If familiarity breeds contempt, then my ignoring for so many years of the well-signposted Green Chain Walk bears out the truth of the saying. However, the pandemic cured all that and having exhausted all local routes in search of exercise, the attraction of areas as far afield as Erith, Thamesmead and Eltham became more appealing than they once had been.
So on one of those bright pandemic days, I set off from one of the extremities of the mass of routes that makes up this chain which links together numerous lovely open spaces among South London’s generally unlovely urban sprawl. Dulwich Pictures Gallery is the destination found on many of the attractive, green-painted iron signposts, each surmounted with a circular motif informing the walker where he or she actually is. So that is where I started.
The 20 plus miles to the Thames Barrier seemed a bit of a stretch but I thought, let’s see how far I can get. Ignoring the tempting legs to other local finishing points, like Horniman Museum or One Tree Hill, I walked determinedly across Dulwich Park to ascend Cox’s Walk, all the while following the posts with yellow markers or metal signs high on lamp posts.
The route then took me through Sydenham Wells Park and soon into Crystal Palace Park where the comfortable descent, after such a steep climb, allowed me to admire both the relics of the old Palace and brought back memories of summer evenings spent at the Bowl, listening to the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Younger walkers will now be able to share these reflections, but will perhaps recall instead, this year’s stars at the Bowl - the Bombay Cycling Club’s performance.
Do not be put off by the thoughts of pacing through Penge; the Walk picks out unknown (to me) charming small parks and recreation grounds in a necklace that leads to the jewel in the crown of the walk, Beckenham Place Park.
At one kilometre square, it is the largest park in South London, and possesses lakes, a mansion and lovely woodlands. It also has a very nice tea room for a welcome pit-stop. To my surprise, I exited near Downham and crossed the busy A21 at the foot of Bromley Hill, into a ‘green corridor ‘ leading to Mottingham This shady path revealed to me the sight of the first nuthatch I had ever seen, clinging to the trunk of a tree.
Another busy road, the A20 was crossed with the aid of traffic signals dedicated to users of the Green Chain Walk and the path now became the romantically named King John’s Walk, for reasons of which I have no idea. Fields with grazing ponies, and playing fields full of energetic schoolchildren, gave way to a gentle uphill slope with revealing glimpses of the London skyline in the distance.
The manicured surroundings of Eltham Palace led to the old stone bridge of the Castle itself. A visit might be in order to gaze, not only at the Tudor banqueting hall favoured by Henry VIII, but also the art deco conversions of the other rooms by later occupants. And another tea room allowed a sit down and time for contemplation. Should I go on, after having walked around eleven miles, or call it a day?
I decided I would save the next stretch for another time, and so a short walk through pretty Well Hall gardens brought me to Eltham station, with its convenient connection to Dulwich via Peckham.
On another day I will also ‘explore’ the alternative legs which branch out from my route to exotic destinations like Chislehurst or Bromley. With 50 miles of paths to choose from I will be well satisfied.
I discovered that although the Green Chain Walk has been in existence for many years, its penetration to the wilds of Dulwich has only been since 2010. In 2006, Dulwich Society member Philip Colvin reported in this very magazine the hopes and plans for the Dulwich extension to the original route. I apologise that it has taken me so long to try it out.