WALK LONDON The Beverley Brook Walk New Malden to Putney (6½ miles)
According to the Walk London website, tomorrow is National Walking Day. I'm not sure I believe a them, because no other website backs up their claim. But they're celebrating this weekend by running 37 guided walks across London, each following a different part of one of the capital's strategic walks. And I'm celebrating by going for three completely different walks, for three consecutive days, and then writing about them. They're three very contrasting walks, each in some way official, and in completely different parts of London. Starting today with a stroll along a river you may never have heard of.
The Beverley Brook rises on the southwest edge of London, sort of Worcester Park-ish, and flows to the River Thames at Putney. It's not much of a river, often little more than a concrete culvert, but it drains 64 square kilometres of the capital. And some it is really very pretty. Not so the first stretch of the official Beverley Brook Walk. Up the High Street from New Malden station, across a golf course to the A3, then threading a few suburban avenues. Come on, where's this river?
Ah, that's better. From the grounds of the local rugby club, the Beverley Brook runs up the western edge of Wimbledon Common. You're probably thinking open heathland and Wombles, but this corner of the famous common is all woodland. And extremely quiet. The river wiggles northward at the bottom of a deep earth channel, occasionally ruffled by a mandarin duck or a paddling dog. Onward beneath thick trees for almost a mile, with cyclists banned and horse-riders diverted elsewhere. If only the brook didn't have low concrete edges, this really would be quite delightful.
The A3 intrudes again, forcing a detour over a high footbridge (for the walk, obviously, not the river). And then, through the Robin Hood Gate, straight into the giant green lung of Richmond Park. Mind the horse manure, and the bikes, and the kids scrabbling for an ice cream. The river's a little wider here, heading up the eastern side of the park parallel to the road for about a mile. And, if you walk unobtrusively enough, you might be lucky enough to find yourself right up close to one of the park's herds of deer. At this time of year it pays to be cautious of overprotective mothers, but I managed to get surprisingly close to a young buck skipping down the bank to drink fron the stream. Highlight of the walk, that.
Exit via the Roehampton Gate, and up a narrow alley to the edge of some more playing fields. That's the last you'll see of the river for a while. Time to safari through suburbia while the brook flows onwards mostly out of sight. There's a brief glimpse at Priest's Bridge (more a street name than a feature), then a double level crossing to negotiate on the way to Barnes Common. Finally, after an eerie trek through an abandoned cemetery, a footbridge brings you back to the water's edge. This is all very pleasant. But just two more bends and the journey is at an end. Suddenly, really very unexpectedly, the Beverley Brook opens out into a small basin and dribbles into the Thames. The contrast in size and breadth is instant and extreme. That's Craven Cottage almost immediately opposite, and the many boathouses of Putney stretching out to your right. Take your pick how you depart - the official walk is at an end.