As far as I can tell this is the final obvious trail in South East London. I didn’t expect a walk through New Eltham and Bexley to be up to much, and perhaps the weather improved perceptions, but it was a very nice walk.

At the moment I seem doomed to wake up at the weekend even earlier than I do in the week. This Saturday, 20th April 2013, felt like the first true spring day even at 6:40am. I cursed my stupid over-active brain and tumbled out of bed. I had always planned to walk this morning but even a little lie-in would have been appreciated. Instead off I went by bus to New Eltham to take out the Shuttle Riverway and put to bed some old demons over the Cray Riverway/LOOP in Bexley.

Starting point – New Eltham railway station, Zone 4, services to Charing Cross and Cannon Street.

Finish point – Bexley train station, Zone 6, services to Charing Cross and Cannon Street.

Length – 8 miles (12.9 Kilometres).

As I say, the easiest railway station to start this route from is New Eltham. From there you would follow the Green Chain north to find the start of the Shuttle Riverway. As I was already on a bus from Beckenham I alighted at Merchland Road bus stop and headed straight up Sparrows Lane.

Shuttle Riverway logoAs soon as I passed the entrance to Charlton Athletic’s training ground I was almost overwhelmed by how springlike the morning was. Vapour trails in the cloudless blue dome of a sky were set glowing by the strong sunlight. The hedgerows leading to Avery Hill Park poured a constant cannonade of twittering upon me. Robins hopped from branch to branch, shadowing my progress. I was determined to take this walk very easy.

Avery Hill Park is somewhere I have crossed a few times now, mainly on the Green chain. It is something of a crossroads for South East London walking as plenty of strong itineraries head through here. “It’s quite a nice park” is how I had always thought of it until now. But that was because I had never been exposed to the fantastic Winter Garden. Like some beautiful palm and cacti house uprooted from Kew and dumped here under the University of Greenwich’s supervision this hothouse was not open at 8:30am but I pressed my eager eyes up to the glass to suck in views seeping from a long-dead century. Opulence indeed:

Winter Garden in Avery Hill Park

Happy with the first discovery of the day I stepped onward and straight into Jogging Land. Everywhere I looked around the little cafe there were people limbering up for some multi-km plod starting later in the morning. I was even asked, by an odd-one-out woman running as stereotypically ladylike as it is possible for a woman to run, whether I was competing. Nuh-uh. The idea of jogging has never appealed. Either sprint, or walk.

Outside Avery Hill Park you cross a road and enter a corridor of green between housing blocks. A naughty child ran up and down the path, ignoring his mum and his friend who were growing ever more impatient with the rascal. South you turn, passing into Parish Wood which has a massive playground including two of those awesome sound-amplifying concave disks – stand by one and talk quietly into it and your friend beside the other one 20 metres away will be able to hear you clearly. Magic.

A reed-fringed duck pond heralded the start of the day’s watercourses, a trickle leading from that directs you down a path until the water mingles into the much larger current on Berwick Crescent. This is the Shuttle River. It is much more ‘solid’ and ‘real’ than I had expected. Urban rivers often surprise me with their vitality, their refusal to go underground and into obscurity.

Holly Wood Oak Park, Willersley Park, and Marlborough Park follow in quick succession. As good a ‘green chain’ as anything actually on the Green Chain.

One thing I’ve noticed on my wanderings is the very high quality of the parks in the London Borough of Bexley. The playgrounds in particular are a wonder of the modern age. As I passed the one in Willersley Park I gazed with nostalgic longing at the multicoloured frames and playthings.

It was still really early in the morning so it was no surprise that every refreshment kiosk I passed was firmly shut up. A bit later on any sunny summer morning would make these an essential asset to the Shuttle Riverway so I hope they are still viable and open from time to time.

The Riverway carried me through a lovely patch of daffodils. Literally. Which was also a bit odd as they crowd the path so closely that you do have to be pretty careful not to kick their wibbly little heads off. Skirting a fence I started to wonder where I was. I hadn’t kept much track of my route so far, opting instead to trust in the blazes. It’s worth pointing out here that I read before walking this that the signage left a lot to be desired, but the truth right now is that it is almost perfect.

Path through daffodils along the Shuttle Riverway

THWACK!

From nowhere the sound of someone teeing-off ricocheted around my mind. Sidcup Golf Club had arrived on my right. You scramble through the only slightly overgrown part of the route and find yourself on Dene Avenue, which today was teeming with lovely pink blossoms.

Blossoms along the Shuttle Riverway

And then I witnessed something I may never witness again. The sheer arrogance of a Chelsea Tractor 4×4 driver attempting to bully a Nissan Micra, and failing, is a thing to behold. The outraged beeping of the 4×4 was hilarious as the Micra had nowhere to go. David slaughtered Goliath. She gesticulated wildly at the Micra as she gave in and pulled into the obvious and enormous space she had just deliberately overshot. Idiot.

Shuttle Riverway blaze and an urban pylon

The A221 looked like it would be busy and loud but it was not too bad after all. Upon seeing the river I realised I couldn’t see a blaze anywhere so I was uncertain for the first time that morning which way to go. I took the track on the south side of the water and headed east – it was the right choice.

Willow along the Riverway Walk on the Shuttle RiverwayThis is probably the nicest part of the whole trail – Riverside Walk it’s called. The Shuttle winds through lovely grassy areas. Willows droop into the clear water and ducks splish into the current from their hidden resting places. Dogs patrol the verges trying to catch others out, but fail every time. Riverside Walk has another of those excellent playgrounds to make this somewhere pretty much perfect for a picnic.

Bexley Wood seemed to sparkle as the sun beat down. The slope to the right made the trees glimmer as they reached up to the light. Sadly it is quite a small patch of woodland, but you can’t have it all.

The Riverway takes you along some quiet roads, including the very pretty Riverdale Road, but then the A2 looms audibly before you see it. As the sound of water gurgling over rocks is trumped by the racket of engines and tyres your spirits will droop a bit. It’s inevitable. Cross the A2 by the footbridge and leave that roar behind as soon as possible.

A house with a canon on its lawn was unexpected.

The Warren is a strange bump at the top of the day’s only real climb. Brief though it is the views from up here stretch far beyond the London boundary.

Take care crossing the A220 and dodge the dog mess as you take in even more impressive views down to and over Hall Place. It’s a really beautiful building, apparently part-Tudor, part-Jacobean. Sit on the bench at the top of the slope and enjoy the avenue of trees framing it. The Shuttle Riverway ends at the bottom of this slope so take your time.

Hall Palce at the end of the Shuttle Riverway

I, however, had demons to exorcise. About 9 months ago I hurt myself badly simply walking the Thames Path and LOOP from Woolwich to Bexley, my memories of the walk between Hall Place and Bexley are mainly flecked with despair and agony. I’ve learned my lesson now. I’m stronger, fitter, and more clued-up, so I took the LOOP/Cray Riverway from Hall Place round to Bexley train station.

Suspicious baggy along the Shuttle RiverwayHonestly, it’s not much cop. You have to walk beside the A2 for a bit more, and then you take a fairly dull path abundantly edged by the incredibly toxic hogweed. Nevertheless is was worth taking on for a second time because there aren’t many links from Hall Place itself. Although I did have to run through Bexley village so that I caught my train home.

The Shuttle Riverway has a lot to offer. From the glamour of the Winter Garden at Avery Hill Park, to the tranquillity of the Shuttle River at the Riverside Walk, to the gorgeous finale of Hall Place. I expected suburbia but this walk really links green patches together in an intelligent and interesting way. Perhaps the weather played a part in making it thoroughly enjoyable, but you get the feeling that even a typically British overcast afternoon would find it difficult to ruin things. It’s not part of one of the ‘strategic’ routes around London but you shouldn’t let that dissuade you from taking it on.