While the London Loop is the M25 of London walking, the Capital Ring is more like the North and South Circulars, passing through the inner boroughs, utilizing their green spaces. It’s easy to access by public transport and you can do it in sections, catching a bus or a tube if you feel tired. There’s a surprising amount of countryside including parks, commons, and towpaths, and road walking is kept to a minimum.
I’ve done various parts over the years but on a sunny autumn day decided to tackle two sections from Crystal Palace.
The route crosses three commons: Streatham, Tooting Bec, and Wandsworth with residential parts of South London in between.
Section 4 Crystal Palace to Streatham Common, 4 miles
I take the train to Crystal Palace and start by climbing to the lofty heights of Norwood. It gets its name from the Great North Wood which once covered the high ground south of the Thames.
It’s confusing but there was also a Great South Wood, south of here, covering the Weald of Kent and Surrey.
I leave the streets, lined with large Victorian villas, and enter Westow Park, my first bit of green. It links to Upper Norwood Recreation Ground and, after some road walking up Beulah Hill, once a popular spa, I enter Biggin Wood.
This is one of the few remaining remnants of the Great North Wood. Just around the corner in Norwood Grove, is a handsome white mansion, built in the 19th century by the founder of the P&O shipping line.
I climb through the house’s extensive gardens and get panoramic views across Croydon and the North Downs from the top of the hill. The trail leads into Streatham Common, one of the largest open spaces in Lambeth, full of dog walkers and joggers.
Section 5 Streatham Common to Wimbledon Park. 5.5 miles
After some quiet road walking, I arrive at the entrance to Tooting Bec Lido, one of the oldest swimming pools in the UK, the Bec getting its name because of a medieval link to the abbey of Le Bec-Hallouin in France.
I’m now on Tooting Common and pass the lake, once a gravel pit, now home to exotic water birds, and follow a trail lined with horse chestnut trees.
It leads to the residential streets of Balham, immortalized by Peter Sellers as the “gateway to the south” and then enters Wandsworth Common. I stop for beer and fish and chips at the imposing Hope Pub.