THE UNLOST RIVERS OF LONDON Kyd Brook Locksbottom → Petts Wood → Chislehurst (4 miles)
[Kyd Brook → Quaggy → Ravensbourne → Thames]
First things first, the Kyd Brook doesn't flow through Kidbrooke. But its waters do get there eventually, as the river changes its title to become the fantastically-named Quaggy, one of several tributaries which eventually merge to form the mighty Ravensbourne through Lewisham and Deptford. But if it's fantastic names you want, stay with me, because we're going to Locksbottom and Tugmutton Common, in far-flung Bromley.
The Ravensbourne (proper) rises in Keston, but the source of the Kyd Brook is about a mile to the east, not far from Farnborough. Specifically there are two sources, both on private land beyond the A21, and the ensuing streams flow separately for the first mile and a half despite being not very far apart. One's called the Kyd Brook and the other the East Kyd Brook (which is baffling because geography dictates it ought to be the West). Let me take them in turn, starting with the stream which appears above ground first.
The ponds where the Kyd Brook begins are the private preserve of whoever owns Lakesview, a residential fortress with massive gates and a garden large enough to require four green wastebins. The river's invisible too, culverted beneath the main road, then crossing the bottoms of gardens on a 1930s housing estate. A dip in Starts Hill Road provides the first convincing evidence of fluvial erosion, then some allotments get in the way, and finally the stream emerges from a pipe in the corner of Tugmutton Common.
Originally called Leg of Mutton Common, because of its shape, 'Tugmutton' is obviously a lot more fun. In the 19th century this was a popular winter base for a large group of gypsies, who failed to endear themselves to the local population, who grouped together to enclose the site and see them off. Their descendants are a friendlier bunch, meeting twice a month on Wednesdays for a spot of litter picking and light maintenance, ending up with coffee and biscuits. The Kyd Brook hugs the eastern edge of the common, in a ditch barely half a metre wide, then follows a short dead-end path into another housing estate.
Pondfield Avenue is a street name which strongly hints at what was here before the houses came. The postwar detached chalets hereabouts are low-key desirable, with parked cars one notch classier than you'd expect, and a surprising number of personalised numberplates out front. Find the right cut-through and you emerge in Crofton, near the Scout Hall and the village sign, at a crossing point which'll be familiar to anyone who's walked London Loop section 3. And here's the river again, popping up behind a brick screen and wiggling up the edge of Crofton Woods.
A tarmac path tracks the Kyd Brook all the way, initially in earthen channel, now at least a metre wide. It's not rained so much lately so the flow is attractively low, rippling over exposed roots and flat pebbly beds. Occasionally footbridges or stepping stones connect to the streets beyond, allowing direct access for joggers and dogwalkers to the extensive thick woodland. At one point the stream slips just behind the fence, creating a water feature at the bottom of all the gardens on Heath Side. Ponies graze. Schoolchildren shriek. The cul-de-sac at the far end is called Kydbrook Close, and indeed it is.
Meanwhile, back in Locksbottom, the East Kyd Brook also rises unseen on wooded slopes. A dip in the A21 is the first physical sign, beside a pub called Ye Olde Whyte Lyon, which started out as the White Lion before someone anachronistically mangled every word in its name. The dip is also why this area was once known as Lock's Bottom, where Bromley sited its workhouse, which eventually metamorphosed into the Princess Royal University Hospital. The stream now hides beneath Sainsbury's car park instead, before skirting the other side of Tugmutton Common.
This time we're going on a proper walk through Crofton Woods, 150 acres of dense ancient woodland, which is far more of a treat. The East Kyd Brook first pops up in what looks like one corner of an old walled garden, then meanders up the centre of the woods like a proper river should. It's a little wider and less tamed, but still with a scattering of rounded pebbles forming the bed. Gnarled roots break through the earth above each twist and turn, the banks darkly shaded, the shallow waters currently a placid ribbon. Ten of the best minutes of the walk, this.
At the northern edge the stream emerges onto Petts Wood Recreation Ground, again hugging one side in a crinkly ditch. It looks like the footpath continues over the footbridge behind the playground, but this promising trail narrows and peters out at one final bend, useful only for overenthusiastic kickers who need to get their ball back. Here we find another metal screen, designed to filter out larger chunks of debris before the river heads back into culvert... and just ahead is Kydbrook Close, which means it must be time for the two tributaries to merge somewhere underground.
The conjoined Kyd Brook spends the next mile underneath the suburb of Petts Wood, running roughly parallel with Tudor Way and Crossway. The town's houses are finer than most, all shining semis and leaded lights, dating back to a developers' landgrab in 1927. The National Trust responded by buying up 300 acres to he north of the railway to preserve the unblemished landscape, which is where we're heading next. Grab a free NT map from the dispenser just beyond the subway - a truly excellent production - and you can learn all about it.
The Kyd Brook has now re-emerged, crossing gardens on Hazelmere Road, before veering sharply to follow the railway embankment via a screened artificial channel. Only when it cuts underneath do we regain proper view, and see how much wider the river has become while we weren't looking. It's almost paddlable, not that I'm convinced I'd risk it. The footpath here is briefly part of London Loop section 2, but this time eschewing the leafy delights of Petts Wood for the open fields of the Hawkwood Estate. The National Trust saved this valley too, and retain it as haymeadow and pasture, with the Kyd Brook flowing bucolicly down the middle. The other ten of the best minutes of the walk, this.
Livestock I spotted included sheep and cattle, and a startled Siamese cat whose afternoon siesta was disturbed by me unexpectedly tramping by. I followed the line of oak trees beside the stream, along an all-weather path kindly laid a few years ago by the Chislehurst Society, and smiled my way ahead. Now is not the time to enjoy the bluebell carpet in Pond Wood, but I've made a note. Although the landscape could be described as normal for outer Bromley, I did have to keep reminding myself I was still in Greater London.
To escape Hawkwood at the far end, either divert onto Gosshill Road at the footbridge, or stick with the stream for a few more untainted minutes. It's now a few metres wide, briefly at least, although at depths entirely unsuitable for the playing of Poohsticks. And then you've no choice but to head up the hill alongside one last field, emerging at the foot of a wealthy cul-de-sac of commuter palaces. It's no distance from here to Chislehurst station, which is where I'll leave things for now. Downstream of Chislehurst the Kyd Brook becomes the Quaggy, and that'd be a whole new post (or two), no kydding.