Walking Class Hero: The missing link
I’m quite used to people sympathising when I tell them that I live in London and love walking. I guess it’s well meant but I really don’t understand – the two things aren’t mutually exclusive in my mind and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. There’s the Thames Path, the Capital Ring and The Loop – just to name the well known routes. But being a south east London boy my favourite is probably the Green Chain Walk.
Its proper name is the South East London Green Chain and it is yet another enduring achievement of the much maligned 1970’s. Back in 1977 four London boroughs – Bexley, Bromley, Greenwich and Lewisham – joined with the GLC to create an 80 km (50 miles) route that linked 300 green spaces in the region. Southwark is also involved these days and the initiative continues to flourish because it sticks to its core principles at the same time as adapting to modern demands. Walk any part of it today and you are just as likely to come across a Green Chain Healthy Walk led by a trained volunteer as a group of gore-tex clad ramblers or a local walking their dog.
So it’s really disappointing to report that the approximately 1 km stretch that crosses Woodlands Farm at Shooters Hill is now wilfully impassably blocked. The problem is undeniably a long standing one. For too many years walkers and runners have been putting up with padlocked gates at either end of the route as it traverses the farm but now the undergrowth is impenetrable at the end nearest Plumstead Common where the large gate was always difficult to clamber over.
One of the Green Chain’s undoubted strengths is the ability to follow the route without taking a map along. The signage is excellent and you quickly get used to spotting it in the near distance and soon you’re following it without really looking. This in turn means the walk is ideal for those new to walking who want the confidence to explore more without having to spend money on kit and maps. (It ought to be said that excellent self guide leaflets are available free from a variety of websites and outlets as well.) It is for this reason though that the blocked portion the Walk has had to be removed from the signage. To continue the chain analogy – the Green Chain Walk is only as strong as its weakest link and it is important that trust in the whole route is not damaged. Removing this section from the signs is one thing but as well as being marked on OS Explorer 162 the route appears on AtoZ maps (paper and smart phone app), the Collins London atlas and all other maps of London I’m familiar with.
Technically this part of the route is a permissive path. (This isn’t very complex but follow the link below for more detail on rights of way.) As a result after trying to find another solution that is acceptable to everybody, Inner London Ramblers feels it now has no option but to begin the ponderous process of claiming the path as a public right of way and get this stretch of the route included on Bexley’s Definitive Map. Despite a reputation to the contrary it is rare that we resort to this legal process. Contact has been established with the borough and the Green Chain Walk Users Group and both are very supportive of this action.
Which brings us to the landowner – Woodlands Farm. It’s a trust that receives local authority support and portrays itself as a community farm. Despite accepting the route back in 1977 they now state unequivocally they don’t want the route across the farm. Just how community minded is that? This is a path beloved by locals and joggers as well as walkers from across London. You’ll find a notice board in front of the farm on Shooters Hill but in general the farm doesn’t seem very public facing – as of 2 July 2012 their website had just one page. Contrast this to last year when there was a whole raft of pages about open days and education events available.
Speaking personally I know this leg of the Green Chain Walk very well – I’ve led walks along it, have been angered by the obstructions but literally found ways around them, and am now outraged by the increasingly selfish actions of the landowner who is depriving members of the public of an excellent walk in south east London. But fear not because if you share these sentiments – on principle whether you know this stretch of south east London or not; or in practice because you are fed up with the accessibility of this route being slowly eroded over the years by a landowner who cares little for their neighbours – contact me at either email@example.com or via the comments section below. Even better if you walked the path over 20 years ago I’m very keen to hear from you. And, of course, if you are not already a member of the Ramblers join us to help us protect and preserve our footpaths all over Britain.
Follow Walking Class Hero on twitter @walkngclasshero
- The Ramblers
- Basic Rights of Way Law
- Green Chain Walk
- Walking for Health
- Inner London Ramblers
- Woodlands Farm
Can’t Find My Way Home: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4tJiyU_gjY
Debbie Wiseman – Missing Link
Stephen Stills – Thoroughfare Gap
Blind Faith – Can’t Find My Way Home
R.E.M. – Can’t Get There From Here (Edit)
The New Lost City Ramblers – My Long Journey Home
Neil Young & Crazy Horse – This Land Is Your Land