Four of us set off on this section of the Green Chain Walk, that starts at Crystal Palace station and ends up at Nunhead Cemetery – via Sydenham Wells Park, Sydenham Hill Wood, Horniman Gardens, Brenchley Gardens, and both the Old and the New Camberwell Cemeteries.
Perhaps the first thing to mention is that this walk is well-signposted all along the route, so you just need to keep a sharp eye out for the Green Chain signposts and arrows. For more information on the Green Chain Walk generally, see here.
The first leg of the walk takes you along the path below the stone columns and arches that were the supporting structures of the Crystal Palace, before it burned down in November 1936. Also derelict is the stunning structure of the former Crystal Palace Bowl, once a magnet for both classical and pop concerts. We debated why it was that it had fallen into disuse, but had no answer.
Perhaps the highlight of the walk was Sydenham Wells Park, named as such because of the (now defunct) well in its centre. Bronwyn regaled us with the legend of an ostracised woman who sought refuge in the park, only to discover that the waters miraculously made her skin condition and sores – the cause of her banishment from the community – disappear. The well entrance is now marked by a stone obelisk.
In Sydenham Hill Wood we tracked the route of the railway line that fell into disuse in the 1950s and stopped at the point where Pissarro must have sat when painting ‘Lordship Lane station’ in 1871. In walking through the wood there is a sense of being in a cavern, such is the height of the towering trees – and all this half a mile from one of London’s busiest roads, the South Circular.
Beyond Benchley Gardens we stared across the parched terrain of the Aquarius golf club, where hardy golfers were out in the blazing sun, with the Shard peering up out of the background. In the cemeteries we could not help but smile at the gaudiness of some of the memorial structures, whilst also pondering what the long term fate would be of the many gravestones and structures now tilting at hazardous angles, as if on the brink of collapse.
The entire walk took us around 2 hours 45 minutes – slow for a 5.4 mile walk, but there is much to pause and wonder at en route.