Capital Ring – Section 4

Crystal Palace to Streatham Common

Section 3 goes from Crystal Palace Station to Streatham Common, it is pretty short at 6.5km and has some spectacular long views at various point through the walk. Definitely one to choose on a clear day. On leaving the station and Crystal Palace Park, you cross over Anerley Hill Road and go up a steep hill to Palace Square, which has an interesting juxtaposition of posh 19th Century houses on one side and a 1960s council housing estate on the other. Continuing uphill, we soon reach Belvedere Road, which just has posh houses, one of which has a blue plaque marking the residence of Benjamin Waterhouse-Hawkins, the designer of the dinosaurs in Crystal Palace Park.

Belvedere Road, posh houses with a nice view.

Nest we go downhill through Westow Park which is a small park with a children’s playground, apparently this was the grounds of a young gentlemen’s school in the 19th Century, which is probably why the road when you exit the park is named College Green. From here you can see Norwood Recreation Park which we cross. Uphill after leaving we arrive at Beulah Hill, a busy road, but with some spectacular long-range views into central London.

London from Beulah Hill.

Next, we go down Biggin Hill, which has views southward, and a pathway between two houses leads us into Biggin Wood, another small remnant of the Great North Wood.

Norwood Grove is uphill once again. It is the grounds of Norwood Grove House a Grade II listed mansion with a beautiful Cedar tree and more southward views, this time towards Croydon, the number of cranes indicating that this skyline will get more crowded in the coming years.

Norwood Grove is joined to Streatham Common, the first part you reach is The Rookery, just to the left of the Capital Ring and this is a Grade II listed Historic Garden. It is certainly worth strolling through, it has ornamental ponds, beautiful old trees and attractive herbaceous borders. It was on this site that the “Streatham Springs” were discovered, and The Rookery was originally the grounds of a now demolished spa hotel. The grounds were bought by public subscription after the demolition of the house, in order to prevent them from being developed for new housing. The waters from Streatham Springs were said to be “beneficial in Bilious and Liver complaints, headaches, jaundice and digestion”. Just outside is “The Rookery Cafe” which serves teas, coffees, sandwiches and other dishes. It also has a vibrant community notice board.

From here Streatham Common slopes gently downhill towards the London Road, giving nice long views to the west. It also looks attractive from the road, its slope displaying the families out enjoying the sun during the summer. The Common has an annual kite day, regular fairs, a firework display in autumn and a large open-air nativity scene at Christmas. London is lucky to have so many, well maintained, green spaces for such a large city and Streatham Common is a fine example of this.

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Capital Ring Section 3

Grove Park to Crystal Palace – section 3 – is the longest on the Capital Ring. Starting at Grove Park Station we soon reach Railway Children Walk which commemorates the fact that the author E. Nesbitt lived nearby. There was very successful British film of the book in 1970, starring Jenny Agutter, and there have been many other adaptations since it was first serialized in “The London Magazine” in 1905.

14.8km Station to Station

Soon after this we arrive at Downham Woodland Walk, a narrow strip of woodland, which was once part of the Great North Wood. This itself was once part of the prehistoric forest that covered most of England, so many of the trees here are direct descendants of that forest. It does actually feel like a very old forest as you walk through it, although I guess that could be because I read about it before the walk.

Great North Wood

Just before you leave the wood there is a marker to let you know that you are crossing the Greenwich meridian line. Soon after, we come to Beckenham Place Park, crossing the Ravensbourne River by means of a humpbacked bridge. Legend has it that the river got its name because Roman soldiers were led to the spring at its source by a raven. This is a large park; we walk alongside a golf course and cross a railway track before we come to Beckenham Place Park Lake, which appears to be a popular spot for wild swimming.

Swimmers in Beckenham Place Park Lake

Up the hill from the lake is Beckenham Place Mansion. It was a fine house in its day, it is grade II listed. Now it belongs to Lewisham Council, who appear to be renovating it, although I have to say that it seems to be going on for years with little change. I have a similar picture from the 2010 walk, and it looks very much the same except that the scaffolding is in a different place on the building.

Beckenham Place Mansion

There is a section of residential streets before you reach a small but pretty park, Cator Park. It has two small rivers running through it, The Chaffinch and The Beck, tributaries of the Ravensbourne. It has a busy cafe, a playing field and nicely tended flower beds.

Fir trees Cator Park

The final section of the walk is through Crystal Palace Park. This is packed full of interest. It was built to hold The Crystal Palace, of the Great Exhibition of 1851, when it needed to be moved from Hyde Park. When it was built it was London’s most spectacular pleasure garden. It hosted firework displays, circuses, concerts and shows. It had fountains, cascades, statues, a maze and a miniature railway. The Crystal Palace itself was destroyed by fire in 1936 and was never replaced. Now it has a National Sports Centre with first class athletics and swimming facilities.

Crystal Palace Dinosaurs

The Dinosaur Court was built in 1854 and contained the first ever dinosaur sculptures in the world. Having spent most of the 20th Century out of favour, in 1973 they were made Grade II listed and following renovation early in the 21st Century they became Grade I listed in 2007, putting them in an exalted list with St. Paul’s Cathedral, Monument, The Bank of England and others. One of E. Nesbitt’s books, written in 1907, has a storyline where the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs come to life.

Brown and Green café

The Park has two very nice cafés too, both called Brown and Green, one at the Penge end of the park and one at the entrance to Crystal Palace railway station. The one at the lower end of the park was very busy with parents and children in buggies on the day I was there, but the one in the station had plenty of space and quick service. Crystal Palace station is the end of a long but satisfying walk full of interesting sights.

Mural on the wall of the Park Tavern Pub near Penge East Station

The Capital Ring, Section 2

Station to Station 9k

Falconwood to Grove Park is one of the shorter walks on the ring, I’m not sure how come it measured 9k on my app, when the ramblers site says they did it in 7.1k. I think they followed the direct route from the station to the footbridge whereas I followed the signposted path, which I have to admit looks a little more circuitous on the map. Start by walking in Eltham Park North, which changes to Eltham Park South once you cross the brutalist footbridge over the busy A2.

Falconwood Footbridge
Crocus in February in 2020

Next, we have a section of suburban streets. A typical London mixed income area, some posh houses and schools, with some modern new build, low rise blocks of flats, Eltham would be considered a reasonably well-off part of South London. Its big claim to fame is that it is the birthplace of Bob Hope. Conduit Meadow here. held the spring that fed the river Shuttle, although it is not visible here, and it provided the water for the nearby palace.

Conduit Head diverted the water from the spring to the palace

As the houses become older, the street names become more interesting, and we enter Tilt Yard Approach. This is a hint that we are arriving at a place of historical significance and sure enough as we go down the hill we see the walls and moat of Eltham Palace.

Eltham Palace moat
Art Deco door from inside the palace

This is a fantastic historical building. Now cared for by English Heritage, both the house and gardens are a treat to visit. It has great architectural items from two very distinct historical periods. It was the country residence of the Kings and queens of England from the 14th to 16th century and then in the early 20th Century it was bought by the Courtauld Family and is one of the beautifully preserved Art Deco buildings in the country.

Small Ornamental Garden, Eltham Palace

Past the Palace we go along King John’s walk, which is now a lane of stables and riding schools. It has a lovely juxtaposition of old and new with horses grazing before a classic London skyline. There are also some nice ornate wrought iron gates along this walkway. It also passes a large house, named Fairmont, that was once the home of the cricketer W.G. Grace.

Mottingham Farm
Donkeys in St John’s walk
Sad balloon in the Quaggy river

A brief walk College meadow, past football and cricket training pitches brings you to the nicely named, but less interesting to look at, Quaggy River. This is the end of section 2, and on to Grove Park station which brings you Back to London Bridge. Grove Park has a nice mural to Edith Nesbit, who wrote “The Railway Children”

Quaggy River
There is a Railway Children literary walk here.

The Capital Ring, Section 1

12.5km Station to Station

The official walk is from Woolwich foot tunnel to Falconwood bridge and is 11.7km. The nearest train stations are Woolwich Arsenal station and Falconwood station. This adds a little under a km to the walk and is well worth the extra because Woolwich Arsenal and Woolwich Market are both interesting in their own right. Also, Woolwich Arsenal is a station on the newly opened Elizabeth line.

Woolwich Market entry sign

The Woolwich Market sign is the first thing you will see on leaving the station and although it is possibly not as vibrant as it has been at times in the past, there has been a market in that square for over 400 years! Walk through the market, through Woolwich Arsenal, a mixture of ancient cannons and modern apartments and just before you arrive at the Thames you will come to a lovely piece of open-air art – “Assembly” by Peter Burke. When it was first installed, many people (including me) thought it was by Anthony Gormley, but although there is a similarity in their work (both brilliant), this is definitely more in Burke’s style.

Assembly by Peter Burke

Soon we arrive at the entrance to Woolwich Foot Tunnel which goes under the Thames. This is the official starting point and when we emerge from this in a few weeks’ time, it will signify the completion of the Capital Ring. It was built in 1912 and you are allowed to cycle through as well as walk. If you have a car or lorry there is the Woolwich Free Ferry, I guess this would also be an option if you were claustrophobic and did not wish to walk under the river. There has been a ferry at this point for possibly a thousand years, there is reference to it in the Doomsday book in 1086.

Woolwich Free Ferry

This part of the Thames was a Royal Naval Dockyard in the times of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Many of the most famous ship were built here including the Ark Royal, HMS Vanguard and HMS Beagle, made famous by Darwin’s voyage. The Thames Barrier has been here since 1984, built after the 1953 floods in which hundreds of people drowned.

This is where we leave the river and head south through a series of parks. Maryon Park and Maryon Wilson Park were both originally sandpits and Maryon Park was the setting for the 1966 film “Blow Up”. Next up is Charlton Park which holds Charlton House, which was the home of the aforementioned Maryon Wilson Family. It looks very imposing, a fine example of a Jacobean house, it was built in 1612.

Charlton House built 1612

Then we go through Hornfair Park, where the infamous Charlton Horn Fair used to happen until it was banned in the 19th Century because of continuous “unseemly behavior”. Tut, tut, those naughty Victorians! On to Woolwich Common where the Royal Military Academy was situated until it moved to Sandhurst in 1948. This is where Generals like Gordon, Kitchener and Wingate were trained. Off the Common we cross Shooters Hill, which could be named for the soldiers that used to train here or for the Highwaymen for which it was notorious. Dick Turpin plied his trade here.

Severndroog Castle

Next, we go through a series of woods. Castle Wood which holds the triangular, Severndroog Castle, which is named after a pirate fortress in 18th Century India. This is the highest point of the Capital ring, giving long views over south London. Jack Wood is an oak wood and has a beautiful carpet of leaves, if you manage to visit it in a season when it hasn’t been too wet.

Carpet of Leaves

Oxleas Meadows lead into Oxleas wood. Oxleas Meadows has a lovely cafe which does tea, coffee, sandwiches and hot food. This also has lovely long views over the South of London. Oxleas Wood has many ring-necked parakeets. Bright green and noisy, you are likely to see them in many places on the Capital Ring, but they are in abundance here.

View from Oxleas Wood

Finally, a walk through Eltham Park North to Falconwood footbridge and then left to Falconwood station to catch the train back to London Bridge. A lovely 12.5k walk through leafy south London and I would guess that less than 1k of it was on city streets. If you have a morning or afternoon to spare in London this is a great way to spend it!

Great London Walks – The Capital Ring

The Capital Ring is a 125km walk around London, mostly through parks and greenways, split into 15 parts – each starting and finishing near a bus, train or tube station. It is one of seven strategic London Walks that was part of a plan to make London the walking capital of Europe in the early 2000s. I don’t know what became of that plan, but the walks are still there. Leaflets were printed for each section of the Capital Ring and the London Loop at the time, which I still use, although London has much changed in the meantime, so I also use an updated downloadable map from Walk London as a backup these days.

Thames Barrier and London city skyline 2022
Thames Barrier and London city skyline 2010

I particularly like the Capital Ring series of walks as each section is manageable without taking up the whole day and it still brings you to interesting parts of London that you are unlikely to visit for another reason. It is quite well signposted, the signs have Big Ben in blue with a green ring, made up of arrows, around it.

Moorhens on the Union Canal

I first walked the Capital Ring in 2010 and again in 2017. I also walked it in 2020 when it was very quiet due to Covid, so this will be my fourth time round. It is interesting to see the things that have changed …. and the things that have remained the same. It has some lovely views, some stunning buildings and it always surprises me how green London is, for such a large city. Many of London’s parks have cafes in them and I enjoy their variety too.

Rookery Cafe community notice board

The Capital Ring is an iconic London walk, taking in many technological, architectural and historic locations during the course of its circumnavigation of the city. It starts and finishes at the Woolwich foot tunnel south side to the east of London and crosses Richmond Bridge to the west, it goes as far north as Finchley and visits Croydon and Crystal Palace to the south. It gives a lovely insight into the history and workings of London, and I am looking forward to walking the 15 sections. Hopefully I will get some unusual views of London and some photos of nature and architecture from London’s suburbia.

Hampstead Garden Suburb