Dulwich, for those who don’t know it, is a ‘village’ in South London famous for its boys’ public school, its art gallery and its association with Mr Pickwick. It is a small oasis, neatly tucked between Brixton and Peckham to the north and east, Streatham and Norwood to the west and Crystal Palace and Croydon to the south.
The reason for its oasis-ness is the amount of green spaces that, if not quite connected, form a string of pearls for the enthusiastic walker to enjoy. Today’s blog post therefore is all about one of those strings.
You can start anywhere on a circle, naturally; I chose Herne Hill, recently famous for its floods cause by a malfunctioning Thames Water main, from which some shops are only just recovering (this is perhaps nothing compared to the destruction wrought by the Thames and the Severn rivers this winter but, coming in August, was pretty bloody awful).
Herne Hill has a great little Sunday market (though since this walk was on a Monday, I can say no more – well apart from the chocolate and Guinness cake – divine). It also has Brockwell Park which the Dog and I circumnavigated first. Today the entrance was full of one of those tacky funfairs so beloved of London local authorities as a way of raising revenue and destroying the grass. But once past this excrescence the undulating lawns and avenues of trees around Brockwell Hall are delightful (http://www.brockwellpark.com/history/). The park affords some splendid views of central London too as well as the occasional oddity like a water trough for cattle and horses (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metropolitan_Drinking_Fountain_and_Cattle_Trough_Association)and its walled garden (barred by the pet fascists to the Dog so I refuse to photograph it – despite it being lovely). The park also has one of London’s many great lidos (not as ginormous as Tooting but still pretty bloody neat).
By the time we left the park we had done 4000 steps (according to Samsung’s Health app and who am I…). Anyway, a good start and deserving of a coffee. Herne Hill is well served with cafes. The cafe in the park situated in the Hall) is rather old school and the cakes a touch industrial but they do sell dog biscuits so at least one of us is keen. Down by the station the Blackbird bakery (whose chain of local bakeries and cafes is growing though, I think, at some loss to both quality and ambience) still does a decent latte and nice brownies; the Lebanese (Samosas) is good for coffee and croissants; and the take away in the tunnel under the railway not bad. but my favourite is the deli, Mimosa – on Half Moon Lane so just round the corner – especially now I know the Dog can go in the garden out back. Today we took the tunnel option and set off up Milkwood Road alongside the railway towards Loughborough Junction. Second left, first right and we reach Fawnbrake Avenue, a classic example of how Edwardian London grew out from the railway hubs. Clusters of terraced housing, little groups of six or eight properties and each group slightly different to its neighbour, line the gently undulating road, near the top of which is the first house we owned – 1985 we moved in; snow on the ground, a dodgy heating system and not a carpet in sight. I installed part of the ring main; I wonder if the current owners realise.
Fawnbrake Avenue ends by Herne Hill Road and the Carnegie library. Andrew Carnegie was an American philanthropist but had more of the Calvinist Scot that the entrepreneurial American about his personality; like Bill Gates today he gave little to none of his money to his children as it might corrupt them; instead he created a massive trust fund. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnegie_library%5B/) Oddly, given the relative advance of the UK back at the end of the Victorian era he funded a change of libraries here – but I love the idea and the building itself is a gem so I tip my hat to the generous old Jock.
Across the main road and we reach Ruskin Park. (http://www.urban75.org/brixton/features/ruskin-park.html). This is a small park with neat bandstand, clean toilets and a communal garden that looks well tended. It used to be part of my commute which made it a pleasure. However, it does have a section where even dogs on leads are banned – only assistance mutts are allowed. So we didn’t linger, but exiting in Denmark Hill, by the corner of Kings Hospital, and opposite the Sally Army training HQ with its OTT tower we pressed on, up the said hill and left at the Fox on the Hill pub. The road was quieter and my phone said 6500 steps.
It becomes leafy very quickly and with a bit of a right then left then right it wiggles around some 1950s social housing and you are on Green Dale, a perfectly pleasant foot way (shared with cyclists) that drops down to the centre of Dulwich. We wandered past the Lawyer’s and the Vet’s school and not for the first time, taking in the manicured playing fields, the beautiful school building and the new imposing theatre block we knew that education is wasted on the young.
Dulwich is a touch precious about itself – the whole village thing tells you as much – but it is beautiful. We didn’t detour to the village proper, despite the attractions of Romeo Jones my current favourite cafe in the centre (Gail’s bakery is very good though ‘expensive’ doesn’t do it justice). Because we were conscious that the car was in a controlled parking zone – is this a London thing? The parking is controlled between 12 and 2 so you can’t commute and use up the parking spaces? – we headed for the park proper. We had just enough time.
Dulwich Park is, like the village, a touch regal. It has a wild area, an American garden with rhodedenrdrums galore and some amazing tree species. Once upon a time it had a beautiful Barbara Hepworth but some mindless looters climbed the fencing one night, cut it off its plinth and took it away to melt it down. Some sort of replacement is in hand but the BH estate won’t allow a recast replica so heaven knows what we will get.
Currently the park is undergoing engineering operations to create some sort of drainage bunding to minimize flooding (something of a theme) so there are scars and fences that do detract but it is a comfortable place to stroll, mot of the time – it is only when it is so full of East Dulwich yummy mummies that it becomes a bit of a nightmare – if they take against the Dog. Cue picture, waiting near the wild bees’ nest.
By the time we left the park by the College Road gate we had done six miles (something over 12,000 steps I was told by the app). We detoured through the front of the old college behind the Picture Gallery and wandered, more slowly now, to Herne Hill, past the Herne Hill Velodrome, the one remaining 1948 Olympics venue that is still used for it original purpose (Wembley Arena still exists but as a concert hall rather than its original use as a swimming pool). If you ever want to experience what riding round a sloped velodrome is like without taking your life in your hands let me know. I can probably organise a taster and it is amazing.
And as we turned off Burbage Road, into Stradella Road we had ten minutes to spare before the traffic wardens emerged and did their business on our windscreen – just enough time for a coffee from Mimosa. And a rather good croissant, Parma ham and goats cheese combo too. Yum!
So there we go – some 15,000 steps (about 7 and a bit miles) and a really rather lovely couple of hours. Try it sometime.