Last November I spent a couple of days in South London, and was lucky enough that this was ‘time off’. So I was able to enjoy much of my time just walking. I was in an area I didn’t know well, and how better to get to know it than by walking the streets?
But what I found that impressed me most wasn’t so much the streets (though there was plenty there to impress and interest), but the strings of green pearls that are the parks that seemed to be everywhere.
I set off mid-morning at the Horniman Museum – an eclectic collection of all sorts of things housed in an interesting building, surrounded by a beautiful (public) park with a fabulous view out towards and across central London. The park is a beautiful place, with careful plantings and installations illustrating themes that tie in with the museum exhibits (e.g. the food gardens; the dye garden; the outdoor musical instruments. There is a small ‘petting farm’ and play parks, and it’s altogether a most inviting place to visit whether alone or in a group, adults or children. And of course there is a very nice cafe.
From there it was a relatively short walk uphill to Crystal Palace Park. When I mention Crystal Palace, if you know London I expect you’ll think of the mast below.
But I wonder if you know that in fact the area is named to mark it becoming home in 1854 to the ‘Crystal Palace’ built in Hyde Park for the Great Exhibition of 1851?
Sadly what must have been a magnificent glass and steel building was destroyed by fire in 1936, and today all that remains is the massive concrete footprint. Like many of the impressive glass houses of the time, this one was designed by Joseph Paxton, and when the government refused to agree to it remaining in Hyde Park, he set up a company to buy the land which is now Crystal Palace Park, and to buy and move the Crystal Palace. The design of the park was lavish and expensive, and the Crystal Palace was re-opened by Queen Victoria herself.
The park was a Victorian Pleasure Ground, which unfortunately is now a shadow of its original self but nonetheless well worth visiting. There is a maze (which somehow I missed), lakes, woodland, another small ‘petting farm’, play parks, and lots of open spaces. Oh, and the Victorian dinosaurs.
And a cafe that looked rather tired from the outside but actually served very delicious food (a wonderful warming home-made spiced squash soup that day). I walked the whole perimeter of the park, before setting off to return downhill to the Horniman Park.
On my way I explored some of the back streets of the Crystal Palace area, and found some intriguing nooks and crannies.
Then I walked most of the way back through a series of small linear parks and local woodlands, including one with this folly hidden in a wooded valley.
This was an exercise in walking from park to park – from Forest Hill to the Elephant and Castle, taking in four parks in all, each of them new to me. And what lovely parks they were too.
The first one I came across was Brenchley Gardens, not a park about which I’ve been able to find any information but a pleasant strip of garden, with trees, roses, benches, and a man steam-cleaning the path (no, I’ve never heard of this either. We had a chat and he kindly explained to me how it works to kill the weeds whilst avoiding chemicals).
Then on to Peckham Rye Park, with a hidden jewel of a formal garden tucked away in the middle. And a cafe – just the right timing for lunch (surrounded by a good mix of families and children, people working on their laptops, and people just sitting enjoying being there).
A walk through Peckham taking in the famous library and enjoying multi-coloured views across to central London, then the next park was a linear one along the bed of a former canal – the Surrey Canal, complete with some original canal bridges. And a great Community Garden at the far end, just before I (and the old canal) crossed the road to go into Burgess Park.
My first impression of Burgess Park was of a large open space enclosing a lake (reservoir?) with a path running through it – the continuation of the former canal bed, again complete with some of the original bridges. But first impressions rarely tell the whole story, and once again I came across a hidden and unexpected gem of a garden, this time tucked behind some former almshouses. Oh yet another cafe (though this one was closed when I arrived – another reason to go back some other time).
To sum it up
And my point is? Well, this was two days of exploring with no aim and no plan, in a city I thought I already knew well. There was so much to see that was new to me. I had time to spend, but other than that spent very little for two days of delight and fascination.
I could have done something similar in any city or rural area. Exploring on your doorstep is yours for the taking. I’ve had many years doing it. Apparently now doing it in cities is a thing called Urban Rambling. But really, all it is, is stepping outside your front door, putting one foot in front of the other, and seeing where your feet, your eyes and your nose take you.
If you haven’t already, give it a go. Who knows what you will find?
(It turns out that some of my Day 2 walk was part of a recognised and signed walk – Capital Green Chain. But I prefer my String of Green Pearls).
Oh, and my profound thanks to all of the gardeners, several of whom I was privileged to meet and speak with on my walks, and they agreed to be photographed.