A walk in South London

Enjoying London on foot, Wandsworth to Camberwell.

Travelling back from Soho one evening I found myself considering my relationship with London. When I first moved to this city, six years ago, I wanted to become part of it. I wanted to explore, and experience, and I was excited and happy to let this huge city take me wherever it would like. I was captivated by it all, and every area of London, from Chiswick, to Soho, to Bermondsey held a certain intrigue and allure. Whether it was a new cocktail bar, a clothing boutique, an independent coffee shop, a small hidden square, or just a plaque on the wall I passed every day, I felt that there were so many secrets to be discovered and experiences to be had.

However, the past year, living in Wandsworth and cycling every day to Battersea I have become a little resentful of the city. Of the rumbling ever constant traffic, of the people always in a rush – pedestrians, cyclists – of always being in a rush, of occasionally being squashed in train carriages, of always being in somebody’s way in a train station, of the noise, of the dirt, of the lack of kindness and respect, and of the intense consumerism, and instagram-led marketing.  And I realised that now, rather than embracing London in all it’s glory, I am spending my time actively avoiding it’s constantness.

When I first started cycling in London I gained an unexpected freedom, the freedom to roam at pleasure – distances covered in the blink of an eye – and a fun mode by which to discover unexplored areas. However, although I do still love cycling, it does mean toying endlessly with aggressive traffic, often on very busy A roads. Walking in London does still allow me to enjoyably explore the city. I have often walked my various commutes to work, and when I have time, will walk into central London along the river from Batteresa. The slower pace, the air, the buildings, the people encountered, and the light always feels rather restorative.

And it was a walk recently that really made me rekindle, and perhaps, find a new love for this extraordinary city.

On a Sunday morning we headed due East past the vegan shops, brunch cafes and millennials on Battersea Rise, crossing Clapham Common and lamenting the current set up of Winterville (Winter Wonderland is ghastly enough, why do we need one too), and then heading down the slightly grubby Clapham High Street passing roads with pleasing names such Cato Road and Aristotle Road. At Clapham North, turning down Landor Road our adventure really began. I always love it when you walk off the edge of your own map knowledge right into the unknown.

On Landor Road we passed the sounds of a gospel choir at practice, and then turning right onto Hargwyne Street we wiggled our way through a rather pretty residential area, past the house David Bowie was born in, and on until we found Brixton Academy looking a little sheepish on such a bright beautiful Sunday morning.

Next, we turned into Wyck Park, and to my amazement, we came across a pair of piebald horses happily munching away on some hay! It turns out there is a community riding school in Brixton – The Ebony Horse Club – nestled under the railway line and they have eight horses, it was rather a sight, the horses contentedly grazing, with the tower blocks behind them.

On we walked (Max was getting a little hungry by this point) but we persevered, with a short length along the infamous Cold Harbour Lane. Turning right on Cambria Road we passed under the railway line where some of the local residents were hard at work whitewashing a wall at the end of their road. Then down the pretty Northway Road with small terraced houses and into Ruskin Park – which not only has a super name, but feels very countryside indeed! It is on a slope, with many trees and even has a small garden created by Trees for Cities in which groups from the near by Maudsley Hospital are growing fruit and vegetables. 

Next was Denmark Hill Station, and the incredibly imposing William Booth Training Memorial College – the headquarters of the Salvation Army – with two grand statues of founder William Booth and his wife Mary (the Army Mother).

We slipped down a side street next to the George Canning pub to discover the delightful ‘Stories Mews’ happily tucked away. This is not your clinically polished Belgravia Mews, rather, the gravel road, with overhanging trees and creeper covered houses could almost pass for a country lane.  It feels that as the cityscape continues to develop, the trees and plants in this Mews have been long forgotten, and continue to grow in peace, unawares of the destruction around them.

We stepped out onto Camberwell Grove, a beautiful wide tree lined street with grand houses of all shapes and styles with the most magnificent wild gardens and, turning into Grove Park, we discovered more of the same. I’m not sure I have ever encountered such untouched greenery anywhere in London, and somehow, amazingly, the city has not engulfed it.  Autumn here can be seen in its full splendour, rather than just your usual glimpse of a brightly leafed tree down a side street. On returning home and researching, it turns out this is a Conservation area. In the 1960s there was a plan to build an elevated motorway across this area, which thankfully never happened.

Down the hill, Grove Park turns into Chadwick Road as you cross the railway line, and then we turned right onto Bellenden Road.

I’m not sure if it was the discovery of such a beautifully green area hidden away in Camberwell or the exhilaration from completing our walk, but Bellenden Road was such a refreshing change, and seemed to me, exactly as a small local high street ought to be. Not a Starbucks in sight, no big glaringly offensive supermarket, nor a polished high street clothing chain, no millenials taking Instagram photos of their brunch and very little traffic. Instead it has a ‘General Store’, a pub, some small independent businesses, and a wonderful feeling of ‘localness’. Here were people enjoying their London, away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre.

Our destination was the unimposing Artusi – a small Italian restaurant which has a set Sunday lunch menu, and was absolutely delicious – I had pumpkin and ricotta to start with, Max – beef brisket with a salsa verde (it was very very good indeed) and we both had the homemade pasta – papio e ceci, with an orange polenta cake to finish. You really must go and visit.

After, I spent a very happy hour browsing their local bookshop Review, made friends with the girl running the shop and came away with some unusual finds. As I walked the seven minutes to Peckham Rye station with the sun starting to set behind me, I had a sense that maybe finally I had found an area of London that is understandably ‘home’ for the people that live there.

Camberwell, I will be back.

Alice xxx

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