The Rivers of London is a tremendous series of fantasy books by Ben Aaronovitch. It’s also a truism that London has many rivers and not just the dominating thug of a watercourse, the Thames. In my part of the south the nearest is the Effra which is mostly underground these days having been culverted by the Victorians. However, not far away is the larger and mostly surface-based River Wandle that starts near the centre of Croydon (don’t think about Croydon too hard – it’ll give you a migraine) and runs in a meander to join the Thames at Wandsworth (note the name – ha!) about 12.5 miles away.
One of my tasks amongst a group of former legal eagles I worked with over many decades is to plot out potential walks for us to use as an excuse to get together and chew the fat/put the world to rights. Last year I organised a two-parter that took us in a loop around central London following the Regent Canal for most of its length so I thought a watery theme might be appropriate and fell to consider this puppy.
The grand thing about sujects like London’s rivers is that there is a fair bit of literature about them; the downside is that London is a vibrant bubbling pot of a place and it is always changing. So relying on any sort of guide is ripe with disappointment/opportunity as a new development may either hamper the dedicated walker or open up new possibilities. There is only one option: go and walk it.
The other essential for a group of 50/60 years old men and women is to identify the location of facilities for both refuelling and unburdening. That this tests both my calorie intake and my pelvic floor is one of those things…
As I hinted above Croydon is mostly unloved for a reason; if London is a person – round, overweight and full of itself – then Croydon comprises its cultural buttocks – unattractive, put upon and prone to unpleasant releases. It is not the sort of place that you will find described as a ‘hidden gem’. It is not helped by being the centre of the Home Office’s immigration services so at times is full of rather desperate peoplelooking for some solace. However there are always developers willing to take a punt on its future with new developments, there’s a tram system that is pretty effective and, as I say, it is where the Wandle first bubbles to the surface.
There must be a spring further away but I guess the aquifer is culverted until this point. Croydon does have one advantage, though when contemplating a walk for a group coming from various directions; it has good transport links to the centre of London.
My leafy part of South London is four stops away from West Croydon station where I started. From there it is an easy ten minute walk to the source in Wandle Park.
The sign tells you this is where it all starts and for a small urban park it does okay, but the river is slow moving, murky and doesn’t suggest a healthy place for some wild swimming. It improves.
There is a bit of road walking in the early stages but before halfway the banks are leafy and there are examples of nature holding on.
I will leave the detail of the journey for when I sherpa my friends in a couple of weeks, but during my reconnaissance so enjoy the tempters for now.
PS there were a splendid selection of cafes and facilities to choose from too…