The second chunk of my round-London-on-foot odyssey wasn’t, to be honest, a soaraway success. I had company this time, but my strolling companion found his feet ripped to shreds by his walking boots. The suburban calm of Penge was punctuated with the sounds of OW! as he battled bravely to the end. And my camera obligingly conked out somewhere around Beckenham, so some of the shots here have been given a crude bit of Photoshopping to pep them up a bit.
Picking up from where I left off at Baring Road, Grove Park, the walk passes down Railway Children Walk – author Edith Nesbit lived nearby – and into a little nature reserve. Up and over the railway line, and into Downham, now a largely unloved suburb, but built between the wars as a development of neat council houses. Until the 1920s, it really was all fields around here – this being the old London/Kent boundary – and while the area these days doesn’t have the best of reputations, the back streets are neat, tidy, and innocuous enough.
It does have one hidden gem, though – the Downham Woodland Walk, a narrow strip which is a remnant of the old Great North Wood, which covered a great chunk of what’s now south London. A lot of thought’s clearly gone into maintaining the wood and making it a space for the community – from little tracks on the ground to tree stumps shaped like tea cups. It’s all rather sweet.
Across the Bromley Road, down some back roads, and into Beckenham Place Park, an impressive open space which is part grassland, part woodland, and part golf course. Unfortunately, the signage for the Capital Ring is pretty dire here and we ended up marching off in the wrong direction, although we soon picked up our steps again. Beckenham Place, dating back to the 18th century, isn’t the prettiest of old houses, but it’s a reminder of how south London’s gentry – in this case timber merchant John Cator – used to live. Some of the materials in Beckenham Place, including its portico, came from Wricklemarsh House, Blackheath, which Cator had bought some years earlier and demolished, and whose family later developed the still-private Cator Estate on the land.
Out of the park, down gravelly Stumps Hill Lane and to Kent County Cricket Club’s sleepy south London ground. The team’s main base is in Canterbury, but some Twenty20 matches are played here and there’s a fair bit of community work done here. Less welcome is the sight of Crystal Palace‘s training ground next door. And after that, the walk becomes little more than a meander through neat suburban streets, with diversions to go through well-kept parks. It’s all very agreeable, but it’s a bit like completing a dot-to-dot puzzle on foot.
It was at this point my camera gave up the ghost, but to be honest there isn’t too much to record here. Cator Park is very nice and contains the Beck – the stream which gives Beckenham its name – and the Chaffinch Brook, which had a bright blue kids’ bike dumped in the middle. A little alley contains two stern warnings from the borough of Beckenham’s town clerk that cycling will incur a £5 fine, and at Alexandra Recreation Ground, the Crystal Palace TV mast looms into view. The end is nigh. Over Penge East station, past Penge West, into the park, and that’s it.
I like Crystal Palace Park – the remnants of the old glass palace give the place a haunted feel, even if it’s a bright, sunny day. Incredibly, Bromley Council wanted to build a multiplex here. It commands great views out towards Kent and Surrey and, for me, it marks the end of familiar territory. From here, the next steps are into Norbury, and into Streatham. When the sun starts shining again, that is. And hopefully with a working camera…