Capital Ring: Woolwich to Falconwood

Sunday 11th March 2012

8 miles approx, including Woolwich Foot Tunnel, Thames Barrier detour and station links

Toilets: Woolwich; Thames Barrier Visitor Centre; Pubs on Shooters Hill; Pavillion at Oxleas Meadows; Harvester pub/restaurant at Falconwood.

When we did the previous section of the Capital Ring from Beckton to Woolwich, the Woolwich Foot Tunnel was still closed.  It reopened a couple of weeks later, and I wanted to include it in today’s walk for the sake of completeness, so I’ll eventually be able to say that I’ve walked the whole of the Capital Ring.  We took the tube to Canning Town, then the 474 bus which stops right next to the entrance to the tunnel.  The surface building is still covered in scaffolding, and gives the impression of being closed if you aren’t in the know; the entrance is around the other side.  The lifts haven’t been reopened yet, though, and there are over a hundred stairs at each end, so if you need a step-free route then you’ll have to use the ferry for now.

We set off around 11am and descended into the unknown.  Several news reports say that £11.5 million has been spent on upgrades and repairs.  You’d think they could’ve cleaned the place.

The tunnel itself is 495m long.  It was bit spooky and the air felt damp, but it was also interesting.  It’s a shame there’s no busking allowed, because the acoustics down there are amazing.  I tried making some sound effects, and found that the echoes lasted six or seven seconds.  The tunnel went slightly downhill; we could hear the voices of several people behind us, but we couldn’t see them.

After climbing over a hundred steps and emerging into daylight at the other side, we followed the Thames Path.  There were several tiny, muddy beaches, with evidence of past industrial use, along with some more modern features.

The path left the riverside for a short while and detoured around some roads.  We took the optional diversion to see the Thames Barrier up close.  The barrier has been raised more and more in recent years, to protect London from flooding.  In another twenty years or so, it won’t be much use anymore and they’ll have to build a larger one further downstream.  The Thames Barrier Visitor Centre has a cafe and toilets.

After retracing our steps back to the main road, we headed uphill into Maryon Park, where we had to climb yet more steps.  We then crossed over into Maryon Wilson Park, which has a children’s zoo with lots of animals including sheep, deer and chickens.  We then walked through a lovely wooded section.

The walk continued through Charlton Park, home to the Jacobean mansion Charlton House.  The Capital Ring guide book had very helpfully suggested we make use of the tearoom and toilets there, so we were intending to stop there for lunch.  We walked around the building and followed the signposts for the Mulberry Tea Rooms, only to find the entire building closed.  Unfortunately, the guide book had omitted the fact that the the tea rooms are only open Monday to Friday, 9am-4pm.  The menu can be found here.

We passed this seemingly insignificant wall.  It’s a ha-ha, a sunken wall installed for the purpose of separating the Charlton House grounds from the rest of the park, without spoiling the view.

We continued across Woolwich Common, which had a feeling of wildness about it.  It’s amazing that places like this exist so close to Central London.  In one direction, however, we had a good view of this *ahem* interesting building.

We were really hungry by the time we arrived at Shooter’s Hill, and decided to head for the nearest pub or cafe we could find.  We took a left turn up Red Lion Street and ended up at The Eagle, which served very dull paninis and nothing else.  The pub was very dull indeed, and is not the place to go if you’re a beer aficionado or a fan of real ale.  Its good points were the tables and wooden decking out the back, which had views over some parkland.  After leaving, we had a quick look up the road and discovered another pub, The Red Lion, only a few doors up the hill.  It had a seafood stall outside.  We didn’t look inside, so I have no idea if it’s any good.

The walk continued into Eltham Common, through a trail of almost continuous woodland.  We passed Severndroog Castle, a folly which is also a listed building.  There are currently plans to restore it and open it to the public.

On the other side, we went down some steps emerging into some gardens, and then another area leading to views across Kent.

The route got a bit complicated after this and I think we might have taken a wrong turning, but it didn’t matter as all the paths through the woods all joined up.

We finally arrived at Oxleas Meadows, which has a cafe and toilets at the top of the hill.  The guide book overoptimistically describes it as sitting “atop the hill like an alpine mountain hut.”  We stopped there around 3pm for a second lunch, and the food was much better.  There were tables outside, where everyone was enjoying the sunshine.  The whole day seemed to be carrying a theme of trying but failing to find decent food.  If you’re there on a weekday, consider having lunch at Charlton House.  If you leave earlier in the morning than we did (11am), have lunch at the pavillion at Oxleas Meadow.  Otherwise, bring food with you as there’s practically nowhere else to buy any.

The rest of the walk went through more lovely woodland.  Half the time, you would never guess you were in London.

If we’d left a bit earlier in the morning, we would’ve had time to continue along with the next section to Grove Park.  Instead, we took the turning off for Falconwood Station, and stopped for a rest at the Harvester pub.  Again, not a great place, but it’s there.

Having starting at Greenford, I’ve now done eight out of fifteen sections of the Capital Ring.  I think it’s fair to say that this one is one of the nicest ones I’ve done so far, and I highly recommend it.  If you’re doing it at a warm enough time of year, bring your own food and have a picnic.

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About Karen

One foot in front of the other
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