The London Loop in Hounslow

The London Loop is a route that runs around the edge of the capital. In the course of its 145-mile journey it runs through and alongside suburban streets, farms, woods, river meadows, recreation grounds, canal towpaths and forgotten bits of heath. The Loop (London Outer Orbital Path) was conceived in 1990 and has only recently come into being. It has been planned to run between public transport nodes and divides up naturally into fifteen comfortable day walks, beginning on the south bank of the Thames at Erith and running clockwise around the capital to end at Coldharbour Point, opposite Erith on the Essex bank.

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Hounslow Heath

Hounslow Heath

The London Loop enters Hounlsow from Whitton, on the southeastern edge of Hounslow Hearh. The heath is a forgotten corner of open country. It has all the appearance of true virgin heathland, being a square kilometer or so of sandy soils supporting rough grasses, broom, gorse and a scattering of trees.

The London LOOP crossing Hounslow Heath

From the stile take the path straight ahead; this soon bends gently to the left. A couple of hundred metres further on, just short of a bench seat, go half left to follow a track heading just south of west; you're heading pretty much straight for a church spire in the distance.

The main track across Hounslow Heath

It's a pretty amazing landscape, this. You can see signs of habitation all around but the heath is wild and unfrequented. There must be a population of ten thousand people within a mile of its boundaries but it seems that very few of them come here; maybe its the lack of facilities (car parks, cafes, childrens' play areas, etc) that keeps the general public away. That's to the advantage of walkers like us who like to enjoy the peace and solitude of open spaces. Not only is the heath gloriously empty, it is also picturesque; the walking is pleasant and the scenery switches from open to semi-wooded areas. Eventually you come to a T-junction with a major track hard up against a belt of trees; this is the boundary of the heath and there is a golf course beyond. Turn right and follow the track northwest.

Hounslow Heath - the western boundary track

Stay on this track for just over 300 metres, at which point you reach an open area, the crossing point of several tracks. There is scope for confusion here. The LOOP continues hard left through the trees, and is meant to follow a gully down a slope. I missed the gully and had to make my way down the earth bank; there is a small maze of paths and tracks hereabouts. Once at the foot of the slope, however, turn left and follow a track.

Approaching the Crane from Hounslow Heath

Cross an open area and continue in the same direction. The path very shortly reaches a couple of bridges; the second and larger of the two crosses the Crane, which we last saw nearly two miles back in Whitton. Cross this bridge and turn right, along the riverbank. The LOOP now follows the Crane all the way through the rest of Hounslow and a little way beyond.

North Feltham

The banks of the Crane at North Feltham

This next section of riverbank path is about a kilometer in length. The residential roads of North Feltham are not far to your left but you see little of them, just the occasional opening in the trees. This is a pleasant stretch (arguably the best part of the LOOP through Hounslow) with ribbons of woodland on both banks.

The banks of the Crane, North Feltham

You reach a single-arch bridge (giving access to heaven knows where) after six hundred metres, and shortly after that is a picturesque little weir. The houses start to close in on the left now and the ribbon of woodland becomes much narrower. Shortly afterwards you see another bridge ahead. The path goes slightly left to drop you beside a filling station on the edge of North Feltham; the bridge is known as Baber Bridge and it carries the A315 Staines road.

The Staines road at Baber Bridge; Donkey Wood

Cross the road and find the entrance to Donkey Wood, on your right before the river bridge. There are a couple of side streams here and it's a confusing place. Cross the wooden footbridge to your right; it bridges a mill stream, not the Crane proper, which is a little way ahead. Despite the feeling that you're heading the wrong way, don't turn and follow the bank of the mill stream but take the path onwards through the wood; it rejoins the Crane in a couple of hundred meters.

Underneath the Heathrow flight path

Continue once more along the banks of the Crane, which start to get a bit wilder. Donkey Wood is a wildlife area, never more than a couple of hundred meters wide but about a kilometre long. Glimpses of low-flying planes not far ahead tell you that you're very near the flight path of Heathrow Airport's south runway.

Hatton Cross

The Crane in Donkey Wood

The path through Donkey Wood gets quite narrow and substantial parts of it are carried on wooden decking, as the ground below is boggy. Both banks of the river are fairly choked with vegetation and the path is narrow; it's not fun if you meet anyone coming the other way. Aircraft continue to fly low overhead, on their way to touch down little more than a mile away at Heathrow.

The Crane, approaching Hatton Cross

The path gets squeezed up against a high chainlink fence now. We're approaching the huge area of warehousing that stands just this side of Heathrow; there are industrial units to your right and a reservoir (unseen) to your left.

The LOOP at Hatton Cross

The half mile of LOOP adjacent to Hatton Cross is without doubt the most disappointing stretch of the whole path so far. You pass under a road, after which the path deteriorates markedly and gets squeezed between a wall of factory fences to your left and a high, crumbling bank to your right. This section of the path is going to need some attention before long or it will become unviable. It is choked with vegetation, ill-defined and obviously little-used. But press on, and in 300 metres you will arrive at the busy A30 trunk road.

A good number of walkers will break the journey here and walk to Hatton Cross underground station a kilometre to the west along the main road, or perhaps get a bus into Hounslow in the other direction. Those of you who are continuing to Cranford or beyond will find the map confusing here; my edition of the LOOP's official guide has you crossing the road "a few paces to the left" to continue alongside the Crane. However, unless I missed something obvious, this is not viable; a short section of London Underground's Piccadilly Line comes to the surface across the road and can't be crossed here. Instead, walk west along the A30 for some 250 metres until you reach a junction with a service road on the north side. You're about to leave Hounslow temporarily and cross into Hillingdon; the borough boundary follows the edge of the road just here. Cross the A30 carefully and go a few paces along the side road heading north, then turn right again for a rough works road that runs north (i.e. to the left) of the emerging railway line. It runs past a hedge towards some sorry-looking industrial units and sheds at the far end and a bold notice inform you that there is no authorised access. Sparing a glance at the huge British Airways aircraft hangars to your left, walk along this track. It's approaching the Cranebank industrial estate but just before you reach this you cross the Crane again; turn left to find the footpath and the continuation of the LOOP. The borough boundary follows the river so you have now returned to Hounslow after the brief incursion into Hillingdon.


Cranebank is not a great deal more salubrious than the section of path we just left; it has a rough, unkempt feeling but the provision of a bench seat proves that this is a public space and that someone, somewhere, cares for it. Shortly afterwards the path improves and passes a gate into a field to your right; continue onwards, leaving the environs of the Cranebank industrial estate behind and approaching the locality of Cranford.


Pastures south of Cranford

Cranford would presumably once have been a village (where there was a ford across the Crane, obviously) but situated as it is at the northeast corner of Heathrow it has grown, and is not the most pleasant of London's localities. The riverside path comes out to an open area south of a housing estate (second picture above). Before you reach the hedge seen in the picture, track diagonally to the right across the pasture to reach the gate at the southern end of Wayne Avenue. Here you're more or less under the flight path of Heathrow's north runway so there may well be low flying planes passing overhead. Follow the road's left-hand branch, and around the bend to the right at the top, then left out on to the main A4 (first picture below).

Bath Road at Cranford

The A4 (here know as Bath Road) can be crossed by a subway. There are a few shops here at Cranford, and there should be buses back into Hounslow. The route of the LOOP goes westwards along the north side of the road to the white stone bridge across the Crane (third image above). The Crane marks the borough boundary and here we leave Hounslow and cross into the borough of Hillingdon. 

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This page last updated 10th December 2007