Walk 6: New Cross walk to Blackheath

Walk 6 NEW CROSS to BLACKHEATH

2 hours

Routing note: This walk connects with walks 4 and 24 at New Cross. It will also connect there to London Overground walk 10.

It connects at St Johns with walk 19.

In Lewisham, it connects with walks 15 and 24A and with Victoria train walk 3. It will also connect in Lewisham to DLR walk 3.

Finally, the present walk connects in Blackheath to walks 7 and 12.

I am aware that Black Heath is quite large and has a confusing layout, so that I hope that you will find my directions clear enough. You might wish to use London Cycling Guide 7 published by London Transport and available for free as a backup. You don’t need hiking boots for this walk but sturdy shoes are more comfortable across the Heath.

This train line is the original main line to Kent (now the North Kent line) and was opened in 1849.

NEW CROSS

New Cross station

The station was opened in 1849 on the main line to Kent and was rebuilt in the 1970s. The present building looks typically cheap and is a plain glass box. There was no money in Britain at the time for fancy station buildings and no need for representation as the train company was government-owned.

Tracks joining New Cross with the East London line were built in 1880 and this offers an interchange. This connection is now offered by London Overground who uses New Cross as a terminal.

Exit the station and turn R up the ramp

L New Cross Road

R Alpha Road

L Florence Road

R Heald Street

Ahead Albyn Road

The station entrance is just off R on St John’s Vale.

ST JOHNS

St Johns train junction

The station was one of the original stations when the line was opened in 1849. As you can see on my picture, there is a complex train junction here. The tracks on the right bypass St Johns and are used by fast trains towards Hayes (my walk 24) or Sidcup (my walk 19). An other train line coming from Victoria station joins the North Kent line just east of St Johns, crossing the Hayes/Sidcup line on a steel bridge visible in the background on my picture.

This steel bridge was rebuilt in 1957 after two trains ran into each other below the bridge and brought it down. 90 people died in the disaster and this was an important factor in looking for more efficient signalling systems for busy lines at a time when computers were not available to organize the traffic.

St Johns station

There is no actual station building, just wooden sheds on the central platform. This dates back to the 1970s, when the train junction was remodeled to improve signalling.

Continue on Albyn Road, road turns L

Cross the main road into Brookmill Park

Downstream end of Brookmill Park

Downstream end of Brookmill Park

The park is part of a long string of green spaces built along the course of the Ravensbourne River. Taken together, they build one of only two good cycling / walking routes for people travelling from central London towards Sussex. The walking route is called the Waterlink Way and you would follow the markings for national cycle route 21.

Brookmill Park

Brookmill Park

Brookmill Park was built on former industrial premises together with the Dockland Light Railway and care was taken to make the river flow more natural whenever enough room was available. The northern end of the riverside park is called Brookmill Park; there is a nice fountain with a circular pergola nearly all around it. The borough invests in nice flower beds and there are lots of seats with unusually shaped, bright red legs and armrests. It is usually a rather quiet and pleasant place. As the park is located between identikit flashy studios for young bankers on the east side and a conservation area on the west side, it does not normally attract the street gangs some people might expect in Deptford.

Pond in Brookmill Park

Continuing upstream along the “natural” section of the river valley, you lose the flower beds but you might see a heron or a fox. You will also need to pay attention to cyclists as they tend to go fast despite the lack of visibility on the winding path. At one spot where the cyclists are routed away from the pedestrians, you can have a look at a pond fully covered in green algae. It actually reminds me of frothy green tea as made in Japanese ceremonies but I did not try to drink the water from the pond.

Ravensbourne River

R along the river

L across the DLR tracks at Elverson Road station

R Conington Road, road turns L

R Silk Mills Path close to the river

(passing later between a Tesco and the river)

Ravensbourne River near Lewisham station

The river looks here pretty much like it was before the renaturalisation measures in Brookmill Park. One of the issues with such concrete river beds is that heavy rains lead to water rushing through and causing potential flooding downriver.

R underneath train tracks

R Station Approach

LEWISHAM

Lewisham train station

This is an important train junction as train commuters from the Southeast can change here to the Docklands Light Railway towards Canary Wharf since 1999.

The original train line is the main North Kent line coming from New Cross and continuing towards Blackheath and Dartford, opened in 1849. A branch was added in 1857 as the Mid-Kent line and is now used for services to Hayes (my walk 24A). An other branch was added in 1865 towards Hither Green and was called the South Eastearn Main line (my walk 15).

The station layout is quite peculiar, with the station building sitting in the triangle built by diverging viaducts. The building itself sits on a ramp so that you go down stairs into a gloomy lobby and climb back to the platforms along the one or other viaduct.

I think the building may be in part original as it has cornices and regular brick arches, but I expect there was a second story originally as this was customary to house the station master. The oversized modern awning and the ugly grey barriers against fee dodgers give the building a forbidding appearance.

With the station to your back, go down the left (north) arm of Station Approach

L over the river and under the railway tracks

R Granville Park

Mansions on Aberdeen Terrace

This is an elegant Victorian area with very nice houses above the railway cutting. Further up the hill, there are even real mansions along Aberdeen Terrace looking towards the heath.

Ahead into Black Heath.

Black Heath looking North

This is a very large empty space covered with grass and has been so for at least 2,000 years as the soil is too bad for good crops. It was a mustering place under Saxon kings and was used as a camp by a Viking army in the 10th century. It was also the rallying place for several peasant rebellions in the 14th and 15th centuries and there even was a real battle here in 1497 with 2,000 people being killed. There are other wild places (as opposed to parks) near to central London, like Hampstead Heath, but Black Heath is special in being devoid of trees. The heath is a public open space since 1871.

Black Heath looking East

Aim first ahead and R for the rear end of an isolated complex of buildings called Hollyhedge House on the maps.There was originally a windmill here until the Vicar of Lewisham had a small palace built in the 18th century. This was such an important position that it was held at a time by the Bishop of Oxford. The palace was sold in 1888 to the Armed Forces and was used as a recruitment centre until bomb damage during World War II. In recent years, the University of  Greenwich also borrowed the building as an examination centre, but it continues to be used by the Army.

Black Heath

On reaching the buildings, turn slightly R and continue across the Heath aiming for the corner of a large walled enclosure. You will need to cross a major and very busy road. On the other side of the road, there is a very well kept bowling green with the usual pretty rose bushes around it. You should keep between the busy road and the bowling enclosure.

Bowling Green on edge of Black Heath

The high brick wall comes nearly to the busy road. You can keep on the south side of the wall and walk along Charlton Way where there are usually tons of buses and cars parking. But it is much more pleasant to find the small passage through the brick wall near the corner and to enter Greenwich Park through Chesterton Gate.

In Greenwich Park

I keep a detailed description of the park for other routes as you could spend a full day sampling its delights. Keeping along the south wall as far as possible, you will pass a number of interesting places. The first one is a small rhododendron hollow and an isolated flower bed.

Flower Garden in Greenwich Park

After crossing the main park road, you enter the enclosed (no dogs) Flower Garden. This is certainly one of the most impressive parks in London, as befits its position as a Royal Park.

There are a lake with lots of water birds and a large number of rhododendron bushes.

Show Heath in Greenwich Park

But there is also an unusual display of heath plants that can appear all purple at some times of the year -probably the second best display in London after Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park.

Arboretum in Greenwich Park Flower Garden

Further on, the last part of the Flower Garden combines an arboretum with round flower beds. The arboretum shows a choice of magnificent conifers that have been given room to grow as much as they wanted.

Flower Garden in Greenwich Park

The flower beds are in the typical style of the Royal Parks; they have two or three tiers with plants of different heights, of which one is foliage only. If there are two blooming plants, they have strongly contrasting colours. As I love flowers, you get several examples of the flower beds, including a rare example with four tiers.

Flower Garden in Greenwich Park

Flower Garden in Greenwich Park

Flower Garden in Greenwich Park

Rare four-tier flower bed

At the end of the Flower Garden, you have to exit a bit off towards the middle of Greenwich Park. Turn R along the Wilderness, a wooded deer enclosure, until you reach Vanbrugh Park Gate and can leave the park.

Cross a road called Maze Hill into Vanbrugh Park.

Vanbrugh Park

This is both the name of the road and of the wilderness south of it. The name refers to architect Sir James Vanbrugh who was Surveyor to the Royal Naval Hospital in Greenwich starting in 1716. He built nearby a fanciful mansion that has been converted into apartments in the 1980s. I did not bother about having a look as it is further down on Maze Hill, but it is well known for being the first mock medieval property with turrets and crenellations at a time when architects built imposing baroque façades with lots of columns and scrolls of stucco flowers. In addition, the house had two dissimilar halves at a time when anything that was not symmetrical was seen as bad taste and insensitive to harmony.

Blooming broom in Vanbrugh Park

The Vanbrugh Park wilderness is a sandy hollow with lots of broom, so that it looks stunning in spring. It is actually a former gravel pit. In this particular spot, Black Heath really feels wild and a contrast to the manicured flower beds of Greenwich Park 10 minutes away.

Shelter and fountain on Black Heath

Cross the former gravel pit and aim for the rather impressive shelter at the 5-way crossroads of Prince Charles Road with Maze Hill and Charlton Way. The shelter was built in 1931 with money left by a local politician in his will. It is very pretty with a former drinking fountain and a former clock that was illuminated at night. This is called the Andrew Gibb Memorial. I have never seen anyone shelter in it but it is a nice decoration.

Long Pond on Black Heath

Follow Prince Charles Road (or walk parallel to it through the heath, which I did on the East side) aiming for the church at the edge of the heath. Before reaching the church, you will also pass a pond on the left with the very popular Princess of Wales pub nearby. This particular pond is a former gravel pit.

All Saints Church Blackheath

All Saints Church enjoys a very conspicuous location and outclasses nearly all competitors from London suburbs from this point of view. It was built in 1867 and is normally closed; seen from the outside, it is one of the better examples of gothic revival. With the empty green space around it, it is actually pretty enough to look like a postcard motive.

Ahead Montpelier Row

Ahead Montpelier Vale

Ahead Blackheath Village

BLACKHEATH

Blackheath station

The station was opened in 1849 on the main line to Kent going to Charlton via a very long tunnel (about 1 mile, which is very long for the time it was built). A branch railway was opened in 1895 by a minor train company to serve Eltham and Bexleyheath. The minor company later went bankrupt and the line was taken over by the main train company -they had refused to build the line and they got it for free after the bankruptcy. But this was not on purpose as it was company policy to ignore requests by towns to open train lines serving them.

The station building dates back to 1869 and was built by the architect who also designed Greenwich train station (on my walk 5). He had a very elegant taste and kept to simple shapes and classical colours at a time when mock-medieval bombast was very fashionable. I haven’t been on the platforms but I have read that the awnings are the original 1849 ones.

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