diamond geezer

 Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Somewhere random: a Brixton walk
For the last part of my day out in Lambeth, I decided to download a 4-page leaflet off the council's website and follow one of their guided walks. I had a choice of the Lambeth Black History Walk or the Brixton to Ruskin Park Walk. I plumped for the latter, because it covered parts of the borough I'd never knowingly visited before. Three-ish miles, two hours, one neighbourhood to explore. The leaflet was quite impressive - both geographically lucid and refreshingly family-friendly. But would reality match the rhetoric?

The scheduled route started in central Brixton, outside the sugar-funded Tate Library. A gospel choir of hand-waving evangelicals had beaten me to it, vanned down from Vauxhall to sing choruses to a Saturday afternoon audience of four [photo]. Inexplicably the route then circled Windrush Square, quite the dullest patch of pigeon-infested grass ever bestowed with a ceremonial title. There was a brief detour to see the Fridge nightclub (yes, it's that sort of tour), then the rather more impressive edifices of Lambeth Town Hall [photo] and the Ritzy Cinema [photo]. And then out of town, past a paved remnant of the very first David Greig grocery store [photo] (readers of a certain age will remember how huge he once was). Railton Road is much changed from the street half-burnt in 1981's Brixton Riots, but subsequent residential streets still retain their unfirebombed Victorian demeanour.

And then into the hilly green expanse of Brockwell Park. I was mortified to discover that Art Deco masterpiece Brockwell Lido is no more [photo]. The new owners promise to rebuild it, although they also plan for added yoga studios, hydrotherapy spa and steam rooms to ensure that the new complex is "a viable and self-sustainable facility". Staring at the current desolate hole in the ground, it's hard to believe that anything so endearing as the 1930s original could be ready by the summer.

The view from the park's slopes is unexpectedly impressive, with central London laid out across the horizon from the Telecom Tower to Canary Wharf. The weekend paths are filled with dog walkers, divorced Dads and an ever-flowing stream of January joggers. Few of them retreat to the peace of the walled garden on the hill [photo], a secluded place of secret solitude (and conveniently located for the public lavatories). Instead many are drawn inside the stately portico of Brockwell Hall [photo] (but only because there's a century-old café selling light refreshments on the ground floor).

If you ever follow this walk yourself I'd suggest that you stop here, close to Herne Hill station. I made the mistake of continuing along the second half of the route, ascending into the suburban avenues of SE24. Don't get me wrong, the area was unexpectedly charming, but nothing special. 'Highlights' of the printed walk included a Sainsbury's Local (because it used to be a fire station), half a mile of "pretty doorways" and the Art Nouveau Carnegie Library (actually very nice, but not worth the extra shoe leather). As for Ruskin Park at the end of the route, I was expecting something slightly more memorable. But at least the walk had led me through the real Lambeth, from its multicultural heart to its more representative backwaters, so I'm glad I completed it.
by train: Brixton, Herne Hill, Loughborough Junction

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