Walking with: William Blake, South London- Part Two

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.


Walking with: William Blake, South London- Part One


Part One: Peckham to Forest Hill

Duration: one hour (at my speed and just walking)! With all these metropolitan walks, my aim will be (as much as possible) to avoid main roads and to follow parks and other green spaces.  You will find a London A-Z invaluable as a supplement to my (hopefully!) clear instructions (or if you deviate from my recommended route!).  This first route is deliberately short and easy, as well as revealing some of the lesser known delights of some South London suburbs.

Introduction: Blake preferred the rural regions to the south of London and, with his wife Catherine, went on extensive and ambitious rambles around Surrey from his home in Lambeth.  I am a great admirer of Blake as a poet and as an artist- see my related postings on my other WordPress blogs, johnkruseblog and britishfairies in which I examine aspects of his personal mythology and his politics.  This first walk follows the first part of one of William and Kate’s rambles from the city of London south to rural Croydon.  It starts at the scene of one of his first mystical visions.


sculpture by Morganico on Peckham Common- photo by Ian Taylor

The walk

The start point is Peckham Rye station on the London Overground.  If you want to fuel up before you set off, there are lots of pubs, cafes and restaurants in vibrant and cosmopolitan Peckham, especially the excellent Persepolis.  Coming out of the station turn right down Rye Lane and continue southwards.  At the end of the shops you will bear slightly right into Peckham Rye.  Cross the road here onto Peckham Rye Common.  Continue in the same general direction across the Common and then into Peckham Rye Park.  The common is a very attractive area of open grassland with chestnut avenues; William Blake experienced his first vision at Peckham Rye when he was a boy, seeing angels with dazzling wings in a tree there.  He was nearly beaten by his father for telling tales, but his mother was impressed by the sincerity of his account.

Cross over Strakers Road (there are a cafe and toilets here) and enter Peckham Rye Park.  This is very pleasant with an arboretum, Japanese garden, pond and open areas.


Aiming in a broadly south/ south-westerly direction- sort of straight on from Rye Lane, you should reach the exit from the park at the junction of Colyton Road, Peckham Rye and Forest hill.  Turn left and follow Forest Hill, past a short shopping parade.  We’ve been rising steadily since we stepped onto the Common, but the road is now noticeably steeper.

PR park


After a quarter of a mile, you reach Camberwell Old Cemetery on your right.  Enter and follow the access road on the left that curves around the edge.  This will bring you out in Wood Vale.  Turn right.



  1. you can follow Wood Vale, a pleasant wide residential road with little traffic, as far as Lordship Lane, at the corner of the Horniman Gardens; or,
  2. at the entrance to the cemetery you will see a sign stating that you are now on the Green Chain and that it is 0.75 miles to the Horniman Museum and 3 miles to Crystal Palace.  To stay on this walking route, on exiting the cemetery at the intersection of Wood Vale with Langton Rise, follow this latter road over Wood Vale and to its T junction with Westwood Park.  Turn right and follow Westwood Park to its junction with Horniman Drive.  Turn right again and you will soon reach a pedestrian entrance to Horniman Gardens.  You can walk through here to Lordship Lane but you can also enjoy the facilities of the Horniman Museum and gardens.  There are cafes, toilets, the museum itself and stunning views north over central London.

Image 003

End of Part One: your options now are to turn left outside the museum and to walk down to the overground station at Forest Hill; to catch a bus north or south outside the museum or to continue on Part Two of this walk (details to follow).

Some great literary ramblers- a preview


As a first posting on this new blog, I am reproducing a post that I wrote last July for another of my WordPress blogs, johnkruseblog.  It discusses the topic which has evolved into a separate project on these pages.

“Only the wanderer,

Knows England’s graces.”

(Ivor Gurney)

I have long been impressed by the stamina and energy of our predecessors.  We forget very easily how people got about in earlier centuries and that many of the poorer will have walked, through both necessity and choice.  Long walks were a source of pleasure as well as duty and in this post I want to highlight three writers who were also impressive ramblers.

My first example, relating back to the previous post, is William Blake.  He is an example of the ability of earlier generations to walk huge distances merely for fun and relaxation.  In his biography G. E. Bentley described how Blake and his wife might rise early and walk 20 miles into the Surrey hills for lunch at an inn before walking home again.  Fifty mile round trips in a day were not unusual for the couple- starting in Lambeth and circling round by Dulwich, Blackheath, Croydon, Walton on Thames and back along lanes and footpaths.  These excursions seem huge to us, but were everyday adventures for them.

A near contemporary is Samuel Bamford, author of Passages form the life of a radical.  He was from Middleton, north Manchester, and was involved in the demonstrations that led to the Peterloo massacre.  Bamford was prosecuted for his part in the protests and- of necessity- did some remarkable walks.  He walked from Oxford to London to lobby for support for the defendants; he walked from Manchester to York for his assize hearing and then from Manchester to London for his Kings Bench trial.  Finally, he walked home from Lincoln on his release from prison.  These are stunning distances, but he covered them steadily and cheerfully because they had to be done.

My last example and inspiration is First World War poet Ivor Gurney.  Gurney is a transitional figure, being born in 1890- a nineteenth century boy who lived into the age of buses, cars and trains.  He could have used public transport, but often he chose not to do so.  As P. J. Kavanagh wrote in the introduction to his collected poems of Gurney, the poet “was justifiably proud of being a night walker.”  In the early 1920s he several times walked from London or High Wycombe to Gloucester overnight.  This seems doubly impressive.  Why did he embark on such long ‘tramps’?

It might be easy to say that Gurney was mentally ill- which he was, and solitude must have been part of the attraction (“I walk deserted ways” he said in ‘Song’ and talks in ‘The High Hills’ of “Walking into clarity”)- but there was more to it than this- and more than his poverty.  He would walk to get to places, but he would also undertake long walks at night or during the day simply for the enjoyment of it.  “The miles go sliding by/ Under my steady feet” he wrote in ‘Walking Song’ whilst in the Pedlar’s Song he celebrated “Now the dust is on the roads/ And the blue hills call to distances.”

Gurney was a musician as well as a poet and it is clear that one of the key reasons for his tramping was to seek inspiration (see ‘Going out at dawn’).  For example in ‘Song’ he declares that “My heart makes songs on lonely roads.”  He speaks in ‘Old times’ of being:

“Out in the morning,

For a speed of thought I went…

A few hours’ tramping

With brisk blood flowing,

And life worth knowing.”

and in ‘When the body might free’ Gurney recalls:

“In October time- crystal air-time and free words were talking

In my mind with light tunes.”

A lot of his inspiration as an artist came from contact with the natural world and with the traces of an older England.  Alone on walks he felt nearer to rural birds and mammals and he enjoyed encounters with old buildings “One comes across the strangest things in walks.” However, one of the biggest inspirations for Gurney was the stars.  This seems particularly to be why he went out at night: “stars as bright sand grains” (June night), “stars like steady candles’ gleam” (Brimscombe), tramping on Cotswold ways “beneath a maze of stars” (Companions).  The constellations were a source of companionship and inspiration on his wanderings (‘Stars sliding’, ‘Going out at dawn’).  This is a fascination with which I can happily identify.

What next, then?  How will this blog develop?  I am already planning and testing routes to walk which will be featured in detail in future postings.  The idea is to build from small beginnings: to start with relatively short, local  rambles in London and to get more ambitious thereafter.  Watch this space!