Walking South London

We don’t always bother with Bank Holidays now.  They used to be a good day to take a relatively early train to go on a walk, paying the lowest fare rate, the ‘Super Off Peak’, but no longer. Rail fares for many of my journeys went up by around 30% at a stroke at the start of last year, when the train operating company here (now South West Trains) decided to start treating the weekends and Bank Holidays in exactly the same way as the working week for these discounted fares.

This means that if I want to travel ‘Super Off Peak’ I now can’t catch a train before the 11.29 and I can’t return home from central London (or Clapham Junction) between 4pm and 7pm when I would want to be coming home for a walk.  Instead I have to pay the extra for an ‘Off Peak’ ticket – just the same as on any other day in the year.  So unless there is some special event I want to go to on a Bank Holiday, there is no advantage at all in going out on one of them – and certain places are closed or more crowded than usual.

But on the late May Bank Holiday, Linda decided we should go out for a walk. She likes to walk in the country, while I’m an urban walker. So I compromised,  cunningly planning a walk that would take us through some of the woods and parks of South-east London.

We started at Falconwood Station, where almost directly across the road we could  join the walk through Shepherdleas Wood, ancient woodland in Eltham Park North, and through that to Oxleas Wood, climbing up the hill. We missed a turning here (possibly a way mark was overgrown or absent) but made our own way to the top, and then rejoined the Green Chain Walk to go down the path towards Jack Wood.  We missed a turning again – I’d assumed it would be clearly marked, and went too far down the hill. There are many more paths than are marked on the map, and we decided to take one that seemed to be roughly going west, and then take any likely turning up the hill. This led to a nice dead end where we had a short rest before turning a short way back and taking another path (as I pointed out to Linda, it might have helped had she remembered to bring the compass.)

By the time I was able to locate our exact position on the OS map, we were too close to Shooter’s Hill for it to be worth retracing our steps and possibly finding Severndroog Castle as intended. It would have been a disappointment in any case as it (and its café) is only open Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays.

So the next unusual building on the route was the water tower on Shooters Hill, now a private home. Our next park, shortly after this, was Eaglesfield Park, from where we made to Occupation Lane, which attracted me as I think it is part of an ancient route through the area – and looking out over it gives one of the best views of London. Or would have if it wasn’t for the haze. Good, clear views across London really need some heavy rain to clear the air, followed by sunshine, and today we just had some sunshine on the pollution.

At the end of Occupation Lane we headed for the Bronze Age Shrewsbury Tumulus – a small grass-covered mound that is the only remaining one of seven in the area, the rest built on in the 1930s.  Next to it is Mayplace Lane, the continuation of the ancient route towards a ferry at Woolwich, and we followed this down to Herbert Road, with its assorted hairdressers and fast food shops. H J Webb, Grocers and Provision Merchants with a fine tiled sign is now one of several Turkish Barbers.

I think all sign of the ancient trackway has been lost north of here, and we turned west instead down Plumstead Common Road, which sweeps quite dramatically down into a valley and into Nightingale Place, an emphatically nightingale-free zone. Past the road junction and its obelisk for  Major Robert John Little, we made our way along Ha-Ha Road. Unfortuntely although the Major had offered living water, the council had cut off the pipes , from what would have been very welcome in the heat of the day.  Ha-Ha Road, isn’t a laugh but a rather long and boring stretch with a ha-ha ditch on its north side, though the whole point of the ha-ha has been lost by puttng a rather tall fence and hedge along the other side for most of its length.

Another problem with the Bank Holiday, was that Charlton House – and again its Tea Rooms  – was closed; normally both are open Monday-Saturday and worth a visit. We sat looking at it beside the former public toilets as we ate our sandwiches, but at least were able to buy an ice cream in the park – where the seller told us he was there every day except Christmas Day.

Across one road from Charlton Park we were in Maryon Wilson Park, and from there across another road into Maryon Park, familiar to millions as a location for the iconic film ‘Blow Up’ with Daving Hemming as a thinly disguised David Bailey.

After going down the steps and past the tennis courts we left the park to walk an unneceesarily long way along dusty roads to the Thames Path, which took us to Woolwich and across by the ferry Ernest Bevin – one of the best value journeys in the capital to North Woolwich and King George V DLR station to start our journey home.

More pictures from the walk: Woolwich wander

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My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

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