The London Loop – Ewell to Coulsdon

It’d been too long since my last walk on the London Loop back in August 2019, when I’d walked section 8 from Kingston to Ewell. Summer felt like a distant memory when I alighted at Ewell West Station to pick up London’s 150-mile orbital walking trail.

London Loop Section 7 (walking in the reverse direction)

This section starts with a magnificent piece of modernist architecture at Bourne Hall, a giant flying saucer shaped 1970 building that landed on the grounds of the former Garbrand Hall. The route takes you through a fine park with a lake and fountains close to the headsprings of the Hogsmill River that was the principal feature of Section 8 of the London Loop.

Through the village of Ewell we cross into Nonsuch Park, once one of Henry VIII’s hunting grounds that boasted a palace unlike ‘nonsuch elsewhere in the world’, so it’s said. This is a park that invites digression from the main route of the Loop across it’s wide lawns and along avenues.

Ewell

There’s a mile or so of road walking on the other side of Nonsuch traversing streets of postcard suburbia before coming to the end of Section 7 (or the start if walking in the clockwise direction) on Banstead Downs Golf Course. This was the site of one of the more intriguing features of the walk, and one not mentioned on the Tfl guide. Marked on the Ordnance Survey map are a series of tumuli that at the time I found difficult to identify. Checking online after the walk it seems if the Gally Hills Tumuli are in fact Saxon ‘hlaews’, a relatively rare type of burial mound in England with only around 50 or so being identified. The Historic England listing states that these would have been for ‘high ranking’ individuals. An excavation revealed “an extended inhumation with a bronze hanging bowl, a shield- boss, a split socketed iron spear-head and an iron knife.” Two of the mounds still stand in the rough beside the fairway watching the golfers and the ‘loopers’ pass by.

There is a detailed archaeological report here: THE SAXON BARROW AT GALLY HILLS, BANSTEAD DOWN, SURREY by JAMES F.BARFOOT and DAVID PRICE WILLIAMS

Banstead Downs

London Loop Section 6

Section 6 continues across Banstead Downs with some glorious views back across the London basin, towers poking up on the horizon. We then follow Freedown Lane – a long track that runs behind High Down Prison. The prison wall that we walk past is one of the remains of the Victorian asylum that previously occupied the site. Just beyond the prison, there were the remnants of what must have been a signficant building half buried along the top of the bank. Being that the prison was built on the land of the former asylum and hospital, I’m not sure what was here, my best guess is that they were ancillary buildings connected to the hospital, perhaps relating to its wartime use.

The Loop takes us through Oaks Park, landscaped for the Earl of Derby in the 18th Century (the fella who gave his name to the famous race at Epsom). Many of the old trees remain as does the stone grotto. I would liked to have dwelt here awhile but was up against the light, although I was still able to enjoy more fine views back across London.

Banstead Downs

The path progressed across a lavender farm with an old red phonebox in the middle of the field – glorious I imagine in summer. Then across Carshalton Road Pastures, a ridge of chalk downland at the northern extremity of the North Downs. We pick up a sunken path topped by what the Tfl leaflet calls an “ancient hedgerow”, bringing us out onto a housing estate initially developed for returning soldiers from WW1. It’s streetwalking from here down the hill to Coulsdon, with its appealing High Street blighted by angry rush hour traffic and the end (or start) of Section 6 of the London Loop.

Can’t wait to get back out there – the London Loop never disappoints.

Woolwich Loop via Lesnes Abbey – Green Chain Walk

Woolwich South London Loop walk

This was a return of sorts, rooted in a pang to partly retrace the steps of my 2012 walk for This Other London from Woolwich to the Dartford Salt Marshes. Back in early June of this year I headed out of Woolwich Town Centre up across Plumstead Common, picking up the Green Chain Walk to Lesnes Abbey, a gem on the edge of woodland overlooking the Thames. Instead of continuing east to Erith I followed the Green Chain down through Thamesmead to the Thames Path, closing the loop back at Woolwich. A glorious South London Loop.

 

South London Adventure – Woolwich to Eltham Palace

I’d never been to Eltham despite it being on my itinerary for a number of years. It was a possible chapter for This Other London when I plotted out the walk from Woolwich to the Dartford Salt Marshes. But somehow I’d never made the journey – until the other week that is.

Severndroog Castle

Severndroog Castle

Starting at Woolwich I worked my way up the hill past the barracks and then across Woolwich Common to Eltham Common and Castle Wood. I paid the £3 admission to ascend to the viewing platform of Severndroog Castle, a folly in the woods on Shooter’s Hill built in honour of the naval commander whose victories paved the way for British rule in India.

View from Severndroog Castle

View from Severndroog Castle

A beautiful path through the peaceful Shepherdleas Wood brought me to the slumbering Sunday streets of Eltham. It was too late to justify paying the £16.50 admission price to the Tudor Eltham Palace, so I admired it from across the wide green moat before heading back to Eltham High Street for a bag of chips and a can of Rio on a bench watching the buses head off to Catford.

In the Shadow of the Shard – watch the full documentary

I started making this film around a year ago, with a shoot walking around the Canada Estate with the brilliant Barry Ducket. Straight away I knew we had a film right there. The aim was to make a documentary celebrating the work of Tenants and Residents Associations in Bermondsey and Rotherhithe. We wanted to tell a positive story about the communities based on the area’s council estates. This is a community with a proud working class heritage, borne of its relationship to the docks, the tanneries, and other industries that flourished along this section of the Thames. But it’s an area, like the rest of London, that is experiencing enormous change, most obviously symbolised by the building of the Shard. However, perhaps an even more potent symbol is the construction of a block of 100% council flats by Leathermarket CBS on the Kipling Estate, right in the shadow of the Shard. And that story of hope sits at the heart of this film. If they can build council flats there, we can build genuinely affordable socially owned council homes anywhere.

 

In the Shadow of the Shard – documentary screenings

Shadow of the Shard - film

This Sunday sees the premiere of the documentary I’ve been working on with tenants and residents in Bermondsey and Rotherhithe over the last year. The film grew out of my interest in Leathermarket TMO building a block of new 100% Council flats on the Kipling Estate, right in the shadow of the Shard. In the context of the London housing crisis, this was an incredible story on its own, bucking every trend we are told dictates the shape of housing in our city. But initial conversations with the people involved in this amazing project revealed that there was a bigger picture in the old London Borough of Bermondsey. The area is a thriving hub of deep-rooted commnity activism, and the film takes us to meet some of those dedicated people working to keep the spirit of Bermondsey and Rotherhithe alive in the face of enormous change.

Free Screenings:

17th June 2.30pm – Magdalen Hall, London SE1 3BQ – film launch and panel discussion – reserve tickets

5th July 7pm – Mayflower TRA Assembly Hall, 1 Neptune Street, London SE16 7JP

14th July 7pm – Bermondsey Village Hall, Kirby Grove, London SE1 3TD

 

 

Trek along the Norwood Ridge – One Tree Hill to Crystal Palace

This was a walk I’d long been planning to take, a turning on one of the This Other London schleps that I skipped in order to stay on track to make it to the Autumn Omnium at Herne Hill in 2012. Now free of an itinerary, the route I wanted to follow was along the Norwood Ridge, a dark smudge of high ground on the Landscape of London map, that runs from One Tree Hill to Selhurst, around 5 miles further south. This is a glorious walking trail that takes in The Horniman Museum and Gardens at Forest Hill, Sydenham Woods and Sydenham Wells, and Crystal Palace Park.