The Green Chain Walk runs through the Hillcrest Estate Woodland in Upper Sydenham on a path which is easy to follow. The path is in two sections, on either side of the blocks of flats in the middle of the woodlands. This is ancient woodland, a small part of what was once The Great North Wood.
The Hillcrest Estate and its woodlands
‘…Remnants of ancient woodland of the once extensive Great North Wood were incorporated into the landscaping of the Hillcrest Estate, which was built on part of the former route of the Nunhead to Crystal Palace High Level railway line. After the railway closed in 1954, the LCC bought the land and passed much of it to local councils for housing and open space…London Gardens Online, March 2003
The Great North Wood was ancient woodland that mainly disappeared as London expanded. Today only fragments of the wood remain as parks, cemeteries, woodlands, sports grounds, railway embankments, and in private gardens. There is now a major project underway to preserve what remains, and inform people about the importance of the sites.
The Nunhead to Crystal Palace High Level railway line was a branch line which was built to take visitors to the new Crystal Palace. (The Crystal Palace High Level Station here, and the history of the line here.) The line closed in 1954 and the track was lifted two years later. There is a walk along the former line called ‘From the Nun’s Head to the Screaming Alice’! Photographs of the Crescent Wood Tunnel’s two entrances here and here.
Two old tunnel entrances remain from the railway, now blocked up. Crescent Wood Tunnel is below Upper Sydenham Station’s former booking office and stationmaster’s house on Wells Park Road, now private house. The station opened in 1884 and the site of the platforms are now a level area of grass near the tunnel mouth…’.London Gardens Online, March 2003
Wells Park Road to the housing estate
Woodland survives as strips of trees on steep banks and between houses and blocks of flats. A network of footpaths runs through woodland that has mature trees including sweet chestnut and oak, beech and pear trees, as well as Wellingtonia, Scots pine and cedar of Lebanon.London Gardens Online, March 2003
The path from the side of the station master’s house on Wells Park Road leads steeply downhill into the gloom of the trees. As you step inside the tree cover you leave the 20C behind – it is a quite extraordinary sensation.
When you shortly emerge from the woodland a very large, old oak tree stands alongside the first houses in the housing estate.
Housing on the Hillcrest Estate
The Hillcrest Housing Estate dates from 1967 and is quiet and secluded.
Path from the Estate to Bluebell Close
A steep path climbs up the side of the hill in the middle of the estate, from the High Level Drive. As you walk up the hill and into the trees you step into a diferent layer of time. When you are alone the trees almost seem to talk to you, and it feels very old indeed.
The path through the Hillcrest Estate Woodland in Upper Sydenham is a complete surprise and another of my rewarding discoveries in exploring the green spaces in South East London. And this green space is just a block away from the wonderful Sydenham Wells Park, and not far from Mayow Park! The Friends of Hillcrest Woods do a great job, and are clearly proud of their surroundings, which are wonderful.
Further information: Stopping further development