Another leg for us on the seemingly endless Capital Ring (it is a ring after all). This one starts like they all do, where the last one let us go. In Crystal Palace and a chance to see the remarkable dinosaurs. I knew dinosaurs were old (at least 64 million years fact fans!) but these ones are older than I thought at about 160 years. They even pre-date the publication of the Origin of Species by Darwin. They were commissioned by Richard Owen, the very man who invented dinosaurs (well, the word anyway) and built by a local man whose house we pass a bit later on.
A man says stay behind the fence or they’ll get you. Clearly deluded
Walk up a path and pass a very leaf-like caterpillar looking like a green cigar. A very successful form of camouflage this as birds are known to detest green cigars. T calls him Wriggly.
Past Crystal Palace station where we finished up last time so we’re finally doing it! Down the hill to the main road and cross at the refuge as the guidebook instructs us. Turn right past the Paxton Arms – a pub entirely destroyed by random Nazi V1 attacks in 1944. It was rebuilt 11 years later (in 1955 maths fans!) and the first man to be served at the bar was a man who helped pull people from the wreckage on the night of the attack. This is all written up on a sign outside for the pleasure of the passing public. Thanks for signs.
The V1 was also known as the doodlebug or flying bomb and they were as much a weapon against morale as they were against people and property. The terrifying sound and subsequent silence as the engine cut-out and it fell towards the ‘target’ were enough to guarantee its status as a terror-weapon in World War II.
Up the hill and round a dog-leg called Palace Square and into a space occupied by a playground. Stop here for some playing (T and H obviously, not me*)
Chat with a child who lives locally who seems really interested in our journey and various items we use for transporting children. He seems incredulous that anyone would go on an adventure that would take them past his area! ‘Are you going to the London Eye?’ he asks as if any adventure worth its salt ought to pass a landmark of that stature. He doesn’t realise that to us, this landscape is interesting in itself and becomes interesting because it is not our everyday.
We leave him to his dreams but can’t help wondering if we inspired him to take his own journey beyond ‘the normal’.
Pass the house of the dinosaur designer as promised – Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. He apparently, once had dinner inside the mould used to cast an enormous iguanadon.
Climbing again up the hill towards Fox Hill and the top of the ridge in this, possibly the hilliest part of South London. Fantastic views from here and in fact this road is called Belvedere Road, Belvedere in Italian meaning – beautiful view. So it all works out. A belvedere is also a lookout room built at the apex of a house and several houses round here have such features. The views must be remarkable but we don’t get to see from there. From ground level they are spectacular anyway. Particularly as we reach a point halfway along Fox Hill which must be the very top of the ridge.
Cross the main road and through a gate into Westow Park. This is a rapidly descending park and yet again a remnant of the Great North Wood. The name of the wood is remembered in the name of the district – Norwood. I never thought of Norwood meaning anything at all really except a rather dull place but I’m pleased to be proved wrong. It is a delightful place. And very nice weather to see it in. Probably the best weather we’ve had on our walks so far. We are also now in Croydon. The name is thought to come from Latin – ‘croh-denu’ meaning ‘crocus valley’ implying the area was used in the production of saffron.
The park features a fantastic playground but as we’d already stopped for this kind of activity we have to shuffle past. So the message from this is, ‘there’s a always a better playground further on…’
West Norwood Recreation ground. Fine words. Fine place.
There is a disused Victorian water fountain here which has long since given up dispensing Victorian water.
We stop for lunch here. Almost every building we can see from here is from the 1930’s which makes me wonder how pastoral this scene must have been prior to that.
Along Eversley Road and then Hermitage Road. Many hermits once lived here until they realised how crowded it was getting and moved on. This area is renowned for if not the invention of the desk tidy then it’s subsequent modification. Quite an advance.
Up to our second ridge with views in both directions to St Paul’s, The Shard, the Wotsit, the Pineapple Cheese and Gherkin to the North and the parallel metropolis of Croydon in the South.
There is a house with a telephone box outside which is nice. Someone doing their bit to preserve a style icon of the past.
Another spectacular view of Croydon from the top of Biggin Hill. Quickly down adopting the hand-strap on the buggy to prevent accidental slippage and then between two houses and a short path to some tennis courts and then into Biggin Wood proper. Always makes me wonder what these people think of their houses being on a tourist thoroughfare. Probably not much.
Through the delightfully sylvan Biggin Wood and I remember leaping over a fence from one of the suburban houses in Bigginwood Road in the late Nineties. Distant days.
Along Covington Way, not named over the superb vocalist from the War of the Worlds album (to my scant knowledge) and past a Masonic totem pole in someone’s back garden. Unsure of the meaning of the symbols on the edifice. Probably something to do with the end of the world and the subsequent establishment of a new world order? Yes, I think that’s it.**
Into Norwood Grove Park and along a Zig zag path again uphill and towards a house known locally as the white house which once belonged to Arthur Anderson from P & O. Most of the house has been demolished and only the East wing remains. Dogs are not allowed in this enclosed area. Very nice flowers. Play in the bushes here which we call ‘The Jungle’.
It seems they have struggled to find a use for the remains of the house as it all looks a bit shabby. I see that are using it as a nursery, shabby café and government ‘re-education’ facility. The orangery still has a little sign of the elegance this imposing house must have had – a fine couple of cupolas too.
Cross over into the London Borough of Lambeth now and this apparently takes place over a stream which is a tributary of the river Graveney, itself a tributary of the Wandle. No sign of a stream though. Dried up, not there at all or covered over – you decide.
This area, at the start of Streatham Common proper is called the Rookery. Rooks were once kept here in special rook-compartments rather like a modern library. The rooks could be taken out to act as companions, messenger-rooks, to play extreme forms of ‘bird-chess’ or just ‘for fun’ and then returned later. Overdue rooks had to be paid for with quite harsh fines. Sadly, these days people don’t have much need of rooks. They have the Internet.
There is a trough for dogs here. It used to be for cows but they aren’t too popular anymore so now it’s for dogs. Dog trough.
Onto the Common and it’s one of the four south London commons bisected by the ring. I look forward to ticking them off on later walks. Tick!
Streatham Common is quite boring. Recently Tesco tried to turn it into an ice rink but were prevented from doing so by a sixty-four feet giant called Igg. Thanks Igg.
We see a couple of kites being flown and it reminds me that there is an annual kits festival here. Most years it is won by Wiggum Windsoch known locally as the ‘kiteman’. He once flew on a kite from Paris to Luton (he was aiming for Budapest but miscalculated wind direction). The largest kites can carry up to sixty children although the obesity epidemic has reduced this number in recent years. Experts believe by 2050 kites will only be able to carry one child and eight family grab bags of crisps for sustenance.
Past the Greyhound Pub where travellers from London to Brighton would stop to fill up on ale and tell implausible stories about hordes of Kentish monkeys attacking them. There is a nursery here with candy coloured blinds like a giant doll’s house. No giant dolls thankfully as that would be freakish.
The final stretch along Lewin Road to Streatham Common station and it goes really quiet and peaceful. Barely see a car. It’s like the Seventies. Then, leave leg 4 and we can only dream about the pleasures that leg 5 has in store for us.
So, what have we learnt?
* Alright, me a bit.