Dear Readers, this section of the Capital Ring is only about 4 miles long, but it’s packed with interest – there were points during today’s walk when I found it hard to believe that I was still in London. We started from Falconwood Station, and soon found ourselves in Eltham Park. There is a splendid avenue of horse chestnuts, but some of them have clearly succumbed to honey fungus.
But what is this? Someone has left an adorable painted stone. It made my day, and I left it there so it could make somebody else’s day too.
There are some very fine sweet chestnuts here as well, some of them full of parakeets. South London seems to be the epicentre of the ring-necked parakeet population, and I noticed that they seemed to like the chestnut trees very much. I also noticed how some of the sweet chestnuts had clearly rotated as young trees, with spiral patterns in the bark.
And there were some fine lone poplars too.
I popped into the ladies, only to find that one of the toilets was inhabited by a very shy workman. He’d gone in to fix a cistern but once women popped in to use the other cubicles he was too embarrassed to show himself, and was shouting instructions to his young apprentice to get him to try to direct other ladies in the direction of the disabled toilets. Bless. I made a discreet exit, and hopefully he was finally able to emerge and get his work done.
On we go, in the general direction of Eltham Palace. This was a very important London house, and the first indication that we pass is called Conduit Head – it used to house the sluice gates that controlled the water for the estate. Eltham Palace housed a fine array of Tudors, including Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, and was visited by Sir Thomas More and Cardinal Wolsey. It was ransacked by Cromwell during the Civil War, but then had a new lease of life when it was bought by the Courtaulds and transformed into an Art Deco masterpiece. Indeed, it deserves a visit and a blog post all to itself, but for now let’s continue with the walk.
We pass Holy Trinity Church, which has a chapel dedicated to the dead of Gallipoli. It seems very busy today.
Then I notice that this shrub is full of harlequin ladybird larvae – I see at least four on one branch. These beetles are certainly making themselves at home.
The edge of Eltham Palace is approached via Tilt Yard Lane – a tilt yard was a place for jousting competitions. I love the way that the Tudor bricks have become mini-habitats for all kinds of plants.
We reach the entrance to Eltham Palace itself, but that’s as far as we’re getting without paying. Another day, perhaps. After all, it has a very impressive Great Hall, which was left intact after its 1920s restoration.
I always fancied a house with a moat, having read Roger Deakin, the nature writer, who used to go for a swim in his moat every morning. I can’t see it happening in the County Roads sadly, but a woman can dream.
And how about this very splendid Tudor mansion just opposite Eltham Palace? This dates back to the early 16th Century and was where the Lord Chancellor actually lived, so it housed Sir Thomas More and Cardinal Wolsey. It all makes me very nostalgic for Wolf Hall, and extremely sad to think that Hilary Mantel has died much too young. She was one of my favourite writers, and I mourn her passing very much.
Next, we wander down a lane called King John’s Walk – it’s apparently named for King Jean II of France, who was held captive during the 14th Century and used to take his exercise along this lane. After a few hundred yards, I could be in the countryside. The Capital Ring is so full of contrasts and interest. Look at this little lot – I don’t recall ever seeing so many horses in London outside of the Royal International Horse Show that used to be held in Earl’s Court every year.
And yes, in the background is the Shard. There are fantastic views from the crest of the hill.
We cross a railway line, and I am most impressed by the Virginia Creeper on one end….
..and the mile-a-minute vine (Russian Vine) on the other side. This seems to be the ‘weed of choice’ for this part of south London – I’m always intrigued by how common weeds in one part of London turn into completely different plants once you move a few miles.
Then we progress past the vast playing fields of Eltham College. No tarmac playgrounds here! Just acres and acres of rolling green sward. There’s a riding school opposite the entrance too (so that explains all the horses).
And look at this tree! It has grown through the fence, absorbing the metal as it does. I love how resilient these organisms are.
And finally, we pass the culverted River Quaggy (which sounds a bit like something from Father Ted, but is actually a tributary of the Ravensbourne River). At the moment it is a trickle of a few inches, but the height of the concrete suggests that it might get a lot more ‘interesting’ after heavy rainfall.
And then it’s off to Grove Park station for a well-earned cuppa and a train back to Charing Cross. The next leg is from Grove Park to Crystal Palace, quite a long haul, so I suspect we’ll break it into two. But for now it’s home before the rain starts.