Green London Way Walk 10: Of Hustings and Huguenots

Five brave EFOGers walked this leg of the Green London Way on Saturday 25th July 2016, risking the threatened rain – which almost got us towards the end.

The walk effectively straddled the River Wandle, with Wandsworth on one side of the valley and Wimbledon on the other. Bob Gilbert (the author of the book of walks we are using) warned us that this is the most dissected part of this route around London – and so it proved. 'Rescuing' the green paths and spaces came later and was more 'patchy' than in other places but it was still possible to find our way through the “towny” bits in a relatively green way.

The route's more industrial past (and present day legacies) was still evident – but often hidden behind thick greenery or buried beneath lakes which which were former gravel pits, now providing a home for flora and fauna. Much of this history, as is often the case, now only lives on in place names such as Garratt Lane. The election of the 'pretend' Mayor of Garret was a festival that in the 18th Century often attracted crowds in excess of 100,000 people to the place – bringing riot, mayhem, frolics and fun! Eventually banned by the political 'elite' in in 1797 – for fear of the French revolution crossing the Channel and all that. Spoilsports I call them.

Before then we visited the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery at Wandsworth. This was a poignant reminder of the tragedies history can bring – seen especially (for me) in the caribou carvings on the grave-stones of the soldiers from Newfoundland (647 men from that regiment of 1000 were killed in just half-an-hour at The Somme) and the Huguenot teardrops (shed because they had to leave their homes or face death because of their beliefs) on the Wandsworth coat of arms . This was seen on a rare monument dedicated to the area's civilian casualties of war (most also 'unknown'). Has the world changed at all since then? It sometimes feels not.

On a lighter theme - some of the more modern graves were fantastical – including one with a statue of the queen in comic pose – these touching, even when 'funny', memorials to loved ones remind us that love can demonstrate itself in very different ways.

I had done the 'trial' walk in April and was very pleasantly surprised by how much nicer it seemed in late June. Apart from anything else, the River Wandle was very 'lively' this time – and seemed bigger. It is hard to believe that as late as 1970 it had been declared a sewer. The grasses were more varied and longer, the trees bushier, greener – and there was a lot of to see. Summer flowers added colour. The Wandle Trail still needs working on – but it is clearly a work still being progressed by volunteer enthusiasts keen to see the 'greenness' grow.

Of course, the company of Amina, Lynne, Fozi and Fred also made my walk 'for real' more convivial than way back in April - but don't tell Robbie I said that.

I didn't get to tell the gang about the shenanigans and bad luck of the Spencer and Churchill families – that was when the rain literally stopped the cricket game taking part in a park towards the end of the walk – and sent us scurrying under the trees for shelter. The prospect of tea and cakes before our journey home somehow seemed more important at that point. So we took advantage of a lull in the rain to sup and munch ...... before our journey home from Wimbledon Station – where the next Green London Way Walk starts – on Saturday August 6th. Where to next? I'll tell you later! Thanks gang.

Pam, 27th June 2016