Words and pictures by Karen D Tregaskin
13: Sydenham Ruins
Everybody knows the ruins aren’t real! It was the main point of conversation for three separate families that arrived while I was sketching, and examined the lack of authenticity of the fake ruins, exclaiming over the Victorian brickwork plainly visible beneath the faux-Romanesque chapel. It was a folly, a conversation piece, and serves that function as happily now as when 19th Century ladies were giving dinner parties in their gardens. This whole part of the woods has a rather odd feel, of ornamental gardens run riot, an overgrown tennis court turned to meadow, a cyprus shot up to its full height from ornamental garden tree in only 150 years. On the other side of Crystal Palace, the Stambourne Woodland Walk has a very similar feel, exotic baby trees planted in prim, tidy, 19th Century gardens turned loose like the terrapins of Tooting Common after wildly outgrowing their owner’s expectations.
Ignoring the early 18th Century oak promenade of Cox’s Walk, I made my way out through another housing estate to the grounds of the Horniman Museum, home to London’s most beloved (though anatomically incorrect) Walrus. Easy to miss, in the grounds of the museum, is the entrance to London’s oldest nature trail. On the map, it looks like it goes through to Camberwell Old Cemetery; it does not, but is still worth the diversion to visit its dewpond. The soft gradient of the old Crystal Palace railway feels like a green tunnel floating above the suburban roofs, lined with wildflowers and humming with insect life. Endangered stag beetles are known to breed here. (No wonder they’re endangered; the only one I’ve ever seen in the wild was calmly crawling up the centre of the A23 near Croydon!) But even railway lines that are still in use provide important havens for urban wildlife, and are known as “Green Corridors” to local conservationists.