Walk London CAPITAL RING[section 2] Falconwood to Grove Park (3½ miles)
One of the shortest sections of the Capital Ring, this, with a palatial treat in the middle if you want to lengthen things. It starts somewhere long-lost, which used to be the centre of Eltham Park but is now the Falconwood footbridge. You won't see the railway and A2 dual carriageway beneath the concrete span - they're well screened, and that's just as well [photo]. The southern half of the park is an above-average collection of greenspace and trees [photo], with a view of Severndroog on Shooters Hill in the distance. Less upliftingly, I got stuck behind the Greenwich Council truck emptying the litter bins, and watched as its wheels churned up mud all along the edge of the main footpath.
Next up is the delightfully-named ButterflyLane (no evidence of flying insects mid-January). This leads to a brief spell of woodland on the edge of a sports ground, and then a most unusual brick structure round the back of some houses [photo]. It's Conduit Head, where springs that fed the fledgling River Shuttle were once diverted to supply water to Eltham Palace. The moat's now filled via the mains, but this half-buried chamber somehow survives. It's also the last interesting spot for a mile. The Capital Ring takes a nanny-ish detour round a mini-roundabout purely to hit a pelican crossing, then climbs to follow North Park which is a lengthy residential street. It'd be a much more direct route to cross the Royal Blackheath Golf Course, which is the oldest golf club in the world, but they don't permit mere ramblers anywhere near their vintage greens.
At the foot of Tilt Yard Approach is southeast London's Tudor jewel - Eltham Palace. The Ring passes right alongside, but not quite over the arched bridge and across the moat [photo]. That was just as well, because the palace is closed in January so the gate was barred shut. I'd have liked to go back inside, because I was completely wowed by this medieval/Art Deco hybrid last time I was here. My muddy boots wouldn't have been a problem either, because English Heritage make you wear protective blue plastic slippers before stepping onto the Courtauld'sfloors. Doors reopen next week, if you're tempted (and you really should be).
The old path from the palace to the royal hunting grounds still exists, as King John's Walk. All of a sudden it's like being out in the country, ascending a hedge-lined lane past the entrance to some stables. Ignore the horsey folk manoeuvring their 4×4s, and look out instead across the paddocks to your right. There's an unexpectedly view down towards central London, with the skyscrapers of Docklands taking centre stage [photo]. Further back are the City's clustered towers, plus the ascending Shard a standalone figure to the left. Should a huge alien spaceship ever descend and hang over the capital, like they always do in sci-fi films, I reckon these slopes would be the perfect spot for a TV news camera long shot.
King John's Walk is slightly less impressive lower down, evolving first into a housing estate and then a railway footbridge [photo]. The Sidcup Road slices it in two, where walkers can really annoy speeding traffic on the dual carriageway by pressing the pelican and waiting for the screech. Into Mottingham, up one of its nicer avenues where W. G. Grace once lived. His big house has become the Fairmount Retirement home, within which (unless there's a 162-year-old man tucked away in an upper room) no top class cricketers now reside. A confined path alongside Eltham College's sports ground follows, still with crunchy brown leaves underfoot [photo]. And on, and on, until you emerge alongside a sparkling stream. No, I'm lying. It's the River Quaggy in its early stages, scuttling along a deeply kinked concrete channel [photo]. You wouldn't picnic here, but you might chuck a trolley. Admittedly the river looks a little nicer further up but we're not going that way. Ring 2 halts here.
(and a reminder that Walk London's Winter Wanders Weekend starts tomorrow, with more than 50 free guided walks taking place across the capital. Most are wussy walks around the touristy centre of town, but there are also some challenging muddy treks further out should you desire a challenge. Highly recommended)