diamond geezer

 Monday, June 03, 2024

A Nice Walk: The Brockley Three Peaks (5 miles)

Sometimes you just want to go for a nice walk, triple-summited, great views, waterside stretches, plenty of up and down, easily reached, all-weather surfaces, a bit of history, occasional dead people, refreshment opportunities, two hours filled. So here's a five mile circuit in the southeastern suburbs, not enough to make a day of it but a nice walk all the same.

The Brockley Three Peaks Walk sprang to life in 2016, a ‘green-chain’ walking route designed by the local community to link a trio of hilly open spaces. The summits are Blythe Hill Fields, One Tree Hill and Hilly Fields, each a distinct contoured hump which avoided becoming housing at the start of the 20th century. None are anything the Peak District need worry about but they're pretty good going for zone 3. The circuit could also be called the Two Cemeteries Walk because there's a quite a lot of grave-weaving, or indeed the Three Shopping Parades Walk because it was also designed to showcase local independent traders. The route's not waymarked but there is a gorgeous map to follow which was funded by Ladywell ward assembly and designed by Lynda Durrant.

Finding that map is rather harder, given it has no official online presence. In the early years the walk's profile was rather higher because an annual charity walk was organised, the Lewisham Three Peaks Challenge, but that alas fizzled out during the pandemic. Folded copies of the map were supposed to be available at the Hilly Fields cafe but that's not at the start of the route, it's 95% of the way round, and although I did see a somewhat frayed copy stuck to the counter I wasn't willing to wait for the coffee and baguette queue to die down to see if they still had any to take away. Oddly enough the walk's biggest long-term champions have been Thameslink who've sponsored a pristine map outside Crofton Park station (and also on the Eddystone Road footbridge), so you could simply take a photo and use that. Or do what I did and find a high-quality jpeg the organisers posted on Twitter eight years ago before going annoyingly low-res in later years. Your effort will be rewarded.

Start - Ladywell station
The first mile is lovely, it's Ladywell Fields, the linear greenspace which hugs the Ravensbourne down to Catford. The first bit is particularly nice, featuring a braided channel weaving over pebbly shadows past wildlife-dense undergrowth, which is particularly impressive to those of us who remember it 16 years ago as a freshly-cut notch overseen by an insane number of safety notices. Continue past the irises or the cafe, any route south will do, my river-hugging choice delivering excitable waders, tennis courts a-go-go and a prematurely-hoarding squirrel. The park's most annoying feature is the double-spiral footbridge needed to cross the railway halfway down, a dividing line every jogger, dogwalker and cyclist has to patiently slog across every time. I hadn't noticed the sign on the far side before, but The Number Of The Bridge is six hundred sixty-six, hence it's sometimes known locally as Satan's Bridge.
Local event: The Ladywell Fields User Group meet four times a year, and next week (June 13th) is their annual walk in the park.

Here the map includes a brief optional detour to the Ladywell Water Tower, which I'd never seen before so I detoured. It stands incongruously on a suburban bend, a very-late Victorian brick tower which originally served a workhouse, and whose narrow interior has since been subdivided into three flats and an Airbnb. Worth the extra five minutes I'd say. Back on track Ladywell Fields continue to be lovely, particularly riverside, including a chance to admire the Lewisham Dutch Elm which is one of the last and largest left in London. But we're not quite going to Catford, the trail instead veers off up a climbing sidestreet to pass through narrow verdant Ravensbourne Park Gardens. Fans of muted civic fury will enjoy the message from Austin, long-term leader of the park's user group, who's angry that the council have not made good on a successful 35K bid for play equipment AND REFUSE TO ISSUE ME, AS PARK USER CHAIR, WITH A COMPLAINT REFERENCE TO RECENT CORRESPONDENCE.
Local event: Montacute Road becomes a Play Street on the first Sunday of the month between 1pm and 4pm, so you've just missed yesterday's thronged closure.

Peak 1 - Blythe Hill Fields (70m)
The first peak creeps up on you because the ascent has been gentle and suburban, this before a brief alleyway leads direct to the crest of a grassy slope. It's easily the best of the three peaks if you want a view, the trees on the northwest flank being low enough down to provide unbroken sight of a skyscrapered horizon. From left to right there's the Shard, then a particularly clustered view of the City, then a surprisingly long gap before the mass of Docklands thrusts shinily skywards. In front of these are the tiled roofs of hundreds of 1930s semis, and up top insufficient benches to properly accommodate all those wishing to enjoy the verdant panorama. A very new arrival is the Blythe Hill Fields Tiny Forest, planted just six weeks ago under the watchful eyes of a Blue Peter presenter, in which 17 arboreal species have been squished into a patch 15 metres square. BHF is a bit of a treat all round.
Local event: Blythe Hill Market takes place monthly, specifically next Saturday, as local makers, creators, coffee and food stalls gather by the playground.

If you pause on the descent outside 85 Duncombe Hill, the house with the Cyberman's head in the window, it's possible to see every peak on The Three Peaks Walk (plus Forest Hill where the Horniman is, which isn't). At the foot of the slope is the first minor deviation designed to hit some shops, this the parade along the quiet curve of Brockley Rise where the buses park up. If you opened a greengrocers called Marvellous Greens & Beans round my way people would laugh but here it thrums with socially-responsible punters, ditto Smokey Yard, La Querce and The Wellness Rooms. Options get even more middle class on the parade leading up to the Overground station, where linked businesses called Honor Oak Provender and Honor Oak Vintner face off across the street, although there's also a Domino's and an old school chippy because not everyone in SE23 reads The Observer.
Local event: Honor Oak's Women's Institute meets on the first Tuesday of the month at Stanstead Lodge Cafe, but tomorrow is Policing and Crime so maybe wait for July which is a talk on Madagascar.

Peak 2 - One Tree Hill (90m)
This is the toughest of the three climbs, in that the first time you think you've reached the top you've merely crossed the road to St Augustine's Church and still have several more flights to go. One Tree Hill would appear to be very badly named because trees are everywhere, entirely shielding the view apart from a narrow slot towards the City, but one tree does take pride of place by the summit. This is the Oak of Honor, after which Honor Oak is named, under which Queen Elizabeth I is supposed to have rested on May Day 1602. Alas it's not the original, it's a replacement oak planted by two Camberwell councillors in 1905 after the hill was stripped to become a golf course (then promptly saved by howls of public protest). Descend via the Acid Grass Patch, the Poplar Copse and not quite so many steps, but only when you're ready.
Local event: The Friends of One Tree Hill are holding their AGM at St Augustine's tomorrow at 7.30pm, including two short talks on allotment ecology and radicalism (All Welcome!!)

The first cemetery on the walk is Camberwell New Cemetery which is still a busy place of interment. The route threads past the chapel, the crematorium, some very fine rose bushes and several questionable poems on gravestones. 'A Brickie Sadly Missed' won my doggerel trophy ("No job too big, no job too small, he will always be the best of all") but you might pick differently. The trail then crosses back over the railway via the footbridge with the Thameslink-sponsored map I mentioned earlier, past the almost-never-open Buckthorne Railway Cutting Nature Reserve. I'd say the subsequent deviation down to St Hilda's church is entirely unnecessary, although it does loop you back past the Brockley Jack pub/theatre which otherwise you'd miss.
Local event: The next Buckthorne Railway Cutting Nature Reserve Open Day is this Saturday from noon, promising 'cakes, music, art and craft and beautiful scenery'.
Local event: The next play at Brockley Jack is The Valentine Letters, based on Frances Zagni's book, from 11th-22nd June.

Crofton Park has the longest shopping parade of the three, even if you cut the corner and skip to the Jerk Garden. Its highlight is undoubtedly the Rivoli Ballroom, a much loved entertainment venue with a genuine 1950s dancefloor, although it's more of an evening place than somewhere for a walker to drop into. Alternative refreshment options include the London Beer Dispensary for ale on tap and Arlo & Moe for something pastry-based with coffee. Cemetery two is the somewhat awkward Brockley & Ladywell Cemeteries, conjoined since 1948 when the dividing wall was taken down. It's a massive space with only two entrances and no obvious path weaving between the two, so do try not to get lost in the swirling semi-overgrown labyrinth. Here I met a walking-sticked old lady who wished me Good Morning, even though it was actually four minutes past twelve, and you'll be pleased to hear I had the common decency not to correct her.
Local event: Ballroomwise, Friday 7th June sees Reggae at the Rivoli while Saturday 8th is The Big 90s Night.

Peak 3 - Hilly Fields (53m)
The final peak is the largest and busiest, much beloved by residents of Brockley and Ladywell alike, but also the lowest of the three so the view is disappointing in comparison. On its slopes I found sunbathers and little kickabouters, various outdoor gymmers, a lot of picnic blankets, a well-organised family with a table full of salad dips, a painted trig point and a dog perched on top of the stone circle. The busiest section was around the summit cafe, as previously mentioned, whereas Alan's Soft Ice Cream Van had no takers for its lemon ice cones or its £3.50 99s. I wondered how many of those enjoying Hilly Fields knew that the other two peaks exist, or indeed had ever walked the Walk, before I trotted down Vicars Hill and completed the loop for myself.
Local event: Brockley Max, the nine day community arts festival, has just begun, and although you've missed the Foxborough Gardens Mural Open Days and the Women's Drumming Circle you're not too late for Saturday's big Art In The Park finale on Hilly Fields.

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