London. The Big Smoke. Visitors to the capital – and even people who live here – are often surprised that London has a vast number of green spaces. From the giants like Hyde Park and Regent’s Park to little gems such as The Inner Temple Gardens or Lincoln Inn Fields, you’re never far away from a zone 1 picnic spot in the Summer. What I didn’t realise was that outside London’s epicentre there’s plenty more. That’s where the Capital Ring comes in.
The Capital Ring is a series of walking routes made up of a 78 mile loop of footpaths, trails and green spaces. Divided into 15 sections, each is between 3 and 8 miles long depending on its difficulty (not that any so far have been particularly harrowing for a couch-potato like myself). It barrels through zone 3 and 4 and each section’s start and end is close by a Tube or National Rail stop.
The route officially begins and ends at the Woolwich Foot Tunnel in East London, but the nature of the ring means you can start wherever you feel like. Depending on the section you may find yourself walking through a variety of areas: from forests to public parks, from suburbia to town centres.
The Capital Ring is a ‘strategic walking route’ (whatever that means) so it’s clearly signposted. There are large signs at most of the start and ends of each section, and sometimes interspersed along the way. In the more urban areas you’ll often find a green Capital Ring sign bolted onto a signpost and in woods, forests and other green spaces you’ll find small wooden bollards. Basically it’s fairly hard to get lost, though there’s the odd detour where a tree has come down over a path or in the winter where an area is flooded. If you’re taking your dog with you there are some parts where you have to take a different route if for example a park doesn’t allow them.
The route tries its hardest to connect the prettier bits of London but alas on occasion an ancient woodland has a swathe of suburbia slicing through it and you’ll find yourself walking through a less than stunning housing estate.
You are rewarded though. Paying a penance of wandering through the suburban streets of somewhere like Penge looking like a very lost tourist, you might find a gloriously overgrown wood that’s probably older than London itself, or an old manor house like Eltham Palace, or something more eclectic like the dinosaurs in Crystal Palace Park (fun fact: Crystal Palace station has the most middle class coffee shop we’ve ever visited).
It’s a lovely way to discover new corners of our capital, seeing green spaces that you wouldn’t think would survive wedged in between council estates, or parks that you’d never think to visit or even just a simple tea and cake shop known about only by the locals. I hope we’ve inspired you to try the Capital Ring yourself, or even just to go out for a walk when the sun pays us a visit.
In my next post, I’ll share some of the tips we’ve picked up along the way.