An Eye On London

"The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren and to do good is my religion." Thomas Paine

Monthly Archives: August 2012

No sense of ‘…being shut up inside South London’

Leg 2 Falconwood to Grove Park (3.4 miles or 5.4km)

The best view of London from the South and to all points North,West and East of the city is from the General Wolfe1 statue in Greenwich Park. At the top of a gruelling hill climb the visitor stands outside the Observatory astride the bifurcating line of the Meridian which is cauterized into the cobbles and asphalt. The burgeoning peaks of Canary Wharf loom before you like something from a Christopher Nolan set or the Metropolis conjured drawn from Fritz Lang’s imagination one inspirational day in Weimar Germany torn apart between two wars. From this eyrie London is set out before you.

From Clapham Common there is no view of London stretching before you hemmed in as you are by the touching trees and paths, traffic and five-story houses that guard the perimeter of the Common. In an article for the LRB Will Self, a denizen of these parts, remarked upon his lack of vision from the Common:

‘..there’s no real prospect of the city afforded – as, say, from Primrose Hill in the north – and if you’re inclined to claustrophobia, the very expanse seems paradoxically to reinforce a sense of being shut up inside South London.’2

Striding along the Capital Ring in the borough of Bromley you emerge from the coiffured lanes of a pampered suburb and step inside a Plantagenet masterpiece which is Eltham Palace. Later it became a hunting palace for Henry VIII before it was built upon by a modern king of commerce. The art-deco addendum pays homage to the wealth of the textile magnate of the 1930s, the Courtauld family. They made a good job of restoring the grounds and the interior of the buildings with their restoration of Eltham Palace.

The verdant fields of the South London suburbs stretch out before you and following the horizon your eyes are guided to the vertiginous peaks of London. Like looking at the Shard through the wrong end of an eyepiece. Though highlights are short on this leg and you may view houses that you think don’t belong in South London there is a genuine sense of surprise when you stumble across the Palace. Make sure you go inside as it’s always worthwhile supporting the fine work of English Heritage and, if for no other reason, there is a superb cafe with waitress service modelled on a Lyon’s tea house of the art-deco period.3


‘Walking is the best way to explore and exploit the city…

Iain Sinclair, if you didn’t already know, is a fine writer and a fine writer of walks neatly dovetailing with his wider understanding of poetry, film, literature and life. He has a distinct vision of London as do I. His vision is one and mine is another. We all view our city through eyes filtering memories and connecting neurons and it is these unique experiences that inform what we write about.

Here’s what Iain Sinclair has to say about why walking is the best way to view your town:

‘’…the changes, shifts breaks in the cloud helmet, movement of light on water. Drifting purposefully is the recommended mode, tramping asphalted earth in alert reverie, allowing the fiction of an underlying pattern to reveal itself…Walking, moving across a retreating townscape, stitches it all together…’ Iain Sinclair Lights Out For The Territory (1997)

How do we imagine The Brent River Valley?

Part of the bank below Bittern’s Field along the Brent River Valley which was underwater days before.

Leg 8 Osterley Lock to Greenford (4.8 miles or 7.8km)

It requires no effort for Londoners to become detached from the land on which the streets and roads that we daily traverse are built. We know that if we walk a path or a pavement or a road or a track it will take us to our destination though the land on which such routes are built flows in a different direction beneath our feet. Through jaded eyes we view London as a flat plan view map and a series of lines, grids, symbols and colours on a map and grow accustomed to travelling with our finger along coloured lines punctuated with the names of streets, roads or places of interest. Often we fail to note the topography of the city beneath our feet or before our peripheral vision or, indeed, towering above our heads as we are consumed by time and the economic imperative. Very often as Londoners we go where we are herded and guided by the paving slabs and the tar macadam or now, in this age of GPS, by the pulsing Map App in our hand.

Yet there is another London we can see and touch and hear if we listen and smell and look for it. It surprises the visitor to learn that Brent is the name given to a river but that has to be understood before grappling with the concept of  a river valley in Brent. The river exists and the valley through which it courses is prone to flooding in periods of heavy rain. Yet the average citizen fails to imagine London as an area scarred by a series of swollen, brooding arteries bursting their banks and saturating golf courses and flood plains. That vision belongs to the Severn or the Thames of rural Oxford or Gloucester but not inner London.

It occurred to me,as it probably does to many others, when speeding through these valleys and canopied areas in motor vehicles or aboard public transport that our vision is immune to the changes in topography unless the landscape alters visually in some startling form. Only when we begin to walk the ways and paths of London, free from the paving and the tar macadam, are we able to make sense of the topography and the simple, unspoiled beauty of such places as Brent Meadow or, indeed, the flooded plain of the The Brent River Valley.

Beauty Where None Was Expected

Leg 13 – Stoke Newington to Hackney Wick (3.6 miles or 5.2km)

After leaving the bus stop in Stoke Newington High Street I weaved my way eastwards through the wide busy roads pulsing with Hassidic Jews. Within twenty minutes I stood at the gates of Springfield Park, a park I had never heard of and one which didn’t get much of a mention in my guide.

‘Inside the park there are impressive views of beautifully landscaped parkland with steep, rolling contours … and presenting pleasant vistas … east over the River Lean and Walthamstow Marshes.’ Source.

The park is a wonderful blend of woodland, grassland and wetland with manicured greens and areas of  ‘managed meadow’ nestling amidst the Ash, Oak and Plane trees.It is a rare gem of a Local Nature Reserve which attracts plenty of  visitors and people eager to enjoy a peaceful day behind its gates. Yet it wasn’t the paradise I was hinting at in the title.

The ‘beauty where none was expected’ was when I first sighted Walthamstow Marshes. The photo (above) I shot at eleven in the morning and its simple beauty is something I didn’t expect to see in London. The Marshes at Walthamstow, nestled beside the River Lea, are the last remaining natural marshlands in the London region. The campaign which saved the Marshes from the gravel extractors in the 1970s listed some 350 species of plants growing at the the time along with 17 species of butterfly, Herons, Warblers, Jays and Kestrels amongst the 30 odd type of bird spotted.

‘Wetter parts of Marshes have beautiful mixed-fen vegetation, i.e. large expanses of sedge (beautiful in flower in May) distinctly zoned from stands of Reed Sweet Grass (Glyceria maxima) and Reed Grass (Phalaris arundinacea). Latter grow to 5 and 6 ft. Two large Reed Beds – North Marsh (3 acres) and South Marsh. Reeds grow to 2.5m (8ft) and are at their best in Winter.’ Source Here.

If you have the time pay a visit. There is an official website Visit Lee Valley but I prefer the left-field version of events in the Marsh from Marshman.


The Greenest Leg of the Capital Ring is Wimbledon Park to Richmond


Leg 6 – 6.9 miles or 11.2 km

The day I walked this leg of the Capital Ring (May 25th) was the hottest day of walking so far this year.

Dry and very warm the temperature climbed as my walk progressed. I walked the distance in just over three hours but that included time to drink a cup of tea, stop and take photographs, chat to people and admire the wonderful views along the route.

Once clear of Wimbledon Park Underground station on the District Line and the signage is good (see photo in the header of the blog) and a short cut through brings you onto the fringe of Wimbledon Park itself.I interrupted a school PE lesson that was taking place in one of the corners and worked my way out of the park to the main road and down hill into the posh housing. You switch a gear here and begin to weave your way uphill through the tightly packed houses and the tennis courts of the All-England Club at Wimbledon.

My first visit to Wimbledon Park begins with a walk through a light wood on Putney Heath. The path is clear and straight and as I leave the wood behind I can now see the Windmills which are the dominant feature of Wimbledon Common. On such a warm day the cafe which sits close to the windmills attracts a lot of visitors and the tea was nice but the flapjack nicer! Sitting in the garden you see how the cafe attracts a lot of dog-walkers and older people coaxed from their cars. The occasional horse trots by kicked into action by an overheating owner or rider.

The wooded walk across and over Wimbledon Park which winds towards the A3 and the entry to Richmond Park is covered by a green canopy and so keeps the walker cool and sheltered from the blistering sun. When walking across that park there is no cover at all and the walker will surely pine for the woods of Wimbledon Park as you surely must if the heavens opened.So far, so green.The path narrows and the sound of a rugby team training to my right and the traffic roaring ahead down the A3 ends the tranquility of the woods and the constant birdsong. You cross the main road at the traffic lights at this very busy road junction.

The visual beauty of this walk is apparent as you enter Richmond Park through the Robin Hood Gate. You pass a stables on your right and before you stretches the rolling hills of the park. The park deer squat under a spreading Oak tree and carefully examine visitors using the path heading north in the direction of Spankers Hill Wood. Once clear of the first slight incline you cross a road and keep walking towards the emerging Pen Ponds seen above in my photo.

At this stage I’d walked slightly over four miles and my feet were a bit sore so I sat on a bench on the hill above the ponds and ate and drank whilst cooling my feet. The cyclists struggle up the hill to your left but the view does not disappoint and there’s a breeze that cools you as you rest. Over the cusp of the hill to the Oak Lodge before the path winds downhill heading across Pembroke Lodge Gardens towards the village of Petersham.There is a wonderful view of distant Richmond as you head downhill.

Once you have left the park you wind along a narrow path heading for Petersham Meadows before reaching the Thames. The meadows are a wild delight and very cool underfoot as you glimpse the Thames, for the first time since leaving Woolwich, sparkling through the trees and bushes. There’s a further mile to walk along the river path before reaching the centre of Richmond which gets very busy on a warm day. Have no fear as the walk is now over and there is a wide choice of pubs that will gladly help you quench your thirst before catching the train back to London.

Once you’ve completed this wonderful walk you’ve earned that drink.Cheers and enjoy!

The Sign of The Ring

The Sign of The Ring

Capital Ring and its distinctive sign nailed to posts and trees along the route.

Walking back to fitness…

The reason I chose to walk The London Ring is that I hate gyms. I always have. I don’t like paying for them and I have little in common with the people who go to them.

The idea of walking around London really appealed to me for a number of reasons:

1. It requires no special equipment other than a pair of comfortable boots.

2. It begins the moment you set foot outside your door.

3. You are walking in parts of London that may be totally unfamiliar to you and will surprise you.

4. It’s outside in the fresh air and whatever the weather.

5. You meet some interesting people.


John Furse

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