diamond geezer

 Thursday, February 13, 2020

The best way to see Greater London is to walk it, which is why various circuitous long distance paths have been devised to aid exploration. The Capital Ring and London Loop are the best known circumnavigations, both requiring a considerable investment of time to complete, but when they're done they're done. So I was intrigued to hear about a new-ish 100 mile walking loop called The London City Views Ring Walk and decided to give it a try.

The London City Views Ring Walk is the brainchild of Paul Maes, a Belgian travel journalist. He's drawn up a route linking some of the best viewpoints in the capital, high points like Alexandra Palace and Horniman Gardens, then divided his loop into sixteen sections each approximately six miles long. I think that's the gist anyway - the only text accompanying his walk reads more like a travel brochure than a rationale. Most of it's in zones 3 and 4, with a dash of 2 and 5. Technically it begins at Harrow on the Hill, but you can start anywhere.

The LCVRW isn't waymarked, nor are there printed directions, but exists solely as a line on a digital map. This is available on various platforms, for example All Trails, Route You and the ever reliable Saturday Walkers Club. I didn't find any of these easy to use while out in the field, due to scrolling and unzooming issues, so ended up taking a photo of the route on my laptop screen and following that instead. Pins mark the start and finish of each section and the locations of the best viewpoints, but also stations so beware, pin density can be deceptive.

Accomplished walkers will soon spot that the London City Views Ring Walk bears a strong resemblance to the Capital Ring. The are several major deviations, for example a tour of Hampstead Heath and a twiddle round Herne Hill, but a lot of the route (especially in west and east London) covers familiar ground. Also, courtesy of the capital's irregular geography, there are several sections where viewpoints are extremely thin on the ground so you won't be seeing very far. The fifteen miles from Stratford to Woolwich are a particular lowpoint... and a Ring repeat to boot.

So I selected my LCVRW debut very carefully, plumping for section 8 between Woolwich and Charlton because this twisted through unfamiliar territory past several potential fine vistas. I started off in General Gordon Square by the DLR, and eventually managed to locate the correct exit for my ascent towards Plumstead Common. Sandy Hill Road might have offered my first elevated view back towards the Thames, but an eruption of flats in the town centre put paid to that. I hoped for better on the common, but the trail yomped across to the top of a similarly obstructed street and then retreated, and that was half an hour gone.

The next backstreet was also on the route of Green Chain section 4, which proved a good omen when a sharp bend suddenly revealed a broad view down the Thames estuary. Much better was to come, after walking off grid into some scrub between allotments, then climbing a tree-lined avenue to the brow of Shrewsbury Park. Here the sweep of far east London was clearly seen, including whirling turbines in Dagenham, rows of flats in Thamesmead and the Crossness Sewage Sludge Generator. It's this kind of visual treat, normally only enjoyed by locals exercising dogs, which finally justified setting off on my walk.

It got better. The elevated streets of upper Woolwich are built across a proper uplift of contours, the houses occasionally clearing to reveal a distant landscape beyond. The skyscrapers of Docklands rose clear as anything above the semi-detached sweep of Brinklow Crescent.

There they were again behind the tower of All Saints on Ripon Road.

A breath-sapping assault on Brent Road opened up a view of Royal Wharf across the river in south Newham.

Then a gap for garages at the top of Condover Crescent revealed the optimal central London skyline - the City cluster merging gently into Canary Wharf... at an angle which somehow left the Gherkin unobscured.

On a map the route taken by the London City Views Ring Walk looks absurd, and if you take into account changes in height more ridiculous still, but there is panoramic method to its madness. Eventually these suburban meanderings led to Eaglescliffe Park at the summit of Shooters Hill, which as one of the highest points in London afforded the best views yet down the estuary. The borough of Bexley was a sea of lowly rooftops. The QE2 bridge spanned the river in front of a hill on the Isle of Grain. The Thames Gateway container port was marked by a line of tiny black cranes on the horizon. So that was all splendid.

From here the walk crossed into Oxleas Wood, emerging by the cafe to enjoy a view in the compass direction I hadn't looked yet, which was south towards Croydon. The skyline wasn't quite so impressive, but certainly delivered on TV masts.

It's at this point that the LCVRW latches onto section 1 of the Capital Ring and follows it for two miles to Charlton. The first mile's great but the second bland, and the whole thing somewhat over-familiar. After Severndroog Castle any concept of 'view' faded away completely, other than a brief vista down Woolwich Common, and I completed the last bit purely out of a sense of duty.

The London City Views Ring Walk is thus a mixed bag, as I confirmed the following day when I came back and tried Section 10. This meandered wildly from Lewisham to Nunhead, purely to tick off two viewpoints to either side of Catford, then chucked in Telegraph Hill right at the very end. Three decent views in two hours was not an excellent use of my time, especially when the route deliberately ignored a fourth to lurk through a cemetery instead. So I'm not going to recommend trying the entire loop, but if you cherrypick the best bits you might well see some outstanding London City Views you never knew you hadn't seen.

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