Exploring the Outer Edge of London

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 Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Surrey and Sussex that melt into the edge of the metropolis.

It’s a series of walks, each one picking up the path where the previous month left off, and covering the land and geography of the wider reaches of London.

outer stages

  • 11 Feb 2018: Enfield to Hadley Wood – done
  • 11 March: Hadley Wood to Borehamwood – done
  • ** 8th April: Elstree to Carpenders Park ** up next **
  • 13 May: South Oxhey to Ruislip
  • 10 June: Northolt through Hayes to Heathrow Airport
  • 8 July: Feltham to Kempton Park
  • 12 Aug: Hampton to Chessington
  • 9 Sept: Chessington to Woodmansterne
  • 14 Oct: Smitham to Biggin Hill
  • 11 Nov: Biggin Hill Airport to Knockholt
  • 9 Dec 2018: Knockholt to Eynesford

So if you’re curious about the country that lies just on the edge of the TFL train network, yet still within the M25 motorway, join us as we start our descent past the aerodromes of west London, beginning with the Elstree Airstrip.

flyelstree.co.uk-Webcamimage from the Elstree Aerodrome webcam 18 March 2018 18:10

Meet at: Elstree and Borehamwood station (train from St Pancras)
When: Sunday 8 April 2018, 1pm
Distance: 6 miles
Walk to: Carpenders Park (train to Euston)
Cost: free

radlett park elstreePath through Radlett Park Elstree

winter oak by aldenham reservoirWinter oak by Aldenham Reservoir

caldecote farm trackCaldecote farm track, right by the M1 (map). I was too far from the pheasant.

st margarets school busheyOne building at St Margaret’s school, Bushey

ponies busheyPonies, near Bushey


Stage 31 – Enfield Chase part 2 – the very top of London

We had a nice westerly walk across the far north of the metropolis, just scraping that part of the country that is not London, feeling beyond the ridgeway the cool snowy breeze of Hertfordshire, and beyond it Yorkshire, and a hint in the rolling earth of the uplands of Scotland.

This month continues that experience, picking up at Cockfosters – the last station on the Piccadilly line – and walking across the clay hill countryside to Elstree and Borehamwood. It’s often roadside, because the land is enclosed by country estates, with some bridleways, so boots recommended, though dancing shoes may be better as Elstree is where the BBC records many of its most popular shows, like Strictly Come Dancing!

Meet at: CHANGED – Cockfosters station (Piccadilly line)
When: Sunday 11 March 2018, 1pm
Distance: 8.8 miles
Walk toElstree and Borehamwood
Cost: free

clearing the path above hadley woodClearing the footpath above Hadley Wood station

aerial view wrotham and dyrham beyond historic englandentrance to dyrham park17th century entrance to Dyrham Park

Aeriel view of Wrotham Park and Dyrham Park beyond, (c) Historic England, photo by Damian Grady, http://services.historicengland.org.uk/capability-brown-map/index.html

cedar monken common Cedar of Lebanon at Monken Hadley Common

monken hadley common

monken hadley common summer googleHadley Common in full leaf (c) Google

hurst cottageHurst Cottage Hadley


Stage 30 – Enfield Chase part 1 – the top of London

February 2018:

I was greatly honoured to have Charlie Fox join the walk as we made our way along the northernest, outermost stretch of the Spiral, heading west across the Enfield Chase. Much of the inspiration for the spiral walk around London came from my meetings with Charlie. He is the artistic director of Counter Productions, leader of InspiralLondon, interested among many things in walking as artistic practice, and he’s already walked the spiral in its entirety all the way to Gravesend.

I first met Charlie in 2014 when I was looking to get to know London far more extensively and deeply than my knowledge at that time. Charlie was pursuing an ambition to set out a route across the capital that would act as a walk, as a stage for artistic expression, as an opportunity for artistic and social intervention, as a social network, and as a contribution to a wider walking-as-art practice across Europe. Not only did he move much faster than me – or rather covered more distance in each excursion – he is also keener to see the spiral become a full fledged trail.

Charlie had taken part in the Marseille 2013 European City of Culture activities which had created a Metropolitan Trailway in and around the Mediterranean port town, that was part of the reason we chose to begin the spiral at Kings Cross – which is linked by rail all the way to Marseille.

I joined Charlie in his early preparatory work, including laying out the spiral route, walking some early stages (Finding the Centre, Hoo Peninsula,…) and we walked the first few stages together (Kings Cross, Regents Park, Hampstead Heath). I appreciated his focus and intent. However ultimately I realised that Charlie wanted to do something by himself, and that my vision and reason for doing the London Spiral was a separate initiative. So while he pressed on to reach his goal, from Stage 5 I took a slow train and since then have been following the spiral 5 or 6 miles at a time, the second Sunday of every month.

Although my walk’s not the same as Charlie’s in terms of purpose, it is the same in terms of route, and our walks prove that the concept of a spiral walk around London is viable – at least two groups have made this epic journey; and not just one-man-bands either, but motivated and interested groups of walkers who want to explore the whole city, uncover unknown areas, and connect to the the city and call it their home.

This stage of the walk:

The outer bound of the spiral runs just inside the M25 motorway, within its acoustic footprint to quote Iain Sinclair, and while visually it’s countryside, the few roads mean the spiral is a racquet of traffic, so we turn off along the London Loop for some peace.

Meet at: Turkey Street station, (trains from Liverpool Street), 1pm
When: Sunday 11 February 2018
Distance: 6.5 miles, country paths, woods
Walk toHadley Wood station
Cost: free

inigo jones forty hall enfieldInigo Jones building, Forty Hall Enfield.

Here is a Cedar of Lebanon (more about its health), one of London’s great treeshttps://foursquare.com/kevan/list/the-great-trees-of-london. The tree below is not the cedar though, I think it’s a willow, and it’s been circled in brushwood:

brushwood hoop forty hall

greenhouses enfield chaseGlasshouses, Enfield Chase. The area was covered in market gardens and greenhouses until a few decades ago.

down to the tracksDown to the tracks, free crossing of the main train line north

scots pine grove iiGrove of Scots pine, Clay Hill

royal chase

sight line to canary wharf from enfield chaseSight line to Canary Wharf from Enfield Chase

ridgeway wood 1991Wood just off the Ridgeway, planted 1991

tree line up to the ridgewayLine of oaks up to the Ridgeway

obelisk trent parkObelisk to George Grey, in Trent Park

hadley wood on horizonView across rolling fields, to Hadley Wood

pixiePixie living in old oak tree

colin maz rosie ferny hill On Ferny Hill https://goo.gl/maps/S75TUEMsDqk


Some pictures from Colin:



hilly fields park enfield


Treeline photo from Charlie Fox:


Stage 29 – The Remnant Forest

One discovery I have made on my quest to explore London by walking, which I did not anticipate, is how much woodland there is around the city. The Spiral has passed through frequent patches of mostly young trees, and not extensive, but together they surface a pre-historical glimpse of the ancient forest that covered this land.

epping which way

On this walk we tramp through Epping Forest, beginning at The View, at Queen Elizabeth (the first)’s Hunting Lodge. A view which may be essentially unchanged since she used to come here 475 years ago.

connaught ponies

connaught trail

But if the woods are so old, how come the trees are so young? These are not ancient trees even if the sites are mentioned in medieval texts. Judging by their girth they’re no more than one or two hundred years old, spindly and low. The beeches here in Epping are not like those you see at Burnham, and none of our forests are as grand as in France.

Meet at: Chingford station, (trains from Liverpool Street), 1pm
When: Sunday 14 January 2018
Distance: 4.5 miles, much of it muddy, cafe half way
Walk to: Enfield Lock station
Cost: free walk through Epping Forest to Enfield station


Here are some of the woods we’ve walked through on the London Spiral:

epping hutches

connaught pondFrozen Connaught Water

bridge over cuckoo brookFootbridge over Cuckoo Brook

Carroll’s Farm (map)carrolls farm

Compare this scene in 2018 with sixty five years ago:

Photo from Bob Wheeler:
Have just rummaged through some old photo’s I took when probably around ten years old, living at Buckhurst Hill and out on my bike in 1953. They show the cottage and duck pond a short way along the road from Gilwell Park just before heading downhill to the Lee Valley (and at that time its hundreds of commercial greenhouses mainly growing tomatoes). 
I was trying to persuade my father to go and look at it as we were thinking of moving but he just scoffed saying we needed a sensible brick built home with future potential, not a rubbishy old wooden cottage. He eventually bought a 1930’s property on a bungalow estate just outside Romford. It would be interesting to know the comparative prices of both properties today!

carrolls farm viewing


sunbeam on edmontonSunbeam over Edmonton, and William Girling Reservoir

leila stile

sara judy gilwell hill


This is upland, channeling the reservoirs and Lea river below.

king georges reservoir tree

river lea

enfield lockEnfield Lock


Some photos by J. Lawson:


jane- carrols shed

jane- gilwell hill

jane- stile gilwell hill

jane- lea or lee

jane- swan + geese

jane- enfield lock


Central Line Loop

We headed for the big loop in the London Underground Central Line, Barkingside. Still in Zone 4, then crossing into Zone 5 at Buckhurst Hill.

central loop

And then it SNOWED!


barnardos village

Barkingside is home of Dr Barnardo’s. In the mid nineteeth century Dr Thomas Barnardo wanted to do something about the poverty he saw around him in the east end of London. In 1870 he opened a home for orphan boys in Stepney, then three years later he bought land and built the houses around the church at Barkingside, miles out in the country, and provided a place for young women. That was a hundred and fifty years ago. Forty years ago I remember helping Barnardo’s, they had a furniture outlet in Gorgie in Edinburgh.

barnardos hq + youth magistrates court

Bob grew up around here and can remember the fields before they built the Barnardo’s HQ (above left), and the young offenders magistrates court right next door. I asked him, How come there is still a need for a charity, after all this time? It’s not the same, he said. It’s not poverty. And indeed if you look at the research on https://www.barnardos.org.uk/, you can see where the focus is today [December 2017]. The website banner headlines read Help us be there for sexually abused children; Should we be paying more attention to who is following our children online? Shop our Christmas Range Today!

A bit further on there’s another physical sign of the change in how we see our children since 40 years ago – Andersons has built a school for autistic children on the old Spurs training ground. Like Barnardo’s there’s private house development to help raise funds. Their focus is on preparing autistic teenagers for further education, and employment.

We crossed Claybury Park (leaflet).

claybury park

claybury woods

Christmas decorations at Little West Hatchlittle west hatch

Luxborough Lane:snow walk luxborough laneThis feels like the far north east of London, miles away, fresh air, but it’s still well inside the M25.


Meet at: Barkingside station, Central line, 1pm
When: Sunday 10 December 2017
Distance: the walk is 4.2 miles, not far
Walk to: Buckhurst Hill. Queens Road below
Cost: free

queens road buckhurst hill

A couple of weeks before:spiral-stair-tree Spiral stair around tree, Claybury Woods

claybury park underused Not much use made of the apparatus in Claybury Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon

cross the M11 Cross the M11

viaduct river roding luxborough lane Footbridge and rail viaduct over River Roding at Luxborough Lane.

This neighbourhood was pre-fabs after the war, then rebuilt in the 1970’s; every street named after a tree – Chestnut, Maple, Walnut, Elm, and more, mostly not represented by actual planting, except here on Hornbeam Close:

hornbeam close

An excellent walk in north east London. Next one takes us onto the London Loop. You can join us. Second Sunday of the month.



What Beckton needs is friends – Stage 27

Stage 27 of the London Spiral, a walk round the whole of London from the centre to the edge, spiralling slowly outwards.

Last month we crossed the Thames at Woolwich and so began the outer circuit of the walk. One more 360 degree loop until we reach Gravesend, estimate a year from now. See full map.

This walk is from the far end of City Airport to Barking.

Meet atKing George V DLR station, 1pm
When: Sunday 12 November 2017
Distance: the walk is 6.2 miles, with a break
Walk to: Seven Kings overground station, travel zone 4, via Beckton, Barking and Ilford
Route Map: http://binged.it/2gHxOkw
Cost: free

map https binged it 2gHxOkw

Two themes emerge from the geographic history of Beckton and Barking over the last 100 years, and both go some way to explain the sense of disenfranchisement the walker encounters passing through the borough. Big, dirty industry like gas and sewage carved up sheets of the land, and closed their gates, denying access right down to the shoreline, while the council seeming to provide housing and schooling and healthcare and everything on a mammoth scale, made everything contingent, borrowed, not yours by right.

After the Industry came shopping malls, drive-to’s, chuck-your-garbage-out-the-window-drive thru’s. Drive on. Take the A13. You’ve no ownership here. Across the River Roding. Thank the council for the cycle lane. We’ve heard before the noise of the north circular.

There’s no access to the land, so no wonder the few strands of public land – verges by roadsides, muddy reedbeds, scrubby young trees behind shopping mall car parks – are strewn with litter, scorched by fires set by local lads escaping to the woods, trying to rekindle an older connection to the elemental forces of the earth. It’s like a teenager town, grumbling and uncoordinated, hemmed in.

Why are these places never cleaned up?

About a hundred years ago 25,000 houses were built on the flat marsh lands – the size of a town, and yet it’s not a town, not yet, it’s an outlier. No garden suburb this. Street after similar street. Its self-image is poverty – that’s what the litter signifies. But in reality Barking is rich. Why else do people come here from all over the world? Of course, they didn’t mean to end up exactly here. But there’s theatre, transport, parkland, markets, and people trading, studying, working. All it lacks is self-confidence, and to gain self-confidence it needs freedom.

What Beckton needs is friends. Friends who will come together and clean up the thrown-away plastics, heal the flame-sored ground, plant new trees, make the parks bigger. Make them safer.

42 pine trees gallions reach Array of 42 pine trees outside Gallions Reach DLR station

gateway bridge A1020 Triumphal bridge exits the north circular. View it on Google. Intended for a crossing of the Thames that was never built.

end of north circular looking south to gallions reach View from the triumphal bridge down the Royal Docks Road to the end at Gallions Reach

abandoned car beneath north circular beckton Abandoned car and smaller items of litter beneath the north circular.

litter beckton verge

river roding mud banks from A13 Muddy River Roding flowing south to the Thames, below the A13 road

juniper on gascoigne road barking Broom bush on the Gascoigne Road

gascoigne primary school barking Gascoigne primary school. Roof playground.

barking clock tower Clock tower Barking town hall

barking centre

red spectrum travelodge barking Spectrum of panelling, Barking

barking learning centre Learning centre Barking.

barking town hall

Under construction, ten years ago 2007, source: wikipedia:

library - under construction

loxford lake barking parkLoxford lake in Barking Park.

Geese in South Park





Weapons in Woolwich – Stage 26

The story of human society can be told in many ways. One way is to study the role of the bullies, the violent men, the brutes who think nothing of killing. That’s what we most often study in history. Civilisation – Britain – is built on armed conflict, on invaders, soldiers and left-tenants, whose prowess comes from aggressive behaviour and superior weaponry.

There’s another story told more often these days – farms. And there are places where that might be fitting, but it’s hardly possible to step more than a few yards from Eltham en route north through Woolwich without encountering again and again reminders of weapons of war and defence.

We being this walk at Eltham Station, a tangled knot of busy highways and side streets and railways, much like our journey around the North Circular, where we get a sense from the noise, of the hustle to come. We climb into the woods – the ancient woods – although it’s hard to see their age, as they’re much like other woods, just trees – of Oxleas. And still we hear the echo of armory.

In these trees are gun mounts, of home front defence for the second world war, and a high velocity missile battery to protect the 2012 Olympic Games. In these woods a castle, a folly, named, wrongly, after the island fort which its master – Commodore William James – to his glory, destroyed.

This is Shooters Hill, most likely named for the archers who practiced here, how to bring death on a stuffed straw man. A rain of steel tipped shafts, whose clumsy forced entry could mercifully snuff out a soul, or – more likely – permit disease to penetrate and bring painful and ebbing demise. Named too for the thieves – local men – who hung out in the woods waiting to rob and to maim. We all of us experience that fear from time to time.

Across the brow of Shooters Hill, as straight as a bow, the roman road, marching without deviation from the encampments by Dover, to Westminster, the Thames and the North. The short sword was the romans’ weapon of choice – small, stiff, up close, a deadly rugby scrum. The romans brought death, and their own order.

These days the roman era is seen as an interlude. And one more civilised than what came after.

A barrier designed to contain livestock – the sheep being brought to market waiting on the Woolwich Common, with no access to the barracks land beyond.

Down into Woolwich, for centuries a military town, though now a mixed community, a warship building port and home of the royal artillery barracks until 10 years ago when globalisation meant they needed a bigger place. Here we see the garrison church of St George, once a tall, grand edifice, humbled though not fully destroyed – a metaphor – by a V1 missile, a new era of weaponry ushered in three quarters of a century ago, death by remote control, a flying bomb.

Past the site of more weapons – a car, a knife and a cleaver – the attack on Fusilier Lee Rigby in 2013, killed deliberately, though randomly, by Michaels Adebo-lajo and Adebo-wale, both from Woolwich. And the three CO19 specialist firearms officers who did not kill but wounded, then stemmed the blood, and made them stand trial.

Down in what was the arsenal, now converted to new homes and a heritage centre, though there’s no easy escape from the parade ground feel, the soldiers ‘at ease’, the cannons as sculpture, capable when ignited of damaging a target 16 miles away, perched oddly by luxury new builds.

Then we cross. The Thames. The London Spiral is defined by the crossings of the Thames. On the Woolwich Free Car Ferry. The river is calm, the view is wide and thin. We look back on Woolwich, an Anglo-Saxon word meaning wool port, suggests softness, a jumper slightly itchy on bare skin.

Meeting place: just outside Eltham station, (overground train from Charing Cross or London Bridge)
Date & time: Sunday October 8th 2017, 1pm
Distance: the walk is about 7 miles, with a break
End point: Gallions Reach DLR
Route Map: https://binged.it/2xvsme9
Cost: No charge, the ferry is free, however severndroog charges a small admission

terrapin long pond oxleasTerrapin basking by the Long Pond

oxleas common View south from Oxleas Common.

stairs through oxleas woodI always like Stairs leading up through a wood or mountain pass. Here in Oxleas Wood.

severndroog castleSeverndroog Castle. From its turret you can see, on a clear day, far across the city.

tim at top of severndroog tower

oak jackwoodGlorious oak tree in Jackwood, Shooters Hill.

kite between radio towersKite between the two television transmitters at Croydon and Crystal Palace. Seen from Oxleas Common.

billy davis funfair woolwich commonBilly Davis Fairground attractions on Woolwich Common.

woolwich common Woolwich Common

crows Crows in tree on Woolwich Common.

royal artillery barracks across fieldHard to see the barrier to livestock from here …

But up closer …

royal artillery barracks ha haHa-ha. The ditch and the wall keep the grass of barrack ground secure from livestock. The fence is for people.

royal artillery barracks parade groundThe Barracks of the Royal Artillery, 1776 until 2007. Still some cadets on parade.

colin at royal artillery woolwich

Across the road, St George’s

st george garrison church ruinOn the wall a golden mural of St George and the Dragon.

new build woolwich pepys courtDramatic new residential buildings in central Woolwich, carry a denser population than the terrace houses they replace.

cannons woolwichCannons made at the Arsenal.

nike statue royal arsenal woolwichStatue to Nike.

peter burke iron figures woolwich

Peter Burke naked iron navvies, waiting by the jetty.

tern view thames upstream tate lyleView from Woolwich west to London. At this scale it’s hard to see, but you’ve got another ferry boat, the Thames Barrier, Silvertown to the right and the Tate & Lyle sugar factory, Canary Wharge beyond, and the distant thread of the cable car, the previous crossing of the spiral over the river.

woolwich free car ferryWoolwich free car ferry

woolwich waterfront shooters hill behindFrom the north bank, a view back to the changing waterfront at Woolwich, with Shooters Hill in the low distance beyond. The place remains but what is there has completely changed.

view to canary wharf

map eltham-gallions reach extract (c) Google Maps

Like to join the London Spiral? Contacttim.ingram-smith@virgin.net 077932 00932