Exploring the Capital Ring

John Goodier goes into orbit around London

The triangular Severndroog Castle, Eltham.

The tower was erected in 1784 to commemorate the naval exploits in the East Indies of Commodore William James, Bt. In 1986 the tower passed from the old GLC to the LB Greenwich, who closed It to the public. Recently moves have started to have it re-opened.

Over the Easter holiday I walked the Capital Ring. A few people do the 75 miles as an endurance walk; most people walk it using the 15 separate walks into which it is divided, maybe even splitting some of the longer sections.

The Ring includes some well-known open spaces: Richmond Park, Wimbledon Common, and Crystal Palace, to which the Ring provides a good introduction, if you have not explored them before. It also includes sections of other walks - the Thames Path, Green Chain, canal walks and the Greenway and is a good introduction to these.

There are also many lesser known open spaces to which I would like to introduce you.

Starting at Woolwich

By convention the Ring begins at Woolwich, so very soon one comes to Maryon Park and Maryon Wilson Park in Charlton. The first is a worked-out gravel pit with a long flight of steps up to the second park, which is well wooded. On across the grounds of Charlton House and Woolwich Common brings us to Eltham Common and Severndroog Castle in the woods. The great surprises here are the rose garden of Castlewood House and, a bit further on, the garden of Jackwood House.  Both houses went in the 1920s but the gardens are maintained.  The next garden is Eltham Park with its lake, which was once for boating but is now a water fowl refuge.

Skirting Eltham Palace you join the Quaggy, which drives home the point made by some readers that I had underdescribed the far reaches of the Quaggy in the last issue of London Landscapes.

The Ravensbourne is met in Beckenham Place Park, where John Cator's mansion still stands. Further along the walk in Cator Park, once the gardens of Kent House, you cross two small streams which join to form the Pool, which joins the Ravensbourne at Catford. 

The walk soon leaves the Ravensbourne catchment and crosses several ranges of hills on its way to Streatham and Wimbledon, At Upper Norwood the park rolls down one of these hills giving fine views. A man out for a stroll with his dog told me the drinking fountain did not work, which the guidebook had already informed me. Also that there was once a bandstand, which was not mentioned.

Biggin Wood at Norbury is a fragment of the Great North Wood, which stretched from Croydon to Deptford. Earlier the walk had gone through other fragments, but these were little more than wooded paths with some interesting sculptural seats and community art.

From here to Richmond is fairly well known; but Durnsford Road recreation ground, typical of small parks in inner, London, appears to have recently been given a renewal, so it will be worth going back to see how it develops.

North of the Thames

North of the Thames the Ring follows the Grand Union Canal to Horsenden Hill. It then climbs to the top of this through old hornbeam woodland.

On via Harrow to Barn Hill, passing through Preston Park on the way. This is a typical, small, outer London Park. As the houses here have bigger gardens, the park is less used for informal games and so is more densely planted. Barn Hill is part of the Fryent Country Park. It is bisected by a main road but just before that it crosses an ancient track called Eldestrete. To the west the land retains remnants of the field strips; in the eastern part ancient hedges remain and the path takes you along several of these. Although it is all rather wild now, Barn Hill was a part of the landscape of Wembley Park, a lost Repton design.

Via the Welsh Harp and Hendon Park the walk joins the Mutton Brook, a series of informal and formal areas that run just north of Hampstead Garden Suburb.

The next landscapes of interest are the fragments of the Forest of Middlesex - Cherry Tree Wood, Highgate Wood and Queens Wood. Along a disused railway to Finsbury and Clissold Parks; then to Abney Park Cemetery and Springfield Park.

This brings us to the River Lea. To the east Walthamstow Marsh, a nature reserve, and then Hackney Marsh, given over to football, give a sense of space. At Stratford Marsh the Ring follows the Greenway which is the top of the North Outfall Sewer. It is a well-used open space with cyclists, walkers (with or without dogs) and line- and roller-skaters.

This takes us to Beckton through a park made on flat marsh land once designated for expansion of the Royal Docks. The surface undulates and there are many fine trees.

At Gallions Reach the walk follows a footpath across the entrance locks of the Royal Docks; a lonely path through land that will one day be developed but is now covered in shrubs. This brings you to North Woolwich and so through the foot tunnel (or cheat and use the ferry) to complete the circuit.

Most of the 15 sections have a leaflet map and there is a very good guide by Colin Sanders (published by Aurum Press 2003) and most of the route is very well signposted. It is a great introduction to areas of London and to landscape types. Perhaps we could include some sections in the summer walks programme?