I like to walk. Better than running and infinitely better than swimming. Better still than driving which often engenders ranting/neckache/guilt and sometimes all three. And while cycling and my bottom are reasonably compatible, I have seen too many road surfaces, up close and personal as a direct result of bicycling not to feel a certain frisson when I straddle my crossbar. Unlike trains, tubes and buses, walking is never late, never so full that you can’t get on it and only cancelled when Dog throws a hissy (i.e. never).
I have friends of a similar disposition with whom I have both worked and walked and frankly we are more useful to society when our only output is hot air and wind and not pontificatory legal jabbawockery. Though walking doesn’t pay as well.
And so, dear reader, it was that we decided it was time for another stroll. Where though? Well, I live in the shadow of Sydenham Hill, once home to the Crystal Palace. One other lives within a spit and a stroll, one stayed over from the here-be-dragons world he inhabits North of London – he was born there, poor thing – and one lives on a gated estate in stockbrokerland but is actually both decent and twenty-seven percent normal. On Fridays. In the Autumn. So we were good to go.
From my front door. Being post-lawyering, but still genetically predisposed to be twenty minutes late we set off at 9.17 (we are in recovery so not bad) to begin the 18 miles we had undertaken to complete of the Capital Ring.
For those new to this blog and to it, The Capital Ring is
a strategic walking route that completely encircles inner and central London. It is approximately 78 miles long and cuts through as many green spaces as is possible.
I’ve written about it before. But the good thing is you can do it and redo it and it still throws up new views and ideas. And my fellow striders hadn’t done it so I could show off its joys like it was a first time. There are numerous green spaces on the way. And cafes. So coffee. And cake… Natch.
The glass bauble died a fiery death in 1936 so only a few bits remain.
Some sphinxes and dinosaurs, of course.
Then in 1951, on the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Origianl Crystal Palace there were the Empire Games as they were called then and a sports centre – grade II listed concrete, sort of architectural marmite – and stadium were built.
But it’s green and pretty lush…
This little sloping play area is rather down at heel – it’s the only bit of the walk in Croydon which might explain it.
Nice fungi mind.
Upper Norwood Recreation Ground
Funny, isn’t it, how conversations morph and womble there way hither and yon. We reminisced about a week of hell when all of us barely slept because of the work we had on. At the time it’s all vaguely out of bodyish as you begin hallucinating with tiredness and stress. We were thirty somethings, often a day or two without sleep beyond the micro naps that kill you on a motorway but in the office merely imprint the letters VBN into your forehead as you face plant the key board. Again. If you wonder at people with VBN tattooed on their foreheads, this is the reason.
I have added this so I didn’t have describe the A214 along which we had to walk. That’s the thing about this walk. The good bits are made gooder because of the longueurs that naturally arise from the connecting bits, the dreary roads full of fox-eviscerated rubbish bags and world-weary post-persons pushing their parcel trolleys. Online shopping has made it easier for all but those foot bound delivery people methinks.
I like Streatham Commom. Because it lives down to its name. Common. Unpretentious. It has some woods but they’re scrubby and in need of a prune. The grass is like an old man’s stubble. The paths are a couple of layers short of a paved dermis. And it has a toilet and a cafe and the remnants of a stately home that looks nicely lopsided. And Dog evacuated his bowels. At last. We were all on edge until this moment. We had a moment’s silence.
There’s another crisp stroll until you reach Tooting Common with its famous Lido – 100 yards long and 33 wide it is one of the biggest public swimming baths in Europe. Who know. Frankly, given my antipathy to all things aquatic, who cares.
However between one common and the next there’s this thing. An example of Victoriana that is just bonkers.
‘Jenkins, I need you to build a pumping station.’
‘Yes Mr Cosmos. And how would you like it?’
‘Sort of twiddly with the odd curvy bits and bobs. Oh and it must pump.’
‘Of course Mr Cosmos. Odd, you said?’
And so the Southwark and Vauxhall Municipal Pumping stationwas built in 1888 to lump the sewage of Streatham somewhere other than Streatham.
I mean, why?
Apart from the obvious – because we can. That’s the Victorians, all over. They could so they did.
Nope, too much like Streatham without the chutzpah. A bit knowing. I also used to run round it and have to dodge the flotsam of the previous night’s sexual exploits – before Balham became the urban equivalent of antibacterial gel, it was home to a vigorous and ineluctably sad red-light faction, so second hand condoms and exploded tights would litter my route – and I never got over the feeling of seething anger that comes from a combination of the exploitation of young vulnerable women and slipping in someone else’s bodily excretions.
Nice trees, though.
From Tooting, we skipped our way across Balham High road to
Say what you will about Wandsworth, and frankly if you are minded to say anything I suggest you keep it to yourself, its common is pretty and polite. Twee, sure. Even the Golden Retrievers ask the squirrels if they mind being chased. It has a pond. Even the ducks swim counter-clockwise. I mean, really. That is the epitome of posh.
The downside is the plethora of brands. Even the graffiti has a logo rather than a tag.
I tell what does make my heart warm a touch and pretty much sums up London for the likes of me. You leave a road of once down at heel Edwardian terraced houses that have been gentrified to within an inch of their architraves and you’re standing in front of Wandsworth prison, home to a whole variety of ne’er-do-wells and other miscreants (whose demographic is the antithesis of the neighbouring home owners) with its Range Rovers and Lexuses, all blacked out windows and thrumming bass music, kerb crawling the entrance gates. Ah me, London.
At this point it rained. Really? Who knew that was a thing in England. So we stopped. Lunched. Glowed as Dog took the usual compliments about his poise and savoir faire.
Then it was off, across the divide from the scrabby south London chic of Steatham and Tooting to somnambulant sophistication of Southfields and Wimbledon.
You can see the eponymous tennis club roof from here. The residents have so much money nothing is branded. It’s not even bespoke. It just is. There’s a boating lake and ducks and stuff and they were setting up for some sort of fete – the sort where the stands sell authentically bottled-at-source Megan Sparkle Exhalations as the must have Parfum de Jour.
It’s not that I dislike Wimbledon. It’s rather beautiful, really. Grand in all senses. I like visiting Wimbledon. I just wish some of the people who want to live there, wouldn’t.
But, praise be, and credit where it’s due, the denizens of Wimbledon do give good common. This place is just the business. It’s large, unspoiled (if you hold your nose as you skirt the golf course – geez, really?) and a treasure, a marvel. It’s wild. There’s nothing manicured. It has a windmill that once was just that, not some Disneyesque artifact. I could spend unconscionable amounts of time here.
We dithered a bit. 13 miles in and we were a tad tired. It was a good tired, though. I stopped by a bridge and watched a wine bottle meander its way down some nameless watercourse. Probably a decent Malbec from the Argentinian Steppes. It’s what happens in Wimbledon. Even the detritus has a certain class.
Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park are separated by the A3, a thunderous main road but really they are carved from the same aristocratic lineage. Richmond Park has lawns, ponds that are home to shags, a very different sort of shag to those that used to inhabit Tooting, the Royal Ballet School and beautiful, easy on the eye, sloping dollops of woodland. A dragon, too. You can do a lot in Richmond Park, including see the Thames. You see, that was our destination.
I may not like being in or on water that isn’t contained in a bath that I’ve run myself, but being beside it, from a safe distance is a complete joy. The towpath at Richmond is full of life, full of zest, alive. Like the Thames. We’ve dammed it, polluted it, diverted it but still it’s flowed and spawned and kept giving succour.
We sat in the White Horse’s garden, they had pints, I had tea, Dog had a nap and all was pretty right with the world. I apologised to Wimbledon. It’s not their fault. I mean I’ve met people from Wimbledon and they’re surprisingly human. Mostly. In the dark with the light behind them.