I’ve never been hugely attracted to the Southeast London Green Chain walks, but I don’t know why.

They were a fore-runner to almost all the ‘strategic’ walks around London that we enjoy today, and they are well-loved. I think it has something to do with how fiddly they are. Glance at a map of the Green Chain and you see a dropped bowl of spaghetti. No obvious best way to tackle all the routes becomes clear until you analyse it a bit deeper. That, I think, is why I have tended to veer away from them in favour of the Capital Ring and LOOP – both are walks with a clear way of completing them. However, when I walked the Capital Ring from Woolwich to Beckenham back in 2010 I made a serious wrong turn and ended up on the Green Chain for several miles. This has niggled me ever since and has prevented me from truthfully claiming to have completed the Capital Ring in south London. Until now…

Starting point: Prickend Pond at the northern edge of Chislehurst Common, reachable by 162 bus from Bromley or Eltham.

Finishing point: Beckenham Place Park, reachable by trains to Ravensbourne, Beckenham Hill and Beckenham Junction (Tramlink runs here too).

Length: Approximately 7.5 miles (12 kilometres).

I went 10 months without any walking companions and then in a fortnight I get one of my best friends and then my dad coming along. Today my dad joined me as we rode the 162 bus from Beckenham to Chislehurst Common, the aim being to walk home.

Prickend Pond, the start of this section of the Green Chain

Prickend Pond *snigger* is small but perfectly formed with a range of waterfowl and birds loitering. Somehow my dad managed to not notice the heron perched in the tree in the middle. I had a pretty nasty cold so I spent a good few minutes acclimatising to the cool November air by using almost an entire pack of tissues. By the time we had walked up to the start of this Green Chain route this had passed and from here on in I felt pretty great.

The buzz of the High Street was soon left behind as we walked down an alley beside Red Hill Primary School. Two old folk were congratulating each other on how splendid the day was as their tiny dogs frolicked. As we entered Whytes Woodland there was a huge snarling battle going on just up the path as two dogs attacked each other. A mother pulled her little girl close to her and prepared to snatch her up if the riot escalated. The dogs were parted and some words to the effect of ‘What are they like?’ were spread between the owners. The main offender was a huge, toned, pitbull who looked exactly like his owner. As he controlled his dog by basically sitting on him we passed by with senses on full alert…

The long and straight alley leading to Elmstead Lane was uneventful, enough so that my dad started to count squirrels, which are a very rare sight where he lives in the Western Isles. Bemused I pointed some out for him.

We almost didn’t turn into Elmstead Wood when we misread a really quite obvious sign, but were soon enjoying dozens of squirrels and a stretch of really nice woodland. Autumn was being kind to me again, the views inside the wood were colourful whilst the mud underfoot wasn’t too extreme.

Trees framing a lovely clearing in Elmstead Woods, Green Chain

Logs appear to be used to stop cycling or motorbikes in Elmstead Woods, Green Chain

We paused at the bottom of the slope to read the Green Chain signage properly before I even realised I’d been there before two years ago. We were alongside Grove Park Cemetery and I knew we were close to one of the highlights of the Green Chain. Up the slope we went and I kept quiet until the brilliant wood carvings of the appropriately-named Marvels Wood came into view.

My dad cursed himself for not bringing his proper camera and had to make do with his mobile phone. I, however, couldn’t stop snapping.

Green Men totems in Marvels Wood, Green Chain

Owls and eagles carved in Marvels Wood, Green Chain

Green Man carving beside Grove Park Cemetery, Green Chain

Carved bears on two trees in Marvels Wood, Green Chain

Bear carvings in Marvels Wood, Green Chain

As we were about to head out I spied another tree carving that I’d not spotted last time. Less impressive but still worthy of a short diversion.

Gnome House and throne, Marvels Wood, Green Chain

My dad sitting on the chair outside the Gnome House, Marvels Wood, Green Chain

On the way out I found this lovely beastie relaxing on a sign. Carefree as I got closer and closer to take a photo.

Pretty and patient insect in Marvels Wood, Green Chain

The residential streets here are reminiscent of somewhere oop north that I’d have visited as a littlun. Perhaps Langley Mill, Heanor, or Kimberley. They even came complete with a pair of trainers tied together and hurled over the phone lines.

Trainers tied together and thrown over wires near Lower Marvels Wood

Lower Marvels Wood was exactly as I remembered it – minus the dirty mattresses though. These had been swapped for an abandoned shopping trolley instead. I bet all manner of shenanigans goes on here at night…

An abandoned shopping trolley in Lower Marvels Wood, Green Chain

As we crossed Mottingham Sports ground I cracked open a fruity soreen loaf and praised its Christmassy feel. Funnily enough when I walked this route in reverse two years ago it was here that my leg began to cramp up. This time I began to feel my recent knee injury twinging a little. Which wasn’t expected after such a short distance walked. I carried on, mindful that there was a lot of public transport available should I notice a serious increase in pain.

We found the Capital Ring on Mottingham Lane and I immediately spotted where I’d gone wrong before – I’d been beguiled by a Green Chain blaze when exited King John’s Walk but I should have looked to my right and seen the huge tree-like signage for both routes. Oh well, only took two years to fix that error.

Mottingham Lane is stupid. It’s one of those completely pointless middle-class neighbourly oneupmanship ventures that you see from time to time, such as installing poor quality stained glass or cutting down trees just to get a bit more sun in the summer. Today the oneupmanship seemed to be a case of who could call their house the most stupid name. Every single house had a name. ‘Keruing’, ‘Littleholm’, ‘Badgers Mount’, ‘Yaver’, ‘Five Witches’, ‘Karind’, ‘Pindi House’ – just stop it! I’ll swan in one day with my gaudily painted mansion called Quetzalcoatl Lodge and stick my tongue out at them all.

There is an alley running behind a range of sports grounds that sums up how well established the Green Chain is. Bear in mind that there is not a single fork or turn-off, but there are still blazes here indicating, in not so many words, that ‘Yes, you should still continue to walk in this direction, please don’t climb this spiky 8-foot-high fence or turn 180 degrees and abandon all hope’. I shrugged. Mentally.

After a dull road walk you come to a bridge over the railway and can listen to rats running around the verges. There are also slightly gnarly blackberries still growing along here in November. I don’t hold out much hope of them ever fully ripening now.

Naive carvings in Woodland Walk, Capital RingNext up we managed to actually lose our way somehow. It dawned on me that Whitefoot Lane was waaaay too busy to be part of the Green Chain so we veered off and soon found the path again. Into Woodland Walk we descended. It’s a strange corridor of green running between houses and schools. There are little mosaics on the floor as well as naively carved totems representing birds and foxes etc. I think children are meant to tick them all off on their way through. One particularly odd depiction of a bumblebee (I think) brought the wonderful game Botanicula to mind. If you don’t know it, I’m here to tell you to get to know it.

Mosaic on the path in Woodland Walk, Capital Ring, Bellingham

Suddenly we were ejected onto the nasty A21. We skipped across the road and yet again the traffic noises paled quickly. A couple of horses stood on the pavement here, of course, with their vacant hearse on the opposite side of the road.

Beckenham Place Park comes next and yet again I was overwhelmed with its variety and size. Considering it’s right on my doorstep I’m a bit of a prat for not knowing it completely by now. But that’s always the way when I put my spare time into either UK walking or global travel! A couple walked their twelve boisterous dogs, really, but otherwise we were pretty much alone. I found lots of pretty mushrooms to photograph and admired the way the park is managed, with lots of roting wood left to support dwindling beetle populations.

Mushrooms in Beckenham Place Park, Capital Ring

I made us leave the path and climb up a grassy hill to get a little view of Upper Norwood before we strolled the final few hundred metres home.

Upper Norwood as seen from Beckenham Place Park, Capital Ring

I plan to walk another much longer stretch of the Green Chain from Erith to New Eltham in the next few weeks.  As suburban London walks go this isn’t an unpleasant one but I’m left thinking that I seem to be picking less impressive ones when I’m being accompanied. Odd. Apart from the marvels of Marvels Wood there’s a bit to see but it’s hardly breathtaking. It’s just ‘nice’, very ‘pleasant’, and ‘nice’. It cheered me up and seemed to fight off my cold for a few hours too so I’m happy with that.