Tuesday, 3 May 2016

London LOOP - Rainham to Purfleet

The London LOOP is a dodgy acronym for the London Outer Orbital Path, a 150 mile path around outer London. I have no intention of walking all of it, but the final section runs along the River Thames relatively near to where we live.

I chose the Capital Ring, a shorter (78 mile) orbital path, for a walking project this year and I walked the first section back in February. Unfortunately I chipped a bone in my foot in a silly accident less than a week later and that put paid to any serious walking for a while. I would like to get  back to that walk as soon as I can, but I decided to do something closer to home first in order to test how well my foot is healing.

Section 24 of the London LOOP joins the two railway stations at Rainham and Purfleet, but that's not my local line so I used the car and split the walk into two parts. I parked at the RSPB's Rainham Marshes Nature Reserve and walked from there to Purfleet station, then I caught the train to Rainham and walked back to the car.

The reserve is right next to the river, and I was soon on the riverside path, surprised to see a flotilla of boats heading up river towards the City with its skyscrapers clear to see even at this distance.

I almost lingered too long here watching the boats, as the level crossing was already descending as I approached Purfleet station. Slightly alarmed, I quickened my step, and made it onto the platform just as the train was arriving. I got off again one stop later and navigated my way out of the station and over the footbridge which crosses the Channel Tunnel Rail Link alongside. 

The footpath is well signposted with London Loop decals, 'rusty' metal signposts and Rainham to Purfleet Path markers (with distances).

I strode out confidently, heading south-ish and crossing the A13 safely, but was then was hit by a quandary. The path split in two, both signposted for Purfleet but at distances of three miles or four miles, and neither of them matching the descriptions in my walk guide notes or the path as marked on the map. I decided on the longer route, then had second thoughts and back-tracked to look for the London LOOP logo. I found it and was relieved that I had picked the right path after all, and annoyed that I hadn't checked the marker previously.

Off I went again, passing a curious concrete 500 in the grass, 

following the path as it skirted the edge of the marshes, yards away from the edge of the Ferry Lane Industrial Estate.

The path then cuts through the industrial estate and across to the Thames, running below the level of the flood wall, and passing between the Tilda rice factory and its private wharf. 

Passing the next jetty, I came to one of the 'sights' on this walk - a group of 16 concrete barges, constructed in the 1940s and used to create artificial harbours for the D-Day landings, now abandoned and left to rot.

Almost next to the barges is The Diver, a galvanised steel sculpture by John Kaufman. It might look delicate but it weighs several tonnes and is anchored into the river bed. The proportion of the sculpture on show varies with the state of the tide, but it seems that I'd hit it at about the right time. 

Next up was a less salubrious sight, the grassy mound that covers part of a landfill site. Something startled these birds and they rose up into the air en masse as I passed.

The river is at least partly the reason for the landfill site; barges come down-river from London, depositing the capital's waste into the Essex countryside.

Onwards to Coldharbour Point, and the lighthouse there. It looks like quite a modern structure, but it was built in 1885. 

Rounding the point, the Queen Elizabeth II bridge came into sight, and would be in view for the rest of my walk. This is part of the Dartford Crossing, and carries the M25 over the Thames (southbound) while two tunnels take it north.

The path follows a narrow strip of land between industrial units and the river, but there's room for nature too as I spotted bluebells and butterflies beside the path. 

Eventually, I left the landfill and the industry behind me as I reached Rainham Marshes, part of the RSPB Nature Reserve.

The area's hemmed in by roads and railways, but it used to be an MOD firing range so it remained wild, the largest area of wetlands on the Thames estuary. Some of the targets are still here, including this rifle target built in 1906. Paper targets used to be hoisted above the numbers, and the steps in front were covered with sand to absorb stray bullets.

Onwards I went, legs beginning to ache, past the seemly-unending marshes,

watching the progress of the City of Westminster as she came upstream,

until eventually the visitor centre came into sight. 

Not far to go now, and I paused one last time to look back on my route.

Marsh on the right, river on the left, even the green hill of the landfill site looks pretty at a distance.

One final thing, I have recently 'inherited' my husband's old smartphone, and I used the Map My Walk app to track this walk. I almost forgot to start the mapping, so the trail starts a little while after Rainham station, but this is where I went.

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