Dulwich as Narnia

23Jan13

UK - London - Dulwich Park Peace Garden post

As much as to free a stiffened lower-lumbar region than to breathe cold air on Monday, I walked through the urban countryside of Ruskin Park to central Dulwich.

Crunching along the still frozen paths of Red Post Hill that Ruskin may have been thinking of as “a precipitous slope, to our valley of Chamouni (after Shelley),” I passed the snow closed Charter School and the bridge over the unused pair of rail tracks that countless stranded commuters dreamed of riding.

In the Village the florist was open, closed blooms in buckets, an assistant brushing the slush. And a crowd in fur hats and big jumpers talked of creative meetings in the cold sun as if glugging Glühwein outside their chalet.

UK - London - Dulwich Village in snow

After the fine Georgian period homes on whose driveways were parked Mercs and Audis, that once accommodated Brougham carriages and strong horses from the City, I passed beneath the immense gates of Dulwich Park, a Narnia of icy and rutted tracks from the weekend’s family sledges.

We run through here every Saturday morning, giggling at the platoon of bullied BMMs (British Military Masochists). Our own loop takes us from Herne Hill and out past up to the Dulwich College toll gate then back home via the Greendale summit that reminds me of scaling Great Gable during Outward Bound in 1976 – that’s right, the notorious heatwave of seventy-six.

On this day, my boots cracked on even the virgin snow whose crust held my weight for a moment before letting me sink into its soft centred-depth. Apart from a few wandering south Londoners, the landscape seemed more a Christmas card of rustic paysage and on the outer circle, one of London’s great trees, the Turkey Oak spread its centuries-old boughs over Dulwich pooches.

Not far from where Barbara Hepworth’s bronze Divided Circle once impressed us before its brutal execution, a Peace Pillar between two Cabbage Palms with the words ‘May Peace Prevail on Earth’ – looks overwhelmed, a Hiroshima-inspired memorial being buried in the depths of a nuclear winter. And it was absolutely silent there. No aviation seemed to be tracking this way, the snow doing that muffling of acoustics that often makes us stand in quiet contemplation, just as we do on any 11/11.

UK - London - Dulwich park snow landscape

On my route back from the whites and off-whites of Ansel Adam’s Zone System I slipped down Court Lane. But before the plague pit burial ground I noticed a plaque recently installed by the Dulwich Society – a memorial to Ethel Cartwright, 55; James Cartwright, 59; Peggie Gould, 20; William Gould, 58; Emily Holland, 54; Patricia Holland, 6 and Joseph Stone, 59.  Seven fellow-Londoners and neighbours killed together on 6th January 1945 by V2 rocket number MW 20826 whose 323km flight from the Karlshagen launch pad on Peenemunde, landed a few yards from here at 17.06. (See also And We Were Young).

Twenty-eight thousand pounds of warhead falling just weeks before war’s end.

UK - London - Dulwich V2 memorial plaque

One witness remembers the devastation. Especially “.. a wall and chimney were still standing. High up on the chimney, still in place and unmoved by the blast was a picture of Christ ..”

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2 Responses to “Dulwich as Narnia”

  1. There I was reading you walk feeling the snow crunching under your newly purchased snow boots…smiling to myself thinking of a wittingly clever response…and then…utter devastation…I wonder how many walks like that and places in London where the beauty of today so quickly brings back the horrible reality of the past?


  1. 1 And We Were Young « England’s Pleasant Pastures

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