diamond geezer

 Thursday, March 19, 2015

Pool River
Beckenham → Catford (2 miles)
[Pool → Ravensbourne → Thames]

Best start with a quick hydrological summary. Most of southeast London's rainfall ends up in the drainage basin of the River Ravensbourne. The main river rises in Keston and flows north via Bromley and to enter the Thames at Deptford Creek. It's joined at Lewisham by the Quaggy, which is quite the best name of any river in London. Meanwhile the other main tributary is created by the joining together of the River Beck and the Chaffinch Brook, both of which rise to the east of Croydon. These merge near Beckenham to form the Pool River, a two mile flow which joins the Ravensbourne just to the south of Catford. But if the Beck was a charmer, then the Pool (into which it metamorphoses) is rather less so. Sorry.
[Here's an approximate map, if approximate maps are your thing]

I remember Cator Park as a lowpoint of the Capital Ring walk. Whereas in most green spaces a water feature might be a boost, here it's anything but. The two contributory rivers carve through the park in deep concrete furrows, limiting passage to a single footbridge, before amalgamating in a large wishbone-shaped fork. The riverbed is so low down that you can only see it by wandering over to the iron railings and looking down, which few do. A further culvert feeds in a few metres further downstream, emerging from a letter-box shaped slot beneath the grass. For this is the reality of river management in urban London - what's most important is that houses don't flood after heavy rain, not how pretty the drainage channel looks.

This is also the start of the Waterlink Way, a walking and cycling route following the Pool and Ravensbourne all the way to the Thames. It's part of National Cycle Network route 21, so has plenty of blue signs, and also enhances access to the riverside along the eight miles to the north. Not that this is riverside you'll always want to be up close to. The path first heads down a narrow passage between some allotments and the New Beckenham Sports ground, its mock Tudor pavilion far larger (and more symmetrical) than would seem absolutely necessary. Beyond this the riverside opens out somewhat, but the Pool has the drab feel of a natural feature that's been municipally landscaped. Two parakeets and a handful of daffodils helped brighten the outlook, if only temporarily.

And then the "why am I walking this?" bit. The path leaves the river to become Kangley Bridge Road, the spine road of a trading estate, lined by skips and warehouses and some very 1980s-looking Business Centres. If you need bathroom tiles or your recycling crushed and stacked, you're in the right place. On a weekday afternoon the place is full of shaven-headed men in overalls, hopping into truck cabs or hanging around outside depot gates for a smoke. In the midst of this sits Lower Sydenham station, better placed for work than home, overlooked by a chimney that still thinks DYLON is a pretty cool brand.

While the Waterlink Way continues north, now inappropriately named, the Pool has diverted off to the other side of the railway. At Worsley Bridge a paved path runs briefly alongside a shallow channel strewn with blocks of stone, bequeathed to local residents by a long-gone (and clearly over-optimistic) town planner. And then comes a lost opportunity - the recreational cul-de-sac of Southend Park. Beyond the playground a hump-backed footbridge indicates a river once flowed here, but the park is dry and the Pool long buried underground, probably alongside the central line of trees.

I nearly injured myself attempting to cross Southend Road. The eastbound traffic is relentless, there being no signals to pause it, hence I ended up attempting to walk through a pavementless arch beneath the railway in the face of oncoming vehicles. It turned out there was a footpath beneath the viaduct fractionally further up, alongside a bend in the river, but I missed that. Unnerved I found myself on Riverview Walk at the entrance to the River Pool Linear Park. This specially landscaped zone follows the river for a mile all the way to Catford, with no road crossings whatsoever, hence a return to walking and cycling nirvana.

Something's happened to the Pool by this point - it is unashamedly a little river in a flood channel built to contain a torrent. At least the concrete walls meander a little for visual variation, which is useful, because it helps take your eye off the giant retail park (Sainsburys, B&Q, etc) sullying the western bank. More striking is the colourful mural of out-of-place sea creatures painted by students from local schools under the tubular bridge, another welcome diversion. The former Bell Green gasworks have been transformed into a nature reserve and play park, and the river here has recently been expensively landscaped to look illusorily natural. I think this is the place, by the weir and the brushed steel sign, where the Mayor lost his footing while helping to clean out the Pool a few years back. His stumble was fairly minor and no tousled hair was dampened, but my how Youtube buzzed at the time.

After this brief stretch of overplanting, the Pool returns to more mundane flow. By now the Waterlink Way is a few yards away, running alongside what may one day be the Bakerloo line, the river mostly screened from sight. But there is a point, if you know where to look, where a minor path heads off into the undergrowth and follows the riverbank proper. A decent five minutes can be spent beside the water's edge, stepping over roots and ducking beneath blossoming branches, as the Pool ultimately (and only just in time) redeems itself.

Because the footbridge ahead marks the end of the line. It's immediately beyond this the Ravensbourne swings in from the right, beneath both of Catford's railway lines, and swallows the waters of the Pool whole. But check out the four panels on the bridge before you pass on, and wave your phone's QR code reader to hear the animal sounds if you can. They're part of an arts project called Here Comes Everybody which created an interactive "User Generated Surveillance adventure" down the Pool in late 2013. The idea was to listen to 12 chunks of intimate narrative, or something, I'm not quite sure because the app has since been deleted. But it's a strong hint that the Pool's open accessibility makes it something of a rarity amongst urban rivers. And it probably looks much lovelier in the summer.

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
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