London: the step-by-step guide Michael Leapman drinks in the creepy atmosphere of Nunhead Cemetery

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The Independent Culture
The fact that cemeteries have figured in several walks in this series does not indicate a lugubrious obsession on my part: it is just that in crowded inner cities they are often a rare oasis of green. Connoisseurs of London's 19th-century cemeteries prize Nunhead, near Peckham, for its rampant overgrowth and the views over the Surrey Hills, although many of its Victorian monuments have been vandalised.

To get to it, begin at Honor Oak Park, turning right out of the railway station and walking uphill. As the road curves left, look for a black wire gate on your right, leading to concrete steps that climb towards a church. Cross the road and climb more steps to the top of One Tree Hill.

Do not go down the steps straight ahead but turn right across the grass to an oak tree surrounded by an iron railing. This is the Honor Oak that gives the district its name - so called because Elizabeth I is said to have picnicked here under an earlier tree in 1562. The present oak was planted in 1905, after a hard-fought battle to keep the hill as common land.

From the tree, take the surfaced path, passing the church at roof level on your right, to more steps down to a path down the hill. At the park exit turn right, then left up Kelvington Road, with domed waterworks buildings on the hill to your left.

At the pillar box turn left up Cheltenham Road, which leads to the corner of Peckham Rye Park. Cross Homestall Road, turn left and after a few yards turn right opposite the school to enter the park beside a fenced adventure playground. Fork left on a path that follows the left-hand edge of the playground, then straightens up to lead to a large, well-stocked duck pond.

Walk along the edge of the pond to emerge beyond it, with a colourful array of crocuses under the trees on your left and a formal English garden straight ahead. Walk between the garden and the bowling green, then turn left through the garden, where a few daffodils lend colour to the still- dormant rose beds.

Leaving the garden at the other end, turn right and take the first path on the right, passing pretty flowering almonds and camellias. Keep ahead at the crossing of paths until, just before an iron shelter, you head left to cross an ornamental bridge and follow the path as it winds to a junction. Here cross another little bridge and make for the gates at the park exit.

Cross to the featureless expanse of Peckham Rye Common and turn right on a wide path curving uphill, passing the One O'Clock Club on the right. Fork left at a poop scoop bin to walk to the left of an empty paddling pool. Notice ahead the Art Deco factory of the Roberts Capsule Stopper Company, with its hexagonal clock.

Cross the road and walk up Solomon's Passage, to the left of the factory, then up a narrow alley by a house to emerge on Forester Road. Where it ends, turn right on Linden Grove and soon you will be walking alongside the cemetery wall, towards the impressive main entrance.

You will have to time your arrival here carefully because the gate is only open from 10am to 4pm Saturday, 12pm to 4pm Sunday and 2pm to 4pm Wednesday. (At other times you could use the footpath on the right just before the cemetery wall, but you would miss a lot.)

Inside the gate you are facing the ruin of the neo-Gothic chapel, built in 1844. Do not go up to it yet but take the first path on the left, then fork right to sample the eerie atmosphere of the forlorn, overgrown tombs, dotted with snowdrops and crocuses. When you get level with the chapel, turn right towards it, noting the curiously misshapen plane tree next to it.

Passing the chapel on your left, continue uphill on a wide-surfaced path. At the prominent tomb of Mr Figgins, fork right, still climbing, to pass a fine Romanesque sandstone vault (empty) on your right. Just beyond it turn left on a narrower path, which gives splendid views to the south.

The path curves left and descends steeply through newer graves to the main drive, where you turn right to reach the southern gate on Limesford Road. Through the gate turn right, then left into Inverton Road, which boasts two surviving prefabs.

Keep straight on past a dismantled railway bridge until you see another cemetery on your right. Just beyond it, and before the crematorium entrance, turn right down a path signposted to Honor Oak Sports Ground. Cross the sports ground to the changing rooms ahead. Beyond them turn left on a surfaced path, with a line of poplars on your right. When you get to the road, turn left for the station.

Distance: Four miles

Time: Two hours

Train: BR Honor Oak Park - frequent weekday service from Charing Cross and London Bridge (half-hourly on Sundays)

Buses: 484, P3 and P12 cross the route at several points

Parking: In streets near Honor Oak Park station

Caution: Cemetery opening times restricted: see text

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