London: the step-by-step guide Michael Leapman celebrates VE Day with a walk around Hornchurch

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The Independent Culture
to mark the 50th anniversary of VE Day, this walk is centred on a wartime aerodrome that has become a country park. The airfield was created on a former farm during the First World War, and in the Second World War was an important take-off point for the Spitfires that defended London from German bombers. RAF Hornchurch closed in 1962.

The car park itself was the original aircraft dispersal bay, and the bank around it contained air-raid shelters. Leave it by the black tarmac drive that you drove in on, and where this swings right for the exit keep straight on towards a metal post and continue ahead on a worn grass path.

The area of scrub on your left is the old airfield. On your right is a row of modern houses and there are distant views of the Kentish hills ahead. The flat, open ground is a paradise for dog walkers but others may find this first section of the walk a little dreary: fear not, it gets more eventful as you go along.

Where the path divides, keep to the right of the wire fence, making for a point a little to the right of the Albyns Farm buildings ahead. When you get level with the farm you will see another car park. Climb the stile and turn left briefly on the lane, passing a pond on your right. About 100 yards up the lane, just beyond a store yard, turn right through a gap to the left of metal gates.

Walk on the gravel path to the left of the wooden fence and follow the fence round to the left as it makes a right-angled turn at another metal gate. Where the fence ends, keep ahead on the path indicated by arrows on posts. (At this point, walking the route two weeks ago, I heard my first cuckoo of the year.)

At a sign saying "Lowfield Wood", walk through a gap by a gate and turn right on the path that keeps to the right of a large lake, home to ducks, geese and moorhens. Beyond the lake keep on the path as it turns right, passing a wartime pillbox, built to protect sharp-shooters defending the airfield.

Continue following the arrows, passing another pillbox and gun emplacement on the right. Also on the right is a mass of reed stems rising from the marshy land between the path and the River Inglebourne. Keep to the right of two picnic tables and climb a slope, giving a good view of the river and the marsh.

At the bottom of the slope turn right on a path that leads to the river bank. Turn left and keep on the path as it follows the bank, crosses a stream over a wooden bridge and joins a metalled drive. Turn right here and leave the country park through new wooden gates.

After a few yards cut across the grass on your right to get back to the winding path by the riverbank. After a big loop the path joins the drive. Turn right here to cross a newly-fenced concrete bridge, following a yellow footpath sign.

Across the bridge, make for a wood ahead on the middle of three paths. After crossing a culvert, fork left through trees and continue ahead when some houses come into view on your left. You go through a wooden fence, past a "permissive footpath" sign, into a charming dell where there should still be a few bluebells to remind you that spring is making way for summer.

Go ahead at a crossing of paths and at the next, bigger junction take the first path on the right, up a slope, to emerge on open scrubland. Keep to the right, past another footpath sign, and when you see houses ahead turn left. After 50 yards fork left off the gravel path onto a grass track that goes gently downhill to the river bank.

Turn right alongside the river and climb to the road to cross the bridge, then immediately turn left on the other bank. Keep to the tarmac, drive past a children's playground, then the backs of houses on your right and the chimneys of St George's Hospital beyond.

Keep on until you reach the bridge where you crossed the river earlier. Here turn right on a narrow grassy path that crosses a streamlet, then sharp left on an even narrower path between plastic mesh fences. After a while, the path swings right. As soon as the hospital comes back into view on your right, turn left onto a clear earth path, crossing scrubland diagonally.

Keep on the path beneath young oak trees. It leads to one last pillbox, where you turn right and then left to return to the car park.

For a leaflet about Hornchurch Country Park, ring Havering Borough Council on 01708 554451 or 01708 772888

Distance: Four miles

Time: Two hours

By Tube: Hornchurch (District Line), then 15 min walk down Suttons Lane

By bus: 252, 256

Car park: In Hornchurch Country Park, corner of Suttons Lane and Squadrons Approach