Nunhead Circular Walk (5¾ miles) OR Nunhead to Ladywell Linear Walk (5½ miles)

A few kilometres south of the Thames arise the first of the Surrey hills. Now firmly in Inner London, they provide opportunities for some pleasant walking. Two versions of a walk are described here; both start at Nunhead, then divide near Honor Oak. The circular version arrives back at Nunhead; the alternative version finishes at Ladywell after a riverside walk along the Ravensbourne. Path surfaces are good throughout, but there are steep climbs after Nunhead Cemetery and ascending One Tree Hill.

 


 

Nunhead Circular Walk

1. From Nunhead Station, take Oakdale Road opposite, soon turning right at the roundabout along Linden Grove. The high railings of Nunhead Cemetery soon appear on the left. Follow this for 390 metres, then enter the main gates. Past the entrance lodges, turn left into woodland. Ignore the first fork after 35 metres and continue along the Catacombs Path. The catacombs are no longer visible. Take the next fork on the right. Just after a war memorial to the 266 men who died in the First World War, turn sharply right uphill to arrive at the Anglican Chapel, now sadly roofless.

Nunhead Cemetery is one of the "Magnificent Seven" Victorian Cemeteries established in the mid-nineteenth century as a successor to the traditional parish churchyards which, as London's population grew, had become hopelessly overcrowded. Consecrated in 1840, it was subsequently closed in 1969, and thereafter entered a period of abandonment and decay. Like the other major cemeteries, it now has an active group of "Friends" who are reversing its decline and who give regular tours. The cemetery has become a valuable recreational amenity and burials are again taking place. A number of display boards have been provided explaining the cemetery's history and ecology.

2. Go past the chapel and take the next path on the left. Just before reaching a group of war graves is the monument to nine Boy Scouts, drowned by an accident in the Thames in 1912. Continue on until just before the Limesford Road Gates. Here turn right and follow the main path uphill. Turn sharply left at the next junction. The grander monuments can be found here; that to John Allan is the most expensive in the cemetery, the design being based on the Payava Tomb at Xanthos (the original is in the British Museum). Further on, a bench is reached from which can be admired a distant view of St Paul's Cathedral.

3. Now continue downhill on the main path. This descends steeply through woodland, bearing right after 240 metres, eventually emerging at the tall obelisk to the Scottish Martyrs, raised by public subscription in 1851, and commemorating five Scotsmen who were transported to Australia for seven years in 1793-4 for daring to ask for parliamentary reform. Shortly reach the entrance lodges again and turn back through the main gates.

Anglican Chapel
Anglican Chapel
Nunhead Tombs
Nunhead Tombs

  

4. Turn left along Linden Grove again to follow the cemetery wall. On coming to Brockley Footpath on the left, turn steeply up it, the footpath passing between the cemetery and a reservoir. The footpath then descends past allotments to arrive opposite Inverton Road. Continue along here; the road later becomes Merttins Road and then Brockley Way.

5. Cross the end of Brenchley Gardens and keep forward along Brockley Way until a narrow railed footpath is reached on the right, just before a driveway. Follow this path as it threads it way between two parts of Camberwell New Cemetery. Although pleasant enough, it lacks the interest and history of Nunhead. Eventually turn right through gates, then continue to the building with the tall clock-tower, a former chapel. Here turn right to leave the cemetery through the main gates, then turn left along Brenchley Gardens (road).

Drop-out point: The P12 bus runs along this road and can take you back to Nunhead Station or forward to Peckham Rye Station.

6. After 230 metres, go left on a steep path into One Tree Hill, a wooded nature reserve, saved from the threat of development in 1902. The path gains the summit where can be found the Oak of Honor which gives this area and nearby railway station their name. It is said that Queen Elizabeth I fell asleep under an oak tree here on Mayday, 1602 and, on awakening, bestowed the title, although this seems little more likely than One Tree Hill's spurious claim to be the site of Boudicca's last battle. A few steps further on, reach a multi-pathed junction. 

7. Take the path to the concrete platform over to the right. This was constructed in 1916 as an anti-Zeppelin gun emplacement. It is not known to have caused any damage to the enemy, but it is believed that a misfired shot hit tramlines near Peckham Rye Common. Continue past the platform to find a grand view over central London and beyond, with an information board identifying places of interest, then complete your anti-clockwise circuit back to the multi-pathed junction.

8. A decision now needs to be made as to whether to return to Nunhead or to take the linear option to Ladywell. If returning to Nunhead, take the path signposted to Brenchley Gardens. Alternatively, if choosing the linear walk to Ladywell, take the path signposted to St Augustine's Church, then follow the instructions from point 17 onwards.

9. The return path to Nunhead now decends steeply over more steps. Ignore gates on the left, but keep right to the road again. Cross this to enter Brenchley Gardens themselves through a gate and then turn left. The gardens were laid out in 1928, and occupy land between the road and the route of the Crystal Palace Railway, closed in 1954. There are several parallel paved paths available; choosing the rightmost will provide the quieter experience.

10. Leave the gardens to turn right along Forest Hill Road. Keep downhill, passing several side road, then the huge red-brick Baptist Church of 1892. Further down, cross over Colyton Road to enter Peckham Rye Park on the corner.

Peckham Rye Park and the adjacent common together nearly 46 hectares (113 acres). The park, opened in 1894, has been restored to something like its original Victorian splendour, following funding received from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The route described below covers some of the most attractive features of the park.

11. Follow the edge of the park in proximity to Colyton Road, then turn left at the first junction. On coming to a staggered junction, turn right with railings on the left, following these around a series of bends. Where the tarmac path changes to gravel, bear right, following the edge of a field. On coming to a left junction, turn off to follow the right edge of the lake, with railings on either side and a watercourse on the right, the remnants of the River Peck, one of London's lost rivers, mostly now underground, but just about surviving here in the park.

Honor Oak 
The Honor Oak
Japanese Garden 
Japanese Garden

 

12. Turn left at the T-junction by the granite fountain, still following the lake, leaving this by taking the right turn at the cross-path. Follow this path straight on, over another cross-path, towards the Sexby Garden and the Japanese Garden - the first of these is on the left (opposite the bowling-green). Having explored this, return and resume your former direction. At the next cross-path, go through a  gate, then down a slope to take the next left over a bridge and enter the heart of the Japanese Garden.

13. Leaving this garden through the next gate, turn right, going over a cross-path and then a bridge; we are now following the Peck again. Follow this down to the Oval with its formal flower-beds.

14. Go ahead now through the gate and over the broad path directly onto Peckham Rye Common. The common was where William Blake had visions of angels in 1767. We can't guarantee angels but, if in need of refreshments, Peckham Rye Park café can be found a short distance on the right. Until quite recently, by here could be seen the remains of a World War Two prisoner-of-war camp; a display board explains the history.

15. If not opting for the café, walk directly across the common, skirting sports pitches as necessary if they are in use. The top of the Shard is clearly visible and makes a good aiming point. On reaching a path crossing diagonally through an avenue of trees, look across the remainder of the common for an imaginative carving in the shape of a totem pole standing by the road's edge. This was created in 2014 from an old plane tree by Morgan Ivo. For a closer inspection, just carry on. Otherwise turn right along the avenue to reach the road junction. Carefully cross this to walk up the right-hand side of Nunhead Lane.

The block of apartments on the corner here was the site of a corset factory obliterated by a V1 flying bomb in 1944. Most of the twenty -four fatalities were teenagers. An information board describes the incident. 

16. Continue along Nunhead Lane for 330 metres, past a clock-tower and St Antholin's Church (built 1877), to take Linden Grove on the right. Re-pass Brockley Footpath and (omitting the cemetery) retrace your outward steps back to Nunhead Station.

Totem Pole 
Totem Pole
Ladywell Fields 
Ladywell Fields - Plane Trees

 

15. If not opting for the café, walk directly across the common, skirting sports pitches as necessary if they are in use. The top of the Shard is clearly visible and makes a good aiming point. On reaching a path crossing diagonally through an avenue of trees, look across the remainder of the common for an imaginative carving in the shape of a totem pole standing by the road's edge. This was created in 2014 from an old plane tree by Morgan Ivo. For a closer inspection, just carry on. Otherwise turn right along the avenue to reach the road junction. Carefully cross this to walk up the right-hand side of Nunhead Lane.

The block of apartments on the corner here was the site of a corset factory obliterated by a V1 flying bomb in 1944. Most of the twenty -four fatalities were teenagers. An information board describes the incident. 

16. Continue along Nunhead Lane for 330 metres, past a clock-tower and St Antholin's Church (built 1877), to take Linden Grove on the right. Re-pass Brockley Footpath and (omitting the cemetery) retrace your outward steps back to Nunhead Station.

The Ladywell alternative route:

17. The route to Ladywell drops steeply down steps to cross the drive to St Augustine's Church, (built 1872). Continue on the arrive at Honor Oak Park (road), where turn left. Just past the railway station. use the pedestrian crossing and maintain direction to take nearby Grierson Road. This becomes Gabriel Street; turn left along it, then care fully cross the busy Brockley Rise at its end.

18. Go forward along Codrington Hill (by the Chandos pub). After 400 metres, turn right into Blythe Hill Fields. At the top of the hill, look back for a fine distant view towards Canary Wharf. Swing left by the cross-path to find another view of the City of London and the Shard soon revealed.

19. Continue on to leave Blythe Hill Fields and turn right along Montacute Road to take the first left, Casslee Road. Cross Ravensbourne Park Crescent to enter Ravensbourne Park Gardens, taking the forward path to Ravensbourne Park (road). Turn right, then left into Bourneville Road and, at its end, turn left into Ladywell Fields.

Drop-out point: Two National Rail stations are nearby. If breaking off, turn right at the end of Bourneville Road, then left and right along Westbourne and Adenmore Roads to arrive at Catford Bridge Station. A few more steps towards the main road brings you to Catford Station.

20. Ladywell Fields is a fine linear park with our route following the River Ravensbourne. Begin by taking the forward path with the river close-by on your right. When a railway bridge is reached, cross the river to go under it. A line of venerable plane trees borders the path, followed by a rare survival of an ancient elm tree; the majority of this species have long succumbed to Dutch Elm Disease. Go past the next bridge, still keeping the river on your left. Pass a dry river channel and an adventure playground on the right, then ascend and descend spiral ramps over the railway line.

21. Fork left by the sports track over the river, then turn right to follow it once again, with a play area on the left. The river now runs in a channel with the buildings of Lewisham Hospital on the opposite bank. Go past tennis courts and over a minor river channel, then fork right to further follow the river. A wildflower meadow has been laid out on the left. The path eventually emerges onto Ladywell Road, close to the National Rail Station, from where trains connect to Lewisham, Catford, Hayes and central London.

  


 

© Mike Biggs, Ramblers (Inner London Area), 2018.

If you have any comments about this walk, or notice that it needs updating to take account of changes on the route, then please contact Mike at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.