Catching up with the Capital Ring

We made a lot of progress around the Capital Ring in late March and the first part of April, but I’ve put more effort into walking the ring than blogging about it over that period.  So this post covers four sections of the ring.  We’ve done one more since I started drafting this, but that one will need to wait for another blog post.

Section 2 is mostly around Eltham, and the highlight – even though it wasn’t open for us to go inside on the day that we walked past – was Eltham Palace.  There’s been some sort of grand house here since mediaeval times, and Henry VIII, unsurprisingly,  left his mark on the building.  But in subsequent years it fell into disrepair, partly as a result of a period in the 17th century when it belonged to one Colonel Nathaniel Rich (no relation) and only the extremely fine great hall survives from this period.  But in the 1930s the Cortauld family, who were in the textile business, acquired the site and built a magnificent art deco mansion.  This is perhaps the most memorable and distinctive part of the building and has been impressively restored, and the juxtaposition of art deco and Tudor is quite extraordinary.

Eltham Palace

From the start of this section at Falconwood to Eltham Palace itself is mostly along pavements: it takes you through some pleasant residential streets but it’s pavement walking nevertheless.  Beyond Eltham Palace feels almost rural; you walk alongside fields, on the slope of a gentle hill, with fine views across to the Thames, and horses grazing alongside the path.

Section 3 also starts with road walking through residential areas.  But there is quite a contrast from the streets in Eltham which were developed in the late 19th and early 20th century.  Instead the walk takes us through Downham, built as a huge council estate in the 1920s and 1930s.  Such was the municipal influence that in the estate’s early days, both its one pub and the tram service that served it were operated by the London County Council.  Later parts of this section are greener, running through a big park in Beckenham.

For the first time, we deviated from the ‘official’ division into sections, and tacked the walk through Crystal Palace, which should have been at the end of section 3, onto the beginning of section 4.  Crystal Palace Park has a TV transmitter tower built in the 1950s and still operating despite the digital switchover, it has a national sports centre, and it has a quite unexpected selection of Victorian replicas of dinosaurs.

Toothy dinosaur at Crystal Palace

The dinosaur display has been restored in recent years, but it was put together in the mid-19th century when palaentology, and the consequent scope to reconstruct what prehistoric creatures could look like based on the evidence of fossils, was still a very new science.  Ideas about how dinosaurs might have looked have changed over the years, but the display is still an intriguing insight into Victorian ideas about science as well as inspiring thoughts about what sort of primeval swamp would have occupied this part of south London when these creatures were around.

Section 4 is an attractive, green, rather hilly, stretch from Crystal Palace to Streatham Common, taking in some very pleasant parkland around Norwood and in Streatham itself.  And by this stage we had definitely crossed from south east to south west London.

Section 5 runs from Streatham Common to Wimbledon Park, and is where water starts to be important again.  First there’s another pumping station: like the ones in Stoke Newington and at Abbey Mills, it’s a flambouyant Victorian structure that tries to disguise its function.  This one’s in the style of a Moorish temple.

Streatham pumping station

Then there are ponds in Wandsworth Common, and right at the end of this section, the walk runs through Earlsfield around the River Wandle.  For years Earlsfield was dominated by light industry which grew up alongside the Wandle: many of the former industrial units now seem to be used for short term storage.

This section runs through Tooting and Wandsworth commons, so there’s plenty of ‘green’ as well as the ‘blue’ from the water.  There is some road walking as well, but much of that is pleasant and easy along quiet residential streets.

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