Peckham Rye Park


That it takes me a while to get round to writing is the understatement of the (new) year. So while we’re most definitely in the depths of winter now – albeit currently a sunny one – I’m here to tell you about a walk I went on in the depths of autumn.

Peckham Rye Park is somewhere I’ve been meaning to visit for years, but never quite got round to. And as is usually the case, it turns out you have to move far away from something in order to see it properly. I used to live relatively locally in nearby Brockley, but having moved back to my home turf of north east London, the urge to venture south again became a bit stronger. Well, that and accommodating my walking partner, Adrian, who isn’t exactly keen to travel far beyond his endz if he can help it.

So, after meeting at Peckham Rye station on a sunny Wednesday afternoon at the start of November, we set off in the direction of the park. Having a notoriously bad sense of direction, I tend to leave map reading to other people if I can help it, a habit I really need to get out of – I’m sensing a resolution coming on – because when the person I’m with isn’t an expert map reader either, trouble usually ensues. After a few wrong turns though, we arrived at the edge of the park and it was my turn to cause problems and drop the strap clasp of my camera into the depths of the bread covered common. Several pointless minutes later, we gave up  looking and headed for the park proper.


So what is Peckham Rye Park famous for? Well, literary associations mainly. It’s in this park that William Blake, then aged just 8 years old, looked up and saw an oak tree ‘filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars’. He’s a poet and he knows it. Though no one’s sure of the exact location of this oak, or whether it even still exists, back in 2011 the artist John Hartley decided it was time to commemorate the occasion by plant a young oak sapling on the Rye in Blake’s honour. There are some lovely pictures of the ceremonial planting here. Sadly, I didn’t do my research before heading out that morning, and wasn’t aware of the new angelic oak, so there’s no pics of its growing progress to share. I’m also sorry to say that no angelic visions appeared to me or Adrian during our walk, but then maybe it would’ve been more troubling if they had…


Peckham Rye has also been immortalised in Muriel Spark’s novel The Ballad of Peckham Rye. Published in 1960, and full of wonderfully named characters – Dixie Morse and Humphrey Place to name just two – the novel charts the story of a group of locals whose lives are thrown into chaos by the arrival in their midst of Dougal Douglas, a Scottish migrant. Peckham is also of course hugely famous for another “literary” creation, Derek Trotter from Only Fools and Horses, though the series was actually filmed at a flat in Acton, South West London.


But that’s enough literary (and not so literary) association; time for some nature. As you can see from the photos, the day was as good as autumn gets, featuring a dazzling lowly slung sun, burnt red and gold leaves, and shimmering, reflective water. One of those days where you want to soak up as much vitamin D as you can before the proper gloom of winter kicks in. In fact, even the squirrels were getting in on the act, and were stretched out in the kitchen garden doing a spot of acrobatic sunbathing. This is the first time either of us had seen sunbathing squirrels and it was nice to see what is usually a frantic, nervous animal actually having some chill time.


Apart from the edible garden, there are a few other separate gardens within the park itself, including a Japanese Garden, and the Sexby Garden, named after Lt. Col. Sexby who was the Chief Officer of Parks until 1910, and which  was home to an impressive patch of spiny seed heads.


We both took a fair few photos, given the brilliance of the light, and chatted away about mutual friends, future plans, and I gave my usual lecture about the perils of London pollution, which Adrian patiently endured. In no time at all, we found we’d explored all the gardens, and resisting the urge to go and play in the kids playground, we decided it was probably time to get going.

On the way back, we passed the bread-scattered grass where I’d lost my strap clasp and decided to take another look. While I’d love to report that we found it, as it’d be a great framing device, the odds were well and truly stacked against us. So giving it up for lost, we decided it was time to head for the pub, though sadly not The Nag’s Head…

And then Trigger made a face…

Thanks to Adrian Gibbs, who I stupidly forgot to take a photo of, for his charming company. 


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