far as Wandsworth and got distracted!
Bob : Sunday was brilliant! So glad you’ve also got a really good write up on Londonist. Congratulations. Well deserved! See you next month
Rosie : Clearly, the walks will have to continue They are not only really important to and enjoyed by your regular walkers but are now also widely publicised. Apart from Heathrow they were altogether splendid.
Lisa : I hope to join you for the last one in July!
Mina : WOW!!!!! You are famous
Steve : HA HA – Brilliant
Peter : That’s great! Congratulations
Ann & Jane : Congratulations Tim – fame at last and well deserved!
Paul : Congratulations Tim!

One more chance to join in – Details of the final stage of the London Spiral walk, from Longfield to Gravesend on 14 July 2019, coming soon. Click here to be informed.

 

Stage 43 – Country Walking

The London Spiral is a walk round the whole of London from the centre to the edge, spiralling slowly outwards.

This, the second from last stage between Eynsford and Longfield is a pleasant afternoon out, walking old lanes and byways across the Kent countryside.

  • When: Sunday 9 June 2019, 1pm
  • Where to meet: Eynsford station (trains from London Victoria)
  • How to get home: Trains from Longfield to London 
  • Distance: about 6 easy miles
  • Estimated time: 3-4 hours

It’s early summer, there are flowers and birds and a bright blue sky. It still feels spiraly because the hazy towers of Canary Wharf and the City come into view from the high fields by the M20 motorway.

This is the penultimate stage of the Spiral with only one more walk to take place in July. The destination is almost in sight, and we’re starting to see how far we’ve come, not just in miles but in months – it’s been four years since we started. The team don’t want to give up; we want to continue, we feel a reluctance to conclude and relinquish what has been a uniting, insightful, and uplifting journey.

“What comes next?” I’m asked, but right now I have no answer because the spiral ‘ends’ at Gravesend, even though that destination was chosen not because it is an end but because it is the last crossing of the Thames [more], where we could if we chose to, float across the river to the opposite bank and continue our journey. Gravesend is a metaphor for the afterlife.

So what comes next? Continue? Spiral back in? Another route entirely? Or a completely different activity?

I look back on four years of action with satisfaction. Mission accomplished. I have gotten to know London. I can say when asked You know where the river is in Wimbledon, or Barking, or Lewisham? I can say, Oh aye the river.

But enough reflection, what’s the actual walk this month?

It’s a pure country walk starting in the picturesque village of Eynsford (more…) and exploring the downlands to the south east of London, to Longfield. There’s no great spectacle or destination, but if you love country walks, fresh air, hedgerows, chalky fields, wild flowers and farmland, you’ll enjoy this walk.

wildflowers outside Eynsford station

Car in ford at Eynsford

Eynsford Norman Castle, flint walls, dating from 1087

Anthony Roper School playing field, Eynsford

Walk up on to the Down

Copper beech hedge with sequoia behind

Roller on the field above the A20

View back across green wheat to the towers of London

Cart blocking bridge over the M20

Parting of the wheat

The Old Farm House Deans Bottom Kent

Some pictures from Jane:

The next and final Spiral Walk is on Sunday 14 July 2019. Meet at Longfield station at 1pm.

Contact tim.ingram-smith@virgin.net for more information.

 

 

 

 

Stage 42 of 44 – Garden of England to Garden of the World

The London Spiral Walk on Sunday May 12th 2019, departed Knockholt Station and walked across the North Downs countryside to Eynsford.

The land south east of London has been a revelation – it’s beautiful, open and seems hardly changed from what it must’ve been a hundred years ago. Dormitory towns, converted oast houses, farmsteads and cottages are scattered across the folded landscape.

The walk on Sunday 12 May takes in the countryside of Kent, the Meenfield woods above Shoreham, the Darent river, and Lullingstone Park before visiting the World Garden, built by plant hunter Tom Hart Dyke and his family and helpers, which in May is near its prime.

There’s also remains of a Roman Farm House just along the road, and an Eagle Sanctuary and Husky Rescue Centre, as well as an ancient ford at Eynsford, a Norman castle and a few pubs. If you visit all these places it’ll cost you a few pounds, but the walk itself is free.

Trains for Knockholt Station depart London Bridge every half hour.

Trees and scrub at Knockholt. Hard to believe there’s an M25 spur and A21 dual carriageway hidden in there.

Coppice woodland

Subway under the M25 at Badgers Mount

View across the Downs at Shacklands Road (map)

Bluebells just fading in Shoreham’s Meenfield Wood

Lime tree above Shoreham, note cross in the chalk to the high side

April Cottage on Mill Lane in the old village of Shoreham above the Darent

Line of poplars near Lullingstone

Hop farm

Darent river at Lullingstone Country Park

Bridge over Darent, by Sara

Entrance to Lullingstone Castle

 

 

Darent meander (see it on a map below)

Cattle graze on Kentish field beneath the Eynsford viaduct

The ford at Eynsford

Some pictures of the walk by Jane:

   

  

Next walk: Eynsford to Longfield, Sunday 9 June 2019, 1pm

 

 

Stage 41 part 2 – Downe to Knockholt

The Chase valley – click to enlarge image

Meeting place: Downe village, outside St Mary’s Church
[train to Bromley South railway station (trains from Victoria or Blackfriars), then take a 146 bus to Keston]
Date & time: Sunday March 10th 2019, 1 pm
Distance: the walk is approximately 4 miles, across open down land, with few shops or amenities en route, so bring a snack
End point:
Knockholt station (trains to Victoria)
Cost
: free
Contact: email: tim.ingram-smith@virgin.net   mobile: 077932 00932

A walk through beech woods

Highland cow

Cabbage field by Mace farm

A squall bent the branches

Across the field on the line of the spiral

In the distance, the towers of London

Although this walk sprung out of Kings Cross Station (reasons here), there is a case for beginning a spiral at the Shard – we frequently see it, from great distances, from all sides of London. In the image above it is just peeking out from the left bank of trees. Mentally there is an invisible maypole line connected to the top of the skyscraper as we go spinning by.

Goats

Idealised spiral path (orange line); walking route taken (red line).  https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@51.3317935,0.0926954,4717m/data=!3m1!1e3

 

Stage 41 – A Spring of Pure Water

One of the fantastic things about Scotland is you can step outside and you’re not far from a mountain stream of clear, clean water (Yes mum, I’ve checked there’s no dead sheep at the top!)

Who would’ve thought the same was possible in London?

But a train to Bromley then a bus to Keston brings you to the source of the River Ravensbourne, a pure crystal stream rising from the chalk aquifer below, in a setting of some geographical and historical interest.

We have walked alongside the Ravensbourne already on the inner circles of the spiral, both below Hilly Fields at walk 14 – Honor Oak to Millennium Peninsula, and at 25 – Beckenham to Eltham Palace, (which started at Ravensbourne station, and on crossing the stream we passed a raven standing in the bourne!)

Map should be the ravensbourne, with cuts across it of the spiral

For starters there is an iron age encampment – which is to say the trace of the deep ditches dug to encircle a camp and protect those within; the place is now called Caesar’s Camp because the roman soldiers either took the site or found it abandoned, an ideal place to pitch tent on their march from the coast to the north: high up, already fortified, surrounded by game and supplied by fresh water; no surprise they wanted to come back to this country with a bigger force.

Image by Julian Osley: geograph.org.uk/photo/5830271  

It stands on what is now the property of Holwood House, one time residence of William Pitt the Younger, so called because he became Prime Minister at age 24, which is like looking at my son and saying you’ll be Prime Minister in four years’ time!

It was here that Wilberforce came to the course of action that arose from his conviction that all people are created equal.

And just down the road is Charles Darwin’s house, from where he was able to connect the flora and fauna of this area with all that he had encountered on his travels, and through the mechanism of natural selection was able to see into deep time.

www.bromleyparks.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Darwinsfootsteps_Keston_Holwood_Trail.pdf

Keston (name derived probably from Roman word for town Chester-ton, though another theory in hidden-london.com/gazetteer/keston/ is Kes’s boundary stone) is a little to the north of the path of the London Spiral, but in this part of London public transport is sparse, so the walk is a connector back on to the spiral.

Meeting place: Bromley South station / Keston village

[train to Bromley South railway station (trains from Victoria or Blackfriars), then take a 146 bus to Keston]
Date & time: Sunday February 10th 2019, 1 pm
Distance: the walk is around 6 miles, a fairly strenuous walk in winter, across open down land, with few shops or amenities en route, so bring a snack
End point:
walk to Downe Village, then back to Keston by a different route
Cost
: free
Contact: email: tim.ingram-smith@virgin.net   mobile: 077932 00932

Light aircraft landing at Biggin Hill airport

(link to other airports we’ve seen)

 

Exploring the North Downs

The London Spiral is a 250 mile walk circulating around the metropolis to the Thames at Gravesend (more), which began in summer 2015 and is now in its outermost sweep, heading across the countryside, south of Croydon. The spiral crosses the North Downs, an extensive, rolling series of hills, taking in the high ground, woods and farm land, then dropping down to the valleys, across arterial roads and railway lines.

For the traveler, whichever route south or north is chosen, highways and railways hug the valley floor: everything is hemmed in, everyone is in transit. But for the walker the landscape offers open views, undulating terrain, tree cover, fields, quiet old villages, and a sense of a rural past.

Whyteleafe recreation ground, with woods across the steep chalk behind 
Climb the escarpment
Scots pines and beech tree by Kingswood Lodge

St Mary’s Church Farleigh, 1000 years old Coppiced sweet chestnut woodland

White Bear pub, Ficklehole
The most wiggly roman road I’ve ever seen

 

Approximate Route: https://goo.gl/maps/rwZsNbLcwoF2

This walk is at the onset of winter, starting at Upper Warlingham station, climbing to Farleigh, and on to New Addington, a fully planned town built from the 1930s to the 1960s like Sim City, which from the vantage of the Google Maps ‘satellite’, looks like an airbrushed animation, a piece of Pixar: new addington

We had a couple of readings from John Grindrod’s book Outskirts, as John’s experience of growing up in New Addington has shaped his knowledge of the greenbelt, and the new buildings of Britain.

A bit like John Grindrod I grew up on the last street of a housing scheme in Edinburgh, so this book has been like a family photo album of a life lived, both familiar and bizarre, as well as a historic account of how and why these places came about. Recommended.

Meet at: Upper Warlingham (train from Victoria, Whyteleafe station is close by too)
When: Sunday 9 December 2018, 1pm
Distance: walk 5 miles to New Addington (tram back to Croydon)
Cost: free
Contact: email: tim.ingram-smith@virgin.net   mobile: 077932 00932

 

north downs

This snippet from Atlas Digital Maps shows we are walking across the North Downs geological feature, a rolling chalk upland which extends from Guildford to the Medway, and we follow this landscape until we’re near to Gravesend.

Sunset glow over the greenbelt

 

 

Stage 39 – Happy Valley

Sunday 11th November 2018, 1pm.

The next stage of the London Spiral should cut across Coulsdon and on to Kenley, but that would miss out on the joy of a climb to Farthing Down and descent into Happy Valley.

happy valley london loopSource: http://content.tfl.gov.uk/london-loop-section-5.pdf

So we will follow the London Loop for this stage.

farthing recceReconnaisancing the route.

Farthing Downs is an elevated hill offering wide views, before we drop down into the affectionately named Happy Valley. The area is owned by the City of London – more on their website – and Croydon Council.

Meet at: Coulsdon South station (train from Victoria)
When: Sunday 11 November 2018, 1pm
Distance: walk 5 miles to Whyteleafe (fast train back to Victoria)
Walk takes in: Farthing Down (“more of an up”), Happy Valley, Coulsdon Common, Kenley Aerodrome, Riddlesdown chalk escarpment.
Cost: free
Contact: email: tim.ingram-smith@virgin.net   mobile: 077932 00932

From Farthing Down you can see that the down to the east has been built on with rows and rows of Coulsdon houses, each with a view south over the trees. Similar settlements have been built across the Downs.

Walking along Farthing Down before descending to Happy Valley

Emerge from the trees into Happy Valley

 

Coulsdon Common woods

Cottage on Old Lodge Lane, Wattenden

Kenley Observatory, meeting place of the Croydon Astronomical Society

Stepping across the flooded concrete runway at Kenley Aerodrome. This was a battle site in World War II (more history) and today – November 11th, 2018 – was a good day to remember.

Kenley Aerodrome as seen by Google Maps

White cow parsley in the aerodrome grass

riddlesdown pit from kenley

View beyond a viaduct to the chalk quarry, from Kenley.

 

Stage 38 – Is it feasible to Re-wild the Land around London?

London Spiral  – START POINT – Ewell West to Coulsdon

Sunday 14 October, 1 pm

outer stages

Meet at: Ewell West station (train from Waterloo)
When: Sunday 14 October 2018, 1pm
Distance: walk 8 miles to Coulsdon (fast train back to Victoria)
Walk takes in: Ewell pond, Priest Hill re-wilded land, Banstead Downs, London Loop past HM Prisons High Down and Downview, Oaks Park where the Earl of Derby planned his horse race (coffee break), Mayfield lavender fields, Woodmansterne, Cane Hill redevelopment where once there was a mental hospital, Coulsdon.
Cost: free
Contacttim.ingram-smith@virgin.net

rainbow above rowan priest hill ewell

On this walk from Ewell West station we pass across Priest Hill, until recently a grubby suburban playing field of no great loveliness, which was bought by Surrey Wildlife Trust, who tore down the buildings, ripped up the paving, shipped the waste off to some unspecified place, then just left the site to re-wild.

It’s all scrub right now, and seems empty of animals, except an occasional dog and walker, but some early adopter trees are making the most of it. In a few years it will be woodland, managed meadow, heath. It’s not like a park, it’s not roamable; the sky stretches wide across it, and birds swoop into bushes and tall grass clumps.

We’ve seen a few reclamations like this on the spiral walk; there was the semi-suburban house knocked down and turned into a tiny park in stage 13 Palace Road Nature Garden, south London, a little oasis; there’s the greening going on in east London along the Lee Valley and Mile End Park; a whole array of housing in Barking alongside the Abbey was bought back by the council to recreate the Abbey gardens, re-establishing an appropriate space around the ancient building; and often where developers start to put up blocks of flats, they are creating show-garden green corridors in the urban space, publicly accessible and sometimes inspirational, like in Battersea by the Thames.

Perhaps a charitable organisation could be set up whose job was to accept property bequeathed by people passing on, along with a fund to pay the cost of demolishing, and legal fees, and planting costs, until slowly but surely green gaps would appear in the housing belt and some of those would join up to make gardens, and community spaces, and parks. Some property couldn’t be turned into land, like an apartment, but it could be sold to raise funds for the other spaces.

And the value of these spaces would be huge, because you could immediately envisage a property in the space on the market for thousands of pounds.

But will these greening efforts last a hundred years? Trees live into deep time. When it comes to nature man moves too fast, too acquisitive, too rapacious, too uncaring. Best of luck Priest Hill.

 

Photos by Jane or Tim:

jane - cherry leaves

The London Spiral, a walk around London from the inside out, has reached its home straight along the south of the city, and over the next few stages will be crossing those parts of Surrey and Kent that melt into the edge of the metropolis, en route to Gravesend. We’ve reached Coulsdon, south of London, and will soon be home.

 

ewell pond

Pond at Ewell

crossing road banstead

HM prison high down

HM Prison High Down

oak park

Palm tree at Oaks Park

lavender fieldLavender fields at Mayfield farm

jane - woodmansterne tree carving webCarved trunk at Woodmansterne

haws (1)Hawberries

 

ewell-coulsdon mapGoogle Map showing idealised spiral line and actual path taken  …map

Next walk Sun 11 November – Coulsdon

 

 

 

Stage 37 – Horse Country

When you get to the outskirts of London and reach the first fields, what do you find?

Horses.

hinchley wood horses

Like a saddle belt strapped around the city  it seems every spare field is given over to the accommodation of horses. There’s not really space for them in those paddocks, not for an animal built to roam an open plain, but we keep them in their hundreds.

chantilly way paddock

The equine life reaches a crescendo here in West London – we already passed Kempton Park race ground on the previous stage of the walk, and crossed the Thames at Hampton Ferry to Hurst Park, now a suburb but until the 1960s the home of Hurst Park race track (Racecourse of the past – BBC archive), which drew tens of thousands of spectators on a bank holiday. Now we begin this walk at Sandown Park race course and continue south to Epsom Downs, domicile of the Derby.

10Sandown Park Racecourse. Photograph (taken from a train) 2006 by Jacqueline Banerjee. [image may be used without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose, as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to http://www.victorianweb.org/art/parks/10.html.

Here’s my one, taken from the station platform at Esher:

sandown park esher

The Sandown course is a right-handed oval, a mile and five furlongs around … read more at https://www.freeracingtips.co.uk/sandown/

We walked from Sandown Park across Littleworth Common, now a pleasant woodland, up Telegraph Hill with Semaphore House at the top, which was one of the semaphore stations used by the Admiralty in the 19th century to get messages from Whitehall to Portsmouth (http://www.org2b.com/claygate/index.php?title=Telegraph_Hill). Jon Taylor walked the whole semaphore line in 2011 and wrote about his journey in www.JonT.org.uk/log/semaphore.htm.

 

Plenty horses:

pink food tub

pink food munch

claygate pony trek approaches.jpg

claygate pony trek

horses on horton lane

horses on horton lane (1)

Maybe you’d like to buy a horse yourself?

more on horton lane (1)

We crossed the A3 into Chessington and on to Horton Country Park. Many horses all around, and also other animals at the Hobbledown Farm Adventure Park.

pig hobbledown farm

How does he get into his hammock? (Sara’s joke)

Bit of a dull march into Epsom, but after a refreshment there, the walk along Chalk Lane to Epsom Downs was a revelation.

epsom clock tower (1)Epsom town centre clock tower

The land opened out onto a wide sweeping space, with long views of London spires, and a changing sky.

epsom two horses

statue of generousStatue of Generous, a popular Epsom Derby champion see him win the 1991 RACE

Epsom Racecourse is situated on the chalk ridges known as the North Downs, which cross the county of Surrey in southern England. The Epsom Derby course is a mile, four furlongs, and 10 yards in extent, and curved like a horseshoe.

Rosie said there are 22 yards in a chain; 10 chains in a furlong; 8 furlongs in a mile.

For a sense of the excitement of the Derby, search for Epsom Derby on Google images:

One of the most infamous incidents in the history of the Derby took place at Tattenham Corner in 1913, when militant suffragette Emily Wilding Davison climbed beneath the running rail and threw herself under Anmer, owned by King George V. She never regained consciousness and died a few days later from internal injuries … read more

Emily-Davison-010

Sourced from a Guardian article re-examining the footage.

Today it is peaceful: view over the racecourse from Tattenham Corner:

rosie bob tattenham corner

 

London Spiral

The London Spiral, a walk around London from the inside out, has reached its outer circle, and over the months ahead will be exploring those parts of Berkshire, Surrey and Kent that melt into the edge of the metropolis.

outer stages

 

Meet at: Esher station (train from Waterloo), KT10 8DY
When: Sunday 9 September 2018, 1pm
Distance: walk 8.5 miles to Epsom Downs (train back to Waterloo from several stations)
Walk takes in: Sandown, Littleworth woods, Chessington, Horton country park, Hobbledown zoo, Epsom town centre, Epsom Downs racecourse
Cost: free
Contacttim.ingram-smith@virgin.net

esher horses