London Journeys: the Wandle Trail Part 2: Colliers Wood → Wandsworth
So quiet was much of the next section of the walk that I repeatedly disturbed wildlife which flew, leapt or hopped out of the undergrowth ahead of me. Round the back of the Wandle Meadow Nature Park (formerly a sewage works, now rather lovelier) I even came face to face with a fox. We both stared at one another for a split second, wondering which of us was the braver, before the loser retreated swiftly into the brambles beneath the railway embankment.
Beyond the railway the Wandle Trail got all arty again. A single anonymous lamppost has been set up with a motion detector and loudspeaker to play sound effects to startled passers-by [photo]. I counted twelve different recordings, from a fairground organ to birdsong, before I started getting funny looks from passing cyclists and decided it was time to move on. Nearby a wiggly metal viewing platform has been erected out into the river [photo] - a beguiling concept, but the vista from the tip is little better than that afforded from the riverbank. Here too (at last) were four spaced-out metal waymarkers, numbered 38 to 35, of the kind I'd seen promised on the trail's website [photo].
A huge building site surrounded by a blue wooden fence is all that remains of Wimbledon FC's old stadium in Plough Lane [photo]. The riverside path alongside will one day be part of a landscaped recreational area for new residents, whereas for now it's the start of a mile of endearingly remote trackway. Here the river is only occasionally glimpsed, although you can choose to wander through the bankside undergrowth and sit on forgotten benches overlooking Wandsworth Council's rocksalt mountain.
Through Earlsfield the trail abandons the river completely, diverting through an uncompromising residential landscape of estate agents and Victorian terraces [photo]. It's then a long tiring slog through King George's Park before the Wandle disappears unceremoniously beneath Wandsworth's Southside shopping centre. Rather disappointingly the trail fails to follow the path of the river through the mall, bypassing the joys of Waitrose and Primark, before rejoining the emerging waters beside the doomed Ram Brewery (1581-2006) [photo].
Wandle Creek opens out lazily towards the river's final confluence with the Thames, the junction marked by a pair of traffic lights on stilts [photo]. You can't quite walk right to the end but 'The Spit', a new set of artificial river terraces, is a fittingly impressive destination [photo].
I was completely knackered on arrival, suggesting that walking the complete trail from 100 to 1 might be overdoing it somewhat. Personally I'd recommend the section from 83 to 49, along with perhaps 42 to 25. Although, I fear, until somebody spends some more money and finally installs the 90-odd missing numbered waymarkers, the highlights of the Wandle Trail will remain for most an undiscovered treat.
Originally featured in Time Out Magazine London [11 October 2006]