London Loop Section 2 – Petts Wood to Old Bexley

Continuing my walk on the London Loop

How can it have been two years since I ended Section 3 of the London Loop at Petts Wood? It felt both fantastic and odd to find myself back at Petts Wood station picking up the 150-mile long trail and knocking off the final couple of sections of the London Loop.
I’ve loved all of my London Loop walks, which quite incredibly started with Section 17 in January 2018, and Section 2 did not disappoint, passing largely through woodland for a big chunk of the 8-mile route. I visited Scadbury Moated Manor, Sidcup, crossed the Kyd Brook and most memorably, strolled beside the River Cray as afternoon passed into early evening.

London Loop sign

Exploring Bankside – Bishops, Bards, Bears and Bordellos

A freezing cold night in January I found myself ensconced in the Thameside Inn having stumbled upon the ruins of the Bishop of Winchester’s Palace in the narrow lanes near Borough Market. Supping a pint of Adnam’s Ghost Ship from Southwold, I looked across the river at the City lights reflecting in the Thames and the flashing blue lights on the ferry coming in to dock at London Bridge. I must make a video of this short deeply storied strip of the river between London Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge, I resolved as I lined up the second pint.

A couple of weeks later a friend and former colleague messaged me to say that I had to visit Hopton’s Almshouses just behind Tate Modern, a rare secluded gem hidden amongst the rush and tear of Southwark. This is what gave me the final push to go and shoot the Bankside stroll in this video.

Shakespeare's Globe, Bankside

The Route:
Crossing Blackfriars Bridge we first visit Hopton’s Almhouses built in the 17th Century. Then we pass through Tate Modern and then Cardinal’s Wharf where Sir Christopher Wren stayed during the rebuilding of St Paul’s Cathedral. Next door is Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, a reconstruction of the famous Elizabethan theatre. We pass along Bear Alley the site of a Tudor Bear pit and into Park Street where we find the sites of the Rose Theatre and the original Globe Theatre. Our Bankside amble then passes the notorious Clink Prison and the ruins of the Bishop of Winchester’s Palace before ending at the reconstruction of the Golden Hinde ship famously skippered by Sir Francis Drake on circumnavigations of the globe.

Walking the Norbury Brook

What is it with these South London rivers? Probably my favourite walk of 2023 was the River Shuttle walk I did in February. I was guided into the dark by a brilliantly luminous full moon that made me think of Steve Moore’s magical book Somnium, which is set around the summit of Shooters Hill, not far from the source of the Shuttle at the foot of Avery Hill. I’d started the year by continuing my walk along the fantastically named River Quaggy – the whole route a delight. And then the Beverley Brook walk to celebrate London Rivers Week was one of the most bucolic and relaxing London walks of the year. The Norbury Brook continued this trend of South London river walks that entered my soul.

Norbury Brook at Heavers Meadow Selhurst
Norbury Brook at Heavers Meadow Selhurst

I started my Norbury Brook walk on a blustery November day at South Norwood Station, a name that calls to mind the Great North Wood that covered this part of South London. I only had a blog post from the brilliant Diamond Geezer to guide me, other online sources were scarce, but the brook is well marked on maps. The Norbury Brook rises a mile or so away from the station, just beside Selhurst Railway Depot, which is where I first encountered it as the brook emerged through a brick arch from beneath the tracks and ran along the side of Heavers Meadow. The first sighting of a river is a magical moment, when the river deity casts its spell upon you.
 
We then soon lost the river as it descended beneath the road which gave us the opportunity to admire Maud Milton’s wonderful mosaic roundel on the front of Selhurst Station. I filmed Maud in her studio when she was creating this mosaic for Southern Rail, the tiles embossed, designed and conceived in collaboration with the local community forming a unique portrait of the area and its heritage. The Norbury Brook was there alongside Amy Winehouse, Adele and Wilfred Zaha among the names of Selhurst luminaries celebrated on the tiles.

Selhurst mosaic by Maud Milton
Norbury Brook mosaic tile Maud Milton

(Sub)urban river walks always involve a bit of zigzagging through the streets to catch glimpses of the watercourse as it flows between the houses. We commenced our river dance in Swain Road, swerving round into Ecclesbourne Road, Boswell and Lucerne. The brief absence from the river making the heart grow fonder and I was wowed once again by its beauty as it elegantly opened up the landscape.
 
We crossed into Thornton Heath and walked down Brook Road. There were some classic old iron park railings in Thornton Heath Recreation Ground that guard the river as it flows along the edge of the open space.

Norbury Brook at Heavers Meadow
Norbury Brook at Heavers Meadow
Norbury Brook
The Norbury Brook from Swain Road
Ecclesbourne Road, CR7

Exiting the recreation ground the brook crosses Braemar Avenue and Strathyre Avenue before running along back gardens popping into view again in Ederline Avenue and Dunbar Avenue. Walking beneath the railway bridge that crosses Manor Farm Road, a fine phalanx of iron railings alerted me to the presence of the river. And there it was, blessing a culvert carved into one side of Manor Farm Nature Reserve before ducking under a brick arch to cross Norbury Avenue.
 
The brook next leads us into the expansive Norbury Park, purchased by the Corporation of Croydon from a builder in 1935 after it’d briefly been a golf course. Previous to that, this had been a series of open fields owned by Pembroke College, Cambridge. There’s an article on the history of Norbury Park via the Norbury Watch blog: 
“In 1583 the area that we know today as Norbury Park was then known as Palmers Fields and it comprised of 75 acres. In 1583 the executors of the will of Archbishop Grindal (who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1575 to 1583) purchased Palmers Fields for £500 on behalf of Bees Free Grammar School in Cumberland which had been Archbishop Grindal’s native home. In 1606 the governors of Bees Free Grammar School leased Palmers Fields to Pembroke College Cambridge for 1,000 years at a nominal rent in exchange for the maintenance of a fellow and three scholars at Pembroke College.”

Where the Norbury Brook heads under the grassland to cross the park it seems to pick up another water source via a large concrete outlet – could this be a tributary or maybe just drainage from the park or adjacent allotments? It was carrying quite a substantial flow.
I wondered if this was the tiny tributary I’d crossed on Norwood Grove earlier in the year  that was said to be a tributary of the River Graveney – which the Norbury Brook becomes once it leaves the park. But that might equally have been the Donny Brook or the Falls Brook which make their confluence with the Graveney further along its course in Streatham. I will now need to walk that rivulet from Norwood Grove to see exactly where it ends up.

Norbury Brook
Thornton Heath Recreation Ground

 
Hermitage Bridge on Streatham High Road marks (more or less) the spot where the Norbury Brook becomes the River Graveney. The brook somehow becomes a river and changes its name to one associated with a local family who owned this land in the middle ages.

River Graveney
River Graveney

 I pursued the Graveney into the sunset as it led me into Streatham. I watched it catch the golden light as it drifted across Sherwood Avenue. I spied another slice of this suburban magic from Helmsdale Road before my final sighting of our glorious river running fast and loud as it crossed Streatham Vale. The light was fading fast, it was nearly dark, and I had no chance of reaching the confluence with the Wandle, 2 miles away or more, before it was pitch black. Satisfied I had walked the Norbury Brook, I decided the save the final reaches of the River Graveney for another day.
 

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.

Walking the River Quaggy – South London’s Magic River

The River Quaggy, or Quaggy River as it’s marked on maps for some of its course, has beguiled me since I first heard its name mentioned after a screening about twelve years ago. I encountered it for real in Lewisham Town Centre when doing one of the walks for my book, This Other London, and passed it briefly on a walk tracing the River Beck. So one day in November I set out to walk a section of the Quaggy, starting at Lewisham Station where the Quaggy and the Ravensbourne meet before the conjoined rivers become the Deptford Creek and flow into the Thames. The River Quaggy rises at Locksbottom in the London Borough of Bromley and is known as the Kyd Brook in its lower reaches.

On the first walk, this gentle river led us through Lewisham Town Centre to Manor Park, formerly a pig farm, then to Manor Gardens Park with its fantastic library situated in the 18th Century Manor House. We then returned to a stretch of Lee Road to Lee Green and followed the river into Blackheath where we were thwarted by locked park gates and the black of night ended the first walk.

The Quaggy at Manor Park, Lewisham
The Quaggy at Manor Park, Lewisham
The Quaggy at Sutcliffe Park, Eltham
The Quaggy at Sutcliffe Park, Eltham

I returned just over a week ago to pick up the Quaggy trail in Sutcliffe Park, Eltham where the Quaggy is free of its culvert and allowed the flood parts of the surrounding parkland, before it’s corralled back into a concrete channel to make the journey through the suburban realm. It passes beneath the South Circular Road and once again through sports grounds. We walk beside its waters along Mottingham Lane before it enters the grounds of Capel Manor College. Picking up the river on the other side of the College I arrived at Chinbrook Meadows just after sunset to see the Quaggy running free once more meandering through this charming park. My South London river odyssey ended not long afterwards in the dark on New Street Hill looking across at Sundridge Golf Course, where, somewhere between the bunkers, the name of this magical watercourse changes to the Kyd Brook.

What a fantastic walk, at every turn a wonder, making me more determined than ever to dedicate the coming year to walking London’s rivers.

Exploring Telegraph Hill and Nunhead

Just turning left instead of right can change your whole perspective on your surroundings. If I’d done that when leaving my front door during the six months I lived in New Cross Gate in the early 90’s then my impression of that area would be completely different. As it is my memories of the only time I lived south of the river are of walking from my flat at the foot of Telegraph Hill to New Cross Gate station to travel into the West End where I worked, and occasionally coming home on the 53 bus which stopped near the end of my road. Had I turned right instead on a rare day off (Sundays) then I would have ascended Telegraph Hill and enjoyed some of the best views of the City skyline (which would have looked quite different back then).

But it never happened for reasons that I can’t accurately remember. I’d loved exploring all the other areas I’d lived in London around Forest Gate, Harringay and Hackney – my roaming on foot taking me from Barking to the West End and from Mare Street through Islington and Hampstead to Muswell Hill and Crouch End. But until this summer I’d never been to Nunhead despite it being a relatively short stroll from New Cross Gate.

New Cross Gate
View from Telegraph Hill Upper Park
view from Telegraph Hill Upper Park
Nunhead mural
Nunhead Cemetery
Nunhead Cemetery

Having made a couple of trips to Nunhead Cemetery in the past six months, I decided to put right this wrong of the past and plotted a walk from New Cross Gate to Nunhead Cemetery and then down to Nunhead Green. It became an almost perfect autumn walk with the bronzed leaves scattered across Telegraph Hill Upper and Lower Parks. Nunhead Cemetery has cemented itself as my favourite of the Magnificent Seven London cemeteries. Nunhead Green was the perfect place to conclude the video, where the head of a Mother Superior of the convent that stood on the site was said to have been placed upon a spike during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. One commenter on the video reported that her ghost was said to haunt The Old Nun’s Head pub.

Packing my camera away I closed the loop of the walk munching on a bag of chips and revelling in reconnecting with those six months spent living on Telegraph Hill. It’s a period that turned out to be a pivotal point in my life, ending with my departure to head off with a round-the-world plane ticket on a journey that lasted three years, led me to my wife and in many ways has never really ended.

Walking the lost River Peck

In this walk we go in search of the course of the ‘lost’ River Peck that gives its name to Peckham in South London. The Peck is said to rise near One Tree Hill in Honor Oak and then flows above ground across Peckham Rye before re-entering its culvert as it flows through the streets of Peckham just to the west of Copeland Road. Our walk then goes past Peckham Bus Garage to Kirkwood Road and picks up the course of the river again at Asylum Road near Queens Road Station. The river most likely flows beneath Brimmington Park but we continue along Asylum Road to look at the Licensed Victuallers’ Benevolent Institution Asylum. The walk takes us along the Old Kent Road to the point where the Peck crosses the road and heads along Ilderton Road to make its confluence with the Earl’s Sluice near Bermondsey South Station.

Thanks to the Peckham Society for their great blog post on The Peck

Licensed Victuallers’ Benevolent Institution Asylum Old Kent Road
Licensed Victuallers’ Benevolent Institution Asylum

Route of the walk/ course of the River Peck:
One Tree Hill – Oak of Honor
Brenchley Gardens
Marmora Road
Homestall Road
Peckham Rye
Rye Lane
Copeland Road
Blackpool Road Peckham Bus Garage
Brayards Road
Kirkwood Road
Lugard Road
Queens Road Peckham
Asylum Road Peckham
Old Kent Road
Ilderton Road SE16
South Bermondsey Station

Video shot in June 2021