diamond geezer

 Wednesday, July 12, 2023

River Ravensbourne
iii) Catford → Deptford (4 miles)
[Ravensbourne → Thames]

The Ravensbourne is south London's longest river, winding 11 miles from Keston spring to tidal Deptford Creek. Along the way it goes from narrow enough to stand astride to wide enough to send a ship down, because that's what the accumulated drainage of Bromley and Lewisham enables. Today I'm walking the lower course from Catford to the Thames, and if you keep your eyes peeled you may eventually see a fish.
[Here's an approximate map, if approximate maps are your thing]

Catford is named after a ford across the River Ravensbourne, allegedly the home of wild cats, which at least makes a change from myths about ravens and Roman emperors. Two railway lines squeeze across the valley here and don't leave much room for the river, which weaves through where it can and then escapes under the viaduct via a dramatic bifurcated S bend. A lot of new housing has been squeezed in too, including a long chain of depressingly identical vernacular blocks leading to the site of the former greyhound stadium. Better to follow the river which leads instead to Ladywell Fields, easily the busiest recreational expanse we've seen so far, where afternoonfolk may be occupied with drinking, chatting, outdoor gymming or (somewhere over the footbridge) playing bowls. I additionally encountered a group of geography students emerging from the water's edge carrying tape measures, because the penultimate week of term is the ideal time for a fluvial field trip.
n.b. At a guess, were I wielding that tape measure, I'd say 5m wide.

Tediously both railway lines need crossing again, one via an enormous looping double-spiral ramp. Do stop to read the information boards as you go by, not least because one confirms that the tree you're standing under is the Lewisham Dutch Elm, one of the last mature specimens in the capital. Another board explains that the dry channel in front of you was added to help illustrate the water cycle so if you pump the handle... ah, nothing happens. The last board is the best board because it explains that a second channel was dug through the northern part of the park in 2008 - back then a meandering trench bordered by inane safety messages and now a lush sinuous habitat of wildlife-friendly pools and riffles. But they had to do emergency works on it last winter because the inflow silted up and the channel dried out, which just goes to show that mimicking nature is harder than it looks.
n.b. The most important footbridge is round the back of Lewisham Hospital - "proud to be a smoke-free zone" - which is crossed regularly by every employee in urgent need of a legal cigarette.

After Ladywell's flurry of pleasantness the Ravensbourne is once again confined to concrete and sent on a tour of the backside of Lewisham. It becomes visible again round the back of the shopping centre in a sliver of greenspace over-optimistically titled Riverdale Sculpture Park. When it opened in the year 2000 it held 16 sculptures but now has just one, a geometric totem by the entrance called 'Column', and the remainder of the site is a dystopian dead end loop whose benches are frequented by slurred drinkers and zonked sleepers. My advice is simply 'don't'. Conditions are less oppressive in Cornmill Gardens, a massive mixed use development facing the station, where the river forms an artificial canyon between multiple low- and high-rise flats. Local birdlife certainly loves the buddleia, but the shrubberies have proved ideal for abandoning Lime bikes and if you look closely at the so-called riverbanks and riverbeds they're merely held together by wire netting.
n.b. The variegated building coloured like an 'Elmer' children's book is the Glass Mill Leisure centre, opened 10 years ago and named after Lewisham Bridge Mill which once stood nearby.

Central Lewisham is a whirlwind of redevelopment, quite unattractively so, and the Ravensbourne is the regeneration corridor it's erupting from. At its epicentre is the Lewisham Gateway project, a motley collection of towers surrounding the point where the River Quaggy arrives on the scene and feeds into the longer river. Here we find Confluence Park, a small sanitised space with insufficient seating, obstructed daylight and an infestation of invasive species. The Quaggy arrives deep and ripply, even attractive, then feeds into its larger sibling and becomes drably entrenched. The widened river then dips beneath Lewisham station, skirts the enormous Tesco and attempts to follow the historic Silk Mills Path... except that's also turning into more flats, indeed the Silk Mills have long been a stacked pile called the Silkworks, and best I shut up about flats for a bit.
n.b. I deduce the big Tesco opened in 1987 because they put the date on the litter bins back then.

What happens next is that the Ravensbourne shares its valley with a park and the DLR. Brookmill Park came first in 1880, then got extended postwar following adjacent bomb damage (although it was called Ravensbourne Park back then because of course it was). When a DLR extension to Lewisham was required the river was the obvious corridor to exploit so it nabbed the eastern side of the park and the rest was tweaked with softer edges, meandering paths and wildlife habitats. Step down into the floodable bowl and you can walk on the pebblebed beside the river, indeed I believe this is the lowest point where the waters of the Ravensbourne are publicly accessible. As for the lake by the parkkeeper's hut I was admiring that when a man turned towards me and asked "Are you here for the balsam?", and I had to politely apologise for not being a member of the Pond Crew clean-up party.
n.b. The Friends of Brookmill Park have devised a splendid self-guided walk which can tell you a lot more about the history of this linear greenspace.

On the approach to Deptford Bridge I looked down into the water and spotted a mysterious V-shaped ripple pushing slowly upstream. That isn't what ducks do, I thought, and on closer inspection confirmed that this was a fish propelling itself through not very many inches of water. The chub (I'm going to call it a chub until someone confirms it wasn't) was over a foot long and had fully embraced the challenge of moving, if not exactly swimming, through minimal amounts of flow. This is a tough time of year to be a big fish, not helped by the channel's dimensions having been optimised for a worst-case flooding scenario rather than a summertime trickle. I watched the plucky chub struggle onwards with its ventral fin scraping the concrete and its dorsal fin exposed to the air, and hoped very much it'd eventually reach a habitable depth, although I fear it was going in completely the wrong direction.
n.b. Deptford Bridge was once the lowest bridging point across the Ravensbourne, indeed it's how Watling Street once headed out of town, indeed Deptford means 'deep ford' which is retrospectively obvious.

From here onwards the river is tidal and more usually goes by the name Deptford Creek. I plumped for the Lewisham side rather than the Greenwich side, not that you can properly see the river from either with the best view afforded to the DLR viaduct weaving high above the water. A slew of former wharves, mills and timberyards hug the creekside, some repurposed as creative spaces and the majority gone or going, the speed of change more rapid the further downstream you go. The former Creek Street, for example, starts with studio-based decay, then a planning notice confirming Evelyn Wharf is due to become student accommodation, then a lone gentrifying coffee hub called 'gaff', then a cluster of full-on highrise abominations. The most interesting interventions are the Creekside Discovery Centre, the semi-translucent Laban dance conservatoire and the Ha'penny Hatch footbridge beside the mainline railway. The latter is the first vantage point from which the sudden shift to "full on tidal with moored boats" is self-evident.
n.b. The Creekside Discovery Centre has a full Open Day (and Low Tide Walk) pencilled in for Saturday 22nd July.

Today another main road links Deptford and Greenwich across the river via a bascule bridge, which is rarely lifted but still operational because the wharf just upstream continues to trade in aggregates. A plaque on the bridge's control tower confirms that 'The Domesday Book of 1086 noted many watermills nearby', which helps to explain the predilection developers have in naming everything round here Something Mill. One last creeky bend will finish it, a properly tidal basin too wide to throw a stone across, on which bob swans and gulls and in which rest tyres and trolleys, perhaps from the neighbouring Waitrose. It's fully residential around here, such is the Thamesside premium, with the main river reached just beyond a slender swingable footbridge. Abruptly Docklands and the towers of the City have come into view, plus a red navigational light advising ships never to come this way, and it's an impressive finale for a river that 11 miles back looked like it'd never amount to much.
n.b. Today's walk can be easily enjoyed by following signs for the Waterlink Way, Lewisham's chief north-south cycleway.

Those of you who live out this way will know I've merely skated through the multiple delights of the Ravensbourne over the last three days. I could easily have stretched it out further but instead you got the 5000-word semi-concise version, and quite frankly if you want more why not walk it for yourself?

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan23  Feb23  Mar23  Apr23  May23  Jun23  Jul23  Aug23  Sep23  Oct23  Nov23  Dec23
Jan22  Feb22  Mar22  Apr22  May22  Jun22  Jul22  Aug22  Sep22  Oct22  Nov22  Dec22
Jan21  Feb21  Mar21  Apr21  May21  Jun21  Jul21  Aug21  Sep21  Oct21  Nov21  Dec21
Jan20  Feb20  Mar20  Apr20  May20  Jun20  Jul20  Aug20  Sep20  Oct20  Nov20  Dec20
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 

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

twenty blogs
our bow
ian visits
broken tv
blue witch
on london
the great wen
edith's streets
spitalfields life
round the island
wanstead meteo
christopher fowler
the greenwich wire
bus and train user
ruth's coastal walk
round the rails we go
london reconnections
from the murky depths

quick reference features
Things to do in Outer London
Things to do outside London
Inner London toilet map
20 years of blog series
The DG Tour of Britain
London's most...

read the archive
Dec23  Nov23  Oct23  Sep23
Aug23  Jul23  Jun23  May23
Apr23  Mar23  Feb23  Jan23
Dec22  Nov22  Oct22  Sep22
Aug22  Jul22  Jun22  May22
Apr22  Mar22  Feb22  Jan22
Dec21  Nov21  Oct21  Sep21
Aug21  Jul21  Jun21  May21
Apr21  Mar21  Feb21  Jan21
Dec20  Nov20  Oct20  Sep20
Aug20  Jul20  Jun20  May20
Apr20  Mar20  Feb20  Jan20
Dec19  Nov19  Oct19  Sep19
Aug19  Jul19  Jun19  May19
Apr19  Mar19  Feb19  Jan19
Dec18  Nov18  Oct18  Sep18
Aug18  Jul18  Jun18  May18
Apr18  Mar18  Feb18  Jan18
Dec17  Nov17  Oct17  Sep17
Aug17  Jul17  Jun17  May17
Apr17  Mar17  Feb17  Jan17
Dec16  Nov16  Oct16  Sep16
Aug16  Jul16  Jun16  May16
Apr16  Mar16  Feb16  Jan16
Dec15  Nov15  Oct15  Sep15
Aug15  Jul15  Jun15  May15
Apr15  Mar15  Feb15  Jan15
Dec14  Nov14  Oct14  Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

the diamond geezer index
2021 2020 2019 2018 2017
2016 2015 2014 2013 2012
2011 2010 2009 2008 2007
2006 2005 2004 2003 2002

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
Herbert Dip
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards