A wander down the River Wandle

In the spirit of embracing nature and adventure, I went on my first microadventure the other day – a gentle 20km stroll along the banks of the River Wandle from Croydon (or rather Waddon) to the Thames in Wandsworth. 
The River Wandle at Waddon
The River Wandle has always held some allure to me. Not just because it’s a rather sweet river but because the past three houses I have lived in have all been in close proximity to its flow – Waddon, Wandsworth and Colliers Wood.

With water bottle in hand, a ham sandwich and a bag of nuts, I strode off, with my boyfriend’s parting words to be safe when passing through Mitcham. But there was limited cityscape to goggle at, as instead I trundled mainly through parks, only having to cross a few busy roads before nipping back into the sanctuary of muffled sounds and dappled sunlight filtered through tree leaves.
The river itself is quite quaint; a meandering chalk stream with willows bowing their heads at its banks, resembling a peaceful place of worship amid the hustle and bustle of South London.
It is also a river packed with history. It was once classified as an open sewer, while back in its industrial heyday, it was claimed to be Britain’s “hardest working river”, with more than 90 mills dotted along its banks. Some of these mills still exist in some form today. Beddington Mill, for instance, used to grind corn, and later tobacco. Now it’s being redeveloped into apartments.
As I walk along, lush vegetation (some of it weeds) carpets the banks, while ducks paddle by and white butterflies flit from green leaf to green leaf, as if to keep track of my journey. I stop for lunch in Ravensbury Parknext to the mill, the traffic sound muted by the cascading water. It appears to be a favourite for drunks or teenagers, with half-empty beer bottles lying abandoned next to the benches. But a peace descends as I watch a white swan lazily sail upstream, its cygnets, still coated in fluffy, brown down, following behind.
The Wandle Trail is home to many types of wildlife, and walking along, deep in the local nature reserves, it’s hard not to imagine the story book The Wind in the Willows playing out here. The river is also famous for its fishing and, as I journey on, men sit in camping chairs with floppy hats, a hand holding a fishing rod, patiently waiting for a tug from a hungry trout. These fishermen have to have a licence and all fish have to be returned to the water and not eaten, but this does not seem to deter them.
The River Wandle enters the Thames
As Earlsfield approaches, nature starts to subside to tarmacked roads, exhaust fumes and Saturday shoppers. By the time I reach the great grey flow of the Thames I’m ready for a well-earned Pimms as I merge with the anonymous crowds.  
How to do it:
Duration:4-5 hours depending on speed and how much you stop to take photos
Difficulty:Easy but not all aspects of the trail are suitable for cycling or prams
Getting there: Catch the Southern Rail train from Victoriato East Croydon or Waddon train station. Or catch the tram from East Croydon or Wimbledon to Wandle Parktramlink stop.
Getting home: Catch the South West train from WandsworthTown (goes into London Waterloo via Clapham Junction) or 15 min walk to East Putneytube station on the District Line.  
More information: Trail details and directions can be found at www.merton.gov.uk/leisure/visiting/attractions/wandletrail.htm  



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