Saturday 26th May 2012
7 miles approx
Toilets: Beckenham Place Park; Kent House Tavern, Thesiger Road; More pubs in Penge; Crystal Palace Park.
This weekend’s walk was slightly shorter than noted in the guide book, since when we did the previous section from Falconwood to Grove Park, we extended it slightly to include the little nature reserve next to the railway. We therefore started the walk by heading along Reigate Road to join the main route.
This section of the Capital Ring has been criticised by some for including too much road walking. I personally feel that this is quite harsh – the first half in particular includes plenty of greenery, and yes, the second half does involve more roads, but they are pleasant ones. My view may also have been changed by the fact that it was a gloriously hot and sunny day, but with plenty of trees for shade. It’s also important to remember that the Capital Ring does not claim to be a rural walk, and is a very definitely an urban walk that connects up many of London’s less-well-used green spaces.
We walked along the wide, grassy bank down the middle of Undershaw Road, before joining the Downham Woodland Walk. A remnant of the former Great North Wood, it stretched for about a mile, weaving between houses, having been left there deliberately as part of the street plans when the area was urbanised. It was one of my favourite parts of the day.
At the end of the section where it joined a main road, there was a little wooden train.
The next point of interest was Beckenham Place Park, where the pathway crossed over the Ravensbourne River. There were indeed plenty of ravens flying around the area. The park itself was almost empty, which was a shame as there was so much green space in which to enjoy the sunshine.
After crossing a bridge over a railway, the path then went through more woodland, before emerging into more parkland with a golf course. I’m not sure what was going on around this giant squirrel.
The centrepiece building itself, Beckenham Place, was a disappointment. For some reason I had assumed it was owned by a heritage organisation and restored its former grandeur. In fact, it certainly looked like it had seen better days. Inside, there was a very dingy-looking bar that belonged to the golf club. There were also public toilets in a small outbuilding.
One problem we’ve found on the Capital Ring, especially in the south-eastern part, is a distinct lack of good quality food or pubs. If it’s a nice day, you should definitely bring a picnic along. At some traffic lights (marked AI on page 47 of the guide book) we were supposed to turn right onto Kent House Road. Instead, we turned left for a very minor detour to a pub called the Kent House Tavern, just past a little parade of shops. Having started our walk in the afternoon, we reached the pub at 2.30pm and were told the kitchen was about to close, so we hurriedly ordered something. I’m sure everyone who works there is very nice, but let’s just say that if you’re hungry, some food is better than no food. It was acceptable and edible, and the drinks were cold, and if you really need something to eat or drink, or a toilet stop, then go ahead. It wasn’t exactly a gourmet experience, but at the same time I’ve had a lot worse. The parade of shops included two convenience stores right next door to each other, so we bought some ice cream.
The route then continued through the streets of Penge and across a recreation ground. We passed two more pubs, although we didn’t try them out.
We finally reached Crystal Palace Park, an absolutely beautiful park with a cafe, toilets and sports facilities. There were hundreds of people out enjoying the sunshine, possibly explaining why Beckenham Place Park had been so empty. We stopped for a long rest, and then had a look around the dinosaur enclosure.