The Capital Ring – Downham to Beckenham Junction

The entrance to Beckenham Place Park

Dear Readers, after our lunch in Downham yesterday we headed off for the last part of the walk, which is in Beckenham Place Park. One thing that I love about the Capital Ring is that I’ve visited places that I had no idea existed, and this was one of them. It’s the largest green space in Lewisham, and was originally founded in the eighteenth century by John Cator the Younger. He was a timber merchant, and many of the trees in the estate are sweet chestnut, grown not for food but for their wood. However, he also planted many other trees, including what was for a while the second oldest turkey oak tree in the UK (this tree eventually succumbed to wind, old age and vandalism in 2002).

We crossed the Ravensbourne, a stream that wends its slow way to the Thames at Deptford Creek. Apparently it was so named after Caesar’s army, camping at nearby Keston, noticed some ravens behaving strangely and, following them, found a spring.

The Ravensbourne

The estate originally had a large lake, which was filled in when part of the park became a municipally owned golf course in 1929. In 2019, the golf course was closed and the lake reinstated. What, though, to do with all the soil and rocks that had to be dug out? The ziggurat below was the result. Apparently from the top you get a good view of the railway line.

The Mounded Garden

On we go, through the woods. There are some areas where the sweet chestnut is being coppiced, which allows the light to penetrate to the forest floor. This in turn ‘wakes up’ any slumbering plants in the seedbed, and encourages biodiversity.

Sweet chestnut coppice

The way that trees lose their leaves always fascinates me. Some seem to start to yellow tentatively, as if just kissed by the sun.

Others go for it, and turn golden it what feels like the blink of an eye, like this tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera).

As we get out of the wood, and pass the reinstated lake (where people are learning to paddleboard, which looks like a most precarious exercise, though I imagine it’s very satisfying once you can stay upright) we get our first view of Beckenham Place Mansion. It looks very imposing, sitting there on the top of the hill. These days it’s a community centre and I suspect a wedding venue, judging by the number of very impressively-dressed people heading towards it.

We pass a giant red plaster squirrel with a most endearing expression.

And this is a very fine, and I suspect very aged, black mulberry tree.

There is a café in the old coach house which gets very good reviews. By now I was a bit footsore though, and we decided not to indulge (again) but instead to head towards Beckenham Junction station, for a train to Victoria and home.

We had been hearing cheery, loud music, and the reason why soon became clear. I remember how excited we used to get as children when the Fun Fair came to Wanstead Flats, close to where we lived in Stratford. The smell of popcorn and frying onions, the lights, the sounds of all the different rides still get my pulse racing. Strangely enough, although I’m still game for a rollercoaster, I can no longer deal with Waltzers or even the Galloping Horses, as I find I get dizzy and nauseous with all that going round and round. Still, it’s lovely to see other people enjoying it all.

The view of the front of the Mansion is even more impressive than the side view. There was a catering van pulled up in front, and as we got to the main road a woman in full- length red brocade stepped out of a small electric car and headed up the hill, a most impressive sight.

Next week (weather, train strikes and feet willing) we’re off to Crystal Palace to see the dinosaurs!

3 thoughts on “The Capital Ring – Downham to Beckenham Junction

  1. Alittlebitoutoffocus

    Your description of the sounds, flashing lights and smells of the fair, remind of the times (usually on a dark wintry night in November) when we used to head along to Hull Fair – reputed to be the largest fair in the country (much disputed by the Nottingham Goose fair of course, but no matter…) The stalls ran the length of Walton street (which I imagined was about a mile long, but having just measured it, it was only half that length) with the waltzers, dodgems, etc. at the far end. We always came away with either a coconut, some candy floss or a toffee apple. Happy days!

  2. Amanda Scott

    I used to live in Penge, not very far from Beckenham Place Park, and visited the park often. Thank you for reminding me, through your words and photographs, of how lovely it is!


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