diamond geezer

 Thursday, May 19, 2022

Thanks to Crossrail thousands of Londoners are about to find themselves in Abbey Wood for the very first time. They might simply catch the first train back, they might go no further than the bus stop out front or they might just nip into the big Sainsburys for a sandwich. But this would be a mistake because there's much to see and enjoy in the vicinity of the station, whether you're a fan of wildlife, architecture, cupcakes or medieval ecclesiastical remains. Here then is my guide urging you to...

Visit Abbey Wood

The shopkeepers of Abbey Wood are bursting to meet you. They've been poised to welcome an influx ever since Crossrail didn't initially open, down in the single street that's optimistically been rebranded Abbey Wood Village. Now you too can grab a haircut at Sir, place a bet at Jennings, drop off a prescription at Brownes or buy a magazine at McColl's (while administrators allow). But more likely you'll be wanting a refreshment option in which case you're sure to be spoilt for choice. The Abbey Arms offers sourdough pizza as well as Sunday roasts and as the pub beside the station is perfectly positioned. Greggs also awaits your eager custom, as does The Olive with its cappuccino-friendly pavement culture and the New Win Son Chinese takeaway with its egg fried rice and two quid saveloys.

And don't miss out on the alternative grazing options to the north of the station. This more modern piazza boasts African cuisine at K's Spice, a Costa machine at Ace's Booze Box and all the sugar you could ever want at Prettyummy Cakes. Don't forget to take a selfie in front of their pink floral display as you unwrap your ganache-finished sponge. But the local foodstore of choice is undoubtedly the big Sainsburys under the gold block of flats beside the Manorway, where residents take time out to stock up on groceries, snacks and freezer food before lugging it home in their bags for life.

If architecture is more your thing, head a little further north into the pioneering postwar estate of Thamesmead. Ignore the Greenwich half - that's quite generic - and instead enjoy what's left of the concrete flats and towers on the Bexley side. Peabody are busy transforming the residential landscape into something a bit more comfortable and a lot less interesting, so best explore soon before they replace the lot. A walk along the lakeside conveniently showcases the two styles, from the bleak bravado of Cygnet Square to the unforgiving podium skirting Trewsbury House. Just don't come hunting for the iconic promenade where they filmed A Clockwork Orange and Beautiful Thing because that's already rubble.

The lake gets lovelier the further round you go. A recent burst of landscaping has brought wildflower meadows and wooden jetties to the waterside, accessed via meandering paths that weave between pretty pink blooms. The irises are particularly abundant (and particularly yellow) at present. On my nature safari I spotted swans and squirrels, several families of goslings, a hungry-looking heron and a British Airways E190 swooping low on its approach to City Airport. You may not be so fortunate.

If it's a scenic walk you're after, try the arrow-straight elevated Ridgeway path. This runs along the top of the Southern Outfall Sewer, much as the Greenway follows Bazalgette's pipework through Newham, and will raise you up into a world of greenery, birdsong and high pollen counts. Just don't expect to get inside the amazing Crossness Pumping Station museum at the far end because that only has Open Days on Sundays and Crossrail isn't running on Sundays for the foreseeable future.

But the premier attraction in Abbey Wood - the 'seriously I am not kidding this time' treat - is up on the hillside to the southeast of the station. This is Lesnes Abbey, or rather what's left of Lesnes Abbey after Henry VIII dissolved it in 1534. You get a good idea of its scale from the remains of its walls sprawled across the lawn, where free access allows anyone to process up the nave, amble round the chapter house or scrutinise the sacristy. To one side is a lethargic mulberry tree they say James I planted, although they're probably wrong, and if you step up the hill a trio of arty gothic arches provides a frame through which to enjoy an impressive view of central London's clustered towers.

The latest addition to the site is the Monk's Garden, a gated hideaway planted with medicinal herbs and dotted with peculiar eggy sculptures. And if it's sustenance you need then the cafe inside Lesnes Abbey Lodge is probably open, and probably popular, dispensing salads, bagels and decently-priced chunks of millionaire shortbread. Drop by at 10.30 this morning and you might hear a talk on local landscapes by "our resident archaeologist Anthony Thomas", but given Crossrail hasn't opened yet you might want to wait for his Introduction to the Recording of Ancient Buildings on 16th June.

And while you're here don't miss out on a walk through Lesnes Abbey Woods. You're just too late for the bluebells, the last of which are now shrivelling, but its extensive hilly paths are always worth a climb. Follow the right track and you might even locate the Fossil Pit discovered in the 1870s by a geologist while out walking his dog. He found shells and sharks teeth in what's since proven to be one of the world's richest 55-million-year-old fossil sites, and so too might you if you dig around in the sand (rules and regulations apply). It's a splendidly peaceful wilderness and very much worthy of a visit, not least because these are the woods after which the station at the end of London's newest railway line is named.

So don't just get the train to Abbey Wood, take some time to experience the surrounding area that's suddenly been connected speedily to central London for the very first time. In particular if you've never seen the abbey ruins you've been missing a trick, indeed there's a lot more here than you might assume from merely stepping outside the station.

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