Marvels Lane. Full of many marvels. Quite superb lane actually. Love it here. Grove Park is the business. Really. Pick some flowers and drop them over a wall.
At the end of the road, turn right and almost immediately turn left (confusing or exciting?) into a suburban road. Once again, I’m struck by how banal this walk is. Somebody lives here – it is their everyday street. On one day, once, one time, we walked by their house. Never meet them, never see them, never know them. YET we are linked forever by this Capital Ring. Maybe.
E. Nesbit lived up here and we actually go into her back garden where she used to sit with friends like HG Wells, George Bernard Shaw and Christopher Biggins. It’s now a nature reserve. The path to get to it is called Railway Children Walk after her most famous novel. Persuade T to run breathlessly towards me shouting, ‘Daddy! My Daddy!’
At the end of the garden is a metal bridge over the railway and the site of the Hither Green railway disaster from 1967.
Beyond the bridge is a slim little park where some people nurture dangerous dogs and others a narcotic joint. Don’t hang around as we are coming into… Chav land! A small playground with quite a bit of broken equipment doesn’t put our kids off and they are soon playing hard.
We pass on, past a fire station practice tower and through an estate. At the end of this is a gate into a slim strip of woodland which is the first of many remnants of a huge wood which once covered South London. The Great North Wood is mostly destroyed now although a few chairs, tables and school desks made from it still exist. God knows where. And he’s not telling (actually it mostly became ships in the Royal Navy, back when they made ships from wood which floats like a dream).
Strange walking through this wood as it is only as wide as about three Ford Sierras or seven tall nuns laying down. Someone has carved some wood into the shape of butterflies, newts and ladybugs. Good for them.
We pass a huge beetle (pictured) and I point it out to a man who is passing in case he stands on it. He laughs and goes to stamp it to bits! I shout at him and he walks away. I wonder if he even remembers the encounter. This part of the walk heads due South and is in fact along the Greenwich meantime – On the edge between the East and West hemispheres of the Earth.
The strip of woodland, Downham Woodland Walk finishes by a busy roundabout and it isn’t clear immediately where to go next.
As late as 1802 a hermit known as ‘Mathew the Hairyman’ lived here in the wood, or cave or ‘excavated residence’. This was an isolated place back in the day (1978) and a Dr Leese used to fire a pistol in the dead of night to let strangers know he had firearms in the house. South London eh? Doctors eh?
Into the huge, green space known as Beckenham Place Park. The ring circles around here leading us in a large loop. Quite an imposing house which is now a golf club. We have lunch in the gardens which are quite pretty and intimate.
Beyond this we pass the columned front of the house built by John Cator a wealthy timber merchant and then along a path back to the main road. Not far along here we pass off down another track and into an entirely different landscape. Quite a lot of change on this route today.
Down a subway and watch a man with a large bike negotiating his way through some quite restrictive barriers. He reassures me that he’s done it many times before and at that moment like some mad puzzle he manipulates his wide vehicle through.
Up the other side of the subway (under the station) and onto the Lennard Road for the first of three brief visits. Take a left down another suburban street and into Cator Park. A very pleasant park this and two rivers meet here the Beck and Chaffinch Brook. They become the Pool river itself a tributary of the Ravensbourne.
Once again onto sunny Lennard Road and then North along Kent House Road and the site of Kent House which gave its name to the area and the station. It was so called because when travellers left London this was considered to be the first house in Kent one arrived at. It’s gone now – knocked down after an argument in 1812. Or was it 1761?
Slipping through an alley and across some playing fields. It’s all very lovely. Into Alexandra Recreation ground and the weather takes a turn for the worst – Rain, rain, heavy rain. Shelter under some trees.
Final walk along Lennard Road and it’s a bit busier here. We are nearly in Penge and the excitement builds. In a flat here I watched Steve Redgrave win his fifth Gold medal. He was in Australia at the time obviously – you can’t row very far in a flat in Penge.
Past the church of the Bad Shepherd. Interesting name, interesting place.
Penge High Street leads to Crystal Palace and we don’t shirk from the inevitable. Into the park and begin to explore this most intriguing of South London Parks.
Chat with the roller bladers around the athletics track. Nice people. Slightly freaky hobby.
Atop Sydenham Hill is the site of the Crystal Palace that gives the park and area it’s name. The original crystal palace was built for the Great Exhibition of 1851 – a showcase for the wonders of the British Empire back when we the ‘workshop of the World’. A few years after the exhibition finished plans were made to shift the entire edifice from Hyde Park to Sydenham Hill (now Crystal Palace Park). The palace was rebuilt so radically that it was virtually a new building. Brunel designed some water towers which allowed there to be huge fountains. He was good like that.
After some playing on the swings and an ice cream we head home to the Three Jolly Wheelers and our now traditional beer, lemonade and crisps. Cheers!