WANDLE WANDERINGS: It’s Wandle Fortnight, and we asked our non-resident rambler, KEN TOWL, to explore the Wandle Trail
This is a three-borough walk from one park to another, tracing the course of the nascent river Wandle as it births in the park that takes its name and burbles through its early-learning years in Waddon, its riverine adolescence in Sutton and young riparian adulthood as it meanders into Merton.
There are a lot of green spaces on the way, starting with Wandle Park, where until five years ago the river had been hidden underground for the best part of a century. When the park was renovated in 2012, the river was uncovered and landscaped, and it now cuts across the park before entering a culvert under the flats of the New South Quarter, heading on towards the Purley Way.
We will not enter the culvert. Instead, we cross the tram line at Wandle Park tram stop and head down Vicarage Road, turning right at the end into Waddon Road.
This is the boring bit of the walk. We have to earn the interesting bits.
There is no such thing as a free lunch. In fact lunch, as we shall find out, will set us back £8.95. So dangerous is the Purley Way deemed to be that the authorities have provided a pedestrian crossing on either side of Waddon Road. They both look fit for purpose. Once across, we carry on along Mill Lane, its very name a reflection of the Wandle’s epithet “London’s hardest-working river”.
On your left you will see Waddon Ponds. It’s worth taking a little detour around the ponds. Where else in Croydon will you see swans?
The sharp-eyed among you will notice the numerous vermin traps placed around the ponds. There is an infestation of rats, big and bold ones, some which scuttle around at the water’s edge in broad daylight, feeding off the bread thrown for the birds and also raiding the ducks’ nests for eggs and chicks.
There’s also a lot of history around here.
Traces of Bronze Age and Iron Age settlements have been found nearby, and there’s mention of a mill and ponds at Waddon recorded in the Domesday Book. In the 18th century the local manor house at Waddon Court Farm was so fashionable that Nelson is supposed to have stayed there to fish the ponds.
The ponds are fed by springs which rise at the junction of beds of sand and chalk with London gravel beds, the water flows north towards Mill Lane and what used to be the northern millpond and the River Wandle.
The course of the river was diverted during the Victorian age, the damp land created being used for water cress beds to help feed the rapidly growing city of London, but these were later drained for allotments, and ultimately built upon for the light industrial sites more familiar to the area today. After more than 500 years of corn milling at Waddon Ponds, the mill closed in 1928.
On our walk, carry on along Mill Lane and continue along the footpath that takes you along the south side of Richmond Green.
To your left the Wandle rises again from its tenebrous subterranean journey and from now on the river’s course is easy to follow. Just go with the flow, in the most literal sense.
You will either keep the river within sight or earshot or you will avail yourself of the useful Waddon Trail signs which we will find whenever the river has to detour from the path.
When you get to Wandle Road, cross the river and follow the road around to the right where you will find a footpath between the river and a buttressed wall.
Cross Hilliers Lane and follow the river up Guy Road, crossing by the bridge after about 70 yards. Keep following the river.
After a few hundred yards you will see the impressive Carew Hall to your left. Continue into and across Beddington Park.
Should you crave refreshment at this point, a minor detour off to the right will take you to the Pavilion Café which offers a wide variety of snacks and water for your dog.
Leave Beddington Park where the river leaves it and turn left. You will come to the weirdly green Elms Pond.
As I looked into the pond I saw a curious sight. Breaking through the murky surface there came a mouth about the size of a 10p coin. All that was visible was the mouth. So there’s definitely fish in there somewhere. Perhaps Nelson wasn’t wasting his time.
At this point I needed a break. Just beyond the pond was the Rose and Crown where on Sundays they only serve a Sunday Roast (choice of beef, lamb, pork or cauliflower tart) for the aforementioned £8.95. Or £15 for two, a bargain.
Follow the signs up Butter Hill to the right of the pub. At the end of Butter Hill turn right and follow the river.
Keep the river on your right till you get to Hackbridge Road where you cross over and put the river on your right. Keep following the river into Watercress Park (where you cross the river again).
You emerge at Middleton Road.
Turn right to cross the river again, then left up Watermead Lane and carry on through Poulter Park till you get to the A217.
Here, in the London Borough of Merton, just to your right, is the entrance to the little hidden gem that is Ravensbury Park, which even by early September was alight with colour in a wildflower meadow. At the end of Ravensbury Park you will have walked some five miles and may feel that you have done enough.
If so, at the end of the park, where the river meets the A238, walk a hundred yards or so to your left, enter Morden Hall Park and make a beeline for Phipps Bridge tram stop diagonally off to your right.
On the other hand you may want to refresh yourself at the National Trust Café off to your left beyond the rose garden, or even cross the park to experience the new, improved “wetlands boardwalk”.
If you want to follow the trail, with travel advice and other pointers, then Merton council has produced an illustrated guide.
It covers the section of the trail I wandered over, and the rest of the course of the Wandle, all the way to the Thames at Wandsworth (a total of about 13 miles), all very do-able in suggested bite-sized chunks.
For more on the section of the trail through Morden Hall Park, past Deen City Farm and on to Merton Abbey Mills, check out this guided walk.
I enjoyed this walk. I trust you will too.
- Check out how Ken Towl delved into Fickleshole here
- Follow Ken Towl’s footsteps on the yellow brick road to Kenley
- Use your walk productively with a spot of foraging
- For more walks in and around Croydon, visit our archive here
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