A shooting had truncated my last stroll along the Capital Ring, but picking up the route again at Wandsworth Prison meant I was able to enjoy one of the greenest sections of route so far, moving from city commons to the surprising sight of having my path blocked by a grazing cow. I wasn’t expecting to be slightly worried by passing a mean-looking bull on this leg…
Picking up the route by Wandsworth Prison, the leg starts at the pretty Victoria cottages of Alma Terrace, which shows what can be done with streets with a little love and imagination. The prison itself looms forbiddingly to the right, and then it’s through residential streets to Wandsworth Cemetery, which I took the option to walk through. There are few extravagant memorials here, but students of wartime London will find many graves of those killed fighting the Nazis, or, in one case, a 19-year-old sailor killed when an air raid hit a Putney dance hall. Another grave was for a young man killed in his mid-20s just a few weeks back in a bike accident. I paused and found his details on a website, and the tributes to him, one proudly saying his child had just started to walk.
With thoughts of too many people gone too soon, I moved on past Earlsfield station, over the river Wandle and into Wimbledon.
Through the underwhelming Durnsford Road Recreation Ground, past a mosque and up to Wimbledon Park station, suddenly things took a turn for the affluent. Wimbledon Park itself was full of children playing, and the tennis courts were starting to get some serious use. At the centre of the park is a beautiful lake, where the noise of south London fades away and – aeroplanes and District Line trains aside – the sounds of children playing and ducks quacking take charge. It was a gorgeous day, and I could have stayed there for hours.
Out of the park and onto a problematic section of route at Wimbledon Park Road. From the start, the quality of the Capital Ring’s signage had gradually got worse – Greenwich had done their job very well, Lewisham had missed some bits, and beyond the Green Chain walk boroughs the signs had petered out a little. Now the route followed the boundary of Wandsworth and Merton – two boroughs which weren’t exactly lavish with their signs. In fact, knowing the walk followed the boundary saved the day, because that imaginary line was easier to pick out than the route. Past the All England Club‘s croquet lawns, up past some seriously posh homes and up to Putney Heath.
And then it’s green nearly all the way. Together, Putney Heath and Wimbledon Common form a huge chunk of open space. The walk passes through scrubland before hitting open common at Wimbledon’s windmill, where the cafe closes at 5pm sharp. The London Scottish golf club has its course here, but most of the walk passes through woodland, before emerging alongside Beverley Brook. I chatted with a man whose dog duly leapt into the river for a swim, and emerged into a big field by the A3, suddenly so full of dogs that I felt I was in a Pedigree Chum ad.
Crossing the dual carriageway by footbridge at Kingston Vale provides a sudden jolt back to reality, but the scene soon changes dramatically. I’d only ever been to Richmond Park once – that was in an ex-girlfriend’s VW Beetle many years back, where we wandered around and gawped at deer. On foot, it’s a different proposition. The largest urban park in Europe, Richmond Park is huge. No deer to greet me, though, and as the sun began to set for the evening, passers-by were few and far between. Up a hill at the brilliantly-named Spankers Hill Wood, then towards Pen Ponds, the quiet only disturbed by the roar of jets from the Heathrow flightpath above. It suddenly felt possible to get completely lost in this vast open space.
But here’s where I committed a big boo-boo – I managed to miss Henry VIII’s Mound, from where you can look towards St Paul’s Cathedral. Instead, I was distracted by the views from the side of the mound – on one side, deep into Surrey, and on the other, straight over to Heathrow, the roof of what I guessed was Terminal 5 reflecting the setting sun. Watching the planes land and take off had a hypnotic effect. It was time to clamber down the hill, and after about three miles, finally leave the park at Petersham.
The path heads down to the river here – I thought I knew what to expect, I’d only been here a few weeks before after taking my stricken camera to Nikon’s HQ in nearby Kingston and passing through this area on the way. I couldn’t have been more surprised, though. After passing a churchyard, a right turn into a field which I thought looked like grazing territory. Can’t be, I thought, not this close to London. Into the next field, I was confronted with a) commuters strolling home from work, and b) cows merrily chomping away. Um, best give way to the cows, then, like that woman in the waxy jacket is doing. Petersham Meadows is all flood plain, so the cows help keep the grass down. All was fine until a bull eyed me suspiciously. Well, he probably didn’t give a toss about my presence, but I didn’t hang around to find out.
And finally, to the river. The walk into Richmond lasted longer than I expected, but with the sun setting, it didn’t really matter. Couples strolled along the path, ducks dawdled outside a riverside restaurant. I’d planned to be back in Greenwich by now (it was now past 8pm, over five hours after I’d started out) but had enjoyed the walk so much it was no problem to change my plans. At Water Lane, the White Cross pub might have had an entrance for high tides, but it wasn’t showing the football match I wanted to see. I looked east into the sunset along the Thames – then darted off to find somewhere on Richmond Green. It’d been my favourite stretch of walk so far. It’ll be at least a couple of weeks before I can pick up the walk again and cross the Thames, but I’ve made a note to come back and explore this area another time.
The next stage, north to Brentford and beyond, will feature my trusty SLR once again, as that’s back in service. But for the next couple of weeks, the scene’s going to shift a little…