On 29/1/22 Steve, Michelle and I walked the next two sections of the Loop, from Banstead to Kingston Bridge. Although finding the beginning of the the first section should have been easy, given that we had walked it one way last time, we didn’t manage to find our way across the golf course to the actual starting point! We did start off across the golf course, but after taking some (as it turned out unhelpful) advice from some golfers we ended up on a different path. It was going in the right direction, and we did find the real path quite quickly, so all was not lost!
The first section was short, and the highlight was Nonsuch Park, once upon a time the home of Henry VIII’s project Nonsuch Palace, built to celebrate the birth of his only son. Building started in 1538, but the palace had a rather troubled history, and was eventually demolished in 1683 to pay for gambling debts incurred by the then owner Baroness, Countess of Castlemaine (Baroness of Nonsuch).
Today the grounds, Nonsuch Park, are used for recreation. It was busy with cyclists, walkers (and dogs) and lots of Parkrunners. Once in Ewell we stopped for a cup of coffee, before finishing Section 7 – 3.5 miles (5.5 km) in Bourne Hall Park. Bourne is from the old English word for spring or stream, and it is here that the spring that is the start of the Hogsmill River bursts forth from the ground!
And so began Section 8, from Ewell to Kingston Bridge. The entrance to Bourne Hall Park is by a rather grand arch and the park has a lake with plenty of ducks. The path to Kingston was mostly along the course of the Hogsmill River, with just a few diversions where we had to cross a major road for example.
The river is one of only about 200 chalk streams in the world. It is therefore a special thing, although sometimes one could be forgiven for thinking it was just a rather muddy ditch! There are plans to restore it to better health, in particular to try and get water voles back in residence. One of the highlights of this stretch was seeing kingfishers – a spectacular flash of bright blue shooting straight downstream.
Another thing I learned from an information board strategically placed near the path was the connection of Millais to the Hogsmill river. John Everett Millais painted Ophelia in 1851, and the river was the inspiration and background. Poor Elizabeth Siddall, the model for the drowning Ophelia, was also painted from real life – albeit not actually in the river, but in a bathtub. She caught a cold from the hours she spent in the cold water, and her father made Millais pay the doctor’s fees!
Along the way my attention was caught by a fine lych gate at the church of St. John the Baptist at Old Malden. This historic church had a fascinating information board (seriously – information board writers I thank you heartily!) from which I learned all sorts of things about elm trees.
Although the path followed the river as much as possible sometimes we had to come away and cross some very busy roads, either by traffic light crossings or underpasses. The noise of the roads was never far away, although it is amazing how quickly it fades to the background as soon as there are a few trees in between.
The path became narrower and more squeezed as we approached Kingston, and the buildings began to be more and more densely packed. Finally we reached the confluence at the mighty Thames, with Kingston Bridge just beyond.
After 7.3 miles (12km) we were done! The whole walk took 5 hours, stopping for coffee, and again for a sandwich. Altogether it was 10.8 miles (17.5km). And we could get the bus home!