WALK LONDON The London Loop[section 7]
Ewell to Banstead Downs (3½ miles)
Section 7 of the London Loop runs along the southwestern edge of the capital between Surrey and Sutton, out in the golf course and double garage zone. It's not a classic, to be honest, with too much along residential streets and not enough green. But it's also the shortest leg of the London Loop, ideally combined with one of the adjacent sections to create a better walk. I plumped for the single option, saving the neighbouring stretches for a sunnier day.
Round-London walks are generally described clockwise, in all of the guidebooks and the accompanying material. So you have to be slightly brave to walk one anti-clockwise, relying solely on maps and signposts and not the list of written instructions. I was slightly brave, and promptly got lost twice negotiating the streets of Ewell. This Surrey town should probably be in London, all geographical things being equal, but its residents are no doubt very pleased it's not. The Loop takes you first (or last, depending) into the grounds of Bourne Hall Park. These ornamental gardens used to be the grounds of an 18th century mansion, of which only some ponds and the "Dog Gate" survive. Instead the council have landed a flying saucer on the lawns, a 1970s model containing a library, meeting rooms and the local museum. It's a bold architectural statement for a suburban borough, although closed on Bank Holiday Mondays so I couldn't go inside.
The Centre of Ewell is skipped, mostly, for a diversion up an ancient sidestreet. This boasts a church tower without an attached church, and a school that's pretending to be a castle. There's better to come on the other side of the Ewell bypass, assuming you get across alive. On the slopes ahead are the remains of Henry VIII's Banqueting House - now little more than a raisedbrickfootprint with trees growing on top, but formerly a grandstand for the royal hunting party. Don't expect great things, but there's more here than you'll see further up the path at Nonsuch Park. A trio of obelisks marks the site of Henry's palace, planned to exceed Hampton Court but demolished a century later to pay off a mistress's gambling debts. I've blogged about Nonsuch Palace before... which is just as well, because the Loop manages to miss this historic site by 100 metres.
The path from the Banqueting House to the Palace is the nicest on the walk. It meanders through woodland, though only briefly, and the woods aren't much to see when spring has yet to take hold. Indeed there's probably a nice woodland footpath like this somewhere near you, it's just that the rest of the walk doesn't quite match up. Nonsuch Park is a splendid open space, landscaped and sprawling, much frequented by locals with canines in tow. But the Loop hogs the avenue down one side, then turns off before the end to head south. Here two parallel tracks head off through the trees - these the sole remains of an interwar development that was never completed. This entire area was scheduled to become yet another housing estate, until Hitler and then the Green Belt intervened. The broad expanse of Warren Farm, up next, therefore survives to give inhabitants of the next housing estate somewhere to walk their dogs.
It's the next housing estate we're going to explore next, and then the next, and then the next. This isn't the Loop's finest hour, unless you like trudging along a mile and a half of residential streets. It's especially galling at one point to see open fields ahead, but the designated route has to divert up yet another road because there's no public right of way. The local residences are pleasant, even aspirational, starting off with houses where Reggie Perrin might have lived and moving up to detached villas that are much more CJ. Some have fine front gardens with clumps of crocuses attempting to burst forth, but a considerable number have paved over the lot to accommodate more than the average household's quota of cars. Learner drivers appear to be endemic around here, and to be fair the broad avenues are ideal for beginners, but at least one private road has felt it necessary to put up a big sign warning them off.
And then, at last, some proper green. Admittedly it's only a golf course, with greens that are immaculately mown, but that's welcome relief from pavement bashing. The path cuts diagonally across the fairway, which you'd think might be dangerous, except it seems nobody plays golf on freezing bank holidays. Not a single player was out on the course, the lazy souls, so there was no need for the path to restrict itself to the neighbouring thickets. A signpost signalled the start of section 6, which looked appealing, but I'm saving that, remember. Instead I headed a short distance to Banstead station, thankfully timed to meet the hourly train on this backwater single-track branch line. There are better ways to spend an Easter Monday - indeed anyone selecting Loop section 7 to fill a day off probably has some serious social problems. But that's another section ticked off. I'm almost halfway round now, I'll get there in the end.