London

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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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London

Cool summer evening stroll

Today was cool and rainy so I headed for the tree covered cemetery in Nunhead. The wind had at least subsided, but a light jacket was still needed.

With the rain, everything is so green and was beautiful in the soft light. Too bad my cell phone camera struggled to capture it.

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Richmond Park perimeter: the Tamsin Trail

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Richmond Park is one of London’s best known parks. The Tamsin Trail follows its perimeter, for a total of about 7.5 miles. The Park is also one of the most popular and was packed on a sunny Sunday afternoon in mid-Summer. It was warm and there wasn’t a lot of shade and the trail was busy with mountain bikes (you could get by with a road bike in dry weather). There were however wide open vistas of grasslands and patches of wood, a creek that appeared to be free-flowing, and the best of all, deer. As I walked, I made sure to scan the horizon for antlers, but the deer were easy to spot. Just look for a bunch of people stopped with their cameras. The deer were all huddled under a shaded tree and not at all bothered by the bikes and dogs going by.

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This was my second visit to Richmond Park and quite different than my first which was in late-Autumn/early-Winter. It was a cool day and I had the Park largely to myself. The deer were grazing out in the open and the trees were bare.

In both seasons the Park is beautiful, but I do prefer having it to myself. It can take a while to get to on public transport from East London, but if you’re in the West, it won’t take long at all. It is well served by the tube, Overground and buses. The walk from Richmond Station is really nice too. There are multiple gates so you can come through from Wimbledon or many other entry points.

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Hiking in Kent

Just a short train ride south of London are hundreds of trails through the Kent countryside. Mostly passing through woods, rolling meadows and farmland.

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Did I mention cake? There are also a few villages with lovely cake shops to fuel your miles. And pubs with ale en route. No need to pack a picnic. Although next time I certainly will with all the beautiful places to sit and enjoy the view.

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Surrey cycleway and pannier-filled picnic

With a string of sunny weekends, it was a great opportunity to try out my new rack and panniers. A picnic packed into my two front-sized panniers, but placed on the rear, was a perfect weight and handling introduction for riding around rolling Surrey.Image  

It was surprising how comfortable the extra weight felt, despite an enormous packed lunch for the two of us. There was a slight bit more twitchiness at the front, especially on the uphill stretches, but overall I was impressed with Surly’s handling.

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The route was rolling on wider lanes than I would have liked, more like roads than lanes really. It felt quite different than the peaceful empty lanes of Kent, but it could have just been the part of Surrey we were in (near Box Hill). There are probably plenty of super quiet lanes in Surrey waiting to be found. My riding partner got stuck with a flat early on that used up all our air canisters, which meant a long detour back to the bike shop at Box Hill Railway Station. 

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After that we really deserved our picnic, but it was a bit tricky to find a nice shady spot off the busy-ish road we were on and ended up stopping in a village square under two large trees. A lovely spot to refuel. Then because we are both sweet tooths, we cycled as fast as I possibly could to Brockham where there is a Sunday afternoon tea served on the village green. Cakes of all kinds — the Victoria sponge was amazing — and hot tea was the perfect near finish to our ride.Image

 

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Victoria Park, I will miss you

You helped me settle in to this giant concrete landscape.

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You have been my place of escape in the mostly urban centre of where I live. I’ve visited you almost weekly for the last year and a half. It is you that I will miss the most. Not Broadway Market or the Hoxton coffee shops.

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Exploring South London: a trip to Peckham and Dulwich

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Spring seems to have arrived before winter has begun. It may be a result of global warming, but it is helping me to adjust to climes this far north. Without any rain forecast between midday and late-afternoon, it was a great opportunity to explore parts of London that I have never been. With Peckham being the new Hoxton (where I currently live), it seemed like a great place to start exploring South of the River.

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Peckham, known for its grittiness, was not what I expected at all. Starting at Peckham Rye Station (a breezy 20 minutes from Hoxton on the Overground), I ventured onto Rye Lane (pedestrians and buses only), but busy with everyone gathering produce from the numerous veggie stands. Whole dried fish hang from doorway markets as well as so many fresh vegetables that I have never even heard of. It was like stepping into another world, but in a good way. Such a vibrant market street. More so than Hoxton, which feels like it is on the way out with hipster cafes popping up recently. 

From there I wandered past the award winning Peckham Library (stunning building!), would have gone in, but there was a protest happening out front. Made me fall in love with the place even more. Next onto Bellenden Road packed with bakeries, cafes, bookstore, bike shops — a lovely relaxed feel. Then through the neighborhood, slightly elevated feel with much more open skies than in flat East London. Peckham Rye Common was a treat, wide open spaces leading into gardens with ponds, snowdrops and blossoming trees.

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From Peckham Rye Common, it was a lovely uphill stroll (then down) to Dulwich Park. One thing I love about English parks, is that they all have yummy cafes. Feeling cold and weary from wandering in the grey, stop in and have a coffee and cake anytime. It’s amazing. 

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Dulwich Village was a bit pretentious with chain store type restaurants. But, East Dulwich, particularly Lordship Lane, was spectacular. An independent butcher with a line around the block, tonnes of cafes, pubs, restaurants, a great goodwill shop, and everything you would need. It is only a five minute walk or so from Bellenden Road in Peckham. Easy to get to and I will be back!

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