I decided last night to start this route and cover as much of its 78 miles around the city as I can while here. I’m so excited to have a smart goal, inside of staying outside in London, instead of just wandering around, which has been fun too. This gives me something to complete. I’ll start with Section 1.
I’m out the door with wet hair and two slices of pizza. I’m about to be disheartened that my 716 train is canceled but there’s a 648 instead. On the way, a man tells me that the carbs of my pizza make it a cake after I tell him it’s practically a salad. You don’t get these interactions without public transport.
Almost everyone at Tulse Hill had a backpack and though I’d like to carry more with me, besides what I can cram in my pockets and the ability to cover my camera with my coat, I would need a waterproof bag in order to not haul around a dripping tote with all my things soaking inside.
Waiting ten minutes for the next train would’ve saved me 20 minutes in stops. I realize this a half-hour in-transit and not yet being halfway through my morning commute. I appreciate that places are made accessible to a variety of people with different abilities without making them feel like less.
I just realized the times for the trains are departure and not arrival times as I wait for my second train before I can start my walk from Woolwich Arsenal station, a half mile from the southern tunnel gate. The market is setting up to sell shoes, bags, and clothes under the eye of a Common starling.
The Royal Arsenal employed 100,000 people at its peak, after 400 years of operation, during WWI, and eventually closed in 1994 after the factory ceased manufacturing in 1967. It was opened to the public in 2001 to tour the 23 buildings that had been restored.
I enjoy the cool and quiet morning through what could be considered an Instagram museum, but I’m the only one here taking in the clocks, statues, skyline, steps, tiles, windows, signs, and plants as I approach the Thames Barrier with sacrificial anodes — an alloy that protects submerged metals from corrosion.
Maryon Park has closing hours that vary from 4pm in the winter until 9pm throughout summer. It’s here that the trail I’m on also happens to be part of the Green Chain Walk — a network of paths connecting parks and open spaces in southeast London.
The trees and grasses are beautiful in their varied sizes, shapes, and colors. The buildings I pass have the same artistic curiosity but in use of materials, history, and purpose. I’ll cross the Oxleas Woodlands and go up Shooters Hill, not for the struggle of the stagecoach from A Tale of Two Cities, but for the view.
It’s near the top of this hill that sits Severndroog Castle, built in 1784, where seven counties can be seen from the roof of this triangular castle in the woods. It was restored in 2014 for visitors but sadly I’ll visit while death roams the world with the constant threat of a slow passing, so it’s closed for now.
Lunch will be had at the Oxleas Cafe that overlooks the meadow. Back amongst the trees and I see an empty stick fort, a dog playing in the mud, and a small human skull on a fallen tree cut out of the way. Meanwhile, a man runs through the park to ensure a lady gets her phone back.
Crossing the A2 Rochester Way Relief Road, from Falconwood, starts Section 2. I almost get hit by a car in a mini roundabout because I thought it was turning. I have no luck getting into the Eltham Palace Gardens as a reserved ticket is needed to even cross the bridge. I get one photo and continue on.
I follow King John’s Walk from the palace, which historically attracted visitors for deer hunting and clean air. Today, it’s the horses, cloudy blue skies, and views of the city’s high-rises that bring tourists’ cameras and locals’ picnics onto the grass and paved footway.
Some parts of the path seem to be wedged between two fences, but even the backyards are British in their capacity to give the other space, completely take over, and be reigned in again so that the greenery leaves a place to move and think unencumbered by what’s on the other side — Section 3.
Grove Park became a nature reserve in 1984 and protects Slow worms, Stag beetles, and Common lizards. The railway that was opened in 1865 was the inspiration for Edith Nesbit to write the book The Railway Children from her home, Three Gables, on the hill.
I see a fox on a sidewalk before taking a picture of a five-seated horse ride on a playground. There were three boys on their bikes that rode up to ask why I took the photo, but rode off again before I could explain. I’ll take some Cadbury fingers offered from two friends sharing the package of chocolate.
The Downham Woodland Walk is about a mile of the ancient Great North Wood that has been around since 1602. The trees here are mainly oak, ash, hornbeam (aka ironwood), and field maple. I’ll walk the northern edge of Beckenham Place Park to start the rail journey back for the night.
I meet three guys, proudly Ethiopian and speaking Amharic. One asks me to take his picture while holding a Corona. He’ll board the train to ask my why George Floyd got so much trouble from the police in America when he’s a black man in England with no trouble at all.
I’m not sure how to answer him, not knowing the struggles of the boroughs, so I let him continue on with his monologue, but the ideals as well as the English language (American vs British) split centuries ago in the American Revolutionary War.
What I didn’t think to mention was that even though Britain abolished slavery amongst their colonies in 1834 and the US followed in 1865, it wasn’t until the 1960s that both countries made racism illegal. I don’t know about their night, but mine will end falling asleep to the sound of guests in the other room.