The London LOOP: A Walk on the City’s Wild Side

The London LOOP comprises approximately 242km (150mi) of scenic paths
The London LOOP comprises approximately 242km (150mi) of scenic paths | © Lois GoBe / Alamy Stock Photo
With lockdown restrictions across England slowly starting to ease, now would be the time to explore London’s little-known walking path – the London LOOP trail. Here, Culture Trip reveals the route and explores the sites you’ll see along the way.

Split into 24 sections and clocking in at an impressive 242 kilometres (150 miles), the London LOOP (which stands for the London Outer Orbital Path) is the official walking circuit around the capital, completed in 2001. It’s the brainchild of The Ramblers and the Countryside Commission, and it quickly gained government approval and subsequent support from the London Mayor’s Office.

There is a shorter inner-city route known as the Capital Ring, which opened in 2005, but surprisingly, most Londoners still haven’t heard of either pathway.

With months of enforced indoor time coming to an end, here’s our perfectly timed look at some of the highlights you can experience on the London LOOP.

The London LOOP features 24 scenic sections | © Ray Wise / Getty Images

Highlights from the London LOOP

There are many walking tours you can experience in and around London, but what makes this particular route stand out is its focus on green spaces. Many visitors to the city, as well as some residents, find it hard to believe that there are woods, forests and vast expanses of nature within walking distance of popular tourist attractions.

There are also some incredible points of cultural interest to be found along the route, hinting at the turbulent history of London.

One of the first stops along the LOOP is Hall Place, one of southeast London’s best-kept secrets. The historic stately home was used as an intercept station during World War II and is open to the public today. A walk through the picturesque gardens makes you forget you are still in London.

A few stops along in Coulsdon, you will find a strip of grassland known as Farthing Downs. This area is the most extensive patch of semi-natural downland left in Greater London and has protected status due to its archaeological significance. There is evidence that humans occupied this area going as far back as the Neolithic Age.

Farthing Downs is a beautiful open space steeped in history | © Francesca Moore / Alamy Stock Photo

Bushy Park is one of London’s best Royal Parks, and keen walkers can catch a glimpse of wild deer here. The huge area is found along section nine of the LOOP, between Kingston Bridge and Hatton Cross. It’s also home to woodpeckers, kingfishers and kestrels. No visit to the park is complete without stopping at the Diana Fountain – a bronze statue of a goddess, surrounded by four boys, four water nymphs and four shells. Commissioned by King Charles I for his wife Henrietta Maria and designed by Hubert Le Sueur in 1637, the fountain sits in the middle of a pool at the junction of Chestnut and Lime Avenues. The former royal palace of Hampton Court is also part of this walking trail and a must-see for visitors eager to explore the history of the area.

Farther to the north, you will find Enfield Lock. In the 19th century, the government built rifles in factories on the land, but today, there are several modern housing developments here as well as designated conservation areas. The marshes of Enfield Lock are typical of this part of North London.

Heading up a little farther from Enfield towards Chingford, you begin to reach the edges of Epping Forest. This ancient woodland is rightfully known as “London’s Great Forest” and is rumoured to have been a hunting ground used by royalty. Today, you can explore the muddy bogs, trickling streams and dense shrubland safe in the knowledge that Queen Victoria declared Epping Forest as “The People’s Forest”.

In May 1882, Queen Victoria declared Epping Forest ‘The People’s Forest’ | © Simon Robling/Getty Images

Signs to look out for

Given its sizeable length, the LOOP has been broken up into 24 shorter walks, and these sections have been divided into three colour-coded groups. The blue route covers South London, and the green course is for the city’s northwest area. Finally, yellow defines the northeast route.

Each start and end section of the 24 individual waymarked routes is purposefully connected to the Transport For London (TFL) network, so getting to and from the locations should be reasonably easy.

Special signs on dedicated signposts will explain more about the section you are on at any given point, with the key marker to look out for being a white disc. Depending on the local authority charged with maintaining the section of the LOOP you are on, this disc can include directional arrows and other relevant information.

Each LOOP section has dedicated signposts to guide you and provide information | © Lankowsky / Alamy Stock Photo

In the countryside, the discs are placed on wooden posts, whereas most urban areas will use larger aluminium posts for signage. Tall green and white posts mark major focal points along the LOOP, and these also list distances to other nearby points of interest.

Frustratingly, there is currently no way to physically close the LOOP, as the listed first and last destinations – Erith and Purfleet, respectively – are separated by a section of the Thames that cannot be crossed. However, if you aren’t that fussy, you can give yourself a TFL certificate for your trouble.

Section 17 of the London LOOP passes through Trent Park | © Carol Carpenter / Alamy Stock Photo

London LOOP route sections

• Erith to Old Bexley – 13.7km (8.5mi)

• Old Bexley to Petts Wood – 11.3km (7mi)

• Petts Wood to West Wickham Common – 14km (8.7mi)

• West Wickham Common to Hamsey Green – 16km (10mi)

• Hamsey Green to Coulsdon South – 9.7km (6mi)

• Coulsdon South to Banstead Downs – 7km (4.3mi)

• Banstead Downs to Ewell – 5.5km (3.4mi)

• Ewell to Kingston Bridge – 11.7km (7.3mi)

• Kingston Bridge to Hatton Cross – 13.7km (8.5mi)

• Hatton Cross to Hayes & Harlington – 5.6km (3.5mi)

• Hayes & Harlington to Uxbridge – 12km (7.5mi)

• Uxbridge to Harefield West – 7.2km (4.5mi)

• Harefield West to Moor Park – 8km (5mi)

• Moor Park to Hatch End – 6.1km (3.8mi)

• Hatch End to Elstree – 16km (10mi)

• Elstree to Cockfosters – 16km (10mi)

• Cockfosters to Enfield Lock – 15.3km (9.5mi)

• Enfield Lock to Chingford – 6.4km (4mi)

• Chingford to Chigwell – 6.4km (4mi)

• Chigwell to Havering-atte Bower – 9.7km (6mi)

• Havering-atte-Bower to Harold Wood – 6.9km (4.3mi)

• Harold Wood to Upminster Bridge – 6.4km (4mi)

• Upminster Bridge to Rainham – 6.4km (4mi)

• Rainham to Purfleet – 8km (5mi)

Signposts for the London LOOP look different depending on your location, so keep your eyes peeled | © Julia Gavin / Alamy Stock Photo