Forest Hill to Croydon
Distance: 6 miles Time: 2-3 hours
For this walk, the second half of our route following the rambles of William Blake and his wife in the Surrey countryside, you can follow the Green Chain footpath from the Horniman Museum as far as Crystal Palace.
I went along a slightly different route to that signposted. The Green Chain takes you from the Horniman Gardens through Sydenham Hill Wood and then forks to give you a choice of routes to get to Crystal Palace Park. I crossed the main road just east of the museum building and went up Eliot Bank. You could instead cross from the museum and follow Sydenham Rose or Sydenham Hill. At the top of the hill, at the roundabout where Sydenham Hill meets Kirkdale, I went straight over to follow Sydenham Hill south. Before that, I paused for the stunning view south-east down Kirkdale.
Just before the turn on the right to Crescent Wood Road, I entered Sydenham Hill housing estate and cut through in a straight line to Wells Park Road. Here the Green Chain forks. I walked up the road a little way past Longton Avenue and followed the westerly fork, which takes you through some woodland and the Hillcrest housing estate, coming out at the top of Sydenham Hill just before it meets Westwood Hill. The right fork of the chain takes you through Sydenham Wells Park and out onto Westwood Hill somewhat further east. Either way, you then cross over and enter Crystal Palace Park.
I crossed the park following the foundations of the Crystal Palace, with amazing views south across Surrey to the Downs. I then followed the prominent Green Chain signs which took me left and downhill to Crystal Palace station. Here you have a few choices. You can carry on southeast past the turn to the station for a quarter of a mile to see the concrete dinosaurs in the ornamental lake. This is recommended for sheer novelty. More seriously, you have to decide how to proceed.
The first 2 miles of our walk has been uphill through fairly pleasant backstreets and green open space. Between Crystal Palace and Croydon there is no longer the open countryside and small villages enjoyed by the Blakes. Instead, there are four miles of busy, dull roads leading through nondescript suburbs and railway sidings. You can walk if you like through Annerley, South Norwood, Selhurst, etc; but I would not recommend it. Instead, from Annerley Hill outside the station you can get the 157 bus direct to West Croydon. I strongly advise this.
Arriving in West Croydon bus station, get out and follow Station Road to its junction with London Road and North End. Turn left and follow North End to its junction with George Street. Here on the left you will find the Whitgift Hospital, alms-houses dating to 1596-9. This is the start of Croydon Old Town. Turn right into Crown Hill. Numbers 11 and 13 are 17th century; this was the former market place. A short way down of the left is Surrey Street. There are 18th century survivals here, including the Dog and Bull pub, which has a large beer garden. The Blakes came to eat lunch at one of the inns in 1790s Croydon; let us assume that it was the Dog and Bull and raise a pint to the poet. There was also a decent market with street food here when I visited.
If you follow the road on past the end of Surrey Street, you will come to a turn on the left into Old Palace Road. Follow this until you reach the old Archbishop’s Palace- a twelfth century core with 14th and 15th century additions, including a fine half-timbered porch and another of brick. Retrace your steps to Church Road and turn left to head up to Church Street. Ramsay Court is a block of almshouses from 1447; numbers 91-93 and 128-132 are 17th century.
You have now seen what remains of the old Surrey town at the foot of the hill that Blake would have known. If you are feeling keen, you can cross under or over the dual carriageway at the end of Church Street and head into Waddon Road. No.94 is the house ‘Elmwood’ where artist Cicely Mary Barker was born. She also lived at numbers 17 and 23 The Waldrons, a little to the south. At the other extreme, if you head uphill to St Georges Walk there is a mural celebrating local band The Damned, whose single New Rose was the very first ‘punk’ single in 1976.
To get home, there are plenty of buses and trains from East Croydon Station (towards Victoria or Brighton) and from West Croydon Station, on the London Overground network.