Weekend Walks: The Wandle From Morden To The Thames

Weekend Walks: The Wandle From Morden To The Thames

Start: Morden Underground station (Northern line)
End: The Causeway, Wandsworth
Distance: 5.7 miles (9.1 kilometres)
Terrain: Flat and paved

The River Wandle, one of London's uncovered rivers, rises on the North Downs, near Croydon and heads almost due north to reach the Thames at Wandsworth. It is a fairly fast flowing stream in places. And in its time was known to have driven over 90 working mills. These mills powered the production of many goods including paper, textile, gunpowder, wheat, copper and snuff.

Although the Wandle became very polluted, it did avoid the humiliation, afforded to many central London rivers, of becoming a covered sewer. And thanks to the efforts of the Wandle Trust, is now a very clean waterway that supports the likes of freshwater shrimps, brown trout, eels and herons. At numerous times on this walk, when surrounded by trees, the river and wildlife, you can forget that you are less than five miles from the throng of central London.

1. From Morden Underground station turn left and head to Morden Hall Park. This 50 hectares of parkland is managed by the National Trust. The Wandle meanders though the park on several natural and man-made mill-chases. The mill here was once used to grind tobacco into snuff.

2. Follow the signs to Wetlands Boardwalk. A series of recently opened boardwalks zig-zag over an area of wetlands fed by the Wandle. It's a great place to spot newts, frogs and herons within the reed beds.

3. Cross over the tram-line and reconnect with the river on your right hand side. On your left, between the hedgerow, you may spot the odd cow grazing. This is Deen City Farm, a two-hectare working farm, riding school, educational resource and café. Once outside the farm, cross over the river and turn left into Phipps Bridge Road, along a footpath to Windsor Avenue. Pick up the Wandle Trail by crossing over the river again and head in the direction of Merton Abbey Mill.

Morden Hall Park. Photo: Venesha Thompson

4. Merton Abbey Mills is now a crafts market complete with a working mill and a theatre. It is a cluster of former textile printers' 'shops' that date back to the 19th century. Starting in 1870, Liberty silks were hand printed in the 'Long Shop'. William Morris moved his textile company to Merton Abbey Mills in 1881 because of the suitable conditions of the chalk-stream water and access to the water mills. Merton Abbey Mills takes its name from the Augustine Priory that stood on this site until its demise during the Reformation in 1536. The current working mill, using the power of the Wandle, drives an electricity generator, machinery and a potters' wheel. The mill wheel is depicted in the London Borough of Merton's logo.

5. Back on the Wandle Trail the path loops around Sainsbury's and on to Merton High Street. On the left hand side is Wandle Park, through which the river was diverted to create mill-chases and a pond. Within the park is Wandlebank House which was owned by James Perry, proprietor of the Morning Chronicle newspaper from 1789 and owner of the nearby Connolly's Corn Mill. The mill was designed in the 1790s by the architect John Rennie. Rennie would later go on to design Waterloo, Southwark and London Bridges.

6. Follow Bewley Street along the Wandle footpath and cross the river to reach Wandle Meadow Nature Park, a former brickworks and sewage farm. Despite the looming pylons and the railway lines, the area has almost returned to back to nature. Pass under the railway lines and turn left onto a path by the River Graveney. The Graveney at this point emerges from its subterranean world surrounded by bleak high-sided concrete walls before it joins the Wandle. At the confluence is a viewing platform stretching over the two rivers.

7. To the right, just after Plough Lane, across the river and beyond the electricity sub-station is the former home of Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium, which makes way for AFC Wimbledon. Wimbledon FC used to be located on Plough Lane before they headed up the M1to Milton Keynes.

8. Rivers and streams are often the natural division between boroughs and counties. The Wandle at this point forms the dividing line between London Boroughs of Wandsworth and Merton.

9. The Wandle Trail has to depart the riverside as it enters Earlsfield, as no path was constructed adjacent to the stream. Earlsfield was established as a suburb when the railway arrived in 1884. The path is picked up again once inside King George's Park.

10. King George's Park lies immediately to the south of Wandsworth town centre. It is nearly a mile of leisure, recreation and sports fields that sit beside the western bank of the river. Over the past 30 years, as the river enters Wandsworth it has been forced underground to make way for the Southside Shopping Centre. Follow the path along Garratt Lane towards Ram Street.

11. Wandsworth town centre was once dominated by the Ram Brewery buildings. The Young's family started brewing here in 1831, though there are records of beer production on this site since the sixteenth century. Until the sites closure in 2006, when Young's moved to Bedford, the sight of horse and drays delivering beer to local pubs was not so unusual. The land is being redeveloped into commercial and residential apartments and a micro-brewery has been installed within one of the retained brewery buildings to maintain the local tradition.

12. A plaque used to exist on the wall of the brewery until its demolition in 2014, marking the start of the Surrey Iron Railway. In 1803, horse-drawn trucks used to pull goods and raw materials along iron tracks along the banks of the Wandle from Wandsworth to Croydon. By the 1840s it was superseded by the arrival of the steam engine and the company closed.

13. Cross the A3 and follow the Wandle Trail down on to the Causeway. The river splits just before it enters the Thames and forms an island and a nature reserve. On the right-hand side of the road before the railway bridge is a sluice gate. Installed within it is a bell on which is inscribed 'I AM RUNG BY THE TIDES', and it sounds the high and low waters twice daily. Immediately above the bell are the words 'Salmon, Swan, Otter, Heron, Eel' as a celebration of the new life that has been restored to the River Wandle.

14. At the northernmost tip of the Causeway you can view the Wandle as it enters the Thames and Fulham shore beyond.

All maps and illustrations ©David Fathers 2017

David Fathers is author and illustrator of London’s Hidden Rivers (Frances Lincoln), published on 22 June 2017, and can be followed @TheTilbury

Last Updated 13 June 2017