Crystal Palace to Streatham Common on the Capital Ring

I often overlook the Capital Ring. Partly because I’m always encountering those little waymarkers on my walks. I collected a full set of free fold-out maps from Thornhill Square Library about 20 years ago, detailing the 72-mile route broken down into 15 sections. However, I’ve only intentionally set out to walk the Capital Ring on one occasion, in March 2020 when I walked from Richmond to Horsenden Hill.

Capital Ring Walk 4
Capital Ring Walk 4
Capital Ring Walk 4 - Upper Norwood Recreation Ground
Upper Norwood Recreation Ground

So last week, with a false Spring breaking over London, I set off from Crystal Palace Station to walk Section 4 to Streatham Common, and wow what a glorious walk it was. There were spectacular views throughout – looking south towards to the North Downs, and across the Thames Basin to the north with the shimmering towers of the City below. From Biggin Wood we looked across the high-rises of Croydon to distant hills. And at the end of the walk we gazed west over the Wandle Valley. Between we strolled across beautiful open spaces at Westow Park, Upper Norwood Recreation Ground, Norwood Grove and finally Streatham Common. We passed beneath the boughs of one of the remnants of the Great North Wood in Biggin Wood and explored the secret garden at The Rookery on the site of Streatham Wells.

Capital Ring Walk 4
view from Biggin Hill
The Rookery - Streatham
The Rookery

I now can’t wait to get back and continue the Capital Ring to Wimbledon and Richmond.

A meander along the River Shuttle in South London

I’d never heard of the River Shuttle until it was mentioned in the YouTube comments under my video of a walk along the River Quaggy. A crisp, bright, sunny Sunday felt like the perfect time to seek out this suburban watercourse. The River Shuttle rises on Avery Hill and flows through a sequence of parks and patches of woodland before making its confluence with the River Cray beside the A2 Rochester Way. The Shuttle Riverway is a 5.5-mile walking trail that follows the river.

I found the Shuttle running along a narrow concrete culvert just inside the gates of the University of Greenwich Avery Hill campus and next to the Charlton Athletic Training Ground. I remembered that my Uncle Stan had turned down a professional contract to play in goal for Charlton in the 1950s leading me to declare that the deity of the River Shuttle was a former Charlton Athletic goalkeeper. [*note: in Ben Aaronovitch’s brilliant Rivers of London books all of London’s rivers have a living, breathing deity who moves among us]. I followed the river through the campus and across the road, through Parish Wood and connected with the Shuttle Riverway as ran alongside Berwick Crescent, Sidcup. It was here I encountered my first Shuttle Riverway signage – always a great moment to add a new walking trail sign to the memory bank.

Shuttle Riverway sign for the River Shuttle walk
Shuttle Riverway

In Hollyoak Wood Park the Shuttle meets its tributary, the Wyncham Stream which rises in Chislehurst. Just past the confluence of these two rivers an egret elegantly strode along the edge of the water.
The river led me on through Willersley Park and Marlborough Park in magnolious late winter sun.

River Shuttle in Parish Wood
River Shuttle in Parish Wood
confluence of the Wyncham Stream and the River Shuttle in Hollyoak Wood Park
confluence of the Wyncham Stream and the River Shuttle

As the Shuttle crossed Burnt Oak Lane into Sidcup Golf Club I followed the Shuttle Riverway round the streets when later I learnt that a footpath runs around the edge of the golf course emerging near Viewfield Road. However, I’m grateful that my detour took me past the great pylons that straddled the houses and the stink pipe in Albany Road.

pylons in the street in Sidcup / Bexley
pylons in the street in Sidcup / Bexley

The daylight faded as I traced the river across the edge of Bexley Woods and a luminous full moon broke through the clouds. It made me think of Steve Moore’s Somnium, a brilliant weaving of the mythology of the moon goddess Selene into the landscape of Shooters Hill, not far from the source of the River Shuttle. The moon and the river seemed intricately linked. How I connect this to the goalkeeping deity of the Shuttle I haven’t worked out yet.

confluence of the River Shuttle and River Cray
confluence of the River Shuttle and River Cray

Selene guided me down Love Lane in the moonlit night to the Holiday Inn laden with ennui beside the A2 East Rochester Way. The Shuttle shimmered in the headlights of passing cars. The confluence with the River Cray was not far away. A fox slid through the undergrowth along the riverbank. Somebody had left a can of energy drink on the railing as a votive offering. It was a perfect ending. I paid my respects and then headed off into the moonbeams to Bexley Station.

A visit to Orford Ness – the ‘isle of secrets’

Orford Ness in Suffolk was once a top-secret military research site and today operated by the National Trust. This 10-mile-long shingle spit on the Suffolk Coast is home to a range of habitats, including salt marshes, reed beds and lowland heath, and only accessible by ferry. The secretive research military research centre came into operation in 1912 and was closed in 1985 when it was taken over by the Nation Trust. For many years it was forbidden to approach the island.

I visited on the last weekend of Afterness in October 2021 – a series of installations commissioned by Artangel that included works by Ilya Kaminsky, Emma McNally, Chris Watson, Alice Channer and others. Orford Ness is an extraordinary location. Some of the military buildings have been retained and allowed to naturally decay. The site includes the Cobra Mist radar masts built in early 40’s, a former lighthouse, blast bunkers, and the remains of an experimental rocket testing site. W G Sebald wrote about a journey to Orford Ness in his book The Rings of Saturn. Sebald found it a desolate lonely place. For me it is one of the most extraordinary places in the whole of Britain. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the uncanny atmosphere of strolling along the paths that snake across the shingle, navigating my way from one defunct military installation to the next conjuring up the peculiar wartime experiments that were conducted here. It must have been an intense and paranoid place.

Orford Ness bunker
Orford Ness
Orford Ness Suffolk
Orford Ness bunker
Orford Ness bunker

Back in the village of Orford having a pint in the Jolly Sailor, the mysteriousness of the landscape sunk in. The temple-like nature of the decayed military buildings, the proximity to the famous Rendlesham Forest UFO incident (the Orford lighthouse was unconvincingly proffered as an explanation), and the great Anglo Saxon ship burial at Sutton Hoo. The lost city of Dunwich lies beneath the waves just a few miles north. This is a seriously surreal stretch of the English coastline – a place of deep mystery.

Map showing the alignment of Orford Ness, Sutton Hoo and Rendlesham Forest
alignment of Orford Ness, Sutton Hoo and Rendlesham Forest

Related videos:

Rendlesham Forest UFO Trail – Britain’s Roswell / Bentwaters Incident

Along the River Deben to Sutton Hoo

Sebald’s Rings of Saturn Walk Southwold to Dunwich

Walking the River Wandle Trail

Back in June 2021, my friend, geologist Professor Kate Spencer, joined me on this great walk along the River Wandle.

In 1805 the Wandle was said to be the ‘hardest worked river for its size in the world’ – by 1831 there were 90 mills along the Wandle. Our walk along the beautiful River Wandle starts at Carshalton Ponds in the London Borough of Sutton. This chalk stream passes through a number of beautiful parks and nature reserves – Poulter Park, Ravensbury Park, and Morden Hall Park, Merton Abbey Mills, passing through Hackbridge, Merton, Wimbledon, Summerstown, and Earlsfield, finishing the walk at the confluence of the Wandle and The Thames at Wandsworth.

Link to the downloadable Wandle Trail map we used for the walk

This is one of a series of walks I’m doing along London’s Rivers

London questions answered

Everything you wanted to know about London, walking, history, pubs and more. Thank you for submitting more than 200 questions for this massive Q&A. There was a huge range of topics from London history, gentrification, favourite walks, historic pubs, lost rivers, London books and so much more including walks outside London and why I make YouTube videos. Part 2 of this video will be uploaded soon.
Some Questions answered in this video:

have you considered going on a walk spanning
more than one day?

I also love reading fiction books that have London as their main setting,
I’d like to know which ones are your favourites and why.
I’m currently reading The Rivers of London Saga and I’m loving it.
Thanks for your wonderful videos.

Would love to hear your thoughts on Wood Green
and Green Lanes managing to avoid some of the gentrification
that neighbouring areas have faced in the last few years

If you had to make a life or death decision on which type
of last walk to take, would it be in the city or the country?

Have you ever had any ghostly experiences on your treks
as you visit many ancient places?

Any plans to complete The London Loop in 2023?
Favourite section of the loop and why?

Hi John. I’m a London cabbie and love your videos.
Have you a favourite place in London to walk?

Have you considered doing a lost river walk WITH Ben Aaronovitch
if he is interested.

Ben Aaronovitch and John Rogers, Wanstead Tap, Sept 2021
Ben Aaronovitch

Have you ever done a walk, got home and thought
well I wouldn’t do that again !.

You’ve explored some of the major “place making” new developments
in some of your videos – North Greenwich, Olympic Village,
Barking Riverside being some. Can you think of any that have come
before them that you would mark down as a success?

East Village Stratford
East Village Stratford

I am really curious to learn from whom you inherited
your clearly infinite curiosity and passion for history from?

What part of London has surprised you most,
or specifically where were you when you turned a corner
and were just awestruck.

Hi John love your videos. As you’ve done an Oxford video
would you consider doing a Cambridge one?

You once told me you’re considering walking the length of the New River.
It’s a huge task. Do you think you’ll ever do it?

What’s the lifespan of your walking boots

Which river would you be the deity of?

Do you enjoy every bit of the walk or are there parts you want to
hurry through? Or is it possible to find something to like anywhere?

I’m just enquiring if you were aware of the Friends of West Ham Park’s
campaign to stop the City of London Corporation developing the old
plant nursery site, next to the park, with a block of flats?

while making your videos over the last several years,
what ways do you feel this process has enriched your life?

John, what motivates you to keep making the videos you do
and how much planning/time does it take to make your videos?

Hello John What is your inspiration for the path you have followed ?

What are some of your favourite/most memorable pubs
that you have visited on your walks around the Herts, Essex
and North London area?

Ware
Waterside Inn Ware

Do you think Psychogeography could have a part to play in Archaeology?
Maybe a different way of looking at past environments.

would love to see you
walk the river darent from maybe Dartford to Sevenoaks one day.

Hayes and Harlington has changed a lot since your last visit.
New Crossrail. So many new developments.

Thanks for your great videos. I love them and London.
I’m going to the Natural History Museum soon with a mate
and wanted to know if you could recommend a good pub as
I don’t know this area too well. Thanks for any advice

Is there such a thing as PUB ETIQUETTE?