Monday, 16 May 2016

BIG Walk No.2 - 18.5 miles

Last Saturday I decided it was time to undertake another long walk in my training for The Bard-Walk in August, and so set myself the goal of walking from Sydenham Station to Richmond Station - an 18.5 mile walk following the Capital Ring.

And so armed with my trusty Ordnance Survey map, my new water bottle (very important - Oh and I recently discovered the joy of popping quarter of a piece of lemon into the bottle with the water - transformation! Who knew?! ...ok probably lots of you...), and a sausage sandwich inside me, I headed out into the wilds of South East London.

First of all I have to say how impressed I was with the Capital Ring markers...

Following the route on my OS map was fairly straightforward, but actually quite often unnecessary - as you navigated small side roads, twisting left and right, and doubling back on yourself, there was a little green arrow at every turn. I was equally amazed that very few had had any Just William treatment and turned to point the wrong way...but on the odd occasion that did happen, my trusty OS map was there to hand.

...and here's another observation. OS maps are simply brilliant. I recently watched a documentary on the history of the OS map (the kind of riveting evening I have at Pinches Towers) and was totally blown away by the complexity and ingenuity of the cartographers, artists and innovators who brought these incredible documents into being...and regardless what people say about their user-friendliness, if you get the folds right they are as simple to hold as a pocket map (bit cocky there wasn't I? I'll put it down to being smug that I didn't look like someone trying to look nonchalant reading the Sunday Times on a roller-coaster...

Anyway, first port of call was Crystal Palace. Aside from the assembled masses of dogs who had brought their owners out for an RSPCA human-walking event, the thing that grabbed my attention most in the park was this...

A wrought iron open are stage, set on a pond, with all the lights and sound and everything...just rusting away. The poor wooden stage all rotten. There is something so sad about places like this that are just left to ruin - the memories that so many people - performers and audiences - have of events here make up their lives, and the cradle of those memories is left to rack and ruin...if I could have picked it up and transported it to Guildford I would have. Whoever commissioned it should be applauded. Whoever let it go to ruin should be found and brought to account.

I also saw the site of Crystal Palace (1854-1936) - the location it was moved to after the Great Exhibition of 1851. Love catching up with bits of history that I have heard about but never seen.

Around Norwood New Town I came across this. Now perhaps this is where I do get a bit geeky. For some reason I have (albeit quietly) always liked loking at post boxes - particularly their designs and the monarch's cipher on them. Again perhaps it's to do with the billions of lives that have come into contact with them: letters, Birthday cards, Christmas cards, competitions (in the days when you put your answer on the back of a postcard to the BBC), Valentine's cards, job applications...or perhaps it was just that Danger Mouse used to live in one...who knows. Anyway, this I found was rather special...can you tell why...

Edward VIII was never actually crowned Edward VIII - he abdicated before his coronation, and though he didn't appear on any coins, his cypher did make it to 161 post boxes around Britain, about 15 or so of which are in London. Edward 'reigned' for only 326 days in 1936, following the death of his father George V.

Onward now to Norwood Grove and Streatham Common. As I kept discovering, eveything is actually quite close together. I was fascinated by how areas and districts that on a train can feel quite disparate are easily blended together. So often, and I suppose this is true of all towns, it is the natural boundaries of rivers - and now railway lines and main trunk roads - that separate communities. Indeed I noticed the biggest change in crossing the railway bridge at Wimbledon Park. One moment in the retail wasteland and Dog Track of Wimbledon, the next the leafy Wimbledon Park. It fascinates me that communities who to all intents are rubbing shoulders with each other can be so poles apart.

This was a rather attractive Pumping Station in Streatham. I find the glory and the pride with which Victorian (in particular) architects and builders invested their work, truly edifying...built in the 1880s to a Moorish design...if only we did the same today...

At Tooting Bec Common I decided to take a little detour from my otherwise faithful Capital Ring and headed for Tooting Broadway, so I could see my first home in London: Tooting Broadway.

It was 2002 when I first came to London. I had graduated in 1998 and had been living between Manchester and suitcase up to this point. The move to London came as a result of director in Manchester (who shall remain nameless) insisting they only ever cast actors in London and also having met a fabulous cast I was with in Bath for Spring Awakening,who seemed very much more glamorous, worldly and actorly than I did. The director, by the way, never gave me a job once I moved there! Not much had changed since 2002: the same pubs were still there, the preacher outside the tube station was still there and the strange mix of High Street shops and Tooting covered market still attracted busy shoppers on Saturday lunchtime. As Wolfie would say 'Power to the People!'.

From here I worked my way across country back to rejoin the Capital Ring at Wimbledon Park, which was lovely and the view of the roof of Centre Court very nice. Suddenly the houses quadrupled in size! Crossing the road I entered the woods of Wimbledon Common and try as I may I COULD FIND NO WOMBLES.

I thought there might at least have been a statue or memorial or recycling bin dedicated them.

Getting a little lost on the golf course in the middle of the Common (surely there should be a health and safety thing going on here?!? but then, no, wait, I quite like that we have to use our common sense for once...and not just because we're on Wimbledon Com...oh Matt really? C'mon!), I managed to find my way off the Common, across the A3, and through Robin Hood Gate into Richmond Park.

Now if I had thought Wimbledon Common had been quiet this took things to another level. Majestic and wild, you could not hear a thing. I had never been before and was totally in awe of the place. From Spankers Hill (tee hee!) to White Lodge (did a quick jete, a couple of soubresaut and finished off with an iced-cold caramel frappe), then past the Pond Pens and on to Henry's Mound.


White Lodge, home of the Royal Ballet School
However during this route I had possibly my most incredible encounter. Just after I'd hugged a giant oak tree (never done that before, but having been with nature all day, it just seemed like the right thing to do) I met this gentlemen...

Wow! Incredible. So noble and calm in the afternoon May sunshine, not caring a jot for the attention he was getting. I had seen a pack of roe deer earlier in the Park but this chap was something else. I had never seen a stag in real life before - a truly remarkable and elegant animal.

Henry's Mound was a fun feature - you could see St Paul's Cathedral through the bushes! After a quick ice-cream (how much, Mr Richmond Park Cafe?!?!) I descended towards the Thames and Richmond itself. The last half hour of the walk wasn't too eventful, though it was fun to watch some Americans trying to feed a cow, who was frankly not impressed.

...and so there we 18.5 miles walk took me just over 6 hours...and I did without stopping too. My longest day is 25 miles so hopefully in terms of daily endurance I'm building up quite well.

Before I go I must say thank you to Swiss Cottage B&B in Marlow who are the first people to offer me complimentary accommodation in August on my walk. So kind. Here's their website if you're going that way any time.

In fact if any body knows of anyone who might like to donate some accommodation to me on route I would love to hear from you or them!

Thanks for to learn some lines...rehearsals start in less than a week!!!!

My first sit down at Richmond Bridge...


  1. Oh,very entertaining as usual Matt,love the local knowledge, history and photos! :) x