Thursday, 29 May 2014

My attempt at running section 22 of the London Loop

After running part of this section earlier in the week I finally decided it was time for me to run the whole section. Its taken me some time as I have probably been aware of the London Loop and this local section for around 3 years and it is something I have always been interested in and that I have read about a lot. 


My decision to finally give it ago is thanks in part to a blog I found this week which inspired me to finally get myself in gear and tick it off my ever expanding wish list of routes I plan to run.

For my long run this weekend I needed a special course, something new, interesting and challenging as I knew the run would be a mental battle. A battle between my mind really wanting to continue building up my stamina with a long run and my body rebelling as it struggles coping with a bank holiday weekend of excess alcohol consumption and copious amounts of my homemade barbecued burgers. 

The blog is by a writer called 'Diamond Geezer' and the particular article can be found here . I would recommend giving his blog a good read as it is very interesting and informative, especially his articles about walks in London and the origins of some of Britain's great roads.  

Starting off

So for London Loop section 22, the official start is by Upminster Bridge tube start but after running a few Kms through Upminster I connected with the route here at its first off road section.

Its a very uninspiring start and looks like the start of an urban alleyway sure to be crowded with knife welding teenagers but surprisingly it opens up onto several fields of crops.

The path initially is a narrow little muddy track leading down the side of one of these fields. 

The route does provide a few idyllic snap shots to rival any picturesque countryside and the first of these is a little tree covered bridge over a ditch in my picture below:   

When I ran here only a few days below the paths were rock hard and bone dry but after a typical weekend of pretty consistent rain the paths have become squelchy and greasy and slippery to run on. 

After some barely passable tricky little paths around fields, under trees and through woods the path eventually opens up into a lush green and grassy meadow.  

The meadow is short lived though and soon brings you to the river Ingrebourne upon which the route is meant to follow although you barely see it, notice it or cross it. As per my previous blog the Ingrebourne is much more a trickling stream as opposed to a flowing river. 

This section is the last off road part of the route as it leads up into residential Cranham. It is an excellent little section through, slightly uphill flanked by trees creating a natural alleyway. Under foot is treacherous though as the path is made of gravel and largish stones and the path seems to have been long since washed away by rain water gushing down from the roads higher up int the Ingrebourne. 

I will spare you the photos of residential Cranham, not that it isn't a nice enough area with well kept houses just that residential roads are residential roads and nice houses are nice houses. 

Coming out of Cranham and heading towards Pages Woods I was disappointed to be running along the side of a busy carriageway instead of through the fields by the side of the road, its a shame the route couldn't have been rerouted through a more pleasant landscape.  

Heading into the unknown

As I headed into Pages Woods for the first time I was pretty impressed with how well kept it was and how green and lush a pleasant environment it was. I was struck with a certain uneasy feeling as it felt slightly eerie, underused and underutilized. It had the feeling of a closed down playground long since deserted and long since forgotten. Realistically I think it is more the case it is under advertised if you like and the result of being out of the way and less accessible and popular than other local green areas such as Weald country park. 

One of the trails led me past this sculptured wooden bench which although nice was odd as it was all on its own and didn't seem to have any relevance or anything else associated with it in the wood. 

Taking a turn for the worse

This is then where things literally took a turn for the worse. 

I was aware from reading up on the route that it was poorly signposted and directions were very sketchy in places and this I found to be very true. 

Several times I had to make educated guesses as to where to go and had to follow my sense of direction and my background knowledge of where the route was heading to guide my way. 

At one junction in the path I took an educated guess which turned out to be wrong which led me out of the woods and towards Harold Court Road. I still wasn't convinced I was heading the wrong way some time later when the path took me across a road and onto a marked bridal way. 

As the London Loop conjoins with other recognized pathways and bike routes sometimes there are only signs for the other routes that follow the same way without specific London Loop signs. I went wrong in one of these instances as the path split into a junction and the only clear signpost was for a bike route which I thought was heading in the correct direction. 

While I ran along trying to figure out if I was on the right path or not I did enjoy this part of the route on the bridal way flanked by trees and greenery. 

I did however have the same feeling of eeriness and of being on a deserted and seldom used pathway although it did appear to be regularly used by riders from a local horse stable.

Once I got to the end of this bridal way I finally admitted I was going the wrong way.  

There were two paths on either side of the road I was on and neither of them bared any reference to the London Loop. 

At this point I took stock of my situation, I wasn't sure where I was heading and had ran further than I anticipated and at that present moment had no idea of how long in time or distance it would take me to get home. 

Thank goodness for modern technology!

I quickly fired up my sat nav on my phone and headed off in the direction of Harold Wood station. I don't like running with too much assistance from maps as it takes away from the freedom of running but in this instance it was wise to call on the technology I had at my disposal. 

On the right track 

My path now took me back over the Ingrebourne which I took as a good sign I was on the right path and onto a residential street. 

A few minutes through the suburban back streets of Harold Wood and I spotted my quarry, the magical little green sign of the London Loop.

My problem now was to decipher which way was the correct way, which way was route 22 hopefully heading to Harold Wood Station and which was route 21 heading away from Harold Wood and towards wherever it is that section begins from.

I quickly investigated a few hundred metres of one direction and dismissed it as being part of section 21 before confidently heading off following the other sign towards Harold Wood Station.

Sure enough after a following a few more signs and taking a few more back streets I spotted the welcome sight of the train station.

Now I had reached my destination I felt a great sense of both relief and achievement in my accomplishment both in terms of running and navigation! 

The return journey 

I again took stock of where I was, the sign ahead was the route I should have traveled to get here and would lead me back on the right route back to Upminster Bridge and home.

I checked mapmyrun and saw that I had already covered 11Km and although I knew it wouldn't be this far back as I was planning on both taking the more direct route through Upminster and not getting lost I still estimated it to be around 8Km to get back. My total distance would therefore be around 18-19Km which was the kind of distance I was aiming for but was also the furthest I was run in around 3 months, so I knew the journey back would be somewhat more challenging.

Soon after leaving the train station and safely navigating more of Harold Woods residential roads the route brings you out to the park.

Helpfully there is no signage or indication of which way through the park you are supposed to go. I decided to take the path round to the right and took the opportunity to shelter from the rain by running on the grass under the coverage of a row of large trees that lined one of the path ways. The opportunity to run on grass was also welcome and provided a nice variety as well as a little bit of extra cushioning to my weary legs.

The park seemed pretty well equipped for all manner of activities and included tennis courts, football pitches, children s play areas as well as body weight exercise machines designed to help combat out growing obesity problem.

The highlight of the park for me though was the cricket pitch and pavilion which I found quite picturesque for its location in a relatively urban and built up location.

Exiting the park took me back over the Ingrebourne and into Pages Woods for the return leg of my journey.

It wasn't very far until I came back to the ill fated junction where my wrong turn had occurred. 

In the picture below as I approached I should have just headed straight but instead followed the signage in the bottom right to head to the right instead. 

I can only presume there is a London Loop sign buried deep in the foliage to the left of the picture. I did take a closer look to see if I could see one and possibly make it more visible for future travelers heading this way but couldn't see any evidence of one in amongst the leaves and thorns. 

Following the path round the wood and up towards the car park was fairly steep an incline which my tired legs found more challenging than it probably actually was.

Exiting the wood I began my return into civilization along the road into Upminster and the sign below confirmed my thoughts that the end was soon approaching. 

The highlights of the return journey 

Heading back I took the direct route back along Hall Lane the main road back in to Upminster. Although not as interesting as the off road track I took on my outward journey it still provides some visual highlights. 

Firstly is Upminster Court as pictured below which is a grand old manor house once owned by a wealthy local land owner and industrialist which now provides a curiously interesting spectacle on your way into Upminster.

 The stone Japanese samurai type figures that stand close to the house appearing to stand guard are well worth a closer look by peering through the gates.

I know from previous experiences of walking this way that looking over and through the Upminster Court estate to the west provides you with a glimpse of the tops of London's skyscrapers such as the Shard, the Gherkin and the new Cheesegrater, but not on a grim murky day like today.

Next up on the opposite side of the road is the Upminster Tithe Barn and Museum of Nostalgia. I am ashamed to admit I have not taken the time to visit this facility but have in the past been struck my the Tithe Barns impressive structure. To be fair I should have included a picture but I was too tired to run up the path to take one so you will have to make do with a picture of the sign instead.

Almost home

Soon enough I was back amongst more familiar landmarks as Upminster station came into view. I was struck by what a dire and grim structure the station is, or maybe it was just its appearance on such a dark and dank day? I was conscious of the positive affect the brightly coloured signage of the c2c train company has on the station adding a much needed splash of vibrancy to this part of the high street.

Onwards past the station I took the back streets through to Upminster Bridge, even if I had wanted to take the lazy option of jumping on the train I couldn't today as the District line was out of action due to engineering work.

Heading down the hill Upminster Bridge came in to view I was pleased to be nearly my finish line as I was cold and weary.

Coming down the hill the view of Upminster Bridge with a train whizzing over the top with St Andrews church in the background often makes for an excellent picture but again the weather today put pay to that.


finally I reached Upminster Bridge station with more than a fair amount of relief having completed my journey. 

Having covered 18Km my legs were understandably tired especially as I haven't ran this far in over three months. 

The run was pleasing though as I was glad to have finally got round to completing this section of London Loop after thinking about it for so long.

Choosing this route today had definitely served its purpose well as I really benefited from the extra stimulation of a nee route and new surroundings. The distraction of having to concentrate on some navigation and map reading also served me well as it took my mind off struggling stamina levels and provided an extra degree of purposefulness into my run.