THE UNLOST RIVERS OF LONDON Beverley Brook Worcester Park → New Malden → Barnes (5½ miles)
[Beverley Brook → Thames]
For the second part of my walk along the Beverley Brook, an unlost river in southwest London, I'm following a trail rather than the river. This is an important distinction, because the Beverley Brook Walk is attempting to create a decent afternoon out rather than slavishly following the river. In this it succeeds, rather well, but occasionally at the expense of seeing any water. That said, there are two long brookside stretches through Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park, and they're better than anything a lot of London's other unlost rivers can ever hope to attain. And hurrah, this is an official waymarked walk, so there are generally signs to follow and you can also download a leaflet. You can't go wrong with Beverley. [OS map][Google map][river map][walking instructions][9 photos]
The Beverley Brook Walk kicks off by a bus stop on the A3, which isn't the easiest spot to get to, so a ¾ mile walking link exists from New Malden station. Or you could catch the bus instead, although interestingly the 265 tracks the river closely from here all the way to Putney so you might be spoiling the surprise. There's the river in a deep wide trench emerging from beneath the dual carriageway, and make the most, because after 100 metres it's vanishing again behind some houses. Instead you get to walk round to the shops by the Coombe Lane roundabout, which are also the last set of shops along this walk so best stock up if necessary.
Other than the clue in its name, Beverley Avenue doesn't look a very promising way to go, neither does the footpath at the end look especially appealing. When it squeezes round the back of a sports ground along a nettle-y path it'd be unwise to attempt in shorts, you may be even less convinced you're on the right track. But things open out past the tennis courts, crossing the edge of a rugby ground so behind the times they still use scrummage aids sponsored by Powergen. And an enamelled map beyond the touchline confirms you're on the right route, indeed you're at the very southwestern corner of Wimbledon Common. All the main facilities are a long way distant, this is deep woodland fringe, and probably all the better for it.
For the next mile the river runs immediately to your left beneath a thick leafy canopy. The first time I walked this way I thought it was natural, but looking again it's clear the hand of man has been at work. The brook hereabouts is about six metres wide, and consistently so, hemmed in by a run of wooden boards that create a curve too artificially smooth. The banks are deep and rather steep, and consistently so, meaning you're always up above the stream and never down at its level. However charming the brook appears it's really a drainage channel with potential high capacity, but then so many London rivers are, indeed have to be to prevent flooding to adjacent properties. Here there are no houses, only oak woodland and muddy tracks, and the rural illusion would be complete were it not for the rumble of the A3 running parallel to the far bank.
So anyway, that bit's lovely, and it's a pity when you finally step back out into the open by some playing fields. It's time to finally leave the A3 behind, but only after crossing it, which is achieved via a pair of lights with dual control for those on foot and those on horseback. Never fear, the brush with mainstream civilisation is only brief, because on the other side is Richmond Park's Robin Hood Gate. An old plaque on the brickwork confirms the Roehampton Gate is 1 mile 530 yards away, which is where both we and the river are heading. To follow it turn right inside the park to follow it up the eastern boundary, because the local golf course swallowed up everything on the far bank.
Again this is nice, with a path following the river all the way, only this time in broad daylight. Only the occasional tree intrudes, apart from a brief spell through somewhere called Killcat Wood, which sounds far more unpleasant than it is. And yet the river again has a certain uniformity, a result of its canalisation in the 1920s to create a channel deeper and safer but ecologically sterile. Which is why the Royal Parks have a restoration project underway about halfway up, with a 500m section fenced off to prevent damage from dogs and deer, and to allow the re-creation of less precipitous banks and differential shallows. This'll improve biodiversity by giving fish somewhere to lurk, even spawn, and increase the amount of in-flow vegetation. It might even be working, if the hungry heron I saw jabbering on a tree stump was anything to go by.
After the cafe and several deer, if you're lucky, the brook ducks under a wall to leave the park. The official path eventually follows, then runs alongside for the length of Palewell Playing Fields. Make the most of it, because beyond the pitch and putt course the route suddenly breaks away to exit the riverside through some rather nice allotments. Things you won't be seeing on the opposite bank include the National Tennis Centre and The Priory, if you've ever wondered precisely where celebs go for therapy. Instead there's a lot of road walking ahead, the only vaguely interesting bit a diversion via Priest's Bridge (where there is indeed a bridge), as well as the Halfway House (which is somehow the only pub on the entire walk).
Take care walking up Vine Road, which is the location of the Barnes double level crossing, where you'll probably be stopped twice by commuter services. Eventually it's possible to step out onto Barnes Common, where the official route makes a brief dash for the footbridge at Barnes Green where the river reappears, then immediately retreats. The Common's very pleasant, and very popular, although if you've come on this walk for liquid scenery you'll be wondering where that's gone. By this point the Beverley Brook has bent round to flow east rather than north, and is heading for the Thames on the opposite side of the Barnes meander. Meanwhile the path is running parallel about a hundred metres away, passing between a large sports centre and a derelict cemetery with tumbledown monuments and the occasional headless angel.
Finally, with barely quarter of a mile to spare, the Beverley Brook Walk and its associated river recombine. A footbridge returns you to a bankside path, with the river somehow not as wide and voluminous as geomorphology suggests it should be, as if a substantial part of the flow has been removed somewhere upstream. One last leafy promenade delivers you to one final bend, where a sluice traps any waterborne detritus before it exits the river. There's a considerable differential in height from one side to the other, the last few upstream metres being entirely tidal and resembling more a dock or inlet than the mouth of a river. And we're done, the prize being a stately panorama along the Thames, with Craven Cottage almost immediately opposite, and Putney Bridge in the distance beyond a string of boathouses. Thank you Beverley, you certainly delivered.