London River Walk – from the Ravensbourne to the Beck

The idea was Iain’s, noticing that I rarely ventured south of the river he suggested a walk through his manor, Beckenham, following the River Beck. In the course of deciding where to start we somehow settled on the mouth of the River Ravensbourne at Deptford Creek.

River Ravensbourne

River Ravensbourne

We worked our way South through morning Greenwich and over Deptford Bridge, through Brookmill Park to Lewisham, where we gave a nod to the River Quaggy. The passage through Ladywell took me back to the walk I did for This Other London in autumn 2012 to Herne Hill Velodrome that passed this way over Ladywell Fields. Where I peeled off that day over Blythe Hill, Iain and I carried on beside the waters of the Ravensbourne across Catford Bridge to the Linear Park where the Ravensbourne departs and we followed the Pool River to Bellingham.

confluence of The Beck and the Chaffinch Brook

confluence of The Beck and the Chaffinch Brook

In Cator Park, Beckenham (after a David Bowie detour) we find the confluence of the Pool and the Beck (and also see the Chaffinch Brook) and from this point, entering early evening and pushing on for 15 miles for the day, we are now fixed on the source of The Beck.

Families are out in force perambulating around the broad waters of Kelsey Park, it’s a good time to stop for ice cream. It gives us the legs to push on through outer suburbia bound for Shirley.

source of the River Beck

source of the River Beck

I won’t spoil the end of the video, but the moment of finding the source, not quite where we expected, was a moment of mild euphoria. 21-miles river walking through South London, two middle-aged men gazed with love and amazement at a trickle of water dribbling from a pipe in a narrow strip of woodland in Shirley.

 

The sound of: Lewisham High Street

I recorded this on Lewisham High Street at the beginning of the walk to Herne Hill Velodrome and on to Tulse Hill in search of the birthplace of astrophysics. The journey is recounted in Chapter 4 of This Other London.

I’d meant to follow the Ravensbourne from the DLR to Ladywell Fields but had been coaxed into the High Street by the bright hand-painted sign for Lewisham Model Market. It was a sedate September Sunday morning with a few early drinkers sucking on fags outside the Wetherspoon’s. There’s a gentility to the High Street hiding behind the identikit shopfronts – Currys, Primark and Poundworld all mask fine modernist-looking buildings.

The sounds of a loud, joyous chorus of evangelical singing backed up by a pulsing rhythm section wafted across the High Street from a room above a shop next to Primark  A one-legged man sitting on a folding stool outside has the look of a fella who’s seen it all.

Modernism in Lewisham?

First off I’m not entirely sure that ‘modernist’ is the correct term to describe these three buildings in Lewisham High Street that caught my eye when I was down there the other week. But it’s the word that pops into my befuddled brain when I look at them.

Nikolaus Pevsner was fairly dismissive of Lewisham, writing in 1952 that it was, ‘A large borough, but little to see’. Although he knew his modernism from his art-deco, I am compelled to disagree.
The building above however is the only one I’ve found any info on – it was a 1960s department store, but I haven’t yet found out its original name.

The past life and former glories of this branch of Currys eludes me though. It’s a magnficient building worthy of more than being shared between cheap electronics and nail varnish remover.

The detail on the facade was clearly the product of an age that took its retail architecture seriously. This building seems slightly embarrassed by what has become of it, skulking back behind its tacky plastic frontage.
I wonder if it’s a survivor of the V1 attack on Lewisham Market in July 1944 that devastated the town centre

Ok this Primark isn’t quite so grand but still recalls a Grace Brothers age of High Street glamour and civic dignity.
I didn’t glide down to Lewisham on the DLR to study retail behemoths but I can’t seem to get these buildings out of my head. Just need to find out the correct word to describe them now.

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