Walks with views: Jurassic Park to Crystal Palace
A green and pleasant walk traveling from the Mesozoic to Victorian age
By Ossian Ward
The Crystal Palace dinosaurs
The world’s original and best dino themepark is to be found in the south London hinterlands of Anerley and Penge at Crystal Palace Park. Installed in 1854 by fossil expert Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins and founder of the Natural History Museum (and coiner of the term ‘dinosaur’), Richard Owen, these 33 prehistoric plaster monsters (S) have just been restored to their original glory, charming quirks and mistakes intact. Megalosaurus, megatherium and megaloceros are all here. It really is mega.
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National Sports Centre
Onwards and upwards, across the grassy site of the first ever FA Cup final, past an old World War I memorial in the shape of a Chinese bell, and you’ll come across another sporting gem on your left: the National Sports Centre (1) (built in 1964 and soon to be rendered even more redundant by the new Olympic track and pool sites in Stratford).
Further on is another bit of faded grandeur, this time in the zigzagging warrens of London’s largest maze (2). It’s also had a recent makeover in honour of the Girl Guides, whose organisation was formed here in 1909, but only the shortest of entrants will ever actually get lost, as the hedged fences stand a mere three feet high.
As the climb begins in earnest take in a strange oxidised red steel ramp to the right – actually a concert platform (3) designed in 1997. This natural, bowled amphitheatre had previously played host to Bob Marley and The Who, but now it’s known as the ‘rusty laptop’ and gets about as much use as its nickname suggests.
The Crystal Palace
Eventually comes the pay-off for all that hill-walking: the spectacular terraces that mark the footprint of Joseph Paxton’s giant 1851 Great Exhibition – the ruins of the Crystal Palace itself (moved here from Hyde Park in 1854, before burning down in 1936). Try to picture the crowds and collections once contained within the steel-and-glass frame – the success of which funded not just the V&A, but the Science Museum and Natural History Museum too. Then turn to the south-east for the superb vista of leafy suburbia stretching for miles towards Beckenham.
Exit the park through the twin sphinxes (copied from examples in the Louvre). Now in the shadow of another remarkable structure, the 220m-high BBC transmitter tower (4), cross the bus-busy Crystal Palace Parade and walk along Sydenham Hill for some liquid refreshment at the Dulwich Woodhouse (E). A rambling Young’s pub (built by Palace architect Paxton as his home) it’s a short stroll away, across the main road to Sydenham Hill.
From here you get the flipside of the palace view: northwards to the Gherkin, the London Eye and a distant central-London skyline, completing your journey from ancient to modern.