Hello again and welcome back to my rambles, both physical and literary.
I hope you have enjoyed the posts about my trip to Northumberland. If you haven’t seen them and would like to then please click back a few pages or search on Northumberland, Newcastle or Berwick at the top of the page or alternatively you can begin here. I am such an obliging chap, I’ll do the legwork for you.
I had returned to London on the 6th of November 2019 for a Doctor’s appointment and to collect a repeat prescription which is going to be a recurring theme for me as I shall be on certain medication for the rest of my life. This is not a major problem although it was a bit of a nuisance then as I would have loved to have stayed in the North of England because I was really enjoying myself there despite some atrocious weather.
This post will be dealing with the first part of a two day walk I undertook a fortnight after my return but first a brief look at what happened in the interim period. I should point out that I am not going to make the blog an everyday account of the minutiae of my fairly mundane existence when I am at home. This is one of my many pet peeves about antisocial media as I am quite sure you do not want to hear about me doing the laundry, going to the shop, having a shower or whatever. Some people seem to think is absolutely essential reading for the world as they post it all on multiple platforms, complete with images. I am not so vain as to think that anyone is in the slightest bit interested but I’m going to share a couple of quick snippets with you as they have a vague bearing on the main thrust of this post.
I apologise to any aichmophobics but this picture represented a bit of a milestone for me. When I saw the Doctor on my return home, he confirmed what the thrombosis nurse had told me in Canterbury some time previously. Thankfully, I could stop self-injecting with the anti-coagulant I had been prescribed which was a blessing as it is no fun sticking one of those in your abdomen every day. I felt like a well-used pin cushion by the end of the two and a half months course. I mention this because it was tied in to my general recovery and I was feeling pretty good.
I had managed a few reasonable walks when I had been up North and wanted to keep up that regime as it is about the only exercise I get these days. With my dodgy back road running and the gym are non-starters and I have nowhere to keep a bicycle so walking is a good option. I suppose I should go swimming but it is probably best I do not scare the populace with the sight of me in a pair of swimming trunks!
I have mentioned frequently how much I love just wandering aimlessly when I am visiting towns and cities but I also like walking a set route with a goal, which is normally just to get from point A to point B via a designated path. We are very well served with these in London and I have already completed the London Loop and Capital Ring as well as the Thames Path right up into Oxfordshire and the Regents / Grand Union canal path from Limehouse Basin on the Thames near where I live as far as Milton Keynes. I must finish it up to Birmingham one of these days. The upshot of all this is that I was looking for a new route to walk and inspiration came via my beard! Let me explain.
I am a member of the wonderful British Beard Club and the name is a bit of clue really. We are a bunch of complete eccentrics whose only connection is that we all like a bit of “face furniture”. We don’t have chapters or branches but rather we have thatches and I belong to the London thatch which is called Capital Beards.
Lest you think we are not inclusive as it is generally only men who grow beards, that is far from the truth. We have honorary lady members, clean shaven members who are thinking about growing beards and we have even had competitions for youngsters at Xmas meetings for the best false beard. I believe some of the lady members also entered that one. On a serious note, we also raise a decent amount of money every year for the Prostate Cancer UK charity.
You may well be wondering by now what on Earth has all this got to do with my walking so I’ll tell you. We meet monthly in different pubs, always serving real ale and good food although you certainly don’t have to be a drinker to enjoy it and I still attend even with my new alcohol regime. The November meet was in the excellent Hope pub in Carshalton which is a fine example of a pub that was threatened with closure and you probably know my views on that subject. The locals got together and bought the place, put in a manager, and it is now run as a community venture which is very successful. Have a look at the “about us” section on the linked website for the full story.
I turned up and had a great afternoon and I have included an image here for the benefit of people who tell me that my beard is too long. I am a mere boy compared to some of the lads, as the image proves.
Carshalton is a long way from where I live and I do not know the area at all so I had a quick look at an online map to get my directions from the station and I happened to see a footpath indicated called the Wandle Trail. I though that this might fit my walking bill nicely and did a bit of research into it which led to me eventually walking it as you shall see.
The Wandle is one of the tributaries of the Thames and is still fairly much visible. This is in contrast to the so-called “secret” rivers of London like the Fleet (from where the name Fleet Street comes), the Effra, the Tyburn etc. which were all culverted as the capital developed. Bizarrely, the Effra now has a walk dedicated to it whereby you follow the river at street level and never even see the water flowing beneath your feet. That is just bizarre enough to appeal to me and has already been added to the “to do” list.
Having done a bare minimum of research into the Wandle I knew that the Trail started at a place called Smugglers Way in Wandsworth and finished in Carshalton. That was really all I needed to know as I like to discover as I go along rather than research everything in advance. Unlike rural walks where you may be dependent on very infrequent buses or trains, transport home was never going to be a problem and I knew the river was open, so how hard could it be to just follow it? Besides, getting lost is half the fun.
Depending on which website you consult the trail is anywhere between nine and 14 miles long and these figures are both from supposedly reputable organisations and this general confusion about the route was to continue into signage, websites and so on but more of that later. In fairness, some of the uncertainty may arise from the fact that the Wandle rises in two separate locations. It is for that rason that I have not linked any websites for the Trail as they are so contradictory nd confusing, I’ll let you choose your own.
Whatever the length, I was thinking of a walk of about two or at most three days as it was the middle of winter and the light was going by about 1600. At that point I did not have my over 60’s travel card so starting after 0930 is much cheaper but would make for a short dy. Also, I was still not sure how far I could manage in a day now but again this was no problem as it wasn’t a race and it would take as long as it took. Hammering myself on a forced march certainly was not the plan.
For some reason journeys of mine, of whatever type or duration, often seem to start off badly and this was to be no exception. I am particularly thinking here of my trip to Europe in 2017 which was planned as four days, ended up as three months and began with me on the boat train to Harwich without my passport! You can read all about that little exploit here.
On this occasion it was not my own stupidity but another of the endless failures of the London public transport system that was my potential downfall.
I was aiming for Wandsworth Town train station and had planned on the Overground to Clapham Junction and then a train the rest of the way. I managed a whole four stops, as far as Surrey Quays, before I had to get off the train again due to some problem or another. What then followed was a totally circuitous route which got me to Wandsworth at about midday so that wasn’t going to give me as much walking as I had planned on.
I found Smugglers Way and the river with no difficulty which was just as well as there was no signage that I could see either from the station / main road or indicating that this was the start / finish of the trail.
My first view of the Wandle on this fairly bleak day and with the tide out and the mud showing was underwhelming to say the least although I wasn’t expecting sylvan glades in this part of the world..
Almost immediately I passed under a railway bridge and was confronted by hoardings which masked a construction site that formed part of the massive Super Sewer project which is constructing a new sewer, mostly under the Thames, for a distance of over 15 miles from Acton in the West to Barking in the East.
Interestingly, the company responsible for the project trades under the name of Tideway but is properly called Bazalgette Trading Co. which is named for Joseph Bazalgette. He was the engineer who brought effective sewage to London in the mid 19th century and, in the process, gave us the Embankment and Chelsea Embankment on the North bank of the river.
As one of my many asides, the visionary engineer’s great-great-grandson was the man responsible for bringing the TV series Big Brother to the screen. I did once hear a comedian quip that whilst Bazalgette senior had been concerned with removing sh*t from London, his descendant was doing his best to bring it back. I’ll let you decide and now back to the Wandle.
I should tell you at this point that there are not going to be too many images and not as much text as usual (you may be relieved to know) as there is frankly not a great deal of interest to see or photograph en route.
Emerging from the uninspiring back streets onto the very busy A3 I spied the outline of the famous Ram Brewery, which for centuries had been the site of beer production most notably Young’s Brewery which operated here from 1831 until 2006 although brewing is recorded on the site as far back as the 1550’s and possibly before even that.
When the brewery closed, along with it went the Brewery Tap aka the Ram Inn for which the brewery was initially named. In the UK, a “brewery tap” is the pub adjacent to a brewery serving the beer from it. This is very good if you are concerned with food miles and, yes, beer is food in my book. Happily, bucking a tragic national trend, the pub re-opened less than three months before I was there and retained the original name. Great news and it is definitely on my radar for next time I am down that way.
The reason I was on the A3 was that the river had disappeared into a culvert and I was following s best I could the route I thought it was taking. This was not helped by the complete lack of any signage.
At one point I went down a side street to try to rejoin it but that didn’t work as there were private modern developments up to the water and so I went back onto Garratt Lane and walked on and on past a massive shopping centre until another side road brought me back to my watery friend. So far, so much less than good. Still, I was having a walk and that was the main thing.
I carried in upstream and wondered when I would encounter my first indication that this was indeed a proper path and not just a random ramble (I love alliteration) that I was engaged on. Some time later, and after more looking at the back walls of various premises, I came upon the first waymark which you can see is number 10. Where the first nine had been is anyone’s guess and here is a warning – DO NOT USE THE WEBSITE SHOWN ON THE WAYMARK. I have and it leads to a site which I think is Chinese as I do not know what script it is. I cannot vouch for what it might do to your computer and this is indicative of what I meant about the complete lack of organisation on this route. It is a shambles.
Whilst useful waymarking is at a complete premium, there is a series of completely idiotic signs mimicking the official blue plaques that are common all over the UK. Whilst they are of no use whatsoever, I did find them quite amusing and they raised a bit of a smile. I have no idea who Martin Gardener is and, unusually for me, I didn’t even research him.
By now the commercial centre had given way to housing estates which were eventually superseded by the King George Park on the opposite bank that provided a bit of greenery at least. That didn’t last long and I was soon back to trudging residential streets with not so much as a glimpse of the river and only instinct to try and guess which way it was going. At one point I walked past Earlsfield train station and I was half-tempted to go either home or at least somewhere else but I soldiered on.
I eventually regained the river again and at least saw a bit of wildlife, the lovely swans you can see. Sadly, the moment was somewhat spoiled by the other image I took from exactly the same spot.
There is little to report for a good way upstream until I found another of the waymarks with the potentially dangerous website and the totally redundant upstream / downstream indicators. It is not hard to work out which way the river is flowing and, if in doubt, adopt Mr. Gardener’s lolly stick approach which should tell you. I should add that I had seen no more than three intervening waymarks since number 10 but now it became laughable as there were three within a couple of hundred yards. I did not take an image of number 36, what was the point?
It was shortly after this that I spotted some more wildlife, an urban fox no more than a few feet way from me which I just about managed to snap as it disappeared into the scrub having scrambled to get my camera out of my pocket with my gloves on. The foxes in London are completely unafraid of humans and, whilst it was once common to only see them at night, they roam around quite happily in the daylight hours now.
By now I had come to some less developed walking, accompanied by a completely new style of waymarking, albeit with the same mill wheel logo.
The direction to Plough Lane will be evocative to football (soccer) supporters of a certain age as it was for many years the home of Wimbledon Football Club who were controversially (and wrongly in my opinion and that of many others) relocated to Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire in 2003. This move is a distance of over 50 miles and the team even changed their name to MK Dons.
Disgruntled fans formed a new club called AFC Wimbledon who, after initially holding trials on Wimbledon Common, are still “owned” by the supporters and rose from the minor leagues to get back in the Football League. They are currently in the process of building a new stadium on the site of the old dog track a few hundred yards from the original one which is now a housing development.
Ironically, on the day of writing this (09/02/2020) the two clubs occupy adjacent positions just above the relegation zone in League One, which is the third tier of professional football in England.
I mentioned that the logo for the Wandle Trail is a mill wheel and after safely negotiating the A24 I caught sight of my first one, the rather fine example you can see. It was part of the William Morris printworks which stood on this site and has now been re-developed into a crafts market complete with an art gallery, a theatre company, a pottery, a pub and various restaurants.
I am no expert on arts and crafts but the name of William Morris somehow rang a bell with me and it was only when I began researching him that it all fell into place.
Morris was born in Walthamstow, then in Essex and now in London, which is not too far from my home. A privileged young man, he studied at Oxford, trained as an architect and moved in artistic circles including the artist Rosetti. He was more interested in arts and crafts than architecture and formed the company of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., a decorative arts firm which manufactured everything from textiles to wallpaper to fabrics and even stained glass. Remarkably, his designs are still in production today.
Apart from his artistic endeavours, Morris was a committed socialist despite his affluent background and very successful business career and he included socialist principles in his business. This was evident in the works here, which he leased in 1881 although there had been a calico printing works on the site since 1752. By 1884 there were 100 people employed there with some of the higher clerks involved in a profit sharing scheme although Morris’ socialist principles did not extend to the actual workers who were engaged on a piecework basis.
Morris was a true polymath, being known internationally as a poet, artist and illustrator amongst his many other accomplishments but like many of his class and artistic leanings, Morris was a drug addict. His “poison” of choice was chloral which I must admit I had never heard of before researching this. Apart from making him paranoid, it most likely contributed to his early death in October 1896 although the actual cause was TB. His body was taken to Oxford where he was buried in a family plot at Kelmscott.
The reason his name had rung that faint bell in my head was that his childhood home in Walthamstow has been taken over by Waltham Forest Council and is now the William Morris Gallery which showcases his work. It won the National Museum of the Year prize in 2013 and I had first learned of it through the wonderful Virtual Tourist. Like so many other places in London, it remains stubbornly unvisited on my “still to do after all these years” list where it is in good company along with the British Museum, would you believe?
The mill wheel was a bright spot in an otherwise dull day, in every sense of the word, but it was slightly annoying that I could not work out how I knew about Morris as I continued upstream. What I did manage to work out for myself was which way upstream was without the aid of a waymark!
I walked past the sign above which indicated places I had heard of and also Phipps Bridge which I had not. I am not sure if the bridge I took the image of is the bridge itself but I am glad I did not stray too far off my path as a quick look on the internet reveals that the nearby Phipps Bridge estate, a post-war development on the site of an old slum, has reverted to type.
It is described in a magazine article as “one of south London’s most notorious crime vortexes” with a local councillor calling it “out of control”. The local pub was closed after a shooting, there have been stabbings and a gang of 17 were sentenced for selling Class A (hard) drugs in the kiddies play area. Charming.
The most recent incident of note her that I could find was that a tram derailed itself on this stretch of line in August 2019. Thankfully nobody was hurt and I am glad that the tram which happened to pass decided to behave itself and stick to the tracks. As for Phipps Bridge, I think I’ll give it a miss.
A bit further on and I came to a National Trust sign which is always a good sign in my book and, yes, I wrote that on purpose. Again, a brief word for my non-UK readers. The National Trust is a charitable organisation dating back to 1895 and whose aims are environmental and heritage conservation. It’s properties include such national treasures as the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, Chartwell House (Churchill’s home) and Corfe and Lindisfarne Castles to name four of the thousands. Anywhere you see the famous oak leaves logo you’ll know you are in for a treat.
The treat in this case was Morden Hall Park,a former deer park covering about 125 acres and which is a welcome green oasis in the urban sprawl of South London. As well as the wildlife sanctuary and boardwalk, there are a couple of cafes and even a garden centre.
When I saw the boardwalk, I had to have a look and, although there was not much to be seen in the way of wildlife at this time of year, it was very pleasant and obviously a popular place for locals to take a stroll.
By now it was about 1500 and I didn’t have much light left so when I saw the sign for nearby Morden Tube station I thought it would make a sensible place to stop for the day. Besides, it was mid-afternoon and I had been walking for three hours non-stop so I thought I had earned a pint. Fortunately I didn’t have to search too far as I spotted Ganley’s Irish pub just across the road from the station but before that I popped into a charity shop where I managed to score not one but two books I wanted.
I don’t normally like Irish pubs outside the island of Ireland as they tend to be slightly Hollywood versions of what some set designer thinks an Irish pub looks like. Irish pubs in Ireland, apart from those in the extremely touristy areas, invariably do not look like Irish pubs in Berlin, Bogota or Bangkok. Ganleys was pretty over the top with all the usual parphernalia but at least the barman was a genuine Paddy and I really didn’t fancy trekking much further. I had my pint whilst having a quick look at my new literary purchases. After that, it was onto the Tube and a journey home which, remarkably, TfL managed to accomplish without delay or diversion.
It had most certainly not been the most enjoyable day out walking that I had ever had, but it had served it’s purpose and I had come through it unscathed apart from a couple of minor aches in my lower limbs and back but that was no problem
In the next entry, I polish off the Wandle Trail and it does get better with a gem of find right at the end so stay tuned and spread the word.