Central Line Loop

We headed for the big loop in the London Underground Central Line, Barkingside. Still in Zone 4, then crossing into Zone 5 at Buckhurst Hill.

central loop

And then it SNOWED!


barnardos village

Barkingside is home of Dr Barnardo’s. In the mid nineteeth century Dr Thomas Barnardo wanted to do something about the poverty he saw around him in the east end of London. In 1870 he opened a home for orphan boys in Stepney, then three years later he bought land and built the houses around the church at Barkingside, miles out in the country, and provided a place for young women. That was a hundred and fifty years ago. Forty years ago I remember helping Barnardo’s, they had a furniture outlet in Gorgie in Edinburgh.

barnardos hq + youth magistrates court

Bob grew up around here and can remember the fields before they built the Barnardo’s HQ (above left), and the young offenders magistrates court right next door. I asked him, How come there is still a need for a charity, after all this time? It’s not the same, he said. It’s not poverty. And indeed if you look at the research on https://www.barnardos.org.uk/, you can see where the focus is today [December 2017]. The website banner headlines read Help us be there for sexually abused children; Should we be paying more attention to who is following our children online? Shop our Christmas Range Today!

A bit further on there’s another physical sign of the change in how we see our children since 40 years ago – Andersons has built a school for autistic children on the old Spurs training ground. Like Barnardo’s there’s private house development to help raise funds. Their focus is on preparing autistic teenagers for further education, and employment.

We crossed Claybury Park (leaflet).

claybury park

claybury woods

Christmas decorations at Little West Hatchlittle west hatch

Luxborough Lane:snow walk luxborough laneThis feels like the far north east of London, miles away, fresh air, but it’s still well inside the M25.


Meet at: Barkingside station, Central line, 1pm
When: Sunday 10 December 2017
Distance: the walk is 4.2 miles, not far
Walk to: Buckhurst Hill. Queens Road below
Cost: free

queens road buckhurst hill

A couple of weeks before:spiral-stair-tree Spiral stair around tree, Claybury Woods

claybury park underused Not much use made of the apparatus in Claybury Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon

cross the M11 Cross the M11

viaduct river roding luxborough lane Footbridge and rail viaduct over River Roding at Luxborough Lane.

This neighbourhood was pre-fabs after the war, then rebuilt in the 1970’s; every street named after a tree – Chestnut, Maple, Walnut, Elm, and more, mostly not represented by actual planting, except here on Hornbeam Close:

hornbeam close

An excellent walk in north east London. Next one takes us onto the London Loop. You can join us. Second Sunday of the month.




What Beckton needs is friends – Stage 27

Stage 27 of the London Spiral, a walk round the whole of London from the centre to the edge, spiralling slowly outwards.

Last month we crossed the Thames at Woolwich and so began the outer circuit of the walk. One more 360 degree loop until we reach Gravesend, estimate a year from now. See full map.

This walk is from the far end of City Airport to Barking.

Meet atKing George V DLR station, 1pm
When: Sunday 12 November 2017
Distance: the walk is 6.2 miles, with a break
Walk to: Seven Kings overground station, travel zone 4, via Beckton, Barking and Ilford
Route Map: http://binged.it/2gHxOkw
Cost: free

map https binged it 2gHxOkw

Two themes emerge from the geographic history of Beckton and Barking over the last 100 years, and both go some way to explain the sense of disenfranchisement the walker encounters passing through the borough. Big, dirty industry like gas and sewage carved up sheets of the land, and closed their gates, denying access right down to the shoreline, while the council seeming to provide housing and schooling and healthcare and everything on a mammoth scale, made everything contingent, borrowed, not yours by right.

After the Industry came shopping malls, drive-to’s, chuck-your-garbage-out-the-window-drive thru’s. Drive on. Take the A13. You’ve no ownership here. Across the River Roding. Thank the council for the cycle lane. We’ve heard before the noise of the north circular.

There’s no access to the land, so no wonder the few strands of public land – verges by roadsides, muddy reedbeds, scrubby young trees behind shopping mall car parks – are strewn with litter, scorched by fires set by local lads escaping to the woods, trying to rekindle an older connection to the elemental forces of the earth. It’s like a teenager town, grumbling and uncoordinated, hemmed in.

Why are these places never cleaned up?

About a hundred years ago 25,000 houses were built on the flat marsh lands – the size of a town, and yet it’s not a town, not yet, it’s an outlier. No garden suburb this. Street after similar street. Its self-image is poverty – that’s what the litter signifies. But in reality Barking is rich. Why else do people come here from all over the world? Of course, they didn’t mean to end up exactly here. But there’s theatre, transport, parkland, markets, and people trading, studying, working. All it lacks is self-confidence, and to gain self-confidence it needs freedom.

What Beckton needs is friends. Friends who will come together and clean up the thrown-away plastics, heal the flame-sored ground, plant new trees, make the parks bigger. Make them safer.

42 pine trees gallions reach Array of 42 pine trees outside Gallions Reach DLR station

gateway bridge A1020 Triumphal bridge exits the north circular. View it on Google. Intended for a crossing of the Thames that was never built.

end of north circular looking south to gallions reach View from the triumphal bridge down the Royal Docks Road to the end at Gallions Reach

abandoned car beneath north circular beckton Abandoned car and smaller items of litter beneath the north circular.

litter beckton verge

river roding mud banks from A13 Muddy River Roding flowing south to the Thames, below the A13 road

juniper on gascoigne road barking Broom bush on the Gascoigne Road

gascoigne primary school barking Gascoigne primary school. Roof playground.

barking clock tower Clock tower Barking town hall

barking centre

red spectrum travelodge barking Spectrum of panelling, Barking

barking learning centre Learning centre Barking.

barking town hall

Under construction, ten years ago 2007, source: wikipedia:

library - under construction

loxford lake barking parkLoxford lake in Barking Park.

Geese in South Park





Weapons in Woolwich – Stage 26

The story of human society can be told in many ways. One way is to study the role of the bullies, the violent men, the brutes who think nothing of killing. That’s what we most often study in history. Civilisation – Britain – is built on armed conflict, on invaders, soldiers and left-tenants, whose prowess comes from aggressive behaviour and superior weaponry.

There’s another story told more often these days – farms. And there are places where that might be fitting, but it’s hardly possible to step more than a few yards from Eltham en route north through Woolwich without encountering again and again reminders of weapons of war and defence.

We being this walk at Eltham Station, a tangled knot of busy highways and side streets and railways, much like our journey around the North Circular, where we get a sense from the noise, of the hustle to come. We climb into the woods – the ancient woods – although it’s hard to see their age, as they’re much like other woods, just trees – of Oxleas. And still we hear the echo of armory.

In these trees are gun mounts, of home front defence for the second world war, and a high velocity missile battery to protect the 2012 Olympic Games. In these woods a castle, a folly, named, wrongly, after the island fort which its master – Commodore William James – to his glory, destroyed.

This is Shooters Hill, most likely named for the archers who practiced here, how to bring death on a stuffed straw man. A rain of steel tipped shafts, whose clumsy forced entry could mercifully snuff out a soul, or – more likely – permit disease to penetrate and bring painful and ebbing demise. Named too for the thieves – local men – who hung out in the woods waiting to rob and to maim. We all of us experience that fear from time to time.

Across the brow of Shooters Hill, as straight as a bow, the roman road, marching without deviation from the encampments by Dover, to Westminster, the Thames and the North. The short sword was the romans’ weapon of choice – small, stiff, up close, a deadly rugby scrum. The romans brought death, and their own order.

These days the roman era is seen as an interlude. And one more civilised than what came after.

A barrier designed to contain livestock – the sheep being brought to market waiting on the Woolwich Common, with no access to the barracks land beyond.

Down into Woolwich, for centuries a military town, though now a mixed community, a warship building port and home of the royal artillery barracks until 10 years ago when globalisation meant they needed a bigger place. Here we see the garrison church of St George, once a tall, grand edifice, humbled though not fully destroyed – a metaphor – by a V1 missile, a new era of weaponry ushered in three quarters of a century ago, death by remote control, a flying bomb.

Past the site of more weapons – a car, a knife and a cleaver – the attack on Fusilier Lee Rigby in 2013, killed deliberately, though randomly, by Michaels Adebo-lajo and Adebo-wale, both from Woolwich. And the three CO19 specialist firearms officers who did not kill but wounded, then stemmed the blood, and made them stand trial.

Down in what was the arsenal, now converted to new homes and a heritage centre, though there’s no easy escape from the parade ground feel, the soldiers ‘at ease’, the cannons as sculpture, capable when ignited of damaging a target 16 miles away, perched oddly by luxury new builds.

Then we cross. The Thames. The London Spiral is defined by the crossings of the Thames. On the Woolwich Free Car Ferry. The river is calm, the view is wide and thin. We look back on Woolwich, an Anglo-Saxon word meaning wool port, suggests softness, a jumper slightly itchy on bare skin.

Meeting place: just outside Eltham station, (overground train from Charing Cross or London Bridge)
Date & time: Sunday October 8th 2017, 1pm
Distance: the walk is about 7 miles, with a break
End point: Gallions Reach DLR
Route Map: https://binged.it/2xvsme9
Cost: No charge, the ferry is free, however severndroog charges a small admission

terrapin long pond oxleasTerrapin basking by the Long Pond

oxleas common View south from Oxleas Common.

stairs through oxleas woodI always like Stairs leading up through a wood or mountain pass. Here in Oxleas Wood.

severndroog castleSeverndroog Castle. From its turret you can see, on a clear day, far across the city.

tim at top of severndroog tower

oak jackwoodGlorious oak tree in Jackwood, Shooters Hill.

kite between radio towersKite between the two television transmitters at Croydon and Crystal Palace. Seen from Oxleas Common.

billy davis funfair woolwich commonBilly Davis Fairground attractions on Woolwich Common.

woolwich common Woolwich Common

crows Crows in tree on Woolwich Common.

royal artillery barracks across fieldHard to see the barrier to livestock from here …

But up closer …

royal artillery barracks ha haHa-ha. The ditch and the wall keep the grass of barrack ground secure from livestock. The fence is for people.

royal artillery barracks parade groundThe Barracks of the Royal Artillery, 1776 until 2007. Still some cadets on parade.

colin at royal artillery woolwich

Across the road, St George’s

st george garrison church ruinOn the wall a golden mural of St George and the Dragon.

new build woolwich pepys courtDramatic new residential buildings in central Woolwich, carry a denser population than the terrace houses they replace.

cannons woolwichCannons made at the Arsenal.

nike statue royal arsenal woolwichStatue to Nike.

peter burke iron figures woolwich

Peter Burke naked iron navvies, waiting by the jetty.

tern view thames upstream tate lyleView from Woolwich west to London. At this scale it’s hard to see, but you’ve got another ferry boat, the Thames Barrier, Silvertown to the right and the Tate & Lyle sugar factory, Canary Wharge beyond, and the distant thread of the cable car, the previous crossing of the spiral over the river.

woolwich free car ferryWoolwich free car ferry

woolwich waterfront shooters hill behindFrom the north bank, a view back to the changing waterfront at Woolwich, with Shooters Hill in the low distance beyond. The place remains but what is there has completely changed.

view to canary wharf

map eltham-gallions reach extract (c) Google Maps

Like to join the London Spiral? Contacttim.ingram-smith@virgin.net 077932 00932

Luxury: Beckenham to Eltham Palace

Image result for images eltham palace

Let’s say you had a few million pounds spare, what would you spend it on?

That exact question came up for Stephen and Virginia Courtauld, and they put their money into creating a home out of an abandoned royal palace in what was then the avant-garde design style Art Deco.

In 1933 Art Deco was à la mode, it was the future. It was slim and fresh and elegant, arboreal, feminine, it represented Nature. So the Courtaulds rebuilt the old building, and added a wing, creating a series of cool, spacious, modern interiors. They put in electricity, underfloor heating, telephones, hidden lights, hidden passageways (scurrying staff), hot running water, and glass tiles. For a while at least, theirs was quite likely a world apart.

Nowadays we’ve all stayed in hotels with fantastic foyers, visited mansions and driven in limos, that is one of the benefits of the increased wealth, health care and invention of humanity over the last 100 years. We all of us enjoy what were remarkable luxuries for the Courtalds less than a century ago. They were buoyed by aristocracy, by status, which has thankfully been eroded, so that we see with the eyes of equality the photographs of the privileged at that time.

In our lifetimes we have seen, and felt, and tasted, this advancement, happening here in our own homes and across the world. At times I’ve been taken aback by what money can bring – I remember seeing a leaf-blowing machine in the United States (the wealth leader)  in the early 1990s, and thinking it an ostentatious labor-saving device – while other advancements have just accreted without us even really noticing. But before long we’re living longer, experiencing less pain, and holidaying abroad. You see this made manifest in the work of Prof. Hans Rosling, who tracks the changes of child mortality, income per capita and longevity across the decades to redefine the way we should see the present world.

The Courtaulds rescued – or seemed to – the Palace at Eltham, but only for a short while. Their energy did not extend for long. Big buildings are fragile; houses and grounds require enormous upkeep and quickly can come undone, which is why English Heritage took it over and restored it in 1995.

So we’re walking to Eltham Palace; here’s the route: https://goo.gl/maps/mi5KKsWc8Ny.


Curves north, parallel to the stage 14 route from One Tree Hill to Greenwich, one loop of the spiral out. We’ll pick up and move on to Woolwich next month.

This walk is the very heart of south east London; from the corner of Beckenham Place Park by the Ravens-bourne, walking through Plaistow, Elmstead and Mottingham on our way to the king’s quarters. When we get to the gate, we can pay a contribution towards the maintenance, and enjoy first hand the place.

Date & time: Sunday September 10th 2017, 1pm
Meeting place: 
Ravensbourne station, the 12:16 train from London Victoria will get you to Ravensbourne station in time, train details.
Distance: 5-ish miles, allow 2 hours for the walk, and same again for the palace and grounds
End point: Eltham Palace, nice cafe
: Free for the walk. Entry to the palace is £15 for adults, less for concessions
Book by
 email, or phone 077932 00932


The Ravensbourne:


Ravens bourne, or stream. When we passed we saw a raven in the water, nesting material in its beak. http://www.londonslostrivers.com/river-ravensbourne.html

Self-built houses on Elstree Hill private road:




The Gate House at Kings Meadow on Burnt Ash Lane. Here’s how it looks in 2017 (left) and how it looked three years ago in Sept 2014. Preference?

gate lodge 2017 

Light at the end of the tunnel beneath Elmstead Woods:

elmstead tunnel2

Grove park railway sidings:

grove park rail siding2

Elmstead – place of the elms, but there are no elms left, this is an oak and beech wood (more). Sculptures by Will Lee ()


Naturalist Bill Welch knows a bit about the woods https://moremoth.blogspot.co.uk/2011/02/green-chain.html?m=0

Mottingham ‘Village’ sign:

mottingham-village mottingham-village-sign

Ice house at ‘The Tarn’ Mottingham:


Ponies at Eltham:


ponies eltham2

Eltham fields have always been a place of free pasture, so you get a lot of horses here, and people with a mind for these animals (story).




Timber framed building:


Cafe view:


Wall of the palace moat:





Where is the Crystal Palace?

Crystal-Palace-transmitting-stationWhat’s that, asks Flavea, a fake Eiffel Tower?

Sure enough the Television Transmitter that reaches high above south London does look like that, but it makes me ask the question – Where is the Crystal Palace?

I just got back from Brussels, and after their World Fair they KEPT the Atomium, and it still looks amazing and from the future. It still represents the city, just as Le Tour Eiffel represents Paris.

But the Crystal Palace, all that remains is the name of a part of town, an echo of what was once there, like Lincolns Inn Fields, like Notting Hill Gate, like Beaver Lee Brook. A great glass building, a crystal mansion. Judging by the scale of the platforms and stairways, the great plaster sphinxes, it was pretty impressive, but it’s gone.

The walk crosses South London, following in part the Green Chain route. This is a wealthier area than we saw last time in Merton, with a fair amount of green space. The Green Chain route meanders into various parks. We start where we left off in Norbury, but climb quickly up Beulah Hill, across Norwood Green, and Westow Park, and on to Crystal Palace Park.


Date & time: Sunday August 13th 2017, 1pm
Meeting place:
Norbury station
Distance: 6.3 miles, allow around 3 hours
End point: 
Beckenham Hill station, Lewisham
Book by
 email, or phone 077932 00932
: Free

Along the way there are some views of the City, from Convent Hill and Gipsy Hill.





Volleyball at the National Sports Arena


athletics track crystal palace

And dinosaurs by the lake:


A bit of recent historical context for the renovation of the dinosaurs HERE

The walk continues to Beckenham Place Park:




Here’s a map:





This is South London. Stage 23

We’re heading into unexplored territory now, Merton!

One of the reasons I was curious to take a spiral walk around London was I didn’t know so many places on the outskirts of the city – and I wanted to know them. Places like Merton, Barking, Roding, Tulse Hill. Where were these places? What were they like?

Now for some of these I’m beginning to put shape to names, mental maps, connections. Uh huh, Edmonton, grubby busy corner of the north circular, but it has the Pymmes Brook flowing in to it; oh yeah Barn Elms, a little ledge by the edge of the Thames because the flood plain behind is blocked to entry; o yeah Wanstead, a little hearth land of the ghostly forest of Epping.

So here we are in South London – any further south and we’d be in the Unofficial City of Croydon, (which is what the Croydon people should name it, and then eventually it would become official). We begin at the scruffy end of Wimbledon, looking for countryside, but finding just remnants tucked in close to the Wandle river, until we reach Morden Hall Park – thank you National Trust – across Mitcham “Common”, up Pollards Hill, and on to Norbury Hall Park. A pretty nice walk without too many suburban streets.

Reed bed board walk Morden Hall:

boardwalk morden hall

coots splash

Geese on Mitcham Common:

geese micham commonhuskywateringhole

rosebay willowherb

Date & time: Sunday July 9th 2017, 1pm
Meeting place:
Wimbledon station, District line or South West Trains from Waterloo, meet outside “Centre Court” the shopping centre, see photo
Distance: 5.5 miles, allow around 3 hours
End point:
Norbury station
Book by
 email, or phone 077932 00932
: Free, but bring an Oyster card for the Tram


Stage 22 – Beverley Brook and beyond

Twice now we’ve encountered the Beverley Brook, first, briefly, at its conjunction with the Thames between Hammersmith Bridge and Putney Bridge (see Walk 12) and it intersects our spiral route again as we pass across Richmond Park and Wimbledon Common.

Like many urban waterways Beverley Brook suffered neglect and pollution for decades, but a few years ago a number of agencies committed to clean up the river and restore its meanders, and we are able to see the first fruits of their work in our walk. There’s some great coverage of the works done on the South East Rivers Trust website and on the Royal Parks site. You get a sense of its scruffiness a few years back from this piece by Andrew Bowden and on the Lost Rivers site.

We begin at Mortlake station and quickly come south into the verdure and space of Richmond Park. Here we meet again the Beverley (translation: Beaver Lea) Brook and follow it along open woodland from Sheen Gate to Robin Hood Gate.

WP_20170722_11_31_46_Pro 1



Date & time: Sunday June 11th 2017, 1pm
Meeting place:
Mortlake station South West Trains from Waterloo
Distance: the walk is 6 miles, with a break after 4m at Wimbledon Windmill
End point: Wimbledon station
Book by email, or phone 077932 00932
: No charge


taken from Merton guide http://www.merton.gov.uk/beverly_brook_walk.pdf


queens mere wimbledon


A Later Visit …

I returned to Wimbledon Common in May 2018, for a walk led by Peter Fiennes author of Oak Ash and Thorn, as part of the Urban Tree Festival.  I was quite surprised at the variety of trees in the Wimbledon wood. I wonder if some of them (the limes and scots pine in particular) have been planted at different times when the ground was more open, and over the years the woods have encompassed and merged, so there are these little pockets. Either that or woods are not as homogenous as I imagined but contain all kinds of species side by side. Bit more investigation required.

pine trees 100 aker by caesars well

peter fiennes reading beneath lime trees in wimbledon wood