The Capital Ring – Woolwich to Shooters Hill Part Two

The view back to ‘Charlton Riverside’ from the Thames Barrier Gardens

Dear Readers, after leaving the Thames Barrier we are now walking south from the river, through a variety of parks and open spaces. First up is Thames Barrier Gardens, where we encounter this cheeky chap. Honestly, grey squirrels sometimes remind me so much of glove puppets that it’s difficult not to laugh. Of course life is deadly serious for these animals at this time of year – grey squirrels don’t hibernate ‘properly’ and so they need to have enough nuts hidden away to last them every time they wake up in the winter. This squirrel seems to have one very perky ear, and one that is non-existent.

We pass a ramshackle building which sports this sign.

We walked round and round but there was no sign of any sculpture, let alone one that would be maliciously damaged. However, in trying to find out about it, I did find this project by Patrick McEvoy, which was commissioned during the pandemic. McEvoy tried to find some inventive ways of emphasising the social distancing rules, and these would certainly have made me chuckle. No sign of them now, sadly. McEvoy used themes that reflected the area’s maritime history, and I love the idea of the measurements being in carp or barrels rather than the drab ‘2 metres’. You can read the whole article here.

And then light dawns. I think that the sculpture must have been this one: Ash and Silk Wall, by Vong Phaophanit. It was apparently installed in 1993, and very beautiful it must have looked too. Sadly, in this semi-derelict area, far from any residential communities who could have felt ownership of it, the installation was apparently repeatedly vandalised, and even the illuminated bollards that lit the way to it were smashed. Having worked in community gardens and woodland over the past twenty years I’ve come to realise that it’s essential for the preservation of these amenities that local people are involved in any decisions about what goes on in them. Clearly, this didn’t happen here, and there was no one to speak out and protect it.

Ash and Silk Wall by Vong Phaophanit – Photo by Colleen Chantier ART on File from

Onwards! We head to a main road and cross into Maryon Park, closely followed by Maryon Wilson Park. These parks were named for the Maryon Wilson family who lived in nearby Charlton House, but they were originally part of Hanging Wood, which included a number of sandpits (before carpets became affordable for ordinary people, sand was a popular floor covering). Hanging Wood was also a hideout for highwaymen who frequented Blackheath and Shooters Hill. However, it most likely wasn’t named after what would happen to the Highwaymen, but because of the steepness of its slopes, so that the trees appeared to be ‘hanging’. The park was featured in Michaelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 film ‘Blow-up’ which featured David Hemmings as a photographer who accidentally photographs a murder scene. Although the film features a fine roster of British actors of the time (Sarah Miles, Jane Birkin, Vanessa Redgrave, Peter Bowles and Janet Street-Porter as an uncredited dancing girl), the scene where Hemmings photographs a writhing Verushchka is maybe the film’s most famous scene, and the source of a hundred parodies.

This is a very quiet park, with some fine mature trees. When we were there, the only sound was the thwack of tennis balls from the nearby courts, and the squawking of the inevitable ring-necked parakeets in the trees opposite.

This ash tree did look on the verge of toppling though and so we passed under it with some alacrity.

There are some really magnificent specimen trees, including this Spanish chestnut. Maybe the parakeets were keeping an eye on it and waiting for ripeness.

Normally we would stride energetically up a flight of 101 steps at this point, but sadly they’re under repair, so instead we had to make a gentle meander up a gradual slope. We cross the road and are now out of Maryon Park and into Maryon Wilson Park, which has a small childrens’ zoo, featuring some Kune Kune pigs, sheep and a wide variety of waterfowl, all impossible to photograph through the fine mesh fence.

And now we turn into Charlton Park, site of Charlton House, one of the finest examples of Jacobean architecture in the country. This is one of those places that I’m sure we’ll be back to visit properly. The house was completed in 1612 and used to be the site of the annual Horn Fair. Sadly, this became such a scene of drunkenness and general buffonery that it was banned in 1812, though it has made a more genteel come back in recent years.

We walk along a grassy path between the trees and the young footballers taking their exercise.

When we leave the park, this modest road is named for the garden designer who worked on the grounds of Charlton House, Inigo Jones.

The next little park (called Horn Fair Park) has a very nice BMX track, but is otherwise quite non-descript although, if you look back, you can see Canary Wharf peeking through the houses.

We cross another road and we’re on Woolwich Common. For some reason I was rather taken by these bollards – they remind me of corten steel, the pre-rusted steel cladding that is so popular amongst architects these days.

Woolwich Common has a long involvement with the military – this is where the soldiers used to group before picking up their munitions from Woolwich Arsenal and boarding their ships in the docks. It has an open and airy feeling, and for a few minutes there I thought I was in Dorset rather than Zone 4.

And look, molehills! How exciting. I have seen many a molehill, but never one of the ‘velvet gentlemen’.

There’s a largish flock of crows picking over the molehills – I imagine that quite a lot of small insects are disturbed by the activity of the mole, and I sense that these intelligent birds are taking advantage.

I get very excited about this bird – is it an immature stonechat? On second look, I’m fairly certain that it’s a dunnock, behaving like a stonechat. They can be dastardly like that.

There was clearly some bother here during the summer, though –  there is quite an extensive burnt area. Fortunately it looks as if it’s regenerating.

And then we’re at Shooter’s Hill, and heading off to catch the bus, having run out of time for this particular bit of the walk. There’s always so much to see, and of course so much coffee to drink and cake to appreciate. When we get the bus we head off not towards Woolwich (which would be sensible) but towards North Greenwich, so we get a fine tour not only of IKEA and TK Maxx but also Primark in the ‘Millenium Village’ Complex. Still, it’s been a lovely walk, and to end with here’s a photo of the haws on the hawthorn on Woolwich Common. They should keep the birds happy for quite some time.

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