When Green London Wayfarers set off on 5 June 2019, before Covid was a word, we didn’t realise the 100+ mile route would take us over two years to complete! As this month’s ‘final’ walk around the Bow back rivers brought us full circle past Abbey Mills Pumping Station, encountered with Bob Gilbert on our June ’19 day, there was pause to reflect before we advanced to paths new: Olympic Park developments + Hackney Wick hip both beyond GLW’s 2012 book cover. Time and tide. We’re thankful to Victorian eco-warriors whose actions secured continuing enjoyment of green spaces familiar and new, and to Bob for enlivening our knowledge of London’s social + natural history. Laughter and friendship. The word ‘joyful’ has been much bandied about…
Stratford to North Woolwich
Bob Gilbert, creator and author of The Green London Way, led walkers’ first [“gritty”!] section from Stratford to Woolwich Arsenal on a richly varied route under sunny skies. A warm welcome to all – including Bob’s rescue greyhound Ash, most gentle presence. We gathered in Theatre Square aside Joan Littlewood for introductions and Bob’s stories of Theatre Royal’s historic contemporary, then a short turn into the Parish Church of St John’s – and a memorial to eighteen 16th century Protestant martyrs burnt at the stake on Stratford Green to a crowd of 20,000. Apace highway sprawl (outgrowth of the London Olympics, set on what was once Stratford Marsh) to Channelsea Path’s wildflower oasis of Lucerne wild carrot + parsnip / tufted vetch / hemlock / giant hog root… and the flutter of Common Blue, Holly Blue and Speckled Wood butterflies.
Outside the magnificent Abbey Mills pumping station, we were treated to a potted history of Victorian London’s sewage solution and its current upgrade. Then the warbling of whitethroats and chiffchaffs joined our chatter along a Greenway stretch between open spaces and regeneration’s rooftops. We traversed undulating wood-tracks and an A13 footbridge for a peaceful lunch by Beckton Park’s exotic tree trail,
where some pollarded horse-chestnuts prompted Bob to explain how conkers directed both the outcome of WW1 and subsequent turns of history. Beyond a further swathe of parkland, a delicate Jersey cudweed pushing up between paving stones was a reminder that ‘green’ London presents on many a scale. Every detail observed. Down to the Thames via the burgeoning conurbation of Gallions Reach and on to a ‘Royal’ group of docks: three basins of impounded water, now largely redundant. Of the numerous plants on our river path, brownfield and waterside species grew on different sides. Bob was pleased to point out a rare Deptford Pink. And we were all wowed by a pair of great crested grebes in full breeding plumage bobbing close to the river’s edge. Stepping through Woolwich foot tunnel to emerge south of the river, Bob gave us more points of social history.
Lastly, we each paired up with Peter Burke’s 16-piece Assembly Sculpture by the entrance to Woolwich Arsenal Pier, before wading market bustle for a DLR seat home. (Actually / lastly, some of us dallied in a [dog-friendly!] pub…).
Huge thanks to Bob for joining us and sharing his knowledge, humour and wisdom.
The Green London Way by Bob Gilbert [ISBN 9 781907 103452] is for armchair as well as active walkers. You can also find the routes at http://www.greenlondonway.com/
Woolwich to Greenwich
We adopted the ‘Loopers’ tried and tested method of striding through the duller parts of a walk and were soon rewarded with the site of the evocative St George’s Garrison Church, built in the 1860s to serve the Royal Artillery Barracks, bombed during World War II, but still used for open-air services. Among the surviving features are marble tablets listing the names of fallen
Gunners who received the Victoria Cross. We were then treated to the grand Georgian façade of the Royal Artillery Barracks, said to be the longest of its kind in Europe at 1,000 foot long, with a Statue of Victory, a Crimean War Memorial, located in the parade ground. Given the picturesque backdrop and military history the Barracks were chosen to host the shooting events at the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. We came across the first of two ha-has before reaching open common land where with the grass left uncut, flowers and butterflies have returned. Soon we entered an innocuous looking park to discover its raunchy history. Hornfair Park is named after an annual three day party, ‘the rudest fair in England’ where spirits were sold in wheelbarrows, and women were ‘especially impudent’. Prudish lawmakers put a stop to the fun and games in 1816. Who could argue with the description of our next stop,
Charlton House, as one of the finest Jacobean houses in the country, and ‘one of the most determinedly overlooked buildings in London’? We learned about the various tragedies that had befallen its residents, including Spencer Percival, whose dubious claim to fame was that he was the only prime minister to be assassinated in office. We admired the 400 or so year old gnarled black mulberry tree, almost certainly a legacy of James I’s attempts to introduce a silk industry – silk worm larvae preferring to munch on the leaves of the white mulberry. Here too were remnants of our second ha-ha. Lunch was taken on benches
overlooking the iconic Thames Barrier where we learned about its history and future challenges. By now were heading towards our destination along a less than pretty section of the Thames Path, and across the building site that is the Greenwich Peninsula. The highlights of this stretch included the 4 acre wetland Ecology Park, the glorious wild flowers along the bank of the Thames – which as inquisitive walkers discovered were sown from packets of Homebase seeds, and Ballast Quay, so called because gravel from Blackheath was loaded here before being sold for a good price on the continent. The street comprises lovely 17th houses and a Harbour Master’s office. Our final stop was the Cutty Sark: the ship which for 10 years held the record for the fastest journey from Australia – 73 days with Captain Woodget at the helm.
Greenwich to Forest Hill
The problem with South London is that it is not in North London, and quite frustrating to get there when Transport for London has one of its idiosynchratic days … and, oh, there are hills (indeed quite a few of them and Bob Gilbert’s route for this leg seems designed to ensure that walkers climb most of them).
We gathered outside the Cutty Sark in Greenwich and climbed up the hill to the Observatory for the magnificent view over the capital, nowadays dominated by the crowded towers of Canary Wharf.
We crossed Hyde Vale, noting the brick conduit head on the way, and on to Blackheath via the delightful Trinity Grove, boasting lush front gardens and celebratory bunting. Quite a contrast next, as we crossed the traffic-bound Blackheath Hill to Morden Hill, where the street names recall an area once populated by mills along the river Ravensbourne. At Lewisham we stopped to rest outside the astonishingly colourful Glass Mill Leisure Centre, the exterior façade of which is clad in 1400 individual glass panels developed in conjunction with local artist Phil Coy.
A nearby railway bridge mural indicated our next destination, then on to Hilly Fields, an open space saved through the efforts of Octavia Hill, founder of the National Trust.
We then walked through Ladywell and Brockley Cemeteries, and, then, another surprise on this most varied of walks, a therapeutic garden in the shadow of the Parish Church of St Mary’s. Then more hills, Blythe Hill Fields and the curiously named One Tree Hill (mercifully with steps to aid the ascent), where we stopped to rest by the viewpoint over London (did anyone spot Alexandra Palace?).
By now we were eagerly looking forward to some refreshment at the end of our walk, quickening our pace through Brenchley Gardens and Camberwell Old Cemetery to reach our destination, the cafe at the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill. Fortunately it was downhill all the way to the station for the return journey to the North.
Forest Hill to Streatham
On the morning of the day of the walk it was dull and rainy, the buses were full of excited back-to-school children and commuters on their way to work after the summer break, the Northern Line was victim to signal failure, and Forest Hill seemed a long way from stationary trains in Whitechapel and Shadwell … so it was a relief finally to gather at the bandstand in Horniman Gardens, for this stage of the Green London Way, although there was just enough time to admire Mr Horniman’s magnificent conservatory. For north Londoners, the variety of woodland, parks and views of the city in south London continues to delight. Taking a narrow path skirting Horniman Gardens to a nature reserve – claimed to be the oldest in
London – we walked over Cox’s Walk ornamental footbridge, which once crossed a railway line south of the site of Lordship Lane station. The path led to the beautiful Dulwich Woods, once home to the Hermit of Dulwich, murdered in this very wood. Emerging from the wood opposite the Grade II listed Dulwich Wood House (too early to stop for a drink!), our next green space was Sydenham Wells Park, offering splendid water features, formal gardens and an array of mature trees and shrubs.
Our need for refreshment was satisfied at the cafe on the edge of Crystal Palace Park, after which we explored the area further: unfortunately the path to the dinosaurs was barred. We stopped for lunch on the steps of the terraces on the site of the Crystal Palace, guarded by a pair of recently restored red sphinxes.
Resuming our walk through the streets of Norwood, we took a detour to a home once occupied by social reformer and campaigner Annie Besant, perhaps best known for her involvement in the Bryant and May female workers’ strike in 1888.
After unsuccessfully avoiding of the attentions of an over-enthusiastic large dog in Long Meadow , we next entered Norwood Park, where we played the now familiar but generally unproductive game of attempting to spot Alexandra Palace from a south London viewpoint (trees in the way, this time!).
Then, on to another green space, familiar to those who had walked the Capital Ring, Norwood Grove, the principal feature of which is the 19th century white-stuccoed mansion, once the home of Arthur Anderson, who co-founded the shipping line that eventually became P&O, and later of the Unitarian ironmonger and industrialist Frederick Nettlefold.
We were now nearing our destination – our final green space was Streatham Common, then along a long narrow footpath – Russell’s Footpath – crossing several roads to Streatham Station, where we took the train home, wondering just how many London boroughs we had walked through.
Streatham to Wimbledon
Readers of these accounts will not be surprised to learn that an apparently simple journey from North London to south of the river can go seriously awry if the wrong travel option is chosen. Those who decided to travel via Thames[missing]link were sorely disappointed to learn that it was impossible to get to our destination. Lots of talk about how we arrived at Streatham ensued, but, hey, the sun was shining brightly after a few days of heavy rain, and the stress levels lowered.
So it was that we started our walk just a few minutes late, and after a rather bizarre detour which led us the local Job Centre, set off through suburban streets on the way to our first green space, Tooting Bec Common, and further, past Balham, Wandsworth Common.
Here we stopped by the lake for lunch, the contents of which attracted the attention of number of local dogs. We investigated the lake further by following the perimeter boardwalk, before making our way to Wandsworth (Earlsfield) Cemetery, where we admired the two chapels, and stopped a few yards further on at the simple white war graves of such young men (members of the Newfoundland regiment) who perished in the First World War.
Following a path in the cemetery along the railway line we came across another war memorial (this to citizens of Wandsworth who lost their lives to enemy action in World War II.). Our route then took us through the streets of Earlsfield to the Wandle Trail, lined at one point with an interesting array of garden sheds.
Our walk ended at Wimbledon town centre, where many of the group stopped for refreshment before embarking on the mercifully easy journey back to the home of what the Home Secretary recently described as “the North London metropolitan liberal elite”.
Wimbledon to Richmond
We knew that this was going to be a good one! The morning was crisp and sunny, the trains were on time, and one of the first paths that we walked along after leaving Wimbledon town centre was named Sunnyside Passage. Here we stopped to admire a true London curiosity, a Grade II listed cast-iron cylindrical Victorian electricity transformer station. Sunnyside Passage soon gave way to Sunnyside, and soon we were on Wimbledon Common, stopping briefly to observe a heron and a cormorant on Rushmere Pond. Ahead of us was a wedding venue if there was ever one, Cannizaro House, the grounds of
which looked splendid in autumn colour and which is the site of our second curiosity, an aviary built in the style of Turin Cathedral. By now it was time for some refreshment, and we stopped at the Windmill Cafe, before making our way across an extensive golf course, where veterans of the London Loop walks recalled their experiences of getting lost among greens. Our next landmark was the war memorial the peace of which was disturbed by the insistent traffic of nearby Kingston bypass. Crossing Beverley Brook we were now well on our way to the killing fields of Richmond Park. From then on we wondered if every deer we saw (and there were many of them) was eating his or her last meal .
but hunger was gnawing at us too, and we stopped for our lunch at the newly named Betty’s Pond, reached through a narrow track through tall grasses. Resuming our walk we passed through familiar landmarks, Isabella’s Plantation, Pembroke Lodge, and King Henry’s Mound for telescopic views for St Paul’s Cathedral and Windsor Castle, before negotiating Petersham Meadows on our way to the Thames at Richmond.
Richmond to Hanwell
It was a walk of two halves, starting with the regal Richmond riverside and then through the more industrial Brentford onto Hanwell. But water was the common theme.
We learned about Richmond’s Tudor history, marvelled at Elizabeth 1’s 2,000 dresses, were somewhat perplexed by the upside down foliage of an umbrella pine – designated a Great Tree of London, and mourned the felling of a second such tree, a copper beech in Asgill House. By now we were walking along the Thames, regularly but always graciously giving way to cyclists, dog walkers and joggers. Our resident plants’ woman explained how the unfortunate George III was wrongly treated with gentian which turned his urine blue, so was diagnosed with porphyria, and was then treated with arsenic. He probably suffered from Bipolar Disorder. We passed Syon House, which briefly housed two doomed Tudor Queens, and then crossed Kew Bridge, back into our North London home turf.
Our plans for an early lunch in the wonderful Steam Museum were thwarted by a private booking. But we could still learn about the 19th century industries and their accompanying slums. There still remained the vexed question of lunch. The options appeared to be a bland outlet of a coffee chain, or the quite frankly dismal bar which we experienced on the recce. Some genius suggested a pub, which was a great success. Huge sandwiches, with chips and half a pint at a more than reasonable price. We made our way along the River Brent, passing the site on the Great Fire of Brentford 2019, and an island where a colony of rare two lipped door snails saved the site from a swanky development. Our next stop was at St Paul’s Church which housed a painting of the Last Supper by Zoffany, whose life was probably more interesting than the painting itself.
The last stretch was up the Grand Union Canal where we came across Brunel’s majestic Wharncliffe Viaduct. There only remained a 50 metre dash to the train home. Beautiful weather, a fabulous walk and wonderful company – it was the best of days.
Hampstead to Finsbury Park
Given the time of year with fewer daylight hours and colder temperatures, we deviated from the circular route, and walked a more local and shorter section of the Green London Way, from Hampstead to Finsbury Park. Starting out in Hampstead village, the walk took us across the northern part of Hampstead Heath, passing Kenwood House (admiring on the way Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture Empyrean before reaching Highgate Village. From there our route took us through the ancient woodlands of Highgate and Queen’s Woods, before we picked up the final 3 mile section, along the Parkland Walk, which took us to our destination at Finsbury Park.
Hanwell to South Kenton
This 10 mile stretch combined two of the shorter stages of the Green London Way to make a viable full day walk, although there were plenty of transport links along the way for those who wished to curtail their walk. We left Paddington Station in bright winter sunshine, congratulating ourselves that we had chosed such a day for our excursion into west London after a succession of dull, sunless days, but within ten minutes of our journey a spectral mist descended : it was not until we reached the picturesque Western Avenue in Greenford that the sun returned. By this time we had already walked along the splendidly named Golden Manor and under the Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s magnificent Grade I listed Wharncliffe Viaduct, built in the 1830s to carry the Great Western Railway over the Brent Valley. The walk then took us into Brent Lodge Park, where we could not resist tackling the Millennium maze in Brent Lodge Park, before making our way past a small zoo (no animal activity discerned) to St Mary’s Church, one of two buildings designed by the prolific Victorian architect George Gilbert Scott to be seen on our route. Leaving behind the noise of Western Avenue we crossed Perival Park and followed a stretch along the Grand Union Canal. Reluctantly leaving the canal we climbed our way to our lunch stop in bright sunshine at Horsenden Farm, a community garden and orchard set in the grounds of a Victorian farmhouse, with craft brewery attached! We needed a good rest to build up our energy levels to tackle the hilly parts of the walk, Horsenden Hill (279 feet, 85 metres, Sudbury Hill and Harrow-on-the-Hill (426 feet, 130 metres), where we stopped in a rather smart cafe for refreshment and observed young men in smart school uniforms carrying straw hats. Here we also encountered our second George Gilbert Scott building, the magnificent High Victorian Gothic Vaughan Library. Then it was time to begin our descent down Football Lane to the school playing fields into Northwick Park and finally reaching our destination, South Kenton Station for the journey home.
South Kenton to Hampstead
Because the treacherous conditions underfoot after so much February rain this leg of the Green London Way was shortened with a walk start at the bus station of Brent Cross Shopping Centre. “Dystopian” was the observation of one of the members of the Group who had arrived by underground and then had to negotiate a series of underpasses under the thunderous North Circular Road to get to the meeting point.
After the now familiar discussion of the bus routes by which members had arrived we sought the first area of green space known at Hendon Park, bordered by the Northern Line tracks. A short path into a series of dull suburban streets led us in the direction of the North Circular Road, along which runs Brent Park.
At the entrance to the park we noticed two dilapidated brick gazebos, a reminder that on this site stood once the Brent Bridge Hotel. Leaving Brent Park and resisting the temptation to investigate further a parked Mitzvar Tank we changed direction and followed the Mutton Brook, and made our way through the eerily quiet immaculately maintained Arts and Crafts and neo-Georgian houses of Hampstead Garden Suburb to Central Square, flanked by two Edwin Lutyens churches and Henrietta Barnett School and then on through an opening in the Great Wall to Hampstead Heath extension (mercifully, not too muddy), eventually stopping for a break at Hill Garden.
By now the weather was deteriorating, but before we left the area we explored one of the jewels in the crown of the North London landscape, Thomas Mawson’s Pergola, built for soap magnate William Lever.
From here it was just a short distance through Hampstead’s side streets to our destination Le Pain Quotidien in Hampstead High Street, where to the amusement and distress of some we were served tea and coffee in receptacles with no handles or saucers. Here the group dispersed in the rain, although a few hardy souls continued their journey on foot to East Finchley, Crouch End and Muswell Hill. South Kenton to Brent Cross will have to wait for another day.
Finsbury Park to Hackney Wick
The Green London Wayfarers finally picked up section 12 of their loop around London. Starting from the café (near the boating lake) in Finsbury Park we headed off towards Stoke Newington via the New River Walk, around the reservoirs and through Clissold Park. After a brief stretch along Stoke Newington Church Street, we walked through Abney Park Cemetery and then Springfield Park to reach the River Lea and the Walthamstow Marshes. The final stretch took us around Hackney Marshes to reach our destination, Hackney Wick.
Hackney Wick to Stratford and the Olympic Park
And so we headed off from Hackney Wick, using the most circuitous of routes, to complete the Green London Way: an adventure started in those innocent days of 2019. We soon found ourselves in Victoria Park, and made a beeline to the Victoria Fountains, commissioned by the Baroness Burdett-Coutts to supply drinking water for the massess that thronged the Park. We were impressed by her philanthropy, and by her decision at 67 to marry a 29 year old American, and in doing so effectively disinheriting herself, but relieved to discover they lived happily ever after. We made our way to the wonderfully name Pudding Mill Lane and confusingly named Three Mills there are just two) via canals, rivers, the Greenway, and building sites. It was at the latter where excited walkers who had yet to arrange their Staycations discovered Snoozeboxes: a snip at just £39 a night for a double room.
Just after we had fortified ourselves with lunch we discovered a pensioner friendly trampoline, and invented new moves that required the wearing of walking boots and rucksacks. Someone recognised the potential for a new U3A group. All we would need is a member to donate space in a garden, some funding and quite probably additional insurance …
We completed the formal walk by passing one of Bob’s favourite buildings, the Abbey Mills Sewage Pumping Station, and then made our way to the ‘optional extra’ walk in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Passing through dazzling banks of wildflowers, the gorgeous wetlands, we arrived at the London Blossom Garden. An enclosed space with 33 trees (the number of boroughs and the City) planted in circles, wild flowers and benches made of recycled materials, the Garden provides a beautiful and serene place for reflection.We have come full circle. Thank you Bob for designing such an inspiring route, thank you Green Wayfarers for providing such joy on the travels, and perhaps most importantly, thank you to our forebears, who as we have discovered, fought long and hard to preserve green spaces for our enjoyment.