Walk London CAPITAL RING[section 5] Streatham Common to Wimbledon Park (5½ miles)
Some sections of the Capital Ring are glorious, linking points of interest via a string of green open spaces. And some are merely filler, meandering from A to B along random backstreets via nowhere special. Sorry, 5's filler.
Even in bright spring sunshine, the streets round the back of Streatham Common station aren't lovely. But three needlesmiths from the Streatham Knitting Ninjas have done their best to brighten the Potters Lane railway underpass by creeping out in the middle of the night to wrap wool around the barriers at either end [photo]. Multi-coloured stripes now adorn the parallel bikebars, while a dashing pink and blue sleeve cloaks the lone sapling guarding the eastern entrance. London needs more Ninja Knitters. Over on Conyers Road is a peculiar building which looks like it could be a Gothic mosque but is in fact the Streatham Pumping Station, built by Victorians who believed in aesthetics over utility [photo]. A first suburban slog follows, up a pleasantly mixed street where the civilised homes can be identified by their garden waste recycling bags, and the squatters abode by a swastika daubed on the front door.
Tooting Bec Common ought to be a highlight of the walk, but sadly isn't. The Capital Ring manages to miss all the interesting bits, like the famously photogenic Lido on the eastern flank, or the central lake, by driving directly and unapologetically between the two. I passed by on a Friday afternoon with the common invaded by what looked like the entire local secondary school, taking advantage of fine weather to pad out the last day of term. Some kicked balls around, some perched precariously on top of goalposts, a few took the opportunity to climb trees, but most just sat around on the grass in large groups being passively social. In my day we brought board games.
Back to the road trek, left then right then left then right then left. The back of Balham isn't especially visitworthy, but attention to detail means I bet estate agents don't have much trouble selling properties round here [photo]. That's especially true at Du CaneCourt - a monolithic Art Deco apartment block on the Balham High Road [photo]. It's reputedly the largest private block in Europe, with 676 flats inside, yet still an exclusive address that's been home to several top flight entertainment stars over the years. The blossom in the main courtyard is impressive at the moment - a riot of pink and white - which softens the line of the frontage somewhat [photo]. Our walk heads up one side, in Du Cane's shadow, along Balham Park Road.
Then through an alleyway onto Wandsworth Common, which is divided into several recreational fragments by a series of criss-crossing roads. The Ring hugs the railway line and even passes through the station ticket office, although it'd be much more interesting to trek across the grass a few metres to the left. The view only gets properly pretty beyond the first pelican crossing, at a series of green-edged lakes ruled by angry geese. Look carefully into the shallow depths and there are some fairly massive black fish - currently making the most of the angling close season. It's much more mumsy by the cafe, with a greater concentration of floral dresses, tousled toddlers and pregnant bumps. "Put that sunhat back on, Noah." "Try not to crash your scooter into the nice man, Alice." "When I say stop, Felix, I mean stop."
I followed a pushchair convoy off the common, past a bright pink van promoting "pre/post-natal fitness" and "lifestyle MOTs" for local princesses. But life in southwest London isn't all sugar and spice - on the next corner came Wandsworth Prison. This is brightened somewhat by a display of windowboxes and hanging baskets, but still has the fearsome look of a Victorian asylum-cum-castle.
The Ring then follows arrow-straight Magdalen Road for three-quarters of a mile. Ludicrously the official path hugs the pavement all the way, while an unsigned "alternative route" enters Wandsworth Cemetery and follows that parallel downhill instead. The cemetery's lovely - more than a plain of gravestones deserves - and its well-tended grounds are blessed at present by a riot of spring buds [photo]. It's unusual for London to see gravestones dated within the last few months, as there are in the top corner, but also heartbreaking when one's to Baby Frankie who "Lived 14 hours". And OK no, you couldn't even get a baby buggy through the cemetery's bottom gate, let alone a wheelchair, but the other 95% of Ring-followers would surely appreciate being directed through the nice bit.
Earlsfield has a safeguarded library (hurrah), a rather busy high street, and the Wandle. That's one of London's not-lost rivers, which in places is rather picturesque, but not in this place. Look down from the bridge on Penwith Road and all you'll see is two segregated concrete channels... plus, ooh look, there's a heron, so maybe not so ugly after all [photo]. If you find Amy's Ray Bans which she left under a tree in Durnsford Recreation Ground on Mother's Day, please give her a call. You might then need a pair of sunglasses when looking at Wimbledon Mosque - it's very white, and a bit Moorish [photo]. And that's it, apart from a traditionally pristine shopping parade in Arthur Road, leading up to the Ring's first tube station at Wimbledon Park. That's 5's filler finished. Rest assured, 6 looks glorious.