The woman intent on her ‘phone did not deserve the black Labrador politely nudging her leg to ask her to throw his ball. A less polite dog would have looked around the circle of grass and seen there were other humans paying attention to their dogs, throwing things for their dogs, talking to them, patting them, and left her to her little screen in search of a new significant person. Me perhaps.
Celia and I had finally found a spot to eat our respective lunches. She had a neat plastic box with sandwiches and bits and bobs, I had a falafel wrap I bought in a branch of Sainsbury’s just after we left Wandsworth Cemetery. We’d walked some way since then, following the Wandle Trail which is bizarrely almost devoid of anywhere to sit. There was one bench and it had a nice view, but it was in the shade and yesterday was cold. Just how cold I think we both realised when we stopped moving and sat down to eat our lunch. I’d vetoed a couple of places Celia had suggested. Somehow lunching with a view of a depot of refuse trucks on the opposite bank did not meet any of my criteria for fine dining. Then there was a depot of builders’ lorries. Fortunately Celia spotted the bench in sunshine just away from the path and we settled there. While we ate, a man, a woman and a child turned up and started planting bulbs beside us. This being Wandsworth not Walworth they did not speak to us, nor we to them. I was in Battersea today, also part of Wandsworth, and only one person responded to my smiled hello. A young couple with a baby and another black Labrador – black Labrador ownership seems very high in Wandsworth which has to be an indication of at least some good qualities – looked at me as though I might be an axe murderer disguised as a woman at the edge of her prime having a very bad hair day. The one person who spoke to me had two dachshunds. Wandsworth is also rich in this breed of dog.
The forecast for the weekend had not been promising. If you only had one word to describe it that word would be cold. Add sleet to Saturday’s forecast, and you’ll understand why we thought Sunday the better day for our excursion. The cold combined with increasingly short days steered our attention to a shorter walk closer to home. The Ramblers’ website turned up quite a few self guided routes, and we plumped for one between Balham to Wimbledon just over five miles long.
Balham has gone upmarket in recent decades. It’s a place of coffee shops, shops selling expensive baby clothes, a branch of Planet Organic. There is a branch of Aldi, another of Lidl, so not everyone can be well heeled, but it certainly gives off an air of comfortable middle classness nowadays. The charity shops are excellent.
We turned away from the tube station and into a network of roads I have never visited. Some very grand houses. We looked. I stared. Then in minutes we were down a track and walking parallel to the railway on a part of Wandsworth Common entirely new to me. The skies were blue, the dog walkers were out, we were wrapped up. All was well.
Celia got a cup of coffee and I used the loo at a café we both agreed we would not be visiting again. Then more Wandsworth Common, more blue skies, more dogs, and a bench to sit where Celia finished her coffee and we both watched a group (a flock? how many birds does it need to be a flock?) of pigeons having a communal bath, a tern watching them and looking bemused.
From the walk notes we learned the common was despoiled by Spencer family, as in the Earls Spencer, the current one being the brother of the late Diana, Princess of Wales. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, they set out to exploit the common as thoroughly as they could, cutting down trees, extracting gravel, creating illegal enclosures. One oft repeated claim made by the landed gentry is that they protect and preserve the land. Wandsworth Common may be the exception which proves the rule, but somehow I rather doubt it.
From the common to the cemetery, a great sprawling cemetery sufficiently distant form the centre of London to be still in use. The notes guided us to a group of war memorials. There was a military hospital in Wandsworth during the First World War, those soldiers who died there were buried in Wandsworth cemetery. We spent some minutes looking at the headstones of soldiers from Newfoundland, New Zealand, South Africa.
We walked on, stopping every so often to look at a grave, either because we found it moving, kitsch or striking.
Celia waited for me while I bought my falafel wrap and she read the notes for the next part of the walk. We were by Garratt Lane. When I joined her she began to read the notes to me. The story of the Mayor of Garratt, ‘fantastical elections of a completely fictitious mayor’, and the attempts of the Wandsworth commoners to protect their rights (those Spencers again) make a fascinating tale. Fortunately it’s available for you to read here courtesy of Oxford Reference, so I shan’t have to copy out all the notes.
Celia’s reading was interrupted by a call from her son to say her grandson, with whom she had just spent three days, had tested positive for Covid with a lateral flow test, was having a PCR test later and basically to watch this space. Tonight I have learned the PCR test was also positive. Celia, Charlie and I have done a lateral flow and all tested negative. I’d like to think that’s enough, but I spent Saturday evening with Celia and Charlie, then yesterday with Celia on our walk, and I have a hospital appointment on Wednesday, a check up to do with my malignant melanoma, and I am not sure what the protocol is. I’ll test myself again tomorrow morning, Obviously if it’s positive I’ll be postponing my appointment, but will they still want to see me even if it’s negative?
The next part of the walk was along the Wandle Trail. The information boards at the start were great. I particularly like the hot air balloon story. There were allotments across the river from us, then industry, then the aforementioned refuse truck park, and lots and lots of nettles either side of our path. That makes it sound unattractive, but it really wasn’t. A squirrel posed on a branch. There was the unexpected statue of a god – Poseidon perhaps – wrapped in plastic. The path is popular and dog walkers, cyclists, and even walkers like ourselves were using it. Even tatty industrial buildings looked good in the sunshine.
Once we had eaten we were nearly at the end of the walk. A further stretch through Wandle Nature Park, more ponds, and a Jay in tree on the path, then we emerged to suburbia, the final leg to the tube station and home.
It’s a walk I’d happily do again. And if Omicron turns out to be a variant that makes us avoid public transport, we’ll be looking for more walks closer to home.
Stay safe. Keep well. Wear a mask.