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.

Woolwich Reach to the Greenwich Air Line

Part 2 of my walking video that started in the Woolwich Foot Tunnel. I pass the Thames Barrier ruminating on how tenuous London’s grip is on the solid ground we take for granted when the rising waters of the Thames could reclaim the City …. and one day will. Oddly, I find this a comforting thought.

Despite it being a sultry, cloudy day I could appreciate the narrative arc of re-crossing the Thames on the Air Line Cable Car from Greenwich to Royal Docks. If I was honest, I was a tad disappointed with the experience – when something arrives with such corporate fan fare you’re entitled to expect to have your mind blown. But as the cable car glides to its summit mid Thames look southwards to the highlands of the ridge of land running from Greenwich to Belvedere and from there are views that will truly twist your melon.

The quiet majesty of Woolwich Dockyard

When I’d crossed the River at North Woolwich for one of the walks in This Other London I’d opted for the free Ferry so I could feel like Captain Willard on his mission of destiny to encounter Colonel Kurtz – I was bound for the Dartford Salt Marshes via Erith Pier.

Woolwich Foot Tunnel

Woolwich Foot Tunnel

So this time I opted for the Woolwich Foot Tunnel – a 100-year-old passage beneath the sacred Thames, half-a-kilometre long with amazing acoustics bouncing off the white-tiled wall.

 

woolwich dockyard

Woolwich Dockyard took me by surprise for such a historically resonate location I was expecting a big heritage fanfare.

Woolwich Dockyard

Through a battered wire fence I saw a fella casting his fishing rod into the murky green water and asked him what this place was. “It’s Henry VIII’s old dry docks”, he said and directed me to the entrance around the far side.

 

Woolwich Dry Dock

The fine brick buildings of South-East London Aquatic Centre are falling into decay despite being only 35 years old and now serve mainly as a pigeon coop. With the weeds sprouting from the concrete terraces it reminded me of images of abandoned Soviet architecture – modernist wonders reclaimed by the undergrowth.

woolwich dockyard

Henry VIII brought shipbuilding to Woolwich and it remained an important naval dockyard till the last ship constructed here, the Thalia, slid down the slipway into the Thames in 1869.

woolwich dockyard

Woolwich was at the heart of England’s seafaring empire. The ships of Sir Francis Drake were launched at Woolwich, as was Charles I’s mighty Golden Devil. Elizabethan explorer Martin Frobisher set sail from here in search of the northwest passage.

woolwich dockyard

The site has been given listed building status with plans for a new housing development approved in 2012. So get there quick to enjoy it in this state of quiet slumber – places like this in London are a precious resource now.

 

The sound of: Plumstead covered market

This is a short field recording I made whilst wandering around Plumstead covered market on the walk from Woolwich around Crayford Ness for chapter 3 of This Other London

Here’s a snippet from the book:

Moving up along Plumstead Road my momentum is broken by the covered market. There’s been a market on the site since the 1600s – the poor forgotten cousin of the more famous Covent Garden. Thursday is early closing, which probably accounts for the lack of activity. It must be a hard life grinding a living out of the stalls here. The Gurkha Café has a few punters sup- ping tea on its outside tables. I do circuits, soaking in the atmos- phere: the narrow ways between units, the coloured lettering all around, pulsing reggae music bouncing back off the glass ceiling. There are echoes of Grand Central Market in Los Angeles that provided the inspiration for scenes in Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic Blade Runner. A mash-up of ethnic influences coming together into a hybrid street culture, a Himalayan- Afro-Caribbean-Indian-Jutish cocktail.”This Other London – adventures in the overlooked city