London Loop

The London Loop is a 245 km signed orbital walking trail roughly following the edge of Greater London. It meanders along river and canalsides and across commons, woodlands, nature reserves, parks and even some genuinely agricultural countryside preserved as part of the protected green belt, with surprisingly little walking along roads and streets. The surroundings vary from historic town centres to rural field paths and open chalk downlands.

The trail is especially well-served by public transport and, though it occasionally runs just outside London, it’s almost entirely in Transport for London’s (TfL) zonal fares system. The Loop is now the longest of TfL’s seven strategic walking routes.

The route includes:
  • Two Community Forests (Thames Chase, Watling Chase) 
  • Two historic forests (Epping, Hainault) 
  • Two Regional Parks (Colne Valley, Lee Valley) 
  • An Area of Great Landscape Value on the edge of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty 
  • Bushy Royal Park 
  • The City of London’s Kent and Surrey Commons 
  • Stretches along the rivers Carters and Paynes Brook, Colne, Crane, Cray, Darent, Dollis Brook, Hogsmill, Ingrebourne, Lee, Roding, Salmons Brook, Thames and Turkey Brook
  • The Grand Union Canal and the New River 
...and numerous other lesser known but fascinating green spaces, nature reserves and heritage sites. There's also the option of diverting along the Hillingdon Trail to visit one of London's only two National Nature Reserves, Ruislip Woods.

Links to route commentaries and descriptions

More about the route

Starting on the south bank of the Thames in the east at Erith, the trail runs clockwise via Foots Cray, Farnborough, Coulsdon, Banstead and Ewell. It crosses the Thames at Kingston and continues via Hatton Cross, Uxbridge, Harefield, Stanmore, Elstree, Barnet, Chingford, Havering and Upminster. It joins the north bank of the Thames at Rainham and finishes at Purfleet.

The Loop isn’t quite a loop as there is no practical way to cross the Thames in the east, so it finishes instead just across the river from where it started. Historically the Pilgrim Ferry linked Rainham and Erith and there have been some proposals to reinstate the crossing, but for the moment, this gap remains. One alternative unofficial option described in these pages is to divert from Upminster to Chafford Hundred where a bus crosses the Dartford Crossing, dropping you at Dartford Crossways. From here a relatively short walk reconnects with the official trail at Barnes Cray.

The trail is signed on the ground using a logo depicting a kestrel, 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 Loop passes through 14 London boroughs – Barnet, Bexley, Bromley, Croydon, Enfield, Harrow, Havering, Hillingdon, Hounslow, Kingston upon Thames, Redbridge, Richmond upon Thames, Sutton and Waltham Forest – and wanders for short distances in the counties of Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hertfordshire and Surrey and Thurrock unitary authority, formerly in Essex.

At its closest to central London on the Dollis Brook at Barnet the route is 15.5 km from Charing Cross as the crow flies. At its furthest, leaving the Grand Union Canal near Harefield, it’s 28.2 km from Charing Cross.

The Loop crosses or uses sections of numerous other trails including the Bromley Circular Walks, Centenary Way Epping Forest, Colne Valley Trail, Cray Riverway, Dollis Valley Greenwalk, Grand Union Canal Walk, Hertfordshire Chain Walk, Hillingdon Trail, Ingrebourne Way, Lea Valley Walk, New River Path, Reigate and Banstead Millennium Trail, Thames-Down Link, Thames Path National Trail, Three Forests Way, Vanguard Way and Watling Chase Trail.

Loop walkers will find they are rarely more than a very short walk away from a bus stop with frequent services or a London Underground or National Rail 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 4, 5 or 6, even those just outside London, except for Purfleet at the end where special fares apply but Oyster cards and contactless payments can be used.

The London Loop originated in the early 1990s as the flagship 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. The first sections opened in 1996.

Following the creation of the Greater London Authority in 2000, the Loop 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 2001 although signing was only completed in the mid-2000s.

Originally the trail was intended to be known just as the LOOP, an acronym for London Outer Orbital Path, but today it’s usually known as the London Loop.

My descriptions include a number of alternative routes, either completely unofficial or using other signed trails that linked with the Loop in various places.

You'll find more about my personal view of the trail, its highlights and some of its drawbacks at the end of the post on section 24.

Other London Loop guides

Aurum Press publishes the official guidebook, originally written by the late David Sharp, a prominent walking campaigner who was instrumental in pioneering both this route and the Thames Path, and most recently updated by another prominent London walking writer, Colin Saunders. The most recently updated edition of this was published on 7 September 2017.

The guide is appealing and very readable and an essential purchase for Loop fans, but it doesn't contain quite as much background information as my blogs.

Transport for London has a series of downloadable walk descriptions in the walking pages of its website. The TfL downloads are useful but the route descriptions are sometimes not detailed enough and occasionally misleading. 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.


London City of Science said...

I agree with your comments about the TfL downloadable guidance. Some time ago, TfL agreed that London Ramblers could update the pdfs and in the process we have produced new pdfs with much enhanced maps based on OpenStreet map.

Our new pdfs are free to download and are now available from the Inner London Ramblers web site at:

Des de Moor said...

Thanks for this, LCS. I've already amended the Capital Ring page to mention the new Ramblers guides as I think the Ring coverage was completed first. Glad to hear it's been extended to the Loop and will amend this page when I get a chance. Certainly the Ring guides are an improvement, especially the mapping, and I've decided I'm no longer going to write my own complete descriptions for the rest of the Ring but link to the Ramblers guides instead. I've actually been using them on the Ring in recent weeks and have spotted a few corrections and updates of my own which I'll notify in due course.

London City of Science said...

I am glad that you are using our new pdfs and find them helpful. We are very lucky to have an expert map-maker. I look forward to getting your corrections. So long as the pdfs are on our web site we can update them easily and quickly - and that includes revising maps where necessary.

Best wishes