I finished the first section of the Capital Ring from Woolwich to Beckenham with an extremely painful leg.  

Starting point: Beckenham Place Park, accessible from Beckenham Junction, Beckenham Hill, New Beckenham, and Ravensbourne train stations.

Finishing point: Streatham Common, Streatham Common train station nearby and loads of bus stops with routes linking Croydon and central London.

Length: Approximately 7.5 miles.

Ordnance Survey Maps app route link here

Download the GPX file for this route here Beckenham Place Park to Streatham Common

The reason?  Partly being unprepared and not drinking enough water, and partly this walk from Beckenham to Streatham Common.

I chose a rainy midweek day to step out.  No.  Actually it was a rancid day, with a moody sky and a chill in the air, but I had to get out and about because some nasty employment news put me on a mood nosedive.  I picked up the Ring by Beckenham Place Park and wandered off towards Copers Cope Road and New Beckenham Rail Station.  It’s all extremely leafy suburbia around here – houses named ‘The Willows’ etc.  Twee.

After the station you enter the first park of this section – Cator Park – which is pretty standard fare for London but pleasant and green anyway.  The River Pool flows through here from Shirley to Deptford Creek on the Thames, just south of the Isle of Dogs.  A staccato succession of parks and residential roads fill the next couple of miles.  None of this is particularly enlightening but it’s nice enough.  I knew the best parts of the walk were ahead.

I carried out a physical dot-to-dot of sometimes sneakily hidden lamp post blazes until I reached Penge East Rail Station, crossing the tracks by a bridge inside the station.

After this you get a distinct change in terrain marked by the path entering Crystal Palace Park.  It’s all hills and valleys from now on.  Luckily there is also a spot of foliage here as it began to rain a little.  This iconic park is one of the largest in South London, recognisable all over for its huge television mast at the northern boundary.  It has a lot to offer including a maze, petting zoo, zoo school, sports centre, the ruins of the Crystal Palace, a playground, and best of all – Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkin’s ‘dinosaurs’.

Waterhouse's Dinosaurs in Crystal Palace Park, found along the Capital Ring and Green Chain

They may not be entirely correct, or even remotely correct in many cases, but I grew up seeing these things.  They were always a cause of amazement and some terror.  The way they peer out from between trees on islands or poke out from undergrowth is extremely atmospheric, it takes you back to the Land Before Time and makes you check every bush for a ‘raptor or two – “Clever girl”…

The body of water they reside in has been dramatically landscaped in recent years with a load of new sculptures clearly in keeping with the Venice Charter heritage mumbo jumbo in that they are not coloured at all so as to retain the value of the originals.  In my opinion this does a disservice to the original dinosaurs because surely a large part of their purpose was to amaze Victorians with their apparent life-like horror?  These new sculptures detract from, rather than enhance their aura.  They make it very clear that they are not real, any of them.  Then what’s the point?

Some of the newly installed and unpainted wildlife in Crystal Palace Park, this picture found in 'Big Marvin's Flickr'

A real shame I think.

The path winds around the dinosaur ponds, past a fairly well made recreation of the earth’s geological strata, and the small zoological school, to a concrete box that used to contain flamingos in the 1980s.  Just beyond that are the remains of a fenced area that once held ostriches (or were they emus? I was too young to know back then), across from a small hill that once housed goats.  In some ways this park is nothing like it used to be, for many animals that’s probably a brilliant thing but for others it seems a shame.  I assume the rise of yobbish night time interlopers has meant that they couldn’t guarantee their safety any more?  Either way there have been a lot of changes that make it a different, but still lovely, park.  The ring-necked parakeets that shriek piercingly overhead add another element of interest.

Coming out of the park by Crystal Palace Rail Station you come onto the steep gradient of Anerley Hill, leaving the Green Chain behind for good and following Section 4 of the Capital Ring exclusively.  Crossing over takes you into residential back-streets, through a small playground, and onto Belvedere Road.  Taking a cut-through on the left brings you onto Fox Hill which was recorded in all its snowy bleakness by Camile Pissarro, a painting which now hangs in the National Gallery.

Follow the blazes to Westow Park and begin a series of ups and downs which reveal some pretty great views at times.

Alternately you could use the Crystal Palace ‘Triangle’ (actually called Upper Norwood town centre) to feed and water yourself.  It’s a great hub for other walks but booze flows freely up there in the half dozen pubs available.  The White Hart pub is close to Westow Park and although pricey it’s also really nice.  The Alma pub keeps morphing into something different so I can’t honestly recommend it because I never know what it will be like each time!  The Grain & Grape at the very top of Anerley Hill is a winner with multiple CAMRA awards for its excellent beer and cider selection.  I shudder when I remember what that place was like in previous incarnations as ‘Jack Beards’ and before that ‘The Sportsman’…

Westow Park ends and almost immediately you arrive on what I believe is called Norwood Rec.  It was at this point that the rain began to pour so I had to press my back close to a tree trunk to avoid being washed away.  I realised that canvas trainers were not a great idea.

A moment’s break in the torrent let me rush up Hermitage Road and onto Beulah Hill.  This road follows the ridge-top which is visible from most of London.  The roads that fall off the left give stunning views over Croydon and Sutton.  You take one of these (Biggin Hill, nothing to do with the airport) and head back downhill a few hundred feet.

The blazes direct you off to the right and you plunge into a small wood for a few minutes.  This part of the route feels like you are discovering something every few metres with hidden woods and clearings popping into view.  I think the slippery floor here was probably where I managed to tweak some muscles in my leg because after a few minutes it suddenly became very tiring.  Another bit of road leads up to the sculpted grounds of Norwood Manor.  Passing close to the house itself you then head back into woods. Soon you reach a high wall, behind which is a true hidden gem.

Streatham Common Rookery is an oasis of calm and beautiful flowers in any weather. There are benches all around and lots of quiet spots to have a ponder after a wander.  If you do this walk make sure you take a break here.  Just outside the main entrance is a café selling food and drink so you can take shelter or refuel at your leisure.  I didn’t, I powered onto Streatham Common and sloshed through the rain to the bus stops at the bottom.  I was now drenched and in a bit of pain but I was quite exhilarated by the views and the variety of the walk.  It’s nowhere near as rural-feeling as the first trek from Woolwich but it’s not really designed to be.

A pretty view of Streatham Common Rookery, found in 'Michael Ciancia's Flickr' stream

This part is, I suspect, meant to uncover all the hidden greenery in a part of London known for its suburban residential sprawl.  Although you can always see tree-lined avenues some of the parks are less easy to find than you might imagine.  In this the Capital Ring and Green Chain are doing an exemplary job.  Part three will probably be the walk from Streatham Common train station all the way to Kingston – the entire final part of the southern half of the Ring.

Another Michael Ciancia photograph of Streatham Common, in weather completely different to that I experienced, found on his Flickr.