Wednesday, 30 May 2007

A park and a half

In the course of researching a future post, I found myself wandering through Brookmill Park between Deptford and Lewisham on a rainy weekday. I rarely get chance to go through the park - and I'm usually on my bike when I do - but all the same, I've long thought of it as a real little gem.

For me, it's a park and a half although in real terms it's barely half a park when you look at its dimensions! It straggles along between Brookmill Road and the Ravensbourne River, from the site of the old Thames Water station to the Elverson Road DLR station. It averages about 100m wide, at a guess, is squashed between a busy road and the DLR line, and yet it manages to feel like a really secret, special place away from all the hustle and bustle of London.

One of the main things it has in its favour is that it is not a very well-used park. People pass through it on the way from the DLR to St Johns or Deptford, but they rarely linger. Much of the side of the park that faces the road is protected by a wall or hedge, and the other side where the Ravensbourne flows is gloriously overgrown, lending it a real feeling of sanctuary. The park itself has a formal garden area with benches, pergolas, and a fountain; this leads through flower gardens to the modest children's play area, which in turn gives onto the pond, currently rather overgrown and murky-looking. The remainder of the park, which narrows down towards Elverson Road, is dominated by the river banks, which are left to grow wild, home to many native tree species including elder, currently heavy with flowers. This is my favourite bit, and the place I generally spot the best birds. I've seen goldfinches on the seeding grasses in late summer, herons, various wildfowl and even kingfishers. The fact that the river is quite sheltered and set back from the path makes it ideal for the local bird life.

Today in just a quick visit I saw mallards, the ubiquitous moorhens, a glamorous mandarin duck, grey wagtail, young robin, and a family of young great tits being fed by their parents.
Star spot was this beautiful heron; I caught sight of him just as he was trying to stalk into the bushes on the other side of the river. We both stood still and eyeballed each other for a few minutes while I fumbled with my camera, then I left him to his fishing and moved on.

At the end of the park you see the real contrast; two views, both taken from the bridge over the river but in opposite directions.

If you get chance to go down there (and assuming you get better weather!) look out for the mysterious little footpaths that lead off up the raised area at the end of the park, and down to the river banks. Get a different view on Deptford!

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Holiday time

Normal service will be resumed after the bank holiday weekend. We're off for a well-earned break!

Cockpit Arts

Tucked away down Creekside, between Jones Furniture Hire and a scaffolder's yard is Cockpit Arts, one of the secret delights of Deptford. Cockpit Arts is a registered charity which supports 'designer-makers' and helps them to set up successful businesses. As well as providing studio space, the organisation also runs courses aimed at helping designers to establish and run their business successfully. It has two centres - one in Holborn and one in Deptford, and organises an open studios weekend at each site twice a year.

I always look forward to it avidly - it's a great opportunity to see some fantastic designers at work, from textiles through stained glass windows to guitar makers - and also offers a chance to buy unusual gifts. One of the weekends is always November/December time, so perfect for christmas presents! The studios are a cut above the normal artist's garret-style space; they are beautifully clean, always look freshly painted, and because the building is an old 60s office block, the light from the huge windows is ideal. My photographer friend who accompanied me was fair salivating at the thought of having studio space like that!

Well the bad news is that you've just missed the summer open weekend at Deptford - but there's still time to catch the Holborn studios which are opening at the end of the month. All the designers will do commissions anyway, so it's worth having a browse of the directory if you are looking for something special. My particular recommendation is Katie Adams' London skyline tableware - Katie used to be based in Deptford but is now at the Holborn site, so if you like her stuff, don't miss the Holborn weekend!

Thursday, 17 May 2007

New pool

I am a swimmer - it's my favourite method of keeping fit. I do a respectable backstroke, a rather strong breast-stroke and even taught myself a stylish front crawl a few years ago, since that part of my childhood swimming education had been sadly neglected.

So you would think I would be delighted to live just round the corner from Deptford's Wavelengths Leisure Centre. Harumph! Call that a pool? Not only is it a silly shape, the water far too warm and the swimming area blighted by huge slides (that are no longer in use as they are presumably unsafe) but the management's idea of an 'early bird' swim starts at 8am. At 8am I am usually on the train halfway into town.

Moreover, the 'lane-swimming' section is 12m long, the showers are communal and the changing area scruffy and dilapidated.

So you can appreciate that my visits to Wavelengths are confined to a weekly usage of the gym, although even this is rather patchy at the moment. The gym is Ohh Kay - at a push. Cheap and cheerful, and rather cramped if you get more than about five people in it. Meanwhile I'm still fascinated by the 'health suite' which contains sauna and steam room. On our 'induction' tour, myself and the Deptford Duke were warned that the behaviour of the health suite customers left a lot to be desired. There were even intimations that on Friday nights, said customers brought food in and cooked it on the heat of the sauna bricks, after which it was consumed. There was no explanation as to why these particular customers had not been evicted and their membership cards revoked. So it still holds a certain mystery cache to me.

But now, all is changing! Enter the plans for the new 25m pool; construction started in January and is forging ahead, if reports are to be believed! Whether or not the opening hours will be any more accommodating to those of us who have to travel some distance to work, remains to be seen. But it's a start. As long as it doesn't end up with a debacle like that at Ladywell, we should be ok.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Setting the boundaries

So where exactly is Deptford? I hear you ask. Well, I decided to set some boundaries within which to confine myself, and set about finding what actually defines Deptford.

First stop, the parliamentary definition. I've always regarded Deptford as having a rather unnatural relationship to Lewisham Borough, under whose remit we fall. It's stuck out at the top of the borough, a long way from the Town Hall and administrative centre in Catford, and often feels like we get forgotten about by the powers that be. In fact Deptford parliamentary consituency (or Lewisham Deptford, to give it its official name) is much bigger than I had anticipated. Whereas the town centre clusters round the market and the high street, our MP Joan Ruddock looks after an extensive swathe of the borough, which includes Telegraph Hill, Brockley, Ladywell and Crofton Park as well as New Cross and Evelyn. For those who don't know this area very well, let me assure you that of all these wards, Evelyn is by far the most deprived, and the least leafy!

So the parliamentary definition proved too broad, whereas at local level, the town centre is spread across at least three wards - Evelyn, New Cross, and Greenwich West, which comes under Greenwich Council's remit.

In fact until 1974 Deptford was a separate constituency, established in 1885 and initially returning local hero William John Evelyn (more of him later) to parliament.

So here's my own, self-defined boundaries. To the north: the Thames, natch! To the east, Deptford Creek as far as Tesco's at Lewisham; we're going to claim the pointy bit south that's bounded by Loampit Vale and Lewisham Way, since it takes in some interesting cafes and galleries, and then New Cross Road as far as Pagnell Street, Sandford Street and Trundleys Road as far down as Plough Way, then back to the river.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007


Ever since I started my first blog I wondered whether I should be writing more about my local area. I've avidly followed Diamond Geezer and Inspector Sands (Casino Avenue as was) for years, and now that more and more bloggers are appearing, I think it's about time Deptford got some better press.

Sure, it's not the south east's most glamorous location, nor is it the grottiest, but it does have the twin benefits of being handily located both for central London (20 mins) and for Greenwich (2 mins), and it's damn cheap if you want to buy a property (by London standards, that is). What's more, it has a really strong community, a huge market, lots of independent shops, and a thriving artistic side.

So stay with me if you want to learn more about my manor. Ignore the slaggers, disregard the high street's down-at-heel appearance, and come with me on a voyage around SE8. It will be a truly local experience, in the best possible meaning of the word.