A bit of preparation might be in order before you walk this route, as you’ll discover…

I’m nearly there, I’ve almost walked the entire Green Chain. Completing Thamesmead to New Eltham, taking in Green Chain section 1, 3, and 7,  means I only have one more walk with this network left. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This walk was more interesting than expected, and more of a challenge, but worth doing for more reasons than simply going through the motions.

Starting Point: Beside the Thames at Thamesmead, just north of the Nickleby Close bus stop, reachable by the 472 and 177 routes.

Finishing Point: New Eltham railway station, with trains to London Bridge and Cannon Street (as well as my bus home).

Distance: 8.7 miles (14km – I’ve realised I do need to start thinking more in kilometres than miles, or both!).

I stepped out of my house and into what was, basically, the night. The Pixies’ song ‘Into the White’ reverberated around my imagination with the titular hook re-purposed to ‘Into the Night’. As I sat on the bus to Woolwich I wondered what perverse force drives me out of a warm bed and into my ‘outdoorsy’ clothes, the jaws of sleep gnashing at my heels.

Deeper than your sleepy head

Ain’t nothin’ to see

Ain’t nothin’ in sight

Into the night

By the time I reached the River Thames at Thamesmead the sky had welcomed a pink glow, and then annihilated it in favour of a patchy grey and blue. This was the start of Green Chain section 1.

Walk London chose to begin their page for this section with the comment

Anyone who pictures Thamesmead as a bleak and windswept new town beside the Thames is in for a surprise …

So let’s begin here as well.

First of all I would like to point out, if you didn’t already know, that Stanley Kubrick used Thamesmead as a location for his classic A Clockwork Orange.

Moloko club A Clockwork Orange

Please dwell on that for a second.

Ok, now it’s my turn.

Thamesmead is bleak and windswept. And the wind smelled like poo. Or stagnant water. Or both. I couldn’t tell. Between the Thames and the monstrous Eastern Way road there are several modern estates of detached and semi-detached houses mingled together along cul-de-sacs. They battle amongst themselves to be the most bland of the lot. Nobody wins, mediocrity prevails. Nonetheless, I do agree that Thamesmead is not a write-off by any means. These horribly unimaginative excuses for modern housing do have surroundings that lift them above similar estates throughout the country.

One of Thamesmead's waterways along the Green Chain section 1

Grass-edged paths and waterways descend from the Thames towards the main road in a higgledy-piggledy way. Wave goodbye to the river and you find yourself exploring little streams and narrow wooden bridges. They pass behind houses and manage to almost completely avoid roadside pavement plodding. Plus only one of the waterways was stagnant so that can’t account for the stench lingering over the town.

Graffiti policeman or detective in Thamesmead, with flower, along the Green Chain

At Crossway Park you can sense how little lies to the east of here, beyond the town limits. On your right you see a small pond lined with reeds. It’s all pretty well maintained. Just past the pond you have the choice of turning west for a footbridge over Eastern Way or east for an underpass. I don’t like underpasses.

Crossway Park is pretty pleasant really, Green Chain, Thamesmead

As I approached the footbridge the normal detritus of estate life appeared. A smashed television, some strange lumps of dense foam, discarded clothing, bits of a washing machine, all scattered in a concrete cleft below the bridge. As I got to the top of the stairs I had two very grumpy looking hooded lads walking towards me with purpose from the other side of Eastern Way. It was freezing so I did a little mental recalibration that they are doing the right thing, decades of mothers telling their kids to wrap up in cold weather should not be forgotten when looking at the hoodies of London estates. And as I grew up on an estate I have very clear memories of dressing just like them once upon a time. Obviously they passed by without a word or a look or a gesture, and I was reminded of the slightly more threatening (but ultimately just as harmless) walk I did across Woolwich Common.

Jetties, willow trees, and ducks on South Mere, Thamesmead, Green Chain

The south side of the footbridge places you close to South Mere lake. Apparently you get people boating here in the summer but in January it certainly is bleak, in a semi-pretty/urban/rural mash-up bleak kind of way. If that makes any sense at all? The cafe was padlocked shut and the geese blocking the path eyed me with hungy longing.

The path around South Mere rises so that you can see the bio-gas plant further east, and I remembered sheltering from the rain close to it several months ago. Perhaps industry causes the smell? I’m not sure about that.

As I strolled on I saw a shaggy shape waggling in the distance.

‘What the hell is that?’ I asked myself.

‘It looks like a horse.’ said me.

Then as the path rose further a completely different shaggy shape just to my left revealed itself to actually be a horse.

‘Nice!’ grinned Chris Booth.

A grazing horse along section 1 of the Green Chain

I contemplated feeding it the apple I had in my bag but decided against it.

There were a few horses dotted around this park and on the grass verges of the estate just south of South Mere. They grazed happily and only occasionally raised their heads to inquire whether I was bringing more food for them.

Another grazing horse with Green Chain signage and houses

A corridor of greenery cutting through Thamesmead, Green Chain section 1As the Green Chain crossed Yarnton Way you are on a wide green slice cut right through the middle of the grey concrete mass that most people will associate with Thamesmead. Signs attached to lamp posts threaten that horses grazing in here will be removed and sold. England flags flutter from the windows, laden with lingering hope – there are plans afoot to seriously redevelop Thamesmead and dear Lord do swathes of it need help. This time I hope they bother to put an actual town centre in, for example. But as all England fans know, sometimes hope is all we ever had, and I worry that not even the massive Crossrail infrastructure project will save Thamesmead for some decades yet. If at all. It should have terminated here but instead the already more affluent area of Abbey Wood will see its profile raised with the terminus. Typical, right?

So, nice try Walk London, but I certainly see what you’re getting at because I just can’t work out what I think of Thamesmead – i.e. where do my prejudices end and the reality begin?

The ruins of Lesnes Abbey mark the end of section 1 of the Green Chain. They seem incongruous with the towers in the background. The abbey is an interesting jumble, what’s left of it, but for some reason I felt incredibly morbid at this point. The benches flanking the manicured gardens were dedicated to dead people and seemed to break me mentally. For some unknown reason.

Thamesmead towers seen from Lesnes Abbey along the Green Chain

Section 3 and the introduction of woodland brought the change of aspect I needed. Even though the vistas disappeared and the ‘closeness’ of Lesnes Abbey Woods should have made me more introspective I found myself super-alert and enjoying all the birdsong overhead. My pace quickened and I sped through the trees, weaving between muddy patches.

Abbey Woods and Bostall Woods came and went with little change. The day was bitterly cold but you don’t feel it so much in the trees.

The Green Chain dropped into a little valley pointing towards Plumstead and swiftly switched 180 degrees back alongside a cemetery so that you emerge into East Wickham Open Space. Which is an apt but pathetic name for any park. Defining it purely by the lack of clutter is not encouraging but it is a lovely place. Joggers pound the circuit around the perimeter and the playground looks like it would be heaving in the summertime. Views to the Shooter’s Hill water tower overlooking Eltham are handy because that’s the rough direction you’re headed.

Shooter's Hill from East Wickham Open Space

Glenmore and Dryden Road whizz past and you enter a footpath that requires pre-booking. Or at least you need to check in advance before you attempt to cross it. But I didn’t know this. The path edges beside a paddock with some nervous-looking horses grazing. Me just appearing on the path caused one horse to canter off, huffing heavily with anger.

A terribly low tree across the Green Chain, section 3

This route is really badly maintained with trees in the process of falling across your way every few metres. Even the Green Chain blaze posts have all been vandalised by spray paint or burning. It’s traumatic, what with the thick mud as well.

Suddenly I heard the sound of galloping horses behind me. I looked round with my hairs on end and saw two horses charging at full pelt across the paddock, straight towards me. Panicked I looked around and decided that in another 2 seconds I would need to hit the deck or I would get pounded into the mud. Happily they weren’t on the footpath but the fence was only a few feet high and if they had wanted to jump it, well they would have. Instead they veered away about ten metres from me and charged to the brick wall. There they both turned and stared at me. It was very unsettling.

I looked at them for maybe 30 seconds and they just stared right back.

Menacing horses after they galloped at me, Green Chain section 3

‘Hmm, better go now.’ I resolved. I turned and squeezed under the final low tree (about a metre off the floor). There’s a tall spike-topped steel gate here, pass through it and follow the edge of the brambles around the right side of the field until you come to a small stream. Cross the little bridge and veer left, through another gate. This muddy scrubland leads you onto the A207 – Shooters Hill.

Oh wait no, that’s what was supposed to happen.

The other side of the locked gate along the Green Chain section 3, after I jumped overInstead let’s backtrack to that lovely steel gate.

I reached it and found it padlocked shut. ‘What the hell?!’ I would have said if I had been feeling polite, which I wasn’t. The whole area was fenced off with over six foot of steel fence with spikes on top. The path behind me was now guarded by weirdly-miffed horses. I decided to climb the fence, assuming that the padlock was the work of the same vandals who had tried to destroy the blazes. Now, the gate itself is not a safe way to get over so I used some trees off to the right to get over safely, but it isn’t very safe at all. I was furious. The wooden gate was chained shut too but this was only a few feet high and no real obstacle.

I have to say here that the locking incident is not down to vandals (as such). Apparently this gate is often locked by the owners of the farm because they dispute the right of way claim on the footpath. Read this for a few comments on the problem (scroll down to section 3). You are supposed to telephone them before you set out on your walk to check it’ll be open, on 020 8319 8900.

So, did I trespass? It appears that the owner of the farm would say ‘Ger orf moi laaaaand!’ whereas Bexley Council say ‘No’. This one could take some time to work out so in the meantime, and because I don’t recommend scaling dangerous six foot fences, use the alternative route laid out on Walk London.

When I had cleared this obstacle I crossed Shooter’s Hill and was immediately cheered up by an old lady who mistook me, in my red North Face jacket, for a postman. Her husband loudly corrected her and she looked sheepish as I smiled at them. Into muddy Oxleas Wood I plunged. I soon found paths I’d walked before, the Capital Ring for example, and continued to Falconwood train station.

Beyond here section 7 isn’t really very interesting. It’s not ugly, it’s just not very exciting. I didn’t take a single photograph! Parks come and go, the weather got colder, I passed Charlton Athletic’s training ground, woo.

A small stretch of road walking took me to New Eltham train station, from which I abandoned section 7 and took the bus home in time for a family dinner. There is a short stretch of this route I still haven’t done between New Eltham and Mottingham but I think I might have to come to terms with not doing that bit.

In summary, a thought-provoking route for a number of reasons but worth a look. Anybody got any further thoughts on whether this little missed bit of section 7 is worth pursuing?

All I have left is Eltham to Plumstead, watch this space…