Dulwich is an enclave apart from the rest of London. They do things differently here. You notice as soon as you get within the bounds of the Dulwich Estate, the charitable organisation that owns the freehold to swathes of south London. Every square metre of grass is cordoned off between white chain posts.
“It goes back centuries,” says tour guide Tomos. “The wealthy owners of the Georgian houses got annoyed at the commoners who would graze their animals on the grass verges, so they all got roped off.”
Tomos, a guide from London Culture Tours, leads a small party around the area several times a week. It’s a relatively new venture, and one that’s attracting full bookings and positive Trip Advisor referrals. Over the course of our three hour ramble, we quickly see why.
The walk begins with a tour round some of the more famous sites of Dulwich Village. This unique area was founded on the wealth of Elizabethan actor Edward Alleyn, who made his fortune, so it’s said, through bear bating, brothel-keeping and other low entertainments. Whether ill-gotten or not, his gains laid the foundations for Dulwich as we know it, providing the necessaries for what became Dulwich College and acquiring over six square kilometres of land that are now maintained by the Dulwich Estate.
After taking in the old college buildings and Picture Gallery, we’re treated to a few of the more interesting smaller buildings, such as Pickwick Cottage with its Dickensian associations; Bell Cottage, a delightful Georgian building that retains its fire insurance plaque from the days before a centralised fire service; and the former home of Lord Haw-Haw. We’re also shown the last remaining toll gate in London, which charges £1 for the privilege of driving along College Road.
The highlight, though, is a golf course. Regular punters can’t just amble into the exclusive Dulwich and Sydenham Hill Golf Club, but Tomos has an understanding with the owners that lets us up onto the cafe terrace. The view is unquestionably one of the best in London, stretching from Canary Wharf to Battersea and Wembley. Binoculars are provided.
The tour could be recommended for that showpiece alone, but when you factor in the varied and stunning architecture, an amble through the Great North Wood, and the many historical and natural insights the guide imparts, the three-hour tour is easily worth the £20 price tag. Oh, and you’ll also find out what connects Bob Monkhouse to Nigel Farage.
The Explore Dulwich walk is run by London Culture Tours, who offer walks on Tuesdays and Thursdays during summer months and at weekends throughout the year. Book here.
Other alternative tours: