Three Palaces on the Capital Ring

lake with dinosaurs in Crystal Palace Park

After heavy snow mid-January saw a lull in the severe weather and I rejoined the Capital Ring at Falconwood. The walk goes  past two homes of the wealthy, now in public use,  and one people’s palace in ruins .

As ever the directions provided by Colin Saunders proved easy to follow, although a kind lady pointed out that in Eltham  the public toilets have been swallowed up by a superstore, which of course has its own toilets. Had it not been for her inquiring if I was looking for the Capital Ring I would not have known this as, of course ,there is no signpost to the toilets in the superstore. Whatever deal had been done with the council on the siting of the superstore, the need for a public toilet, as so often, seems to have been ignored. I saw no evidence in Eltham of a community toilet scheme, which in other places sometimes tries to address the national dearth of public toilets. However, I suppose the charm of the Capital Ring is that it goes through places not destined to be a haven for tourists and thus equipped with tourist facilities.

Impossible to come to Eltham without thinking of that other family who, like us, are still waiting for justice for the murder of their child. Not far away in Burundi, but here in London, the family of Stephen Lawrence have not yet seen anyone convicted of his murder. I often think of them as , apart from anything else, Stephen was the same age as my own son.

However Eltham is home to a splendid palace where the Kings of England lived from the early fourteenth to the mid-sixteenth centuries before Henry V111 preferred Greenwich or Hampton Court. When I went it was closed but it looks as though it would be an interesting place to visit in the summer:

Eltham Palace

From here King John’s Walk,  running alongside the palace grounds, leads eventually to magnificent views over the city with Canary Wharf (as ever} discernible on the horizon  and the tall buildings of The Square Mile including ‘The Gherkin’.

Before taking the path towards Grove Park I photographed ‘ Fairmount’, now a residential home, which had belonged to the great cricketer W.G. Grace:

W.G. Grace's former home

There’s quite a lot of road-walking on this section of the Capital Ring. However the Downham Woodland Walk  continues for over a mile and crosses the Meridian line. It is another remnant of ‘The Great North Wood’

Downham Woodland Walk near the Meridian Line

I came to Beckenham Place Park. A large part of the park seems to have been given over to golf and the eighteenth century mansion, built by John Cator, is now the club house.

Looking up towards the mansion in Beckenham Place Park

Going on through the park and approaching the mansion there is a large white-painted squirrel statue:

John Cator incorporated  the grandiose portico of his former home  near Blackheath into his new house:

From here the route leads between the edges of Sydenham and Beckenham,  at one point sharing a path with cyclists on a track newly developed by the cycling charity, Sustrans, to the occasional confusion of pedestrians. Through Penge and then to  the Crystal Palace Park, developed in 1854.

lake in Crystal Palace

Near the eerie remains of the over-extended greenhouse-like structure which had been destroyed by fire one cold winter’s night in 1936, families enjoyed the fresh air, the city farm, and the display of dinosaurs which make this park like no other:

The walk had added a useful twelve miles to the total but my right eye was pricking and watering with the cold. It was still winter and I looked forward to enjoying tea with my family.


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