Back at Beckenham Hill, and ready for the next part of my Capital Ring walk, I quickly made my way to Beckenham Place Park and was soon taking in a wooded path that took me over the railway. It didn’t take long before I heard – and even managed to see – a ring-necked parakeet, which I took to be a good sign that I’d see more birds than on my previous walk.
After the bridge over the railway, the route took in a public golf course – the club-house of which is Beckenham Place, an 18th century manor house with an impressive portico that looks like it’s seen better days.
Not far from there was more by way of sports grounds – cricket this time, an out-ground of Kent CCC no less. From here, I could clearly see the TV transmission tower at Crystal Palace, my destination for the day.
The route then took me onto a street of big suburban semis and an impressive church spire (St Paul’s, New Beckenham) then through a subway running underneath a railway station (New Beckenham). After this I detoured through a park, passing several secondary school children involved in such pastimes as talking loudly, illicit smoking and throwing each other’s shoes onto the grass; once again, I had inadvertently timed my walk to coincide with a school home time.
Despite having never knowingly visited Beckenham, I could not help but feel that the place was strangely familiar. The semi-detached houses, the way the parks were laid out and even the way a primary school looked all rang bells. Then it struck me; this was a London suburb that was built between the wars. Of course it was all familiar! I grew up in just such a suburb – the present-day Edgware and Mill Hill had for the most part been built at the same time. Funny how being in a completely different part of London should feel like walking a mere couple of blocks from my parents’ house.
It wasn’t long before the houses became a bit older, and walking through another park – this one gloried in the name of the Alexandra Recreation Ground – I came across a bowling green and a drinking-fountain that didn’t work (not the first time I’ve come across one of these that doesn’t dispense water in the past few months).
The ever-present TV tower was still in view as I reached another station (Penge East), this one crossed over by way of a footbridge, and just after that was a boarded-up pub with the unlikely name of Hollywood East. I followed the route onto Penge High Street.
Funny name, Penge. It sounds like it should be a rude word (it isn’t, of course), but it is in fact of Celtic origin, meaning ‘wood end’. The ongoing theme of crossing over or under railways continued with the road passing under two large bridges, one of them dating from 1839 (this one carries the main line from London Bridge to the Sussex coast) and the other from 1854 (the branch line to Crystal Palace), before I entered Crystal Palace Park.
I could have made straight for the station but I wanted to have a look around. I have been to this park before, while I was doing the Nightrider, but that was while I was in the middle of a cycling event and it was the middle of the night. In broad daylight and with no pressing need to get back on my bike, I took my time.
Established in the mid-1850s when the massive glass exhibition hall that had been the centrepiece of the Great Exhibition of 1851 was moved from Hyde Park, Crystal Palace Park was one of the most popular tourist attractions of the mid-to-late 19th century (which explains the branch line); it declined over time, though, and in 1936 the palace itself burned down. One feature that still exists from that time is the Dinosaur Area, a series of sculptures of assorted extinct species – not all of them are of dinosaurs, although the collection does include the first dinosaur models anywhere in the world (they even pre-dated the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species). I also took in the ducks and geese on the pond, which took my bird-count for the day to over ten species; that parakeet earlier had been a good sign after all.
From the dinosaurs, I passed the athletics stadium and moved up to the terraces on which the palace once stood, now in the shadow of the TV tower that had acted as a beacon for much of my walk.
These terraces, which are lined with a few sphinxes, afford a panoramic view to the east; I couldn’t be certain, but I was pretty sure that I could see the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge at Dartford.
Only after that did I go to the station.