River Wandle Walk - 23rd April 2017
Saturday 23rd April's walk along the River Wandle, was very much a wander along the Wandle, with numerous diversions down streets.
The Wandle is a south London river that derives from springs originating from the North Downs and arises properly in the Croydon area. However, much of the early part of the river's course has been covered over by the development of Croydon – the 'Canary Wharf'' of its time back in the 60's. However, in earlier days the Wandle was described as the most industrial river in Britain, with – at its peak – 90 water-mills operating along its banks. It is a relatively short river, joining the Thames at Wandsworth, but also has a quick descent, so that the waters had the power to turn all of those wheels.
Some of us met up at Liverpool Street, by the statue to the Kinder-transport children, as I'd suggested. What I hadn't known was that at the main entrance to the station, there is another, larger, statue which Fritz and Fozi referred me to whilst we were waiting. Fritz had brought along a Polish-language newspaper cutting showing him photographed in front of that statue, and he was able to tell us about what led up to this whole issue.
We began our walk proper after meeting up with others at East Croydon Station, then walking down the busy main road accompanied by the trams of South London's tramway system. Not much to catch our eye in these early steps, just busy-ness, until we reached Croydon's Minster. This is a rather fine flint-walled church, although it had been substantially re-built after a fire in the 1860's. We went inside for a quick look, and certainly I was impressed with the interior.
It's just a few steps from the church fore-court to the busy Roman Way, which we were able to cross by means of an underpass into quieter residential, streets. A short alleyway took us to another fairly busy road, and then by means of a footbridge over a railway line into the quiet of Wandle Park.
Here we had our first view of the river, emerging from a culvert at a bridge and immediately, in the settings of the park, a quite attractive little stream. There was even a Grey Wagtail at the water's edge for the ten members of our group to spot. And there was even the first drops of rain – which the forecasters had said might 'just' be a possibility – but which encouraged us to don hats, coats or umbrellas. Can you don an umbrella? It is not a large park, and we crossed another bridge back to the bank we'd started from, and out and across the tram-lines into more residential roads. What with the drizzle, and the rather poor 'Wandle Trail' leaflet I was trying to follow, I was not getting a good feel for this initial part of our walk. Crossing Purley Way did not improve my feelings, and the industrial works that lay along Mill Lane didn't help either. But Mill Lane at least had an air of history about it, and soon we reached a lovely spot at Waddon Ponds. Although – surprisingly – our guide leaflet did not take us into the park, we stood and watched a variety of water-birds: Swans on nest, Mallard, Tufted Ducks, Moorhens and something going on between Little Grebes.
Waddon Ponds is now only one pond, and is often taken to be the source of the Wandle, but the Wandle has more than one source. The route onwards was along a vegetation-lined bridleway, with the river to our right. Crossing this, we continued on its north bank, and although accompanied also by some office buildings, was pleasant enough. The rain had all but stopped, and things were looking better.
At some rather nice quiet streets of terraced houses, we reached Beddington Mill, a very large brick building built in 1891, but of nice proportions. This is locally known as the 'Snuff Mill', as at one time it was used to grind tobacco into snuff, but later was used for flour. Almost adjacent to the mill are a short row of lovely single-storey cottages, with a small bridge as means of access across a stream. We were all entranced by Mount Pleasant – though why it's called a mount...
We walked alongside an old, heavily buttressed wall on our left, and the river on our right, at which we stopped for a while watching a duck mallard trying to round up the remains of her brood. There seemed to be only two ducklings left; they often have ten. The water in the river hereabouts is clear, with a gravel bottom – unusual in the London area where it is often muddy-bedded. It is probably the good flow of this river that keeps it nice and clean, and has resulted in watercress beds in the past, with some of the species still remaining in places.
We passed Carew Manor on our left before we entered Beddington Park; this fine Tudor manor was the home of the Carews of Beddington for 500 years. By Beddington Park we had also entered sunshine, and were beginning to getting quite warm. Tea and the like in the pavilion was suggested, and the suggestion went down well with all. After we'd feasted – or at least tea-ed up – we continued across the park, which is extensive and which the Wandle runs through. There are some nice ornamental features, including an ornate river-bridge. Before leaving the park, we were asked by a young lady – Emma – if she might join us. She'd seen us in the cafe, wanted someone to walk with, and she did so for the rest of our walk. We walked alongside a quite busy road, but with a stream running alongside the pavement separating it from the houses. Although we had left our branch of the Wandle behind the houses, we soon joined another branch, which originates at Carshalton Ponds, and the two meet up at a wooded spot – now a nature reserve – called Wilderness Island. Emma had not been there before, although she lived relatively locally – and was keen to revisit it later as she was also interested in the wildlife.
Although we were now entering areas where the river would once have been heavily industrialised, this wasn't really evident, and the river was still clear and with lots of plant-life beside and in the water. By Hackbridge we were feeling warm in the sunshine, and I noted that the May was out on the hawthorns. As in the well-known saying “ Cast ne'er a clout 'till May be out” I advised that it was and we were all entitled to take some of our clothes off. Some already had.
We reached what is known as Watercress Park – in honour of the watercress beds that used to be in abundance in these clean, clear waters, and – after 5.5 miles or so – decided that we would finish the walk as I'd intended, there. We trekked up Middleton Road, saying a last farewell to the Wandle until in a few metres we had to do so again as there was another branch, looked at some Hoary Cress by the roadside, and found our 5.5 mile walk was extended by another long mile or so to Mitcham Junction Station. Some got a tram there back to Croydon, the rest of us got a simple train back to Farringdon.
With Emma, there had been eleven of us on the walk – which was a bit disconcerting for me as on Thursday only two had said they were coming. What with the initial streets and the rain and the small print and poor instructions of the route sheet, I didn't find this one of the most rewarding walks, but then that's my fault as I'd not pre-walked it. The company, nevertheless and as always, was good, though, and I didn't hear many complaints.
Paul Ferris, 24th April 2017
p.s. We received this nice email from Emma after the walk:
To everyone in the Epping Forest Outdoor Group,
I really enjoyed meeting you all, and walking with your group on Saturday. Thank you for making me feel so welcome. I had never done that section of the Wandle Trail before but will follow it in the future, and I look forward to visiting Wilderness Island too. It will make a change from spending all my time in Beddington Park! Thank you to the group leader - (I am terrible with names) for pointing out all the interesting nature features along the way.
I hope that I am able to find a nice local group to join. I will let you know how I get on.
Please let me know in you are walking in my locality - (within a 10 mile radius) in the future. Thank you.
I wish you all the best.
Emma - (from Beddington Park river bank)