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. Unlike the Capital Ring, the Green Chain isn't a single trail and there are numerous options for completing it: I've suggested a series of linear day walks that cover the whole trail with minimum duplication, plus a few useful links and extensions of my own devising.

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 the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site including Greenwich Park and adjoining Blackheath, plus 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. My suggested extensions take in Hall Place at Bexley, the river Shuttle, Southwark Park and the National Trust woodlands at Petts Wood.

Capital Ring sections

Green Chain Walk sections

  • D1.1. Thamesmead - Oxleas Wood - New Eltham 15.3 km
  • D1.2. New Eltham - Elmstead Woods - New Beckenham 13.5 km
  • D2.1. Woolwich - Oxleas Wood - Falconwood 6.9 km
  • D2.2. Falconwood - Avery Hill - Bexley via Shuttle Riverway 12.5 km
  • D3. Thames Barrier - Abbey Wood - Erith 16 km
  • D4.1. Woolwich - Falconwood - Grove Park (Capital Ring 1/2) 15.6 km
  • D4.2. Grove Park - New Beckenham - Crystal Palace (Capital Ring 3) 12.4 km
  • D5.1. Greenwich - Kidbrooke - Grove Park (including unsigned section) 11.7 km
  • D5.2. Grove Park - Chislehurst - Petts Wood via link and London Loop 2 8.5 km
  • D6. Rotherhithe via link - Nunhead - Crystal Palace 15 km
  • D7. West Dulwich - Crystal Palace 8.7 km
I've numbered these sections with the initial D to avoid confusion with the official sections. The way these correspond is included in the introduction to each post.

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.

The Ramblers' longstanding connection with the Ring was reinvogorated in 2019 when Inner London Ramblers began working more closely with Transport for London to support it. As well as providing improved information, the Ramblers coordinates a team of footpath guardians, the Ring Rangers, who monitor the trail and ensure that it's properly maintained an improved. More information is on the Inner London Ramblers site, along with news of closures, diversions and path changes: I recommend you check this resource before setting out on a walk.

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 July 2020.

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 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.

Since late 2020, the best online resource for the Ring is provided by Inner London Ramblers, which has a complete set of free route guides, recently checked and updated by volunteers, alongside news of current closures, diversions and other route changes and details of the Ring Rangers path guardian scheme. The route guides include a reliable current route description, decent maps based on OpenStreetMap and some background information on features along the way, though necessarily much less than you'll find here, and without as much detail on alternative routes and links. The news of route changes is a particulary useful feature and I highly recommend you check this before setting out.

The Ramblers guides have superseded the previous online guides provided by Transport for London, though the Ring page on the walking section of the TfL website now includes links to mapping for the route available through the Go Jauntly smartphone app. If you have still have saved copies of the old PDFs with Legible London-style mapping, I strongly recommend you ignore these and use the Ramblers guides instead.

Originally there was a set of free printed leaflets but these are now out of print, and long out of date too so I wouldn't advise using them if you happen across them.

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 encountered 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.

London City of Science said...

You might like to know that from today there is a fully updated set of free pdfs describing the Capital Ring available from the Inner London Ramblers web site at:

These pdfs have been produced with the support of Will Norman of Transport for London. Currently TfL does not have the resources to undertake such work. The revision and checking of the guidance has all been done by volunteers.

By the way, with reference to the comment above by Unknown, another outcome of this Ramblers initiative has been to arrange the reinstatement of the missing signpost at the top of Horsenden Hill. Getting to grips with improving all the waymarking is a challenge which our project is gradually getting to grips with.

We post news items from time to time reporting issues that may affect walkers on the Ring. Please let us know of any problems you discover.

Des de Moor said...

LCS: Thanks for this. I was aware of the Ramblers' Ring Rangers and Loop Leaders project and am delighted to see these updated descriptions, and with much better maps than TfL's handouts, derived from OpenStreetMap I see. I've just started working on this site again and as soon as I have time I'll update all the relevant pages.