diamond geezer

 Friday, March 25, 2011

  Walk London
[section 4]
  Crystal Palace to Streatham Common (4 miles)

Half as long as the last section, but at least twice as good. And much more hilly. Follow the ups and downs below.

The Capital Ring exits Crystal Palace Park down the road outside the station,
then heads straight back up the other side. Follow the official sign and you'd walk straight into a newsagents, whereas instead you should be taking the next street on the left. The hillside's covered with houses, one of which (nicknamed 'Fossil Villa') has a blue plaque commemorating the man who designed the nearby Park's famous dinosaurs. Thank you Benjamin - they may be anatomically incompetent but Crystal Palace wouldn't be Crystal Palace without them. The only greenery on this first stretch is a small playground with a dogmess bin. It gets better.

Westow Park is a tumbling grassy slope, kicking off with a bench and a sort-of view round the back of the local Sainsburys. The park marks the source of the River Effra (which I've investigated in some detail before, so I won't here). There's no sign of its former path until you descend as far as the Upper Norwood Recreation Ground [photo], where one patch of marshy grass never quite seems to dry out. The granite drinking fountain overlooking the football pitch is unconnected to the subterranean stream, although my feet got wet on the footpath by the pavilion thanks to an unseen leaky pipe. Bursting spring flowers, canoodling dogs on heat and acres of rolling turf - it was all unexpectedly pleasant.

The Ring escapes the Effra Valley up suburban Hermitage Road. At the top, on Beulah Hill, I came a cropper waiting in vain at a zebra crossing. Some four-way temporary traffic lights had been installed, and not one single stream of traffic was willing to pause during their allotted seconds to let me cross. Houses up here on the ridgetop are larger than usual, presumably because elevation commands a residential premium. One such home once belonged to Joan and Alan Warwick, founders of the Norwood Society, whose grateful members have since erected a plaque in their memory.

The next descent is via Biggin Hill - not the famous south London airfield but its barely-known SE19 namesake. Halfway down there's a fine view over the allotments towards the plains of Croydon, with the twin chimneys of IKEA Ampere Way an instantly recognisable sight. Deep breath along the next alleyway if you like inhaling pot-smoke, or deep breath beforehand if you don't. The treat at the end, past the tennis courts, is Biggin Hill Wood. The Ring merely skims through along a tarmac contour, but I enjoyed the chirping solitude of the first decent bit of woodland since ten miles back.

Back to roadwalking through the outskirts of Norbury, before another climb to the highlight of the walk, which is Norwood Grove [photo]. This early Victorian mansion occupies high ground over Norbury, and was once owned by shipping magnate Arthur Anderson. He made his fortune with the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, now P&O, but chose to live landlocked in South London. The house and its estate passed to the Nettlefold family, still remembered on a commemorative plaque, and was then snapped up by the council just in time to prevent the entire hilltop being covered by suburbia. Instead the surrounding slopes are a delightful oasis of formal gardens and tumbling parkland, and an ideal spot to sit and stare across miles and miles of rooftops [photo]. Dog-walkers aren't allowed inside the fenced-off enclave around the house, so at this time of year can approach no nearer than the mudbath around the perimeter. We humans can enjoy an ornamental fountain, the orangery and the promise of summer glories. [photo]

At the end of the drive, past the old lodge, are the headwaters of the River Graveney. Unless its been raining you'll not spot these at all, although recent precipitation creates a zigzag trickle across the path.
↑ Having crossed the boundary into Lambeth, it's upward onto Streatham Common. That's very pleasant, but what's really special is The Rookery alongside, behind the hedge. This hidden garden used to be part of Streatham Spa, and now boasts a selection of formal beds, herbaceous borders and general loveliness. Later in the season the White Garden is well named, and a magnet for bridal shoots, but it was the rockeries and their trickling water features which drew the photographers on my visit. Several elderly couples sat smiling on benches on the upper terrace, gazing down at the giant cedar tree and beyond, while a much younger pair flirted around the lower sundial. Must return. [photo]

Where the main path turns, close to the daff-filled cattle trough [photo], is the Rookery Cafe. I decided to pop in for a takeaway roll, but my bacon bap took so long to prepare that I ended staying for half an hour. No complaints. This is a proper park eaterie, officially the San Remo Cafe, with one counter for independent ice cream and another for cooked breakfasts and other snacks. Two dear ladies did their best to cope with the late lunch rush, not helped by the panini machine being on the blink and a long queue of families with bubbly children. The room's got a retro-crèche feel to it, with Barney the Dinosaur and the Rugrats painted on the wall, and everyone sat at green formica tables on wooden chairs just like I had at primary school. I sat quietly in the corner with a mug of tea and raised a toast for the cafe's longevity.

Streatham Common goes on a bit, with a fast-track path known as the Horse Ride down one side. Don't rush, the view doesn't get any better. The High Road crosses at the bottom of the hill, which seems perverse, except the descent continues more gently beyond the church. Turn left just before the ice rink, assuming it's still not been closed and Tesco-fied, for the final section down Lewin Road. Ring 4 terminates beside a railway footbridge and some traffic humps, which is a bit of a let down to be honest after earlier heights. I fear Ring 5 may be mostly similar.

» Capital Ring section 4: official map and directions
» Who else has walked it? Mark, Stephen, Darryl, Paul, Tim, Richard
» On to section 5 (or back to section 3)

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