Weekend Walks: The River Ravensbourne From Catford To The Thames

Weekend Walks: The River Ravensbourne From Catford To The Thames
Image by M@

Start: Catford or Catford Bridge station
End: The River Thames at Greenwich (nearest rail link: Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich DLR)
Distance: 4.2 miles (6.75 kilometres)
Terrain: Flat and paved

According to Peter Ackroyd, the Ravensbourne was named by Julius Caesar, when he spotted a raven flying above a drinking well at the source of the river. This well, now known as Caesar’s Well, is located about three miles south of Bromley, and flows roughly northwards towards Greenwich and the Thames, covering 17 miles.

Over the course of this lower Ravensbourne walk, the river flows through parkland and open concrete chutes as it passes across built-up urban areas of south London. Given the proximity of the river to the centre of London, it was fortunate that it was never culverted; a fate that was conferred upon a neighbour, the River Peck, a mere one and half miles away to the west. Over the past few decades some of the concrete chutes have been removed to allow the river to flow through a more natural environment, and wildlife to return. The route is part of the Waterlink Way — keep an eye out for the pavement signs

1. From Catford or Catford Bridge station head north along Adenmore Road and immediately left into Westdown Road and right into Adenmore Road (there are two separate roads with the same name here). This leads into Ladywell Fields; 22 hectares of three interconnecting parks that straddle the Ravensbourne for nearly a mile. The park contains numerous playing fields, recreational facilities and a track and field athletics complex. The park is named after the Lady’s Well, a ‘medicinal’ medieval water source, now buried close to Ladywell station.

2. The route of the Ravensbourne has been modified over the past 150 years to allow for the building of railways, housing and flood prevention schemes. However, in 2007-2008, the river was split adjacent to University Hospital Lewisham and the smaller stream allowed to follow its original meandering route through Ladywell Fields — an action by the London Borough of Lewisham that is to be applauded, and one that other councils could follow.

3. As the Ravensbourne enters Lewisham it is impossible to follow the course of the river, so on leaving Ladywell Fields turn right into Ladywell Road. On the right-hand side look out for the Grade II, red brick swimming baths building, complete with a water tower. It was constructed in 1884, and although now closed, it is scheduled to reopen in 2019.

4. In Lewisham, on certain online maps, pathways are marked that display short routes along the Ravensbourne. These are best ignored. The path off Curness Street no longer exists and a small park off Molesworth Street has a tempting bridge across the river; but don't be misled, the path on the opposite bank leads to nowhere.

5. Further along Molesworth Street is a marked pedestrian turning on the left-hand side. Follow this over the river and into Cornmill Gardens. The Ravensbourne had numerous mills along its banks. The corn mill that once stood here has long gone but the mill-pond is apparent as an indentation within the grass park. The former concrete channel that confined the river has been removed and the Ravensbourne now flows through the Gardens in a more natural manner.

6. A brief detour to Lewisham DLR station reveals the Ravensbourne merging with one of its tributaries, the splendidly named River Quaggy (see top image). The upper reaches of the Quaggy, around Chislehurst, is known as Kyd Brooke.

7. Heading west along Loampit Lane turn right into Thurston Road and via a tunnel under the railway lines, follow the path to rejoin the Ravensbourne. Once again the river is back in its concrete straight jacket but is much wider and faster flowing now that it has merged with the Quaggy.

8. Follow the river past Elverson Road DLR station (it’s tempting to think that there might be some eel connection here) and into Brookmill Park. Once again the Ravensbourne adopts a more natural, un-concreted pose, as it passes by the trees, shrubs and ornamental gardens in the park. The construction of the DLR adjacent to the park resulted in the river being moved and straightened. Brookmill Park was once the site of a silk mill and later a reservoir to hold water from the Ravensbourne. After treatment, this was piped as drinking water for the population of Greenwich and Deptford.

9. At the northern tip of the Brookmill Park is the Stephen Lawrence Centre. The building was opened in 2008 in memory of Stephen Lawrence who, in 1993, was murdered in a racist attack. The centre is a charitable trust established to assist and motivate young people from underrepresented groups and disadvantaged backgrounds to gain knowledge and skills for their selected careers, especially architecture.

Brookmill Park. Image by M@

10. The riverside footpath reaches Deptford Bridge, a point where the A2 crosses the Ravensbourne. This was once the point where pilgrims heading to and from Canterbury, and would have forded the tidal stream (deep-ford, evolved into Deptford). The river now becomes the Deptford Creek. Turn left and cross over Deptford Bridge and then right into Deptford Church Street. At The Birds Nest pub turn right into Creekside.

11. Just before the elevated railway tracks, turn right along the narrow cul-de-sac and onto the pedestrian bridge over the tidal creek. The whole area adjacent to the water was once heavily industrialised with warehousing, shipyards, chemical works, a brewery and a gin distillery. Ships and lighters would bring raw materials and take finished goods away via the Thames. The rusting gantry over the bridge was once used to winch corn out of barges to be processed in the nearby mills. In 1581, Queen Elizabeth I knighted Francis Drake following his circumnavigation of the globe. His ship, the Golden Hinde, was abandoned in the creek until it rotted away.

12. Once beyond the creek, turn left into Norman Road, follow it over Creek Road and along Dowells Street towards the newly installed pedestrian swing bridge. The mouth of the creek was once dominated by Deptford Power Station and its chimneys. It began generating electricity in 1889 and was supplied with coal shipped in from the north-east of England. It ceased production in 1983 and was demolished nine years later.

13. Cross over the pedestrian bridge and turn right along the Thames Path. There is a statue to Tsar Peter the Great looking out across the Thames. Peter the Great worked incognito in the Royal Dockyards at Deptford in 1698 whilst living at the nearby house belonging to the diarist John Evelyn.

All maps and illustrations © David Fathers 2017. David Fathers is author and illustrator of London’s Hidden Rivers (Frances Lincoln), out now, and can be followed @TheTilbury.

Other river walks by David Fathers: Counter's Creek, Lea, Thames (Woolwich), Wandle, Westbourne

Last Updated 21 August 2017