Distance: Three miles.
Time: Under two hours.
Car park: On Streatham Common South, near junction with Covington Way.
Public transport: Buses from Brixton Tube
station along Streatham High Road; BR to
Streatham Common or Streatham stations.
In a few weeks the colourful summer bedding plants in London's parks will disappear for another year. This walk takes in two of the brightest but least known municipal plantings, and illuminates a forgotten corner of Streatham's history.
From the car park, take in the broad view of the Surrey Hills before going through the gate to the left of the refreshment hut. This is the entrance to the Rookery, a charming
hillside garden once attached to a house of that name, pulled down by London County Council when it acquired the estate in 1912.
The sloping lawn, where outdoor plays and concerts are staged in summer, is dominated by an enormous cedar planted more than 200 years ago - one of the oldest in England. Ahead is one of the television masts of Crystal Palace. Go down the slope and follow the paths round the formal gardens.
One is a rock garden with a pool, a stream, lilies, heathers and a giant gunnera. Next to it is the flower garden, a bright mix of busy lizzies, tobacco plants, hollyhocks, asters and rudbeckia. Here there is another pool and, close to it, the first clue to the garden's
origins. A well is on the site of one of the mineral springs discovered in 1659, briefly turning the village of Streatham into a fashionable spa: it was said one glass was as good for you as three of the rival Epsom salts.
The Rookery was originally called Well House, and people taking the waters could rent rooms. The gardens, created by later owners, have been kept as they were in the 19th century, including the white garden at the foot of the slope, where only white flowers are grown. This was laid out for a Victorian family wedding and in the inter-war years was often visited by Queen Mary, the wife of George V.
Leave the Rookery by the gate at the end of the white
garden and turn sharp left by the tennis court, keeping the hedge on your left. When you reach a metalled path turn right, with another fine view on your right. Soon you cross the borough boundary of Lambeth and Croydon by a red brick gatehouse.
Just beyond, on the right, is the back of Norwood Grove, one of the few survivors of the grand country houses that were a feature of Streatham and Norwood until they were swallowed up in the London sprawl of the late 19th century. Former wealthy residents of Norwood Grove included Arthur Anderson, a founder of the
P&O shipping company.
It became public property in 1926 and its garden now serves as the second of the municipal gardens on this walk, with fine rose beds, and bedding laid out in strict geometric patterns. Wander round the garden but do not stray too far down the hill because to continue the walk you must leave the park where you came in and turn right along the metalled path, passing some horse chestnut trees that will be producing conkers very soon.
At the end of the path turn left up Gibbons Hill, then right on the main road, Beulah Hill. Follow the curve of the road and turn right just past the Norfolk Court Hotel into Biggin Hill, walking on grass in front of the fence guarding allotments on the right.
After you pass Marston Way on the left, look for a path on the right between houses. This leads past tennis courts into Biggin Wood. Keep to the main path through this short stretch of woodland, perhaps nibbling the odd blackberry as you go. Leaving the wood, keep ahead for a few yards on Covington Way, then go left down Norbury Hill.
Cross the main road (Green Lane) and enter Norbury Park, taking the path that goes di
agonally to your right. We are now at the bottom of the hill, so there are no splendid views to distract you from this somewhat dull and featureless open space.
At the corner of the park turn right up Streatham High Road and right again on Hermitage Lane, crossing Green Lane again to walk up Strathbrook Road, a model suburban street with colourful roses and other plants in the neat front gardens.
As the road bears left it becomes Copley Park, soon leading back to Streatham Common. Cross the road and turn right to walk along the grass back to the car park, or to further exploration of the Rookery if you have the time.
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