THE UNLOST RIVERS OF LONDON Beverley Brook Worcester Park → New Malden → Barnes (3½ miles)
[Beverley Brook → Thames]
If you've ever read the Ben Aaronovitch Rivers ofLondon novels you'll know Beverley Brook as a sassy mystical character who keeps the lead detective on his toes. In reality, the Beverley Brook is another of London's unlost, unburied, unsung rivers - much less thrilling to write about, but I'll give it a try. The fluvial version flows due north through southwest London, roughly parallel to the River Wandle, from the very edge of the capital to the Thames near Putney. Along the way it forms the western boundary of Wimbledon Common and the eastern edge of Richmond Park, so there are some magnificent stretches, but also some rather lesser bits inbetween. An official walkway follows the middle and lower courses, which I'll get to tomorrow, while today I'm attempting to follow the upper bit. [map][8 photos]
It's probably no coincidence that the Beverley Brook begins less than 100m inside the Greater London boundary. It first appears at the top of Cuddington Recreation Ground, a wedge of fresh-mown green between Stoneleigh and Worcester Park. But it only appears if you know where to look, within a thin treeline strip snaking downslope. At the top end is a brick culvert, flowing even in June, which suggests unseen pipework is gathering water from beneath surrounding avenues. Step within the leafy curtain and you can follow the ditch unseen by neighbouring dog-walkers, meeting instead fallen branches, crisp packets and the odd rat. I rather enjoyed it, at least until the path faded out into a thicket before the fledgling brook vanished back underground.
Note to Ben, in case he's ever thinking of locating a crime scene at the source of the Beverley Brook:
i) The serpentine ditch would be a great place to hide a body - it could easily go unnoticed by Rec users only a few feet away on either side.
ii) According to risk advice posted at the entrance, the most dangerous activities in the Rec are grass cutting, hedge cutting and strimming.
iii) The Rec is patrolled by Sutton's Safer Parks Team, successor body to the tiny Sutton Parks Constabulary disbanded in 2008, and now an outpost of the Met.
The brook's longest culverted section runs under the children's playground and beneath the rows of large semis than characterise much of Worcester Park. A three bedroom-er with decent garden out here in Zone 4 goes for much the same as a shoebox in a new tower in Zone 2, should you be reconsidering your living standards... plus there's a Waitrose, which is the next thing the river flows beneath. Re-emergence comes down by the station, opposite The Brook gastropub - the precise destination of my walk from the centre to the edge of London last month (which, knowing how boundaries and rivers go hand in hand, is probably no coincidence).
For the next half mile the river flows along one side of Green Lane, an echo of the area's rural past, though now hemmed in with housing. Strangest of these are the New England Colonial-style blocks at The Hamptons, whose pristine blue timbers and belltower belie the fact that twenty years ago this was a sewage treatment works. Flooding in the local area used to spread across lawns and Skinners Field, the homeground of Worcester Park FC, so Back Green was recently relandscaped to create natural overspill. It looks lush, and should be accessible to residents down a tarmac ramp, but a 'temporary' fence permanently blocks the path, plus apparently it doesn't work very well and now floods different properties to those affected before.
The river cuts across the back of a primary school and a large paddock full of horses, where you can't see it, then services the trio of gasholders in Motspur Park. If you'd like to see it again, head for the back of the Sir Joseph Hood Memorial Playing Fields into the Sir Joseph Hood Memorial Wood. I bet most of the recreation ground's users don't even know it's there, but a plank bridge behind the play area leads to a triangular woodland planted in the 1860s to screen the railway, and along the hypotenuse runs the Beverley Brook. Now three or four metres wide it flows placidly between wooden boards and gnarled roots, which might sound poetic, but probably isn't unless you catch the light right.
For the next three miles the Beverley Brook forms the boundary between the London boroughs of Kingston and Merton. But you probably won't spot it by the level crossing in Motspur Park, ducking beneath the road beyond the herringbone shopping parade. You won't spot it immediately alongside the edge of West Barnes Lane, unless it's winter and the screen of trees has shed its leaves. You won't spot it up the side of the Motspur Park Horticultural Society's HQ, nor along the back of the playing field at Coombe Boy's School (whose grey corrugated building looks like a retail warehouse but is apparently a Tatler's Good Schools Guide 'Hot Tip'). In fact you'll barely be seeing the brook at all along here, which I suspect is why the official riverside walk doesn't kick off for another mile.
Crossing the A3 is a trial, involving a detour via a severe concrete footbridge. The A3 is rarely far away from the Beverley Brook from this point to the edge of Richmond Park, which suggests that engineers exploited the gentle contouring of its valley when the dual carriageway was driven through. The Kingston Bypass is the ugliest section along the entire river, crossing between Curry's and Carpetright as part of the Shannon Corner Retail Park. Return to suburbia comes via Beverley Road, named after the waterway at the back of the terrace, which you won't see until you reach the footbridge up the end. Mind the scaffolding yard squashed opportunistically beside the river, whose owners appear to spend most of their time attempting to reverse large trucks out of a cul-de-sac. And don't actually follow the river at this point, the footpath's going nowhere helpful.
Which brings us to Beverley Park, known only to the inhabitants of New Malden, which is a park with the Beverley Brook at the bottom of it. It's exactly what you'd hope a park to be, a large expanse of grass with room for picnicking and sport, plus tennis courts and a pavilion (with toilets), though alas the pond is long filled in. In one corner the council gardening team have created a lovely rose garden, currently at peak, while an avenue of tall trees runs down the centre to the river. The only problem is that the river isn't a feature, it's shielded behind an overgrown fence and barely visible, which seems an utter waste. It's also nigh impossible to see the point where its largest tributary - the Pyl Brook - flows in, before the combined waters enter the privacy of a golf course.
To summarise, the first few miles of the Beverley Brook aren't that exciting, indeed they're missable. But the remainder is a different matter, and I wonder if tomorrow I might persuade you to see for yourself.