I wasn’t impressed at the start, but it evolved into something worthwhile.

At the start of the summer I had an accidental introduction to the Waterlink Way when my Tramlink journey home from another walk was cut short. Today’s route continued where I left off, at New Beckenham Overground rail station and would take me all the way to Deptford Creek via the rivers Pool and Ravensbourne, taking in several parks on the way. The Waterlink Way follows the National Cycle Network route 21 (NCN21) so there are blue and red stickers regularly indicating turnings, but there’s a mirrored ‘W’ symbol to indicate the path too. It promised to be a pretty and none too strenuous ramble along good paths with clear signage for a change, but at first I had my doubts…

Starting point: North entrance to Cator Park, 2 minutes from New Beckenham or 10 minutes from Kent House railway stations.

Finishing point: Deptford Creek, 5 minutes from Cutty Sark DLR station or several buses along the A200 road.

Length: Approximately 5.5 miles.

Sun on the River Pool on the Waterlink WayThankfully I found the River Pool where I left it, which was comforting, and followed its concrete walls north. The weather was perfect.

A man lurking in the bushes turned out to be blackberry-picking, though the gently shaking bushes did trouble me at first. The river level seemed low but the ducks were busy foraging. It’s a pretty nice start the day.

The River Pool at New Beckenham along the Waterlink Way

Industrial building spoil the start of the Waterlink WayThen abruptly you have to leave the river and head into an industrial estate…

I had viewed the route from space before setting off and knew it would have periods like this but it still felt like a false start. Dreary steel boxes along a boring road. I turned off and into a scrubby path sandwiched between the rail line and houses. As this section came to an end I pondered whether it was worth doing this route at all.

Typical signage along the Waterlink Way

Then, just as suddenly, the walk got all official! At Lower Sydenham there’s a tall iron post marking the start of the ‘Riverview Walk’, with a map picking out key parts of the entire Waterlink Way and even a ‘You Are Here’ bubble for your convenience. Accurate maps, signage, wide and clean paths, great lines of sight so there are no unwanted bicycle interactions, and CCTV posts every now and then – this is weird for a London walk.

The oncoming joggers pounded the paths while sweating in the Autumn sun. I picked up my own pace to turn this short distance into a bit more of a challenge. That pace was soon tested when I discovered a beautiful Alice In Wonderland inspired piece of graffiti under a bridge. After taking a slight detour to admire this artwork I continued north with only mothers and small children for company. The Riverview Walk soon evolves into Bellingham Play Park, and then the River Pool Linear Park which is where the path remains within sight of the river but is flanked with taller reeds and wild flowers.

Alice In Wonderland graffiti along the Waterlink Way in Riverview Walk

The confluence of the Ravensbourne and Pool rivers arrives with a pleasant weir and a small bridge. This is the only part of the entire walk where lines of sight are reduced and of course it’s the only place where I was nearly wiped up by a mountain biker in full regalia, including face mask. He was middle-aged, the bike was pristine, and there are NO mountains, or even moderate hills within a few miles, so I didn’t know what to think there. This is a National Cycle Route, but a face mask – really? A few feet further and I began to spot ‘Cycle Shop’ signs so perhaps he was headed there, incognito?

The confluence of the rivers Ravensbourne and Pool along the Waterlink Way

After crossing back over the Ravensbourne the Waterlink Way passes beneath the railway line via a pretty skewed-brick-patterned bridge and empties walkers into the carpark of home decoration and DIY store Wickes, at Catford Bridge. The ‘Snack Shack’ here sells appealing hot-dogs and other snacks and I took on a 60p cup of tea as the day was chilling with clouds blotting out the sun.

The excellent signage along the Waterlink Way

Don’t cross the road, veer to the right and look for the path under the bridge – you cross underneath and onto Adenmore road. Five minutes later you’re back in parkland, in the surprisingly pretty Ladywell Fields. The river flows to your right as you pass a selection of climbing frames and then some floodwater storage ditches. This green space was only recently renovated and it has a modernist feel with wide open grassland and some shiny polished stone benches. You cross the river again and nip under the railway before entering the central section of Ladywell Fields.

This part has a different feel again, almost like a bonafide nature reserve. Signs point out the rare flora, including a genus of Dutch Elm completely unique in London. Which made me feel quite sad for it. A bit like when I heard that the late Lonesome George the giant tortoise was the last of his kind. But not as terrible as when I stupidly tried to empathise with how the last Neanderthal alive would have felt, *gulp*… Anyway, there are rare irises and a dry riverbed to explore. The latter has strange, and seemingly defunct, water pumps that are meant to show you how a river would fill itself. I get the impression it was designed for school ecology field trips but now requires a groundsman to flick a switch on now as nothing but a huge metallic clanging comes out of the pipes now.

The weird water pumps in Ladywell Fields beside the dry riverbed

At the top of this interesting section there’s a large adventure playground replete with rope swings and towers, but secured behind a harsh, tall, green wire fence. It’s a real shame that it seems you can only get access by appointment but it’s obviously to guard against vandalism. I have extremely fond memories of playing for many hours in the similar structure in Battersea Park so this got me down a bit.

The Waterlink Way swirls up and down spiraling ramps over the railway and provides a neat spot to watch athletes training in Ladywell Arena. There were none there on this occasion but in the final section of Ladywell Fields there were several guys pumping iron and generally showing off to each other.

With a raised eyebrow I reached the top of the park, passed Ladywell train station, and lost the river for a while. Darting along Algernon Road (the best recycling street in the Borough apparently) and then ferreting along Marsala Road plops you back into residential monotony. It’s a shame the river is lost here and not seen again for almost a mile because when you find it again in Cornmill Gardens it’s even more tightly-bound in concrete. You immediately lose the Ravensbourne again to the urban mess that is this little slice of Lewisham.

Thurston Road leads you to a worrying sign announcing that the end of the path is another 3 1/4 miles away – which, rest-assured, is a massive lie. The Ravensbourne emerges again in a rather sorry state. Abandoned foot scooters and other weird detritus speckle this stretch behind a housing estate, up to Elverson Road DLR station. Beyond here it becomes pleasant again as you enter Brookmill Park. Ducks carve trails through the algae-ridden pond as the river passes to the right.

Ducks in the mucky pond of Brookmill Park

A fountain at the north end of this park spurts green, yes green, water as a gardener fiddles with the flowerbeds nearby. Hmmm, unattractive.

A fountain with green water in Lewisham, along the Waterlink Way

I think the Ravensbourne becomes Deptford Creek at Deptford Bridge, again you lose the water entirely here and head up urban roads. Deptford Church Street provided me with my first crazy man yelling at himself for some time, in fact, since the last time I walked in Deptford, though that time it was a man barking! Then you turn down Creekside, past a double-decker bus-cum-pizzeria-and-cocktail-joint. Creekside is the next road you take and it passes you into the hands of arty Deptford with galleries coming thick and fast.

Cocktails and pizza in a double decker bus along the Waterlink Way

Intricate gates in Deptford along the Waterlink Way

Graffiti in DeptfordEventually these peter out and the surroundings become more claustrophobic, more derelict. Copperas Street is composed of 50% hoardings and abandoned housing, and 50% modern flats. Presumably these skeletons will be demolished and developed into new towers of flats, and perhaps the Creek will regain a path there, but for now this final stretch of the Waterlink Way is a bit of an anticlimax.

Dereliction at the end of the Waterlink Way in Deptford

You leave Copperas Street and directly opposite you are the blazes for the Thames Path, you’ve reached your destination. It’s only a couple of minutes further to the Peter the Great statue overlooking the Thames, should you need a picturesque place to rest, and Greenwich town centre is just east of here, but otherwise there are bus stops ready to transport you pretty much anywhere in central or southeast London.

The beginning and end of the Waterlink Way may have been slightly underwhelming but the stretches of almost contiguous parkland in the middle are certainly worth it. This is a well managed walk (or cycle) and at this kind of length it’s suitable for pretty much anyone. Plus it’s a great way to tie together several other local routes. Undeniably there are better routes for walkers but I get the impression that kids would enjoy a long day along here with the river and various playgrounds to explore.