Sunday, March 20, 2011

Striding Around South East London

It's been a sunny weekend but not too hot - ideal for walking, so I decided to cover a large chunk of ground. After all we never know when it will snow again...

Day Two - Falconwood to Grove Park

This relatively short section - just over 4 miles - is also mostly along level ground. A leisurely saunter, beginning at Falconwood Station.

A concrete bridge takes the path over the railway and the A2 in its deep cutting. The path leads onward through Eltham Park South before following a track past the training ground for Eltham Football Club and a venue - the Butterfly Club - which no doubt sees some action in the evenings.

A long road walk bypasses the centre of Eltham, concluding at the impressive Eltham Palace, the country seat of royalty until Henry VIIIth decided to move his household to Greenwich. The place was sacked by Cromwell's Roundheads who had no respect for history and remained in ruins until the Courtauld family bought it and reconstructed the building in its current stylish form.

Beyond the palace, King John's Walk follows a ridge affording great views of Canary Wharf and the City. Horses are much in evidence here, a clear case of 'bringing the village to the city' as Boris would say.

Down the hill, we cross a railway bridge and scurry over the busy A20 - a pedestrian crossing has been provided since I was last here, so thank you TfL. Entering Mottingham, there is a brief encounter with the borough of Bromley and James Cleverly's constituency. It is very pleasant here, no wonder he got over 100,000 votes!

The village is an odd mix of very old houses and some unattractive blocks of flats, the whole scene dominated by Eltham College where Mervyn Peake was a pupil before he went on to write the Gormenghast trilogy, which I plan to read some time.

Behind the college is a path leading eventually to Grove Park Station, following the Quaggy River - made famous when Boris fell in whilst helping to clear out road cones and shopping trolleys. Of course Ken would never have fallen in the Quaggy River, because it isn't in Zone 1...

Day Three - Grove Park to Crystal Palace

The longest stage of the walk is, at 8.6 miles, a considerable undertaking for us desk bound types. Of course back in the North East we would have knocked it off before breakfast, but things have changed since then...

A long footbridge crosses the main line at Hither Green, affording a view of the train depot and the site of the 1967 derailment in which 49 people died. We tend to think of railway tragedies as a modern phenomenon but a study of history provides a clearer perspective.

In Downham, the path passes the fire station - a far flung outpost of Brian Coleman's empire - before entering the Downham Woodland Walk. This follows a narrow band of trees - miraculously preserved during the development of the area, for over a mile. Lewisham Council had provided some unusual and attractive artwork when I first came this way, but over the years it has deteriorated and become overgrown. Wooden sculptures are half concealed amongst the bushes, so you need to look for them now.

Hurrying over the A21, the walk enters the large Beckenham Place Park, alive with dog walkers on a Sunday morning. There were relatively few unpleasant mastiffs in evidence although mauled branches and tree trunks show that people have been exercising their 'devil dogs'. Winding through woodland, climbing steep steps, you find yourself in the middle of a golf course. The facility is administered from the mansion itself, a grade II listed building constructed by John Cator, a timber merchant whose family name features heavily in these parts. The whole park is in public ownership having been acquired by the London County Council before the War.

Outside the park the route leaves Lewisham and returns to Bromley, and there is the first sighting of the Crystal Palace TV mast - the end of today's walk. It isn't as close as it looks, particularly as the walk winds about a fair bit. The mast will remain tantalisingly on the horizon for the next hour or so...

Crossing the valley of the Pool River seems to take forever. Much of the area is made up of playing fields that once formed recreation grounds for large public utilities and private companies. as costs were cut in the nineties many of these fell into disuse and the owners sought permission for development, which never came. Since I was last here things look to have improved, with new users taking a more active role, funded by modest partial development. I passed the grounds of Kent County Cricket Club, Crystal Palace Football Club and the HSBC Sports Club.

A winding route through parks and streets finally arrives at Penge East Station where it is tempting to drop into the newsagents and buy up anything edible. However I restrained myself, knowing that the dynamic centre of Penge was just around the corner. There is also a surprisingly good cafe just inside Crystal Palace Park.

Sunday is very busy here with huge numbers of small children. A cola lolly helped to restore my E levels to normal whilst I struggled with the map - because they have changed the route...

The new way turns left and leads up alongside the Dinosaur Ponds, definitely worth the detour. Next comes a view of the athletics stadium which is looking a bit rundown, and at long last a close encounter with the TV mast which has dominated the last few miles. Here also is the station and the conclusion of the walk.

Day 4 leaves South east London behind, threading its way north of Croydon whilst avoiding the more built up central areas. I'm looking forward to it.

1 comment:

Mrs Angry said...

Good to see a photo of some of your antediluvian Tory party colleagues - and speaking of which, Rog, I do hope that you will encourage your friend Brian to stand for your position when you stand down as leader. His charm, modesty, political instinct - and gift for tact and diplomacy - will be absolutely guaranteed to bring success to the election campaign. For Labour, obviously. Have a word in his shell-like, will you?