THE SUNDAY WALK
A stroll through Blackheath could turn into a trip to Calais, a 26-mile run, a ride on a donkey, or a medieval demo

ALTHOUGH Blackheath Common is not quite as nice as it could be - because the whole grassy area is criss-crossed by minor roads - this four-mile walk around the common does throw up expansive views of the splendid homes overlooking the common, as well as a series of historic curiosities.

The common itself is the main curiosity though: as a piece of common land it dates back to Roman times and has witnessed a number of massed rallies over the centuries, including the mustering of Wat Tyler's and Jack Cade's peasant rebellions. The tradition of launching invasions of London from Blackheath continues in the in the modern age now that the annual London Marathon starts from here. On a more sinister note, the "black" from its name may derive from the Black Death, many of whose victims are rumoured to be buried in its soil.

The start and finish point of the walk is Blackheath Station, a short ride south from Charing Cross. Exiting the station, walk left, then take the right fork up Montpelier Vale, which is lined with wine bars and smart Italian restaurants. Emerging onto the windy southern edge of the common, you'll see All Saints' Church - Terry Waite's local - immediately in front of you; keeping the church to your right, walk half-left (west) along a path to a mini-roundabout, overlooked by the busy Hare and Billet pub. Continue west past here, along Eliot Vale, which subsequently dips down into a residential area before emerging on Mounts Pond Road. From here you can cut across the southwestern corner of the common, keeping the grey Territorial Army Centre to your right.

Hugging the buildings overlooking the common, and walking north, will take you along Dartmouth Terrace and up to the A2, which barges from west to east across the common (and is the launching-pad for hitch-hikers heading to Calais). Cross the main road, and bear slightly east, onto Hyde Vale, which winds away to the northwest between steep embankments. A few hundred metres down, you'll see cement steps up the embankment to your right. Climb the steps, and follow the gravel path leading left to St Ursula's School. Pass the school on your left and follow the path down to the curiously named Our Ladye Star of the Sea church, endowed in the 19th century by an American lady, in gratitude that her sons, swept off a ship in a storm, had been rescued.

At the church, take a sharp right up Croom Hills and follow the sign along the tree-lined Chesterfield Walk past the Ranger's House. This ivy- clad mansion house (open 10am-4pm; pounds 2.50) was once the home of Lord Chesterfield, and contains collections of Jacobean portraits along with other stately features.

Passing the Ranger's House, head straight to the main road, then take the sharpest left turn, Charlton Way, which runs along the southern edge of Greenwich Park. At the gate to the park you can rent donkeys to ride and buy hot-dogs; you can even finish your walk here by walking north through the park to the river and taking a boat straight back to central London.

Otherwise, continue straight on to Maze Hill Road, then head south-east via Vanbrugh Road, across the A2 (again) and onto St German's Place. An extension to the east from here (left down Kidbrooke Gardens, right onto Kidbrooke Grove, then down a lane on the right) will take you past the 17th- century Morden College, a riot of tall chimneys on manicured lawns, all designed by Christopher Wren.

On the home straight now, head west past the Paragon, a colonnaded residential crescent, and back to Montpelier Row. Turning south back into Blackheath village you might stop over in the Princess of Wales pub for some local fare. And don't worry: the Greenwich Tourist Office flatly deny the rumours that Blackheath Common has anything to do with the Black Death.

l This walk features in 100 Walks in Greater London, published by Crowood.

Comments