diamond geezer

 Sunday, September 26, 2010

  Green Chain Walk
[section 11]
  Crystal Palace to Nunhead Cemetery (5 miles)

The Green Chain is a network of footpaths threading through southeast London linking woods and open spaces. It's one of the capital's key strategic walking routes. And, up until yesterday, it came in ten parts. Today an 11th section is being opened, extending the chain along the borders of Southwark and Lewisham. If you like the sound of the route you can attend its opening ceremony in Nunhead at 2pm this afternoon, then join a guided walk south to Dulwich and/or Crystal Palace. But I sneaked in and did the walk yesterday because the weather was better.

Green Chain 11Crystal Palace Park used to be as far as the Green Chain went. But now there's a new fingerpost round the back of the station, near that cute mural of the dinosaurs on a train, and it points the way five miles further. Sorry, there are no concrete iguanadons on this section, which heads off instead past the site of the old palace beneath London's mightiest TV mast [photo]. But not up the steps to enjoy the view. Oh no, this is a walk optimised for those with pushchairs or wheelchairs, so the official path sticks to the lower level beneath the terrace. I ignored that, obviously, and nipped up for a stroll along the top. One thing you quickly learn on this walk is that the occasional deviation is advantageous.

Walk London haven't yet got round to uploading a route map for this walk, so I had to rely on signposts every step of the way. That's OK, because this new walk has been waymarked with Stalinist zeal and getting lost is almost impossible. But not quite. Just north of Crystal Palace Park the walk splits, with one route for those who need to avoid steps and one for more able adventurers. Only the former has been signposted, so I only discovered the more interesting bifurcation using intelligent guesswork. On my way through a well-hidden Lewisham council estate I came face to face with a snarling Staffie called Bones, thankfully tethered to his teenage master else he might well have lived up to his name. And then, where the two routes rejoined, a far more serious error. Two of the signposts have been accidentally swapped, so that Nunhead points to Crystal Palace and vice versa. I treated the whole thing as a logic problem and deduced my correct exit, but had I arrived via the "step-free" route I'd have blindly continued the wrong way (which is straight down a flight of steps). Get it fixed, Greenchainers.

Crescent Wood TunnelAfter a brief (but elegant) road trek, the path heads down into a cutting to follow a dismantled railway. This was the Crystal Palace and South London Junction Railway, which opened in 1865 and somehow struggled on until 1954 despite minimal passenger traffic. The Crescent Wood tunnel survives, and the Green Chain passes both ends and crosses the northern portal. You won't get inside, not unless you're a member of the London Wildlife Trust, but you can go right up close and sort-of peer in. Further down the line an original railway footbridge survives (the one from which Pissaro painted Lordship Lane station) (now in the Courtauld Gallery), although this now spans nothing more than some fenced off undergrowth [photo]. And inbetween lies Sydenham Hill Wood, a rare tract of ancient woodland, which is another of those places where it's well worth diverting off the signposted track (ooh pond, ahh Victorian folly).

If you feel like a diversion, a Green Chain spur to Dulwich links to the main route here. It starts with a pleasant descent down tree-lined Cox's Walk, then heads west for a meandering stroll through Dulwich Park [photo]. The park was a middle class haven yesterday, with mummies working out on the open air gym equipment while their kids whizzed round the park in a swarm of recumbent pedal cycles. Hordes of under-10s were being drilled in the art of football ("come on Noah pass to Hugo"), whereas it seems nobody fancied a spin on the boating lake now that autumn's here. Green Chain signposts terminate outside Dulwich Art Gallery, which is a marvellous building to visit if you haven't been before - otherwise it's probably worth giving this 1½ mile extension a miss.

One Tree HillBack on the main walk (after several unavoidable steps) there's another south London treasure - the Horniman Museum. Again the official route misses the view from the top of the hill, skirting instead through the landscaped gardens, although it's an easy diversion to the galleries and café if you so choose. There follows a brief slog through the streets to Camberwell Old Cemetery's rear entrance. This will eventually have brand new ornamental gates to accommodate the Green Chain route, but for now it's accessed through a flimsy timber construction which any well-meaning vandal could kick down in a trice. Next up, for those able-bodied enough to manage 72 steps, is One Tree Hill. There's a great view across central London from the summit (blimey, the Shard's going to be huge, isn't it?), as well as a chance to see the oak tree under which Queen Elizabeth I picknicked on May Day 1602 (or its 20th century replacement). Here too is the Green Chain's other major waymarking malfunction. There's a green post at the top of the hill but it's armless, so walkers have to guess which of the many paths down they need to take. I got that right too, but only by luck.

Nearly there, but still two more cemeteries to go. Camberwell New Cemetery is very much a going concern, complete with crematorium and copious floral tributes everywhere. I passed three 'mourners' (with helium balloons) holding a sort-of party beside one particular grave. They'd left the doors of their car open and were pumping Smooth Radio across the entire hillside, which was very sweet if you like George Michael and Billy Joel, and a bloody selfish imposition if you don't. And finally to Nunhead Cemetery, one of London's finest Victorian burial grounds. Imagine a woody hill littered with urns on pillars and toppling gravestones, it's very much like that. Plus a mighty Gothic chapel, its interior alas destroyed by arson in the 1970s, but still the dominant feature at the top of the main carriage drive. Expect a ceremonial "cutting of the ribbon" here around two o'clock this afternoon. Or if you don't fancy joining the Chain gang, turn up and walk the whole thing at a time of your choosing, like what I did.

Launch of section 11, today at 2pm (and map) (and maptrace)

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan20  Feb20  Mar20  Apr20  May20
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19  Sep19  Oct19  Nov19  Dec19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream