Capital Ring/Green Chain

Capital Ring and Green Chain Walk signs in Oxleas Wood
The Capital Ring is a 126 km signed orbital walking trail encircling Inner London. Despite running deep inside one of the world's biggest cities, most of it is off-road and surprisingly green, taking advantage of the city's rich endowment of public parks and green spaces, nature reserves, commons, woodlands, waterways, reservoirs and urban footpaths. The surroundings vary from historic town centres, post-industrial canal-sides and classic Victorian parks to deer-grazed grasslands, ancient woodlands and even the occasional field.

The Green Chain Walk is London's oldest-established signed green trail, actually an 80 km network connecting the surprisingly large number of green spaces in southeast London. It links several points on the south bank of the river Thames with Crystal Palace and Chislehurst, with an additional branch from Nunhead to Crystal Palace.

Both trails are now Walk London strategic walking routes supported by Transport for London and are exceptionally well-connected to public transport, all of it within TfL's zonal fares system.

As the Capital Ring and the Green Chain share the same paths for a substantial distance between Charlton and Crystal Palace, I've decided to treat them together.

The Capital Ring route includes:
  • Richmond Park: a Royal Park and one of London's two National Nature Reserves
  • Lee Valley Park,  the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and Wandle Valley Park
  • Numerous important Green Chain spaces including Crystal Palace Park and Oxleas Woods
  • Streatham, Tooting Bec, Wandsworth and Wimbledon Commons
  • Abney Park Cemetery, Finsbury Park, Horsendon Hill and Highgate Woods
  • Eltham Palace, Syon House and Harrow School
  • The Parkland Walk disused railway line and the Greenway sewer
  • The Welsh Harp Reservoir and the Royal Victoria Docks
  • Two contrasting stretches of the river Thames at Woolwich and Richmond
  • The rivers Beverley Brook, Brent, Crane, Dollis Brook, Lea, Pool, Quaggy, Ravensbourne and Wandle
  • The Grand Union Canal, New River and River Lee Navigation
...and numerous other lesser known but fascinating green spaces, nature reserves and heritage sites.

Highlights on other parts of the Green Chain Walk include Avery Hill Park, Chislehurst Common, Crossness Pumping Station, Dulwich Park and Picture Gallery, the Horniman Museum and Gardens, Lesnes Abbey and surrounding woodlands and Nunhead Cemetery.

Capital Ring route commentaries and descriptions

  • 1/2. Woolwich - Falconwood - Grove Park 15.6 km Description | Commentary
  • 3. Grove Park - Crystal Palace 12.4 km Description | Commentary
  • 4/5. Crystal Palace - Streatham - Wimbledon Park 16 km Description | Commentary
  • 6/7. Wimbledon Park - Richmond - Boston Manor 18.5 km Description | Commentary
  • 8/9. Boston Manor - Greenford - South Kenton 18.3 km Description | Commentary
  • 10/11. South Kenton - Hendon Park - Highgate 18.5 km Description | Commentary
  • 12/13. Highgate - Stoke Newington - Hackney Wick 14.5 km Description | Commentary
  • 14/15. Hackney Wick - Beckton District Park - Woolwich 14 km Description | Commentary

More about the Capital Ring

Starting on the south bank of the Thames by the foot tunnel and ferry terminal at Woolwich, the trail soon joins the Green Chain Walk near the Thames Barrier and runs clockwise via Woolwich Common, Eltham and Penge to the end of the Green Chain at Crystal Palace Park. The Ring then continues via Streatham, Balham, Wimbledon Park, Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park to Richmond. It crosses the Thames via Richmond Lock footbridge.

The Ring follows the Grand Union Canal and the Brent valley via Hanwell and Greenford, then runs via Harrow-on-the-Hill, Hendon, Hampstead Garden Suburb and East Finchley to Highgate. It follows the Parkland Walk to Finsbury Park, then the New River to Stoke Newington before picking up the River Lea Navigation to Hackney Wick and Stratford. It then follows the Greenway sewer to West Ham and Beckton, rounds the Royal Victoria Docks and completes its circuit using the foot tunnel from North Woolwich.

The trail is signed on the ground using a logo with a stylised depiction of the Elizabeth Tower ('Big Ben') within a circle, shown on waymark posts and occasional fingerposts giving distances to key points. Generally the standard of signage is good but there are occasional missing or vandalised waymarks so I don't recommend you rely on them.

The Ring passes through 18 London boroughs – Barnet, Brent, Bromley, Croydon, Ealing, the Royal Borough of Greenwich, Hackney, Haringey, Harrow, Hounslow. Islington, the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames (very briefly), Lambeth, Lewisham, Merton, Newham, Richmond upon Thames and Wandsworth.

At its closest to central London on Stoke Newington Church Street, it's 6.4 km from Charing Cross as the crow flies. At its furthest, on London Road, Harrow, it’s 16.2 km from Charing Cross.

As well as the Green Chain Walk, the Ring crosses or uses sections of numerous other trails including the Better Haringey Trail, Beverley Brook Walk, Brent River Walk, Dollis Valley Greenwalk, Grand Union Canal Walk, Green London Way, Greenway, Greenwich Meridian Trail, Jubilee Greenway, Lea Valley Walk, New River Path, Parkland Walk, River Crane Walk, Tamsin Trail, Thames Path National Trail, Wandle Trail and Waterlink Way.

Ring walkers will find they are almost never more than a very short walk away from a bus stop with frequent services or a London Underground, London Overground, National Rail or Docklands Light Railway (DLR) station or London Trams stop, so it’s very easy to divide the route into shorter or longer sections to suit individual abilities and preferences. All the stations are in TfL’s Fare Zones 2, 3 or 4 except for one in Zone 5 so Oyster cards, contactless payments and Freedom Passes can easily be used.

The Capital Ring originated in the early 1990s as a project of the London Walking Forum, a pioneering partnership of local councils, countryside management agencies and voluntary organisations like the Ramblers that set out to promote walking in London at a time when the city had no unified government. It was envisaged as a sister route to the Forum's flagship project, the London Loop outer orbital trail, and the first sections opened in 1997.

Following the creation of the Greater London Authority in 2000, the Ring became one of the initial six strategic walking routes supported by Transport for London and the Mayor of London. The first complete guidebook was published in 2003 although signing was only completed in the mid-2000s.

Other Capital Ring guides

Aurum Press publishes the official guidebook by prominent London walking writer, Colin Saunders. The most recently updated edition of this was published in June 2016.

The book sets something of a gold standard in urban walking guides for its readability, the clarity of its descriptions and the wealth of useful information, and remains and an essential purchase for London walkers, Inevitably, though, it doesn't have room to go into as much background information as my blogs, and the extracts from Ordnance Survey Explorer mapping aren't always the most helpful in urban areas.

Transport for London has a series of downloadable walk descriptions in the walking pages of its website. The TfL downloads are useful and free but the route descriptions are sometimes rather cursory, relying on the signing being in place on the ground. The 'Legible London'-style mapping also lacks detail and is at too small a scale. For this reason I've decided to provide my own descriptions here.

Originally there was a set of free printed leaflets too but these are now out of print.

Also of interest is The Green London Way by Bob Gilbert. This actually describes a different, unofficial trail around Inner London that predates the Capital Ring, but inevitably much of the route follows a similar course. The book is a masterclass in writing a walking guide that was a major inspiration to me when I read the first edition in 1991, and a fascinating read for anyone with an interest in London and its history -- particularly its legacy of social and political struggles and campaigns to preserve open space -- even if you never set foot on the route itself. Many of the sites along the Ring are covered in evocative detail in this guide.

I'll be adding a bit more about the Green London Way to this page at a later stage.


Ann Starr said...

Hi Des, having completed the London Countryway in 2017 and the London Loop in 2018, we are now walking the Capital Ring. We have got into the habit of printing your 'commentary' and taking it with us so that we can read the history of the interesting buildings and open spaces while we are actually there. We are just about to 'do' Crystal Palace to Wimbledon Park and I notice that after Boston Manor there are no links to the descriptions and commentaries. Are these lurking somewhere with broken links or have you not finish walking the Capital Ring yet?

Unknown said...

Anyone know how to let whoever know about complete lack of signs at top of Horsenden Hill on Greenford/South Kenton section of Capital Ring? We went up via diversion (which was sign posted) came down a different way and arrived where we started at bottom of hill

Des de Moor said...

Ann: thanks for your comment and I'm glad you're finding my commentaries helpful and interesting. I'm afraid though that the reason there aren't currently links beyond Boston Manor is that I haven't found time to research and write them up yet. I've been very busy with other stuff over the past few months and the rest of this year too looks quite busy -- I'm about halfway through writing up Boston Manor to South Kenton but can't make any promises as to a publication date. In the meantime I'd refer you to Colin Saunders' book.

Tessa: yes I recall the route wasn't very well signed when I last walked over Horsenden Hill. Local authorities are responsible for the signing so you need to contact the London Borough of Ealing on that one. While I'd strongly encourage you to report it, it may not be addressed immediately due to budgets. As mentioned above, I strongly advise people use a written description and/or map to walk the Ring and don't rely on the signing as there are several places where signs are missing or vandalised.