Exploring The Ravensbourne

The more I explore this city, the more it intrigues me and the deeper I love it. Following on from my exploration of the Leaway a week or so ago, I wanted to see what I could find of London’s other small rivers. Just west of Greenwich, on the south bank of the Thames, I had noticed another small river flowing into London’s mighty central current. I’d come across it last April, but had yet to explore it properly. Today I set out to see what I could find of it – it could well be as charming as the Lea. This morning, then, I set off down to Greenwich town via it’s mighty park, before heading west a few metres to find the mouth of the Ravensbourne. A few days ago I’d come across it again, running through a charming little park, Brookmill Park, near Lewisham. Today I wanted to see how far south you could follow it.

I soon refound Brookmill Park, and followed The Ravensbourne as it meandered south through the park. It is a much narrower river than the Lea; barely more than a stream. South of Brookmill Park, though, I was in Lewisham, and the river wasn’t so easy to trace. Saturday traffic hurtled along roads under which the river flowed through pipes. Yet, with the help of the handy maps which often spring, sapling-like, from London’s pavements, I navigated my powerchair through the maelstrom to refind the stream as it flowed down concrete channels past building sites and blocks of flats. South of Lewisham, it weaves in and out of an overground railway line: following the often-buried river wasn’t easy, yet eventually it brought me to Ladywell Fields, a wide, newly-established park through which the stream flowed in two or three channels. There, well maintained paths allowed me to follow the stream south through that peaceful place until I reached Catford.

By then, though, the afternoon was drawing on; trying to follow the river even further south may have been fun, but I didn’t want to make it too difficult to get home. I headed back to Lewisham, noting to myself how much harder the Ravensbourne had been to follow than the Lea: there was no lovely, wheelchair-friendly riverside path, and it had clearly received far less attention. You can occasionally find it running through well-maintained parks like Brookmill Park or Ladywell Fields, but between them the river is diverted through channels running alongside forgotten back streets. This was obviously one of London’s lost rivers UA Fanthorpe wrote of in Rising Damp. Yet perhaps that’s part of the fun: you only find rivers like the Ravensbourne if you look for them, but knowing they’re there and trying to trace them amid all the chaos of the metropolis is part of their charm.

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