Walk London CAPITAL RING[sections 1-15] Woolwich to North Woolwich (78 miles)
London has seven Strategic Walking Routes (or 'long distance footpaths' to you and me). I've just completed my second. The Lea Valley Walk was dead easy, a mere 18 miles along a nigh flat river. But the Capital Ring, which I've spent all year walking, was more of a challenge. It winds its way through most of the boroughs in London. It's 78 miles long, via an elongated off-centre loop. It has flat bits, but also several steepish climby bits. It tours the capital's diverse hinterland between the inner and outer suburbs. It follows high streets, crosses railways, diverts through woodland and tracks canals. It links Wimbledon Common to the Olympics, and Crystal Palace to Harrow-on-the-Hill. It's almost entirely accessible to ramblers with limited mobility, but not so strictly that it becomes an anodyne stroll along concrete paths. If the Ring has a fault it's how slavishly it attempts to link every greenspace along the route, be that a hilltop or a recreation ground, making some of the intermediate walks very tedious. Indeed some entire numbered sections are mostly desperately dull (section 3, I'm looking at you, and section 5 for the most part too). But other sections are glorious (yes OK, section 6, you win). The Ring links some truly fascinating locations, many of which I'd never have visited were it not for the orbital path with the Big Ben logo. King John's Walk in Eltham, the heights of Norwood Grove, the heart of Richmond Park, the Thames at Isleworth Ait, the culverted Mutton Brook, even humble Beckton Park - these are all places I'd never been before, but have now. I also have a much better feeling for how London fits together, because I've now walked all the way around the middle where the real London is. Plus along my journey I met a three-legged dog, the Queen's birthday flypast, the pianist from I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue and, unexpectedly, my auntie. What other London walk can offer that?
Even though the Woolwich Foot Tunnel was closed, I think I can claim to have finished the entire circuit. Completing the Ring makes me eligible for a certificate, courtesy of the disembodied entity that is Walk London. Their presence may have contracted over the year (to a thinned-down website and an intermittent Twitter presence), but if I email them and claim to have walked the Capital Ring then they'll send me a full-colour certificate. How very trusting. And you could walk the Ring too. Most sections are only 4-6 miles long, which is (probably) well within your capabilities. Each section starts and finishes near a station, for ease of access. Full details are available for free on the Walk London website, including directions and print-it-yourself maps. Just remember to walk clockwise, unless you fancy the mental challenge of walking a route backwards and trying to decipher the instructions in reverse.
And now I'm left wondering which Strategic Walk I should tackle next. The Jubilee Greenway would be an obvious choice for 2012, although this "new" route is mainly a mishmash of Thames Path, Regent's Canal and all the grim bits of the Ring through Newham. The Thames Path itself would be interesting, even though I've walked almost all of it before for other reasons. Or maybe I should step up to The Big One, the London Outer Orbital Path. The LOOP is almost twice as long as the Ring, traversing proper countryside between the edge of London and the Home Counties in lengthier chunks, and much more the sort of thing that proper ramblers do. Except I've already walked anumberofthosesections, and written about them, so the idea of a complete circuit is somehow less appealing. Perhaps expect several more individual Loop reports scattered over the next few years, so as not to spoil the treat all in one go. And maybe see you out there?