It was an overcast Sunday, tinged with hints that the sun might break through.

Starting point: Woolwich Arsenal station or bus stops.

Finishing point: Beckenham Place Park, Ravensbourne, Beckenham Junction, New Beckenham, or Beckenham Hill stations are nearby.

Length: 13.4 miles (21.6 kilometres).

Ordnance Survey Maps app route link here

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

Not too cold, not to warm, but a pain in the arse when deciding what to wear for a nice long walk along the Capital Ring and Green Chain from Woolwich to Beckenham with my girlfriend (and future wife).

We popped into the local supermarket in Beckenham to pick up snacking supplies before riding the bus all the way to Woolwich Arsenal.  From there it was a quick stroll to the Thames, passing the Royal Artillery Museum on the right.  Our walk began ‘officially’ around 1pm from the Woolwich foot tunnel’s southern entrance building – far later than I’d hoped.  As soon as we began we wondered whether this walk was a good idea as the wind off the River Thames was bitterly cold and the clouds were relentlessly tumbling and thickening overhead.  Struggling into this prickly headwind we dodged dog mess and over-enthusiastic cyclists along the Thames Path extension (which ran behind us several miles to Crayford Ness) until, just as we sighted the Thames Barrier in the distance, the path veered off into non-descript and shabby road paths to Maryon Park and the first greenery of the Capital Ring.

This entrance, on Woolwich Road, takes you immediately up hill, over a railway line, past a tennis court, up more steps and into a patch of woodland before you reach a quiet residential road that bisects the two halves of the park.  The park on the south side of the road is called Maryon Wilson Park and it houses a lovely little ‘farm’ – AKA a petting zoo – in a valley of this rolling hill.  We admired the various fowl and deer, ‘Tumour Goose’ in particular with its frankly worrying scrotum-like folds of skin under its neck, took in the smells of the ungulates, and then moved on past this unexpected idyll.  There’s another stretch of woodland here and we were frequently passed by oncoming Charlton fans on their way to cheer on their team.  The stadium announcer in their nearby The Valley stadium could be heard drifting on the wind.

Charlton Park comes next with its wide, flat expanses and myriad Sunday League football teams showing off their dubious tackling skills.  Charlton House is at the western edge of this park but remains largely secluded from the Capital Ring which took us back into housing areas.   One old chap in a sailor cap gave us an amiable ‘Hello!’ and a nod.  Nice round here!  Until Woolwich Common…

This green space is a patchwork of grasses, gorse, brambles, and menace.  I would not want to walk across this at night.  Undoubtedly the funfair down the road was attracting more shady characters to the area than usual but we both felt very ill-at-ease when we had to pass through a large group of youths with dogs.  They stopped talking to each other and stared at us from under their hoodies, we both quickened our pace just a little.  The path takes you through some completely secluded parts of the common after that, and there were no other ‘safe-looking’ people around so we made sure to tune our senses to the sounds of footsteps behind us.  There were none.  Were we unduly afraid or just well-aware of past incidents we’d both suffered through from people who looked and acted just like these guys?  Either way we were relieved to reach the grim traffic of Academy Road.

We crossed  into Eltham Common but our nerves were obviously jangled as we both jumped a little when a jogging soldier from the local barracks noiselessly approached us from behind and then whizzed past.  This broke the tension and from then on we felt happy and content in ourselves, free to enjoy the unfolding chain of green spaces.  These woods soon reach Severndroog Castle, an impressive but slightly derelict Victorian folly.  The sun started to shine just as we came across the manicured gardens beside Jackwood House.  Very tranquil and quite a brilliant sun trap in summer no doubt.

Oxleas Wood blends seamlessly into this area and just when you think you are going to plunge into ever-darkening undergrowth you find yourself on top of an amazing viewpoint with a cafe and picnic tables!  The view here takes in a huge swathe of southeast London.  The endless treetops remind you again that it’s not just the ‘green spaces’ that are verdant but that so many residential streets retain their trees as well.  London is a green city.

After scoffing our lunch and resting our legs briefly we polished off Oxleas Wood and crossed Rochester Way into Eltham Woods.  The Capital Ring takes you around Eltham Park North before crossing the furious A2 by bridge.  Eltham Park South is much more pleasant and suburban in character with a little pond and evil coots splishing around.   On the way out of here we passed a strange little dog-show-cum-fair with archery and inflatable playthings.  Not a good combo you’d think?

The sun was starting to dip in the sky and we were well aware that we needed to get a shift on or we would be walking through woodland in the dark later in the route.

A quick nip along a residential street with more typical suburbia led us to Butterfly Lane where we could see several ponies and horses going about their business, plus a strange old lady standing in the bush watching them as if she was trying to catch them doing something naughty or Gary Larsonesque.  We saw nothing of the kind.  Just a few wasps.

The next half mile or so took us to the magnificent Eltham Palace with some quaint Tudor terraces that Kristina declared would be where we lived.  Later property searches revealed that we would have to actually be part of the Tudor dynasty to be able to afford them.

After the Palace there’s another dog shit slalom that passes some stables just as tremendous views of Central London open on the right.  A heavily scribbled-on but thankfully un-pilfered sign labels all the main sights in this vista before the views disappear into the monotony of Mottingham.  This monotony is not the Capital Ring’s fault thoug.  Oh no, it was my fault…

It was here that my right leg decided it didn’t enjoy this any more.  I had twinged it somehow doing the Beckenham to Streatham part of the Ring a few days earlier and now it was back with a vengeance.  It was also here that I realised the directions on the Capital Ring’s website no longer corresponded to where we actually were.  ‘Uh oh, this is where it all falls apart’ I thought.  But kept quiet for fear of troubling the rapidly tiring lady at my side.  I reasoned that we seemed to be heading in a direction that would actually take us closer to our destination rather than away, and i knew the Green Chain re-linked to the Capital Ring near our house.  So, I forced the leg to life and we crossed playing fields before plunging into more woodland, scattering foxes as we went.

We entered Lower Marvels Wood.  ‘What’s so marvelous?’ was my first question to myself.  Discarded mattresses aren’t that interesting are they?  Well not to people with beds in houses I suppose.  There was the  jumble of nearby prophylactics though, perhaps that’s the marvel?  I was going off the walk right about here.  Which was a great thing because in Marvels Wood/Elmstead Woods we found these amazing sculptures in a couple of sites:

A tree trunk carven into pagan green man shapes in Elmstead/Marvels Wood along the Green Chain

A tree trunk carven into pagan green man shapes in Elmstead/Marvels Wood along the Green Chain

Tree trunks carved into the shape of bears clinbing and resting, in Elmstead/Marvels Wood along the Green Chain

They must entertain children, reading them stories or something, but I thought these were a real highlight of the walk.  Proper hidden gems that I pray (if I was that way inclined) will escape the torments of any local vandals.

The Green Chain skirted Grove Park Cemetery with a few wind chimes tinkling and hooting above us before dumping us unceremoniously onto a shit-covered railway bridge.  Dog owners – clean up after your ****ing animals you barbarians!

We edged around the grotesquely enormous Sundridge Park Golf Course and followed same-same residential roads all the way to a path through Warren Avenue Playing Fields, in pretty dusky conditions by now.

As we crossed the Ravensbourne River we read a disturbing sign detailing how some idiot had decanted poisonous waste into the trickling river which had killed their little boy’s dog, as well a load of fish.  Heartbreaking stuff.

My leg was in agony by now and the final steps past Ravensbourne Train Station, over the hill, and then down to our house near Beckenham Place Park weren’t very fun.  I had to lift my leg over the threshold with my hands.  Oops!

At perhaps 14 miles This had been the longest walk I’d done for MANY years but it had been very rewarding.  In many ways it spurred me on to continue to walk around London and thus it also spawned this website.  Yes, it had some downsides but it was good fun and very interesting.