Wandering the Wandle 2.

If you are reading this having read my previous post then I thank you and promise this one is a bit better. Let’s be honest, it wasn’t exactly a riveting read but I was working with some pretty average source material. If you are reading this without having read the previous entry and wonder what exactly I am on about I shall explain.

My previous post was about my first day on the Wandle Trail in South London which is supposedly a signed path following the River Wandle.  What that walk had actually entailed was a day of trudging through industrial and residential areas with very little of interest to see. If the path was waymarked at all, which it frequently wasn’t, the signs had no sense of cohesion and many of them featured a URL address which leads to a potentially dangerous Chinese (?) website. The weather had been pretty abysmal and it really had not been a great day out.

I did a fair bit of moaning about all this in that post so you might well wonder why I chose to continue from my finishing point of the previous day and I was frankly wondering much the same as I caught the Tube back to Morden for another go at it.  I can only ascribe it to my sheer bloody-mindedness and perhaps a vague notion that things can only get better as D-ream once famously sang. I only just found out that they are from my home country of Northern Ireland. They featured Professor Brian Cox, the well-known physicist and broadcaster on keyboards in their touring band. Perhaps most famously, their signature song mentioned above was hijacked as the anthem for the “New” Labour Party who proved the song’s premise to be totally wrong. I was rather hoping my day would turn out better.

I had found it a little odd that I was so negative in the last entry as I am generally pretty upbeat about places I visit and this was unusual. In the entry prior to that I had wondered whether I was perhaps naive for gushing so much about everything I had experienced on a recent trip to Northumberland. This appears somewhat contradictory and I did think about it before I posted the last entry but I do believe in writing totally honestly or else I just don’t see the point.

I’m back again.

Unlike the previous day, the London transport system had not messed me about and I arrived good time for a decent day of walking before the light went at about 1600. I thought I might be able to finish the Trail today depending on what I found to distract me on the way but it was not an imperative. I certainly wasn’t going to kill myself slogging along further or faster than I wanted as that was not the purpose and, although I had been happy with the distance covered the day before, I was still a bit unsure about what my current daily range was

I glanced across the road from the Tube station and noted that Ganley’s pub, where I had enjoyed a pint the previous evening, was not yet open so that was one temptation removed. There is only so much temptation I can resist in the one day.

I went back into Morden Hall Park and turned right to regain the Wandle Trail. I had checked on a map that morning and knew where to go. If I had been trying to follow the river itself I might have had a spot of bother as it splits off in various directions in the park, some terminating in dead ends and which I suspect had been channelled artificially as decorative features.

Morden Hall.

After a couple of hundred yards I was treated to the sight of Morden Hall itself for which the park was obviously named. I already knew that it is now used as a wedding and function facility so that at least saved me the bother of walking up to it but I did admire it from a distance, it is rather impressive. I took a couple of images of the weir and the little bridge with the Hall in the background which I hope give you an idea.

Morden Hall was built between 1759 and 1765 in the park which had originally been owned by Westminster Abbey. It had been sold in 1533 to two gentlemen called Duckett and Whitworth and almost immediately sold on the the Garth family.  The particular Garth who eventually sold the house was the fifth generation of the family, all called Richard. Very imaginative. It was sold in 1867 to a man called Hatfeild who was a tobacco merchant and this shall become relevant in a moment. It was he who laid out the gardens as they are now.
During World War One the Hall was loaned to the London Hospital for the convalescence of injured servicemen. This is of interest to me as the London (now the Royal London and part of the Barts NHS group – is nothing sacred?) is close to where I live and where I am still attending regularly for my seemingly endless consultations. After a period as a Salvation Army refuge for women and children it eventually passed to the National Trust who currently administer it.  More of them in a moment.

Look, I found another one!

Not far beyond the Hall I found a waterwheel which, if you have read the previous entry, you will know is the logo for the Wandle Trail. I suspect this is more of a historical reference as this was only the second such piece of equipment I had seen and I was at least half way along the route.

This wheel was not used for milling flour, as was common in the 19th century, nor was it used for manufacturing material as the one at Merton Abbey had been but I mentioned Mr. Hatfeild, the tobacco merchant earlier and the building here was a snuff mill. The second image shows some of the quern stones associated with the milling.

Younger readers may not know what snuff is as it has fallen completely out of fashion in the 21st century.  It is finely ground dried tobacco leaves in a powder form which you then sniff, or “snort” in modern drugs parlance, to give you nicotine “hit”. Yes, I know it sounds odd and before you ask, yes, I have taken it.

I once played for, and helped to organise, a social rugby side who played end of season charity games. We had a tradition of taking snuff and drinking vintage port which sounds quite sociable but we used to do it BEFORE the match. It used to get messy as we would meet in the pub we represented and have a few pints beforehand. Come the first scrum, ruck or maul most of us were half drunk and still sneezing. Half-time was more vintage port, more snuff and a cigarette for those of us who indulged. Fun times indeed but hardly geared to high performance athletic activity.

The snuff mill here was one of two operated by Taddy & Co., of which Hatfeild was a part owner and there is another connection with the East End of London here. The milled tobacco was taken to the company factory in the Minories, which again is easy walking distance from my home and where I was to have a Christmas meal with some Virtual Tourist friends a few weeks later. Everything goes round in circles. At the height of production the mill here was turning out 6000lbs. of snuff a month which is a considerable amount.

Following a strike in 1922 in the Minories factory the company closed down and the mill became a workshop for the estate with the wheel still producing the power. This mill was opened as a classroom and education centre concentrating on the lives of the mill workers which must be fascinating.

Now that I have more or less stopped smoking I might see if I can find a box of snuff somewhere, just for old times sake.

The walking here was very pleasant with the noise of the nearby A297 no more than a murmur and the weather wasn’t too bad. It was cold and flat calm as the images of the water show but there was no sign of rain which I was grateful for. After the previous day it was positively bucolic despite being in a busy London suburb.

Another attempt at creativity.

Morden Hall Park more or less peters out and I found myself in Ravensbury Park although I had no idea of that at the time, there was nothing to tell me. I had crossed a road to get there so I guessed I was in a different open space. This Park is apparently part of the part of the Upper Wandle River Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation, whatever the Hell that is. I am completely baffled by the number of official designations for open land and this is yet another new one on me as I research this piece.

Just to put you out of your misery, the official definition states that “A site of metropolitan importance is a site of importance for nature conservation within London at a London-wide level. They contain examples of London’s habitats, may have rare species, or have significance in built-up areas”, whatever that load of jargon might mean. I do hope you are a little the wiser now because I’m not.

Whatever it’s designation, it is a pleasant enough open space although I didn’t spot any of the rare species mentioned. Come to think of it, I didn’t spot much in the way of common or garden species either. Well, it was November, I suppose. This Park was once part of a large industrial area in the grounds of Ravensbury Hall and had it’s own water driven power source, in this case used for calico production. The Park today is much smaller than the original grounds as much of the land was sold off in the early 20th century for residential development.

Yet again I tried my hand at a bit of creative photography as you can see above.  Amongst the traditional russets of autumn there were plenty of these snow-white leaves which I found rather attractive.

Another road crossed and another park entered, this time Watermeads Nature Reserve which is also administered by the National Trust. This is hardly surprising as it was gifted to them in 1913 by a committee set up by Octavia Hill, one of the three founders of that worthy organisation. I shall take a moment here to tell you about that remarkable lady who, to my shame, I had never heard of until walking this Trail.

Octavia was born in Wisbech in Cambridgeshire in 1838 into a large and relatively affluent society who were home-schooled by her Mother who had initially been Governess for her Father’s children from a previous marriage.  Things were soon to change, though, as her Father’s business went bankrupt and he declined into mental illness. At age 13 the young Octavia was sent to a “guild for distressed gentlewomen” where she learned glass painting. By the age of 14, she was not only in charge of the guild but working in her spare time for the art critic, artist and social reformer John Ruskin.

Octavia became very aware of the appalling conditions of the poor children she encountered in her work and developed very strong ideas about assistance for the worse off in society through self-help. She thought that unsupervised and untargetted philanthropy was a terrible thing. By 1865 Ruskin had inherited a large sum and some of that went to purchase three six room cottages in Marylebone which were in a pretty rough state of repair. He put Octavia in charge of the project and of a subsequent group of another five houses nearby which they leased the next year. Through his contacts Ruskin knew that money men would be prepared to invest in such schemes if they were guaranteed a 5% annual return on their investments.

The homes were made habitable and rented to the less well off and her methods became a template for social housing. Rents were collected weekly, always by women who, in addition to their revenue gathering duties also ensured the premises were kept in good order and looked to the welfare of the tenants. For the early part of the Victorian era this was a most forward-looking way doing things and it worked so well that by 1874 she was in charge of 15 schemes with 3,000 tenants.

It seems an ideal situation whereby the investors saw a reasonable and steady return on their investment, the tenants had living conditions vastly superior to the awful slums most of them were used to and Hill, Ruskin et al had something to ease their acute social consciences. It is a model that continues, more or less unchanged, to this day.

Hill believed that, apart from sanitary living conditions, people’s well-being was a holistic matter and they also needed recreational space, fresh air, leisure activities and so on. It seems that her enthusiasm, not to mention sheer energy, were almost boundless. Amongst her accomplishments she set up the first independent Army Cadet Force Unit in Southwark which was so popular it’s numbers had to be capped. She also laid the foundations for the modern social work system by having her lady rent collectors look after the welfare of her tenants.  So good was she at what she did that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners asked her to take over their slum properties in South London which were very lawless and deprived. She quickly turned them into model communities.

What Octavia Hill will undoubtedly be best remembered for is her championing of public open spaces, all part of her holistic approach to well-being and thinking that was well ahead of it’s time. It was her who actually coined the term “green belt” and, whilst she saved open spaces all over the country, Londoners (myself included) have a couple of things to particularly thank her for. Along with others, she saved Parliament Hill Fields and Hampstead Heath from residential development and it is difficult to think of London today without them as open spaces. Apart from anything else, Hampstead Heath affords some of the best views of London without hiring a helicopter!

Her relentless campaigning, managing and lobbying took it’s inevitable toll in 1877 and she had a breakdown which necessitated her delegating some of her workload, something she had been loath to do previously.  She still managed to do enough to set up the National Trust in 1894, along with Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley and Sir Robert Hunter. The rest, as they say, is history. Octavia Hill died on 1912 of cancer and is buried in Kent alongside her sister who predeceased her.

On the subject of urban open spaces I shall leave the last word to this remarkable lady herself. In 1883 she wrote, “I think we want four things. Places to sit in, places to play in, places to stroll in, and places to spend a day in”. In 2020 I write “I think she did rather well and I thank her”.

According to the information board at the Reserve entrance there is an inscribed sandstone seat here dedicated to Octavia Hill’s sister Miranda who was a teacher hereabouts although I was damned if I could find it. What I did find beside the path was a large sports ground which was apparently the training ground for Chelsea F.C. from 1966 – 1976 so the likes of Peter Bonetti, Dave Webb, John Hollins and “Chopper” Harris would all have been training here when they won the F.A. Cup in 1970. I actually remember that game.

Out of the Watermeads and a bit more walking to come to another open space of note albeit considerably more modest in size that the previous ones.

This is Hackbridge Community Garden, the brainchild of Brazilian artist Claudio Funari who moved to London from his native Brazil in 2016 to be nearer his son. He started by clearing rubbish from the Wandle and as if that wasn’t a noble enough thing to be doing at the age of 68, he took into creating seats and pieces of art out of all the waste he collected. He then used these to trick out a garden he created on a piece of waste land with the results you see.

Obviously November was not the best time to see a garden but it was getting geared up for Xmas with the reindeer which I believe are constructed from recycled fencing. Muito bem, Senhor.

At this point I should explain at this point that there are not going to be a lot of images for the next portion of the walk and I’ll explain why.

For many years I used a succession of Canon Ixus compact digital cameras and was very happy with them. I never leave home without the camera in my pocket and this inevitably leads to dust getting inside them which spoils the images and so I recently changed to a Samsung WB36F which I got at a very good price in a sale. The Samsung is probably a better camera in terms of features but it appears to either have a design fault or else I have been unlucky enough to get a duff battery as it lasts no time at all. With the Canon I could have snapped away all day without having to change batteries but the Samsung only takes maybe 40 images tops before the battery goes. I now have to carry a battery pack with me which fairly well negates the advantages of a compact. Not only that but it takes forever to recharge, it is a bit of a pain. I was therefore wandering along with the damn thing charging in my jacket pocket instead of taking images to bore you good people with.


I passed by the charmingly named Wilderness Island, another Nature Reserve, but I didn’t bother to explore it as by this time I was getting the idea in my head that it was quite possible I could finish the walk off that day. It is at this point that the river divides to go to it’s two different sources. I didn’t make a conscious decision as to which one to follow, I just kept going the way I was already walking and this turned out to be the Carshalton “arm” as it would be called on a canal.

The camera was still not fully charged but it had recovered itself enough to capture the attempt at another of my arty shots and even some of the local fauna in the form of the cute little chap you can see. Actually, I was quite pleased with that one as the buggers never stay still enough to get a decent shot.

Before I realised it I was approaching Carshalton Ponds which I knew was journey’s end and the vista at that end was the complete antithesis of that at the beginning. Click back to my last entry to see what I mean if you have not already read it. This was a scene that would not have been out of place in any rural village in the land which is indeed what Carshalton was until about 150 years ago with the coming of the railway and the building of a station in 1868.

This seems to be a good time to tell you about the history of Carshalton, as I seem to tell you about everywhere else I visit!

Archaeological excavations in the area prove habitation back s far as Neolithic times and, even before the invasion of the UK by the Normans in 1066, there were five manors here, owned by freemen who were not to remain free for long. The Domesday Book of 1086 records the village as Aultone which was owned by a knight called de Manville, obviously a Norman, and it brought in an annual revenue of fifteen pounds and ten shillings.. Interestingly in light of my walk and the watermill motif constant throughout that, there was a watermill here even then and the water probably contributed to the name as “aul” means well or spring and “ton” is a farm. The origin of the “car” element is unclear.

By the end of the 19th century the mills had multiplied with calico production important locally and the village continued to grow steadily but not dramatically until the 1890’s when the local estate was sold for housing. With the railway in place this led to the phenomenon of the commuter and the beginnings of suburbia which was taking place all around the fringes of the capital.

Another local speciality was lavender which was grown in abundance locally and gave Carshalton the title of “the lavender capital of the world”. Although there are still some lavender fields and and annual Lavender Fair in late July, the large scale production stopped some years ago due to a rat infestation of all things. Lavender is still grown on local allotments by a not for profit organisation.  It must smell absolutely lovely here at that time of year.

A fine old church.

The rather fine church you can see is All Saints and actually pre-dates the Norman occupation although it has been much altered over the years, most notably in 1891. Sadly, it was not open when I visited.

As well as the calico previously mentioned, the mills of the Wandle also had a more sinister purpose and there was a gunpowder mill on the river here in the late 17th century. Paper, log-wood, leather and seed oil were also produced using water power.  It must have been an industrious place and I have read of the Wandle being referred to as “the hardest working river in London”.

The ponds should really have signalled journey’s end for me and would have been had I not spotted not one but two things that piqued my interest. First was the very impressive war memorial which has a beautiful situation overlooking the pond and which I obviously took images of for inclusion in the War Memorials Online site.

Honeywood Musem.

The second was a sign for the Honeywood Museum which turned out to be the beautiful building you see above. I was not at all certain if it would be open given the day, time of year and location but, to my delight it was and I was in there like a shot.

I was bade welcome by a very charming lady and gentleman and invited to look around at my leisure. Not only that but when I enquired I was informed that photography was not only permitted but positively encouraged and would I be so kind as to post any images on social media? I really didn’t have the heart to tell them I didn’t use it but I did mention that my walk was to do with my blog and they would go there. Again, I didn’t have the heart to tell them exactly what the traffic figures were for the site!

The house is on the site of a 17th dwelling called Wandle Cottage and although little of this now remains you can still see the odd bit of the old flint and chalk structure. It may seem like a strange place to build a home, sited as it is over a watercourse which feeds the pond but this may be explained by the vogue then for “cold baths” which were a popular medical treatment. I suppose it was preferable to the blood-letting and leeches which were also prevalent in medical procedures of the day. Basically, patients were dropped through a trapdoor in the floor into the stream and then fished out again. I think I’ll give that one a miss especially on a day like that was.

The house was bought in 1883 by a man called John Kirk who was involved in the embryonic photography industry and from which he eventually made quite a sum of money. He put a lot of this wealth into renovating and extending the building, leaving the rather grand structure we have today. It was taken over in the 1980’s by a charitable group and opened as a heritage centre.

Have you heard what Gladstone said last week?

While there are exhibits dealing with all periods of the history of Carshalton and the house itself, for me the great attraction of the place was in the way much of it is preserved as it was in Edwardian times. Absolutely my favourite room was the billiard room, adjacent to the front desk which is a joy. It is as if the gentlemen had merely stepped outside for a moment nd I spent a while sitting imagining myself in full Edwardian garb, cigar and brandy in hand, discussing Gladstone’s policies whilst my friends played billiards.

Dragging myself back to the 21st century I went to explore the rest of Honeywood which is very interesting and includes exhibits dedicated to the Second World War when the building was used for the training of Air Raid Wardens. I was surprised to learn that there had been 78 civilian fatalities in Carshalton during the war as I couldn’t imagine what the bombing targets would have been. It is not near enough central London or the docks on the Thames to have been “collateral damage” as so much of the East End was.
There must have been a threat as there was an air raid shelter large enough for 1,000 people was discovered in 2012 in Carshalton Park where it had lain forgotten about for decades. A little research reveals that Carshalton was hit by several V1 terror weapons which were wildly inaccurate and this may account for the apparently large number of casualties.


I even had another attempt at the artistic side of photography with the image above of the Ponds through a mullioned window which I quite liked.
That then was the end of my “Wandering the Wandle” as I have dubbed it in the title and, had I but known it, I was less than two hundred yards from the Hope pub which hd indirectly started the whole little project. Had I known then a celebratory pint would have been in order but in my ignorance I headed off looking for a bus stop in a direction I had seen buses going.

I found a stop at which there was a large group of schoolgirls who I believe were from the nearby St. Philomena’s School. They were being, well, teenage girls and there was plenty of noise and jumping about and I was thinking the bus journey might be interesting. I am of an age where I like to moan! I moan about lots of things and noisy, ignorant teenagers is one of them. I was somewhat surprised therefore when I was checking the timetable and a very polite young lady from the group asked if she could assist. Credit where it is due. I told her I was fine but it didn’t half make me feel old. The poor girl had obviously been brought up to help the elderly and, at her age, I suppose that is what I was.

Another one gone.

I mused on this all the way back to Croydon where I walked to the Overground station by way of another “lost” pub.

So that was my experience of the Wandle Trail and thankfully this day was much better than the previous one so normal service is resumed in my writing about being happy about things I saw and did. Who knows, after this outing I might even return and follow the other part of the river up to Croydon.  I’m not sure if I should risk my luck though!

The upper part of the Wandle Trail is fine for a day out walking if you happen to be down that way but overall I wouldn’t make a point of doing the whole route as I did, it really is not worth it. If I do decide to risk the other portion you will obviously be the first to know.

In the next entry I go for another walk, get totally lost and end up doing something that was not only a bit stupid but also illegal so stay tuned and spread the word.

Wandering the Wandle 1.

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.

Goodbye and good riddance.

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 glimpse of the river.

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.

Sad to see it gone.

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.

Where’s the trail gone?

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.

Where were the first nine?

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.

Good for them.

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.

One for the football fans.

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 found one at last.

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.

Always a good sign.

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.