Walking the Wandle Trail: Part 3 – The Merton Bit

Published on 12 October 2011 in , , , , ,

All this week I’m celebrating one of London’s lesser known rivers and the one that happens to go near my house. And as part of it I followed the 13 mile Wandle Trail up the river through Croydon, Sutton and now Merton.

Wandle Trail blue plaques

Poulter Park to Morden Hall Park

Last time I tried to walk down the Wandle Trail round the Merton/Sutton border, I got lost in a housing estate. Somehow I lost the river and never managed to find it again.

I almost did the same on this visit. The cause of the confusion is that the Wandle Trail is a cycling and walking route, and at times the two diverge. If you miss the footpath sign, you’ll head off the wrong way. And I almost did.

Still, better news is at Bishopsford House. Described as “derelict” on my map, it certainly was last time I came this way several years ago but now it’s been tarted up and looking very good.

It’s not the only place things are going on at. A little further down, the stadium for Tooting and Mitcham United is heaving with people congregating outside enjoying the sun. As I walk past, more people are heading to join in the fun. Whatever it is.

Two swans and a coot in Ravensbury Park

Ravensbury Park is a delightful little place and here the river has again split off in to two channels. The Wandle Trail heads firmly down the middle. Another woman on a mobility scooter sits nearby, complete with fishing rods. Squirrels run around in the trees and a pair of swans eye me suspiciously as I take their photo.

At the edge of the park, a series of stylised metal gateways and bridges, part of an art project launched in 2002. Later there will be a viewing platform, snaking its way out into the river with nowhere to go. www.wandletrail.org is expensively embossed on each one, there for eternity whilst the website itself lasted only a few years.

Numbered metal work thing

Morden Hall Park to Abbey Mills

Now fatter, deeper, wider, the Wandle pushes on through weirs and heads out of the park and into another. Throughout its short journey the river has been subject to the whims of man, but nowhere more so than the National Trust owned Morden Hall Park where it is split into many different channels and culverts for decorative and practical reasons, including the powering of waterwheels.

Dog having a splash around in Morden Hall Park

As if in deference to this abuse of its flow, the Wandle Trail steadfastly ignores the Wandle itself for most of its trip through the park. It’s hard to even know which of the many bridges in the park are actually crossing the river proper. But then much of the park is ignored. The acclaimed rose garden is never entered. The National Trust shop bypassed. The Hall itself never visited.

Not that there’s much at the Hall. Built around 1770 it has spent time as a home, a military hospital and a boarding school. Most recently it was a restaurant and wedding venue but its last operator went under during in 2009. Empty ever since, it can be yours for a mere £97,734 in rent a year.

Morden Hall

It’s the home straight. My home anyway, not the Wandle. I stroll and jog here. Pop through on the way to the garden centre. Wander on a summers evening to get out of the house.

The National Trust’s gardeners are out in force pruning and strimming whilst small children cling to their buggies as a large group of cyclists head past. The over the tram tracks, down the dog poo lined alley next to Dean City Farm (closed Mondays.) It’s lunch time. Time to check out what the chef has got on at Chez Bods. I leave the Wandle Way and head home.

Abbey Mills to Wandle Meadow

The Abbey Mills waterwheel

The Wandle Trail’s logo is a waterwheel. The sign of industry. Of power. This was a river that worked. At Abbey Mills, one William Morris printed fabrics for Liberty. The river turned the waterwheel which still sits in the water. It washed the fabrics clean.

Now Abbey Mills has a new life. Home to a craft market, small shops and studios. The bandstand – a modern creation – provides a performance space besides the river.

Band stand at Merton Abbey Mills

Passing alongside a giant Sainsburys, a Marks and Spencer and a bus depot and into another Wandle Park under the watchful gaze of Colliers Wood’s hated black tower. Over the Wandle sits a bridge. Or part of a bridge. From the other bank, it crosses the river and then sits there. There’s no way in to the park.

The bridge is useless. The result of a feud between a house builder and the local council over who pays to connect it with the park. The map says it all. Bridge opens in 2005 crossed out and replaced by 2010. It’s still waiting.

Wandle Park's Bridge To Nowhere

The Trail then heads into Wandle Meadow. A local nature park seemingly full of litter, overgrown weeds and a mum picking blackberries with her young son.

The path next to the river seems to get more overgrown. Fallen trees block the way. I come to a dead end. The path has headed off in a different direction without me noticing. It’s gone off far from the waters edge as it can to cross the railway line. A rather diminutive tunnel under the railway line to Sutton. It’s time to bend down a little.

Wandle Meadow to Summerstown

On the other side of the river, the tone changes. Business is everywhere. Bin lorry depot, bus depot, car showrooms, tile stores, a giant substation. The river is contained between stiff walls, contained and imprisoned. As if people don’t actually want it there. Afraid of it. They’d rather it be somewhere else. Buried in a sewer perhaps.

Wandle Trail logo

Then the Wandle begins to disappear, hidden from the path by trees and shrubs. As I pass on through Wandsworth, the two seem to diverge more and more. I pick up speed. Sure I’ll see it again. Won’t I?

Tomorrow Wandle Week continues with the final stretch of the Wandle Trail as it enters Wandsworth and meets the Thames. See all my Wandle Trail photos in my Wandle flickr set