I’ve had lots of generous feedback on my Capital Ring posts, for which I’m very grateful. If you’ve enjoyed reading my words and looking at my pictures, I hope it inspires you to get out and try it yourself. It’s a fascinating trek around London, and I guarantee it’ll introduce you to new places you’ve never heard of, and will want to visit again. It may be 78 miles long, but it puts the capital city into a new perspective, making it feel a smaller, less daunting place.
Looking back, I’m surprised that it took me so long to complete (11 sessions over six months), but with the exception of the final section (and a miserable bit around Greenford); I generally picked clear, sunny days. The beauty of the Capital Ring is that most of it is so close to public transport links, it’s easy to do as little or as much as you’d like. There’s certainly enough variety to spend long, satisfying days traipsing around London – but set yourself too long a walk, and you may miss the chance to linger at unexpectedly interesting points.
On the whole, the walk itself is very, very easy to follow. Negligence is more likely than vandalism to send you heading off in the wrong direction – with the walk passing through 18 different boroughs as well as the land of organisations like Royal Parks and British Waterways, some bits will be better-signed than others. It’s easy to see where the Capital Ring’s promoters got their cue from – the south-east London Green Chain, which forms a great chunk of the early route and is almost perfectly signed along its way.
While it’s my home borough and I give it a lot of stick, Greenwich Council seems to have paid most attention to making sure Capital Ring walkers don’t get lost, along with Richmond-upon-Thames, another council which puts a lot of effort into promoting local walks. In fact, most of the south-of-the-river boroughs do well.
But this shouldn’t lull you into a false sense of complacency – a good guide book is a must to make sure you stay on track. I used the 2001 edition of Colin Saunders’ The Capital Ring, which has since been updated, but my old copy more or less stood the test of time, and is a fascinating guide to some of London’s less talked-about districts.
The worst parts of the route to follow are through the entire stretch in Barnet – where the signage is very patchy, with one vital turn not marked at all – and Ealing, where the route is awkward, poorly-signed in parts and badly maintained. A section through Stamford Hill/Stoke Newington hasn’t been signed at all by Hackney Council, and the Royal Docks section is awkward due to a missing sign or three.
But on the whole, it’s easy to walk. A bit muddy here and there, mind, but this is simple stuff. Having the route sealed off at Wandsworth Prison due to a shooting wasn’t expected – Thames Water flooding on the Lee Navigation probably was. There are parts that are terribly dull – although, Grove Park aside, they’re not the bits that snake through streets. The industrial bit of the Grand Union Canal near Greenford’s not much fun, especially when you’re clambering over landfill sites. But this comes after following the canal through Brentford Lock, and before climbing Horsenden Hill. The little bits of rough are far outweighed by the smooth. And there are some bits that feel needlessly long. But these are minor quibbles.
The best bits? Wimbledon Park through to Richmond Park is a beautiful walk and was a wonderful way to spend a warm, summer evening. Harrow-on-the-Hill is like a journey back to the 1950s, while Fryent Country Park feels as if it should be 20 miles further away from London. I’d love to visit the Welsh Harp reservoir again, while simple places like Preston Park in Wembley and Cherry Tree Wood, East Finchley were just pleasures to visit.
The cemeteries – particularly at Wandsworth, St Andrew’s in Kingsbury and Abney Park in Stoke Newington – were fascinating and, particularly at the former, moving. Views into Surrey and into London from various bits of Norwood were treats. Passing over north London rooftops on the Parkland Walk is fun, whe whole stretch from Springfield Park, Clapton, down to the Olympic Park was an insight into a London many do not know.
It’s hard for me to judge familiar south-east London corners against places I’d never visited before, but if you’re not from these parts, I challenge you to visit Maryon Park, Oxleas Woods and Eltham Palace and not be impressed.
Capital Ring 1: Charlton to Grove Park
Capital Ring 2: Grove Park to Crystal Palace
Capital Ring 3: Crystal Palace to Wandsworth Common
Capital Ring 4: Wandsworth Common to Richmond
Capital Ring 5: Richmond to Hanwell (Two walks in one post)
Capital Ring 6: Hanwell to Harrow on the Hill
Capital Ring 7: Harrow on the Hill to West Hendon
Capital Ring 8: West Hendon to Stoke Newington
Capital Ring 9: Stoke Newington to Olympic Park
Capital Ring 10: Olympic Park to Charlton
722 photos taken on the route