The Capital Ring is a strategic walking route that completely encircles inner and central London. It is approximately 78 miles long and cuts trough as many green spaces as is possible.
I completed the Capital Ring for the first time some 8 years ago but I thought I’d like to do it again and properly record it this time. Officially it starts at the Woolwich foot tunnel under the Thames on the south side of the river and curves in a clockwise direction until arriving at the foot tunnels northern entrance. Since I have the luxury f choosing, I decided to pick up the walk at the point nearest to my home in South London, Crystal Palace park. Today the skyline is dominated by the TV masts
But there are signs of its history dotted about. Strictly this hill should go by the prosaic title of Sydenham Hill but it was renamed Crystal Palace when the 1851 Great Exhibition was dismantled after its year in Hyde Park and rebuilt here overlooking London. It burnt down in the 1930s – my dad remembered seeing the smoke and flames from 30 miles away, or so he claimed – so little remains. I was standing on one of the remaining terraces when I took this picture of my loyal companion.
And this is the statue of the designer, Joseph Paxton that still overlooks the park. Sad, isn’t he?
Because I love it, Dog and I had a quick coffee in Brown and Green’s cafe by Crystal Palace station and set off to cross the escarpment of Sydenham Hill to look away from London and out towards the North Downs, Croydon and the Surrey countryside.
It is oddly green, looking south from up high, because it feels very built up when you are at ground level. The walk soon leaves the early 20th Century housing for some allotments and onto towards Streatham Common which extends in a strip of green open spaces and woodland for some two miles. First up is a scrubby little section called Biggin Wood. It is a mix of ancient deciduous trees and low level foliage and is a great place for moths and small mammals to thrive.
There’s a large white house here in the middle of the common, home once to a wealthy Victorian family and now is used by the local authority for functions. It seems rather down at heel sadly.
The views though make it worthwhile
And Dog enjoys the smells
One of his skills, seen here, is to find other dogs abandoned tennis balls.
I’m not sure when we first spotted the water troughs that surround London (maybe it was on the first circuit). Mostly they are now used as planters but 100 plus years ago these were for the many horses. The fact there was a body – The Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association – responsible for them makes me glow with a ridiculous pleasure. Just imagine that as your job title. Dog was about to pay his own, distinctly canine, homage to these granite marvels.
After descending towards Streatham Common Church we had to snake between the houses past where once stood the Ice rink and Swimming pool, now replaced by a dull functional building that inside is splendid.
We also passed the Youth Club where I help out. One of the current plans is to remove the railings and make the front more user friendly. We’ve raised the cash and the works start in a month. Yay!
If you buy any of my books all the proceeds go to the club – as if you need an incentive!
After you turn into Conyers road and head alone a rather functional residential street the last thing you expect to come across is an 1860s Metropolitan waterworks that looks like a Moorish Palace. The Victorians were utterly and completely bonkers with their public buildings.
And shortly afterwards this rather magnificent stain glass window in a small private house.
A bit of painting around the frame wouldn’t come amiss.
From here it is a short hop to Tooting Bec and the largest outdoor Lido at some 100 yards long. It’s used 365 days and the regulars are certifiably bonkers (much like the Victorians).
The Bec itself is rather picturesque and somnolent, with people drifting slowly across its green and grassy swards.
On leaving this part of the walk you cross Bedford Hill which is now a rather expensive line of Victorian Houses that run down the slope into Balham but when I first came to London in 1978 was the notorious red light district of South London. It was close to this spot that Cynthia Payne ran her brothel which sought to circumvent the law that said you couldn’t earn money from running a brothel – living on immoral earnings – by having her ‘guests’ pay in luncheon vouchers rather than cash. Her extraordinary life story was told in a film, Personal Services starring national treasure Julie Walters.
And finally, here is an example of how the walk went – me following Dog as he marched ahead until distracted.