So begins our second leg of the ring and very exciting it is too.
Met a man on the train. He seemed very keen on Spiderman. Asperger’s Syndrome?
The walk begins where the first left off – on a bridge over the A2. L sees a green parrot or parakeet (or is that the same thing? Or does anyone actually care?). The legend is that they were released by Jimi Hendrix and subsequently spread across South London (what was Jimi doing in South London? Implausible!). That is, of course nonsense. The true legend is that the original birds were being extras in The African Queen which was shot in Shepperton Studios. When the film was done the birds found it hard to find work, the British film industry going through a bit of a lull at the time (although some later turned up in Carry on Rattling your Cage in 1963) and they flew into the sky never to return (until settling in Falconwood).
Eltham Park South is described in the guide as being ‘open and formal’. Strange markings on trees showing sign of being chewed by large animals (or many small ones) up to the height of a stooping Nicholas Lyndhurst (normal eye-level). I don’t know what kind of animal this could have been – which kind of animal chews trees anyway? No mastodons in Eltham.
Turn left on Glenesk Road where famously the desk tidy was invented. Soon we’re back in a verdant paradise and seeing a Mickey in a field. We see so many horses on our walks (masons?) that they all blur into one, huge blurred horse. This one is only memorable because of its er*ction.
A bit further on there is Conduit Meadow – a small brick building which once housed a spring and the source of the water supply for Eltham Palace (see later in the walk). The next bit seems to be very up and down geographically speaking when you (awkward you) would expect it all to be downhill to Eltham Palace as a conduit system must rely on gravity to make it work and transport water efficiently (experts agree). Perhaps the Tudors had gravity licked? Lots of strong lager cans in the conduit these days – I think someone’s been having a party.
A sign tells me there was a V1 rocket attack on Eltham. Nearby Holy Trinity Church had its windows blown out but I’m pleased to say they’ve all been replaced. I don’t know what the Nazis had against Eltham, perhaps they just weren’t very nice and wanted to destroy it.
We follow North Park and pass close to where Bob Hope and Frankie Howerd were born (not together). Why were two top comics born in the same place – is Eltham funny? Is it something in the water? It wasn’t exceptionally amusing on the day of our walk although some of the street furniture has been arranged in a rib-tickling fashion.
A bit further on we enter the Tilt Yard which used to be the front gate of Eltham Palace back in ‘the day’*. Suddenly we realise that H has thrown today’s mascot – Tiny. Tiny is, or more accurately was a small dog who for years lived in a bag under our stairs called the ‘bag of friends’. L goes back to look for him while I check out the fairy toadstool rings (pictured). Tiny is now on an adventure in South East London and hopes to start the London Loop some time soon. He never married.
Just before we get to Eltham Palace we pass some houses built in the half-timbered style and painted mustard and black. This was the Lord Chancellor’s lodgings in ‘days of yore’**. Occasional residents included Cardinal Wolsey and Sir Thomas ‘Gimme gimme gimme’ More.
Eltham Palace is closed on Saturdays so we can only gawp through the railings at the impressive majesty of the place – so beloved of Henry VIII until he lost interest (as he did in most things – Catholicism, wives, seeing his feet, chicken drumsticks once he’d got he meat off etc.)
Down a small hill and encircle the palace and then head off in a diagonal direction or more sort of left-ish really and along St John’s Walk celebrating the King of France Jean Le Bon (no relation to Simon) being imprisoned in Eltham Palace in 1360 but being given free rein to walk around the estate, sketch deer and be French. He was known in his native land as Jean the good or in English, John the Brill because when it came to Kingly matters he was ‘ace’. His biggest failing was surrounding himself with poor administrators (I don’t know if any of them were called Theresa) but later in his reign he took over much of the admin himself. Despite wielding his mighty chopper at the Battle of Sidney Poitiers he was captured by the Black Prince who apparently wasn’t actually black but just liked wearing black and moping about. John surrendered his glove and the battle was over. Soon after he was taken to various places including Eltham (randomly) and then ended up in the Tower of London where he wrote his memoirs ‘Gawd ‘elp us, I only gawn and done it, ma!’ (out of print since 1462). He died at the Savoy. The walk was named after him.
Soon we are in Mottingham – Ah, Mottingham – and have to cross a pedestrian bridge which is the hardest bit of today’s walk considering the number of children we are carrying/herding.
Pass a very modern bungalow called Five Witches. There’s no information in our helpful guide book about which witches these may be, why they built a modernist bungalow, how they get along and no recipes for spells or portents neither. Bother!
Farmer Brown lived around here. He was a colourful character who made a name for himself by wearing a traditional smock and hat and living to 102 on a diet of whisky, steak, ale and cigars. These days he’d be presenting country file or doing amusing slapstick routines involving wheat on the Farming Channel but in ‘the olden times’*** he was mocked by cruel music hall artistes in popular song.
Just where the walk turns left down a small overgrown path there is a big nursing home which the guidebook tells me was once the home or dwelling of bear-like, hirsute cricket legend W G Grace (1848-1915). Apparently, while he was alive (and some years after his death as well) he would stand at an open window in a fit of pique and toss cricket balls at ‘Capital-Ringers’. He rarely missed. Luckily, (for us, not him or the World of Cricket) he is dead today and we pass unscathed.
Past the extensive fields of Eltham College – ‘Chariots of Fire’ Olympian Eric Liddell (played by Ian Charleson) and Gormenghast author Mervyn Peake (played by Derek Jacobi) were old boys. Peake may have been inspired to write his monumental ‘Gormenghast’ series by the beauracracy and ritualistic nonsense of his alma mater or he may not have done. It certainly doesn’t explain his obsession with cheese.
A very pleasant path leads beside the playing fields and wilderness beyond. The guidebook says the leaves here can be calf-high in Autumn – an arresting phrase. Pass a concrete channel containing the infant Quaggy River – etymologists argue whether the word quagmire comes from here or whether the river got it’s name from the quagmire or perhaps it’s a coincidence or the masons again or… who knows? Etymologists are always arguing about something aren’t they?
What marvels we have seen we muse as we reach Marvels Lane! Before we know it we’re back in the suburban sprawl of South East London and the anonymity of Grove Park and the walk is over. Too soon, too soon.
Take our now traditional pint at our local at the end. Do we feel like we earned this one?
*Pick a date
** I don’t know exactly when but clearly yonks ago
*** Exact date lost in ‘mists of time’ ****
**** No-one cares