The Green Chain and Waterlink Way Loop: an introduction to leafy South-East London

On a rainy bank holiday in late-May after just moving to South-East London, I decided to explore my new neighborhood. In my three days resident here, I had already managed to spot the Green Chain signs and just could not resist setting off, despite the forecast for rain and the boxes still strewn around the house.


The Green Chain Walk is a 50 mile route connecting green spaces throughout South East London. I chose to do the Nunhead Cemetary to Crystal Palace section (5.5 miles) and to make it a loop, join up with the Waterlink Way following the River Poole back up to Nunhead/Brockley.

With a rain jacket, cross trainers, and a fully charged phone with the last section of the green chain walk cached, I was out the door by early afternoon. That’s the beauty of doing an urban walk, you can leave your house later in the day with time to fit in a big brunch to fuel your walk.

The first greenspace is Nunhead Cemetery, which the woods have reclaimed since its abandonment in the 1960s-70s. It is full of elaborate headstones peaking out beneath all the wild growth. Birdsong and fluttering wings follow you through the reserve. It started to rain slightly, but the high branches provided enough shelter to keep me dry. A great place for a walk on a rainy day.


From there it goes into a short leafy residential area to the Camberwell New and Old Cemeteries, full of roses. If you’re in a hurry, you could skip this bit and go straight on to One Tree Hill. Yes, there is a hill in inner London and it has stunning views over the city. You can even see St Paul’s Cathedral. If you have a stroller or prefer to avoid steps you can go through the beautiful Brenchley gardens instead (this option is signposted). By that point, I was really impressed with the signage. It is possibly the best I’ve come across. I didn’t need to use my map once and I’m completely new to South London.

There are some more hills leading through residential areas to the Horniman Museum gardens. To the museum would be a great walk that’s accessible for families with strollers. After the museum, the trails through Sydenham Wood are full of steps and steep bits.


The Cox Trail uses an old railway line, which was beautiful and largely empty. It was such a treat having the woods to myself. Something that never happened while living near Victoria Park in the East. This section was a definite highlight of the walk, and I am very pleased that it is so close to home.

Crystal Palace Park was easily reached within 2 hours at quite a slow pace with lots of stops for pictures. I did however, keep to the track despite all the temptations to explore the myriad of trails in the various greenspaces along the way. You could easily double that time, if you wished, and take advantage of all the trail opportunities. I’d recommend at least exploring more of Nunhead Cemetery while you’re there.


From Crystal Palace, I headed across the residential area to the Pool River, leaving the Green Chain Walk behind. The best place to start is from Lower Sydenham, near the Station. It’s called the Waterlink Way and continues all the way to Greenwich.


The River is the first I’ve seen in London and the track is very well maintained. Look out for a narrow dirt track off the main route that follows close to the river for a more scenic option. Again, this was a really quiet and peaceful walk. The Waterlink Way would be perfect for bikes too. A nice place to ride without car or people traffic, unlike the busy canal routes in the East.

From the Waterlink Way, you can cut across to Brockley’s Hilly Fields, also with good views. Stop for a coffee and cake at one of nice cafes in Brockley. Or, grab picnic supplies from the supermarkets on the corner of St Asaph Rd, including a nice little organic shop and a Sainsburys. Then continue up to Telegraph Hill Park, about ten minutes from Brockley Station and enjoy a well deserved rest on the benches overlooking London. A better view than Primrose Hill.

There were some nice picnic spots en route and I discovered a lot of blackberry patches to return to in autumn. It was a great half-day out totaling about 5 hours of walking over approximately ten miles.

You can find this walk and other short walks through the ebook The Insider’s Guide to Walking in London (available for free download).


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