Green London Way : Streatham to Wimbledon
Readers of these accounts will not be surprised to learn that an apparently simple journey from North London to south of the river can go seriously awry if the wrong travel option is chosen. Those who decided to travel via Thames[missing]link were sorely disappointed to learn that it was impossible to get to our destination. Lots of talk about how we arrived at Streatham ensued, but, hey, the sun was shining brightly after a few days of heavy rain, and the stress levels lowered.
So it was that we started our walk just a few minutes late, and after a rather bizarre detour which led us the local Job Centre, set off through suburban streets on the way to our first green space, Tooting Bec Common, and further, past Balham, Wandsworth Common.
Here we stopped by the lake for lunch, the contents of which attracted the attention of number of local dogs. We investigated the lake further by following the perimeter boardwalk, before making our way to Wandsworth (Earlsfield) Cemetery, where we admired the two chapels, and stopped a few yards further on at the simple white war graves of such young men (members of the Newfoundland regiment) who perished in the First World War.
Following a path in the cemetery along the railway line we came across another war memorial (this to citizens of Wandsworth who lost their lives to enemy action in World War II.). Our route then took us through the streets of Earlsfield to the Wandle Trail, lined at one point with an interesting array of garden sheds.
Our walk ended at Wimbledon town centre, where many of the group stopped for refreshment before embarking on the mercifully easy journey back to the home of what the Home Secretary recently described as “the North London metropolitan liberal elite”.
Green London Way : Forest Hill to Streatham
On the morning of the day of the walk it was dull and rainy, the buses were full of excited back-to-school children and commuters on their way to work after the summer break, the Northern Line was victim to signal failure, and Forest Hill seemed a long way from stationary trains in Whitechapel and Shadwell … so it was a relief finally to gather at the bandstand in Horniman Gardens, for this stage of the Green London Way, although there was just enough time to admire Mr Horniman’s magnificent conservatory.
For north Londoners, the variety of woodland, parks and views of the city in south London continues to delight. Taking a narrow path skirting Horniman Gardens to a nature reserve – claimed to be the oldest in
London – we walked over Cox’s Walk ornamental footbridge, which once crossed a railway line south of the site of Lordship Lane station. The path led to the beautiful Dulwich Woods, once home to the Hermit of Dulwich, murdered in this very wood. Emerging from the wood opposite the Grade II listed Dulwich Wood House (too early to stop for a drink!), our next green space was Sydenham Wells Park, offering splendid water features, formal gardens and an array of mature trees and shrubs.
Our need for refreshment was satisfied at the cafe on the edge of Crystal Palace Park, after which we explored the area further: unfortunately the path to the dinosaurs was barred. We stopped for lunch on the steps of the terraces on the site of the Crystal Palace, guarded by a pair of recently restored red sphinxes.
Resuming our walk through the streets of Norwood, we took a detour to a home once occupied by social reformer and campaigner Annie Besant, perhaps best known for her involvement in the Bryant and May female workers’ strike in 1888.
After unsuccessfully avoiding of the attentions of an over-enthusiastic large dog in Long Meadow , we next entered Norwood Park, where we played the now familiar but generally unproductive game of attempting to spot Alexandra Palace from a south London viewpoint (trees in the way, this time!).
Then, on to another green space, familiar to those who had walked the Capital Ring, Norwood Grove, the principal feature of which is the 19th century white-stuccoed mansion, once the home of Arthur Anderson, who co-founded the shipping line that eventually became P&O, and later of the Unitarian ironmonger and industrialist Frederick Nettlefold.
We were now nearing our destination – our final green space was Streatham Common, then along a long narrow footpath – Russell’s Footpath – crossing several roads to Streatham Station, where we took the train home, wondering just how many London boroughs we had walked through.
Green London Way : Greenwich to Forest Hill
The problem with South London is that it is not in North London, and quite frustrating to get there when Transport for London has one of its idiosynchratic days … and, oh, there are hills (indeed quite a few of them and Bob Gilbert’s route for this leg seems designed to ensure that walkers climb most of them).
We gathered outside the Cutty Sark in Greenwich and climbed up the hill to the Observatory for the magnificent view over the capital, nowadays dominated by the crowded towers of Canary Wharf.
We crossed Hyde Vale, noting the brick conduit head on the way, and on to Blackheath via the delightful Trinity Grove, boasting lush front gardens and celebratory bunting. Quite a contrast next, as we crossed the traffic-bound Blackheath Hill to Morden Hill, where the street names recall an area once populated by mills along the river Ravensbourne. At Lewisham we stopped to rest outside the astonishingly colourful Glass Mill Leisure Centre, the exterior façade of which is clad in 1400 individual glass panels developed in conjunction with local artist Phil Coy.
A nearby railway bridge mural indicated our next destination, then on to Hilly Fields, an open space saved through the efforts of Octavia Hill, founder of the National Trust.
We then walked through Ladywell and Brockley Cemeteries, and, then, another surprise on this most varied of walks, a therapeutic garden in the shadow of the Parish Church of St Mary’s. Then more hills, Blythe Hill Fields and the curiously named One Tree Hill (mercifully with steps to aid the ascent), where we stopped to rest by the viewpoint over London (did anyone spot Alexandra Palace?).
By now we were eagerly looking forward to some refreshment at the end of our walk, quickening our pace through Brenchley Gardens and Camberwell Old Cemetery to reach our destination, the cafe at the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill. Fortunately it was downhill all the way to the station for the return journey to the North.
Green London Way : Woolwich to Greenwich
We adopted the ‘Loopers’ tried and tested method of striding through the duller parts of a walk and were soon rewarded with the site of the evocative St George’s Garrison Church, built in the 1860s to serve the Royal Artillery Barracks, bombed during World War II, but still used for open-air services. Among the surviving features are marble tablets listing the names of fallen
Gunners who received the Victoria Cross. We were then treated to the grand Georgian façade of the Royal Artillery Barracks, said to be the longest of its kind in Europe at 1,000 foot long, with a Statue of Victory, a Crimean War Memorial, located in the parade ground. Given the picturesque backdrop and military history the Barracks were chosen to host the shooting events at the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. We came across the first of two ha-has before reaching open common land where with the grass left uncut, flowers and butterflies have returned. Soon we entered an innocuous looking park to discover its raunchy history. Hornfair Park is named after an annual three day party, ‘the rudest fair in England’ where spirits were sold in wheelbarrows, and women were ‘especially impudent’. Prudish lawmakers put a stop to the fun and games in 1816. Who could argue with the description of our next stop,
Charlton House, as one of the finest Jacobean houses in the country, and ‘one of the most determinedly overlooked buildings in London’? We learned about the various tragedies that had befallen its residents, including Spencer Percival, whose dubious claim to fame was that he was the only prime minister to be assassinated in office. We admired the 400 or so year old gnarled black mulberry tree, almost certainly a legacy of James I’s attempts to introduce a silk industry – silk worm larvae preferring to munch on the leaves of the white mulberry. Here too were remnants of our second ha-ha. Lunch was taken on benches
overlooking the iconic Thames Barrier where we learned about its history and future challenges. By now were heading towards our destination along a less than pretty section of the Thames Path, and across the building site that is the Greenwich Peninsula. The highlights of this stretch included the 4 acre wetland Ecology Park, the glorious wild flowers along the bank of the Thames – which as inquisitive walkers discovered were sown from packets of Homebase seeds, and Ballast Quay, so called because gravel from Blackheath was loaded here before being sold for a good price on the continent. The street comprises lovely 17th houses and a Harbour Master’s office. Our final stop was the Cutty Sark: the ship which for 10 years held the record for the fastest journey from Australia – 73 days with Captain Woodget at the helm.
Green London Way Walk : Stratford to North Woolwich
Bob Gilbert, creator and author of The Green London Way, led walkers’ first [“gritty”!] section from Stratford to Woolwich Arsenal on a richly varied route under sunny skies. A warm welcome to all – including Bob’s rescue greyhound Ash, most gentle presence. We gathered in Theatre Square aside Joan Littlewood for introductions and Bob’s stories of Theatre Royal’s historic contemporary, then a short turn into the Parish Church of St John’s – and a memorial to eighteen 16th century Protestant martyrs burnt at the stake on Stratford Green to a crowd of 20,000. Apace highway sprawl (outgrowth of the London Olympics, set on what was once Stratford Marsh) to Channelsea Path’s wildflower oasis of Lucerne wild carrot + parsnip / tufted vetch / hemlock / giant hog root… and the flutter of Common Blue, Holly Blue and Speckled Wood butterflies.
Outside the magnificent Abbey Mills pumping station, we were treated to a potted history of Victorian London’s sewage solution and its current upgrade. Then the warbling of whitethroats and chiffchaffs joined our chatter along a Greenway stretch between open spaces and regeneration’s rooftops. We traversed undulating wood-tracks and an A13 footbridge for a peaceful lunch by Beckton Park’s exotic tree trail,
where some pollarded horse-chestnuts prompted Bob to explain how conkers directed both the outcome of WW1 and subsequent turns of history. Beyond a further swathe of parkland, a delicate Jersey cudweed pushing up between paving stones was a reminder that ‘green’ London presents on many a scale. Every detail observed. Down to the Thames via the burgeoning conurbation of Gallions Reach and on to a ‘Royal’ group of docks: three basins of impounded water, now largely redundant. Of the numerous plants on our river path, brownfield and waterside species grew on different sides. Bob was pleased to point out a rare Deptford Pink. And we were all wowed by a pair of great crested grebes in full breeding plumage bobbing close to the river’s edge. Stepping through Woolwich foot tunnel to emerge south of the river, Bob gave us more points of social history.
Lastly, we each paired up with Peter Burke’s 16-piece Assembly Sculpture by the entrance to Woolwich Arsenal Pier, before wading market bustle for a DLR seat home. (Actually / lastly, some of us dallied in a [dog-friendly!] pub…).
Huge thanks to Bob for joining us and sharing his knowledge, humour and wisdom.
The Green London Way by Bob Gilbert [ISBN 9 781907 103452] is for armchair as well as active walkers. You can also find the routes at http://www.greenlondonway.com/