The Capital Ring is a 78 mile (126 km) circular walk that is designed to take you through suburban London’s parks, open spaces, and nature reserves. It’s split into 15 sections, each of which is easy to reach from public transport.

My motivation for walking this, besides exercising and enjoying lovely scenery, is to try and understand better how London fits together. As an excellent blog puts it, long city walks help you see how “pockets of life join together and interact with each other beyond the coloured lines on a rail map”.

The TfL website has official maps for the route, but I instead highly recommend this guidebook for detailed instructions and interesting historical tidbits. For extensive historical research, check out this blog.

On this page I’ve rated how much I liked each section together with good, bad, and unexpected moments encountered on them. I’ve aimed to walk each section at least twice in different weather conditions to ensure my final ratings are fair. The ratings reflect the experience of walking each section as a whole, i.e. does the section stand alone as a good walk from start to finish, or is it a bunch of bad walking linking together a couple of great parks.

I apologise for the poor quality of the photographs, they are snapped from my phone and naturally don’t do the experience of being there justice. I had the idea of recording the entire walk with a GoPro over a fine week, so I could perhaps relive the experience when I’m old/immobile, but it turns out that somebody else has already started doing that.

Table of Contents

# Section Rating
1 Woolwich to Falconwood 8/10
2 Falconwood to Grove Park 6/10
3 Grove Park to Crystal Palace 3/10
4 Crystal Palace to Streatham 8/10
5 Streatham to Wimbledon Park 4/10
6 Wimbledon Park to Richmond 10/10
7 Richmond to Osterley Lock 7/10
8 Osterley Lock to Greenford 6/10
9 Greenford to South Kenton 9/10
10 South Kenton to Hendon 5/10
11 Hendon to Highgate 7/10
12 Highgate to Stoke Newington 3/10
13 Stoke Newington to Hackney Wick 7/10
14 Hackney Wick to Beckton District Park 6/10
15 Beckton District Park to Woolwich 8/10

1 - Woolwich to Falconwood

Rating: 8/10

The Good:

The Green Chain lives up to its name here, as after the Thames, virtually the entire section is spent in a set of connected parks and woodlands. The most impressive of these was Oxleas Wood, featuring the quaint Severndroog Castle with this stunning view behind it over Kent.

The Bad:

I was shocked to see that the very first signpost points in completely the wrong direction! That photo was taken with my back to the river, and the Capital Ring sign pointing to Charlton Park would actually send you out east towards Thamesmead. Fortunately signage improves in later sections.

The Unexpected:

The stretch down the Thames was tantalisingly short, peaceful, and interesting, it really made me want to do the Thames Path next.

2 - Falconwood to Grove Park

Rating: 6/10

The Good:

Wide views and friendly horses at King John’s Walk behind Eltham Palace. And overall, a pleasant and quiet little section.

The Bad:

Since the Capital Ring overlaps the Green Chain throughout this section, the signage is really good. In fact, it’s too good. At one point, I walked down the Green Chain for a while before I realised I’d diverged from the Capital Ring. Back on the path, each time I couldn’t see the next path marker within about 20 metres I was concerned I’d taken a wrong turn.

The Unexpected:

I wonder what’s going on here? I was tempted to explore but thought better of it.

3 - Grove Park to Crystal Palace

Rating: 3/10

The Good:

Crystal Palace Park is one of the best parks in London, with remnants of Victorian splendour, and something for everyone. This wonderful park’s last minute appearance just about rescues the section from an even lower rating. Beckenham Place Park is great too.

The Bad:

Just after reading that Edith Nesbit (who wrote children’s novel The Railway Children) lived along this trainline, we are confronted with this ominous footbridge entrance with a gang of wayward teenagers lurking on top. The estate on the other side was unpleasant too, with two furious women cursing at a bunch of kids on BMX bikes. Perhaps I’m especially harsh on this area as I grew up in South-East London, but the first part of this section is simply not a nice walk and the second half is mostly dull.

The Unexpected:

Beckenham Place Park is the most randomly entertaining park. Featuring a big mound of earth, a bizarre squirrel sculpture, and a pond with a prominent “no swimming” sign.

4 - Crystal Palace to Streatham

Rating: 8/10

The Good:

This short but hilly section features a dazzling variety of nice little green spaces, with Biggin Wood and Norwood Grove being highlights. The Rookery Gardens which is just off Streatham Common is beautiful and well worth a visit even though it’s not on the ring.

The Bad:

There’s a couple parts on this section where you walk alongside really busy roads - first the A215, which to be fair does have a good view towards the Shard. Later, you need to wait for an agonising three sets of traffic lights to cross Streatham High Road.

The Unexpected:

I was surprised at how worn out my legs felt afterwards, the rest of London is so flat that you rarely get a chance to exercise certain muscles which are hit harder here. Apparently Dickens Wood Close is where Charles Dickens stayed and wrote a lot of David Copperfield, but I’ve seen so many places which lay claim to Dickens’s legacy all over the country now I’m no longer convinced I should be impressed by it!

5 - Streatham to Wimbledon Park

Rating: 4/10

The Good:

Du Cane Court is a magnificent monument to 1930s Art Deco. If only more buildings in the capital were like this rather than the endless rows of semi-detached and terraced homes we see throughout the ring, maybe London’s housing affordability crisis wouldn’t be so severe.

The Bad:

I haven’t measured it but this seems like the section where the most time is spent walking down residential roads (apart from maybe #3). That’s not to say that several of the roads aren’t pretty, but it feels like a lot of plumbing taking you to green spaces which are no match for those on the sections either side. Once you reach Wandsworth Common, the route inexplicably runs alongside the train line for most of it.

The Unexpected:

A group of children were throwing their phones at birds around Wandsworth Common Pond. Just as I was walking past, one of the phones span and slid down this treacherously broken part of the boardwalk, dropping into the water, and causing sudden panic among the children. Hopefully, that will make them think twice before harming our feathered friends. And now for an on-topic comment: the atmosphere of Wandsworth Cemetery made it actually my favourite part of this section, but I didn’t want to be disrespectful by publishing a photo with visible names on the gravestones.

6 - Wimbledon Park to Richmond

Rating: 10/10

The Good:

This section is absolutely glorious, composed almost wholly of a series of huge green spaces, each with their own charms. From Wimbledon Park, through Putney Heath and Wimbledon Common, then Richmond Park and finally the Richmond riverside. Even the residential section in Wimbledon is interesting. Choosing a single highlight here is impossible.

The Bad:

This careless Egyptian goose almost got knocked down by traffic in Richmond Park. You might have to wait a while to cross the A3 between Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park. In other words, I’m struggling to think of much genuinely wrong with this section.

The Unexpected:

Much of the minor residential part of this walk is up Queensmere Road, a quiet avenue of luxurious modern homes. Queensmere House (pictured) used to hold prisoners of war during World War 2, but has been converted into luxury apartments. The Royal Star and Garter Home, a eye-catching building next to Richmond which used to house retired injured servicepeople, has also been turned into luxury apartments. Perhaps there’s nothing unexpected about this.

7 - Richmond to Osterley Lock

Rating: 7/10

The Good:

Old Isleworth is a strikingly peaceful place by the river, although it probably helps that I visited at a time when pubs were empty and the number of planes landing at Heathrow reduced. I even saw tiny children playing in the road.

The Bad:

The pathway along the Grand Union Canal is narrow and some cyclists go too fast. Which sounds like a silly concern, but I overheard some ladies grumbling after almost getting hit. There’s industrial stuff happening to the left of the canal and the M4 on the right throughout, reminding you you are in a bustling capital city even when the first part of this section nearly made you forget that.

The Unexpected:

GlaxoSmithKline’s glass monster of a global headquarters is right on the canal. It’s surprisingly quiet there too considering it’s below the A4, an effect that GSK help create by drowning out the engine roar with a noisy water feature.

8 - Osterley Lock to Greenford

Rating: 6/10

The Good:

Brent Lodge Park and the golf courses above it are very nice, reducing the monotony of walking alongside a canal or river which constitutes almost this entire section. The wider paths and lack of motorway nearby also make it better than the canal stretch of the last section.

The Bad:

There is some misleading signage as you cross Ruislip Road East going into South Greenford. You’ve previously been following the River Brent on its east bank, and the marker post seems to indicate that you should continue doing so, but instead you take a sharp left, crossing the bridge and then go down a residential road that eventually takes you to Perivale Park. I was rescued by the guidebook here. Anyway, around this part of the section I was getting bored of walking along the River Brent, so this was a welcome change.

The Unexpected:

Ealing Hospital which can be seen from the river is a horrific building even by hospital standards. Near it, there’s an especially high fence by the riverside, the kind you associate with prisons. Turns out this is a new secure unit of the hospital for treating mental health patients.

9 - Greenford to South Kenton

Rating: 9/10

The Good:

Horsenden Hill has great views and is a welcome bit of hill-climbing after so much easy river- or canal-side walking. Overall this section is remarkably varied. Starting at Westway Shopping Park, you’d have no idea you’d soon be back on the Grand Union Canal (this time, the branch that goes to Paddington); then up a steep hill and down through lush woods; then on a high-street full of Polish delicatessens; through a nondescript residential area; before a remarkable visit to one of the UK’s most historic and exclusive public schools.

The Bad:

?

The Unexpected:

Harrow on the Hill is fancy af. It also has incredible views towards central London. The school and surrounding houses give Oxford and Cambridge a run for their money. It’s surprising because I’ve heard from others that Harrow itself is not a particularly nice area, but apparently it changes a lot.

10 - South Kenton to Hendon Park

Rating: 5/10

The Good:

Fryent Country Park is fantastic, with fields, meadows, and hills that make you feel you’re in the countryside. Of course, Wembley Stadium’s enormous arch destroys the illusion, but I like how incongruous it appears reaching up above the horizon. If only the rest of the section was as good as this.

The Bad:

At the beginning of the section, the residential part is decent enough as you are constantly sent down a different road, but at Hendon it becomes perhaps the dullest stretch of the Capital Ring so far. Three quarters of a mile is spent walking along the bog-standard suburban Park Road. I was starting to wonder why the ring doesn’t snake further south and then take you through Hampstead Heath, but found that there’s a lack of interesting routes that could get you there too.

The Unexpected:

The most unexpected thing for me is how well this photo turned out. It was taken from a pedestrian bridge at Hendon Water that didn’t exist when my guidebook was published (2016), and seemed about as wide as the bridge that cars have to use, so a sweet little improvement for Capital Ring ramblers.

11 - Hendon Park to Highgate

Rating: 7/10

The Good:

Despite being so near major roads, this section manages to spend most of its time in a chain of lovely green spaces following a stream called Mutton Brook, the best being Northway Gardens (pictured), and Highgate Wood. It helps that the surrounding area is so affluent and attractive.

The Bad:

Much of the section is spent dancing around the unpleasant North Circular Road and A1.

The Unexpected:

These odd abandoned conical buildings near the beginning look like something out of a fantasy world. Apparently they are all that remains of a hotel that was demolished in the 1970s.

12 - Highgate to Stoke Newington

Rating: 3/10

The Good:

Abney Park Cemetery is intriguing, featuring the graves of many famous people and an eerie atmosphere.

The Bad:

After the novelty of the Parkland Walk wears off, it becomes less awesome as you realise you are never more than a few metres away from another walker, jogger, or cyclist. A similar criticism applies of the whole section. There are certainly several nice parts on this route (Finsbury Park, Stoke Newington’s reservoirs, Abney Park) but they’re just too busy to be truly enjoyable at least for me - which makes sense as it’s the part of the ring that’s closest to central London.

The Unexpected:

The first part alongside the New River was an oasis of calm amidst such busy surroundings, and I was pleased to see not only my favourite birds, moorhens, but also red-crested pochards. However, I soon realised why nobody else was walking along this bit: it was extraordinarily muddy and required a heroic effort to pass without thoroughly dirtying my trousers.

13 - Stoke Newington to Hackney Wick

Rating: 7/10

The Good:

The peaceful stretch along the River Lea next to Walthamstow Marshes is wonderful compared to the claustrophobic bustle of the previous section.

The Bad:

There’s absolutely no signage instructing you to cross the river to North Millfields Recreation Ground, and on the other side the first marker you see would send you off the ring to Clapton overground station. I almost missed this crossing and was saved by an intuition that the opposite side of the river looked really nice so made more sense to be part of the ring.

The Unexpected:

I’d heard that Stamford Hill had a large Jewish population, but I didn’t realise that just by walking down a few residential streets closer to Stoke Newington I would encounter hundreds of men in Hasidic garb. Since it would be rude to take a photo to demonstrate this, this screenshot from Google Street View of an nearby mosque converted from Victorian terrace houses will have to do showing the religious plurality in the area.

14 - Hackney Wick to Beckton District Park

Rating: 6/10

The Good:

The part of the Greenway east of Stratford high street has fantastic views. In general, this area has a completely different feel to anything seen so far; remarkably the area around London Stadium is still under heavy development. As a side note on Abbey Mills Pumping Station, I have to tip my hat to the Victorians for making critical infrastructure so visible and attractive rather than hiding it away like we do today.

The Bad:

Around Plaistow the Greenway loses its lustre, and is chopped up into a number of smaller sections by roads which you might have to wait a long time to cross.

The Unexpected:

Beckton District Park is a surprisingly pretty park with a variety of unusual trees described by marker plates.

15 - Beckton District Park to Woolwich

Rating: 8/10

The Good:

This section has a unique atmosphere which I really appreciate. It feels like the edge of London even though it’s not - it’s Zone 3! Cyprus DLR station and the University of East London campus has distinctive eye-catching architecture.

The Bad:

Cyclists racing through the Woolwich Foot Tunnel. More helpfully, I would say this enjoyment of this section is especially susceptible to weather conditions. In a calm and sunny day riverside walking is bliss, in cold and windy conditions it’s best avoided.

The Unexpected:

I was unexpected at how thrilled I was to be reunited with the Thames, last seen at Richmond where the character of the surroundings was very different.