The River Thames is a murky old torrent, you know. Dog and I took advantage of a dry cool day to complete the southern section of the Capital Ring, a circular walk of 78 miles around London which we have been doing in sections for a while.
Technically this is the start – the official route begins at the southern entrance to the Woolwich foot tunnel and finishes at the northern entrance.
To reach that point though you have to walk the half mile from Woolwich Arsenal station to the river which takes you through the old barracks, now a heritage site that is being developed for housing.
It’s lovely actually even if its history as a home of the munitions industry isn’t one to be exactly proud about.
There are some odd sculprures too
this one of Nike the goddess of expensive sportswear leaving me bemused
and this one of some rusty figurines equally bizarre – this is Assembly by Peter Burke but unlike the Gormley figures I wrote about last week this doesn’t seem to have a purpose.
Makes you stop and think though…
Hey, whatever, Woolwich is an improving spot and worth a visit. It’s an oddity too, as you can cross the river here by the last remaining car ferry or the foot tunnel by not bridge. Makes a bit of a change actually.
After the start and the ferry I took a short detour to the Thames Barrier. These vast salt sellers are the first line of defence against a Thames flood which have been in place for a fair few years now. I’m always amazed at the way they use the force of the river to raise or lower the gates, some clever hydraulics. And in a way these sculptured gate posts are more attractive, more thought provoking that the iron men further along the river.
After my last glimpse of the river I headed south through Maryon Park which holds a petting zoo and the usual range of colourful trees and purposeful dog walkers.
The land rises, giving a glimpse of the Thames basin before plateauing around the land under Shooters Hill.
The open land here was used, in years gone by to muster the troops before they collected their arms from Woolwich Arsenal and travelling abroad on some Empirical business. Looking down as the common land slopes towards the river and imagining red coats dotted on the grassland makes me shudder rather.
Turning away I headed for Shooters Hill. This is charmingly wooded and leads through meandering paths towards Oxlease Common.
The hilltop is the highest point on the whole of the Capital Ring at 404 feet above sea level – not exactly mountainous.
However, on the way a folly – Sevendroog Castle – tops the hill. This strange affair was built by Commodore William James’ widow as a memorial. Now you can climb to the top and take in the views or, like me and Dog, sit at the bottom and share a piece of bread pudding.
The walk now avoids roads for quite some time as it heads south west towards Eltham, birth place of Bob Hope the comedian but with not much else to recommend it. There are lots of woods and parks, plenty of views and the occasional ancient terracing that represent Victorian gardens long since abandoned.
We crossed railways and main roads but mostly stayed on tracks and paths and felt, oddly, miles away from London.
It couldn’t last of course. Eltham, as you enter it doesn’t have a great deal to attract at first but the closer to Eltham Palace, a former royal palace, the greater the attraction of the houses.
The structures around the palace, including a Tudor water system are intriguing
– the moat lovely – but everything is rather hidden unless visiting (and I wasn’t)
so you will have to imagine the beauty of the buildings that, until Henry VIII decided he preferred Hampton Court was a major royal home.
Once again the walk climbs affording views back towards the river. There are a few stables hereabouts but Dog doesn’t like large mammals, especially horses and I can’t blame him (he made it clear he didnt want to hang around for me to photo them either).
Still they minded their own business and soon enough we were into Mottingham and the Quaggy river one of many streams filling the Thames. And like so many it is now culverted into a rather unattractive ditch – this was the best shot I could get.
Just towards the end of the walk my guidebook told me to take a 30 yards detour, appropriately about the length of a cricket pitch to view Fairmount.
Today it is a nursing home but 100 and something years ago one Doctor WG Grace resided here. The good doctor was the first sporting superstar – of cricket of course – drawing huge crowds to watch him perform for a London team. I’m not sure how good he was at medicine but he was a star on the grass. Stories about him are legion, mostly recounting his gamesmanship as if it was a good thing. I suspect he would have taken performance enhancing drugs if he could.
Ten miles and Dog and I were happy to be back on the train for London Bridge and then home.