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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.