The fifth stage of the Capital Ring leaves behind the parkland of south London and wends a tortuous route through the built up area around Wandsworth Common and Balham. Last week wasn't too much for Pauline who chose to join me once again on this five and a half mile foot bruising trek over level concrete and tarmac. It being Sunday the rail operators were conspiring to keep people out of London with closure of the lines out of Liverpool Street and between London Bridge and Streatham Common, nevertheless we persevered and eventually found ourselves standing where we left off last week - with one important difference, the sun was shining. After a complicated encounter with the main line to Brighton, the walk emerged from a maze of bridges and subways next to the distinctive Thames Water pumping station. Some brisk road walking through Streatham followed, leading to Tooting Bec Common and the large lido. Across the common, the bricks formed a solid barrier and the way threaded around the back streets of Balham. My sister lived here briefly in the eighties before deciding that commuting wasn't for her and returning Up North. Most of the Guisborians came to London at some time and most left before long.
Meanwhile, the route emerged onto busy Balham High Street opposite the rather grand Du Cane Court. A late start meant that it was time for lunch so we took a break at the Nightingale and I had an excellent chargrilled chicken wrap. The service - a friendly French waitress - and the food were excellent and the place was unsurprisingly busy. Across the road we encountered the church of St Mary and John the Divine, an interesting building fronted by a domed baptistry, then it was back into the streets again. The population seem quite young and we encountered a lot of joggers and families. Crossing Wandsworth Common alongside the railway, we came to a series of lakes populated by ducks, cootes and moorhens. No bread so we gave up trying to attract the swans and carried on swiftly past the grim environs of Wandsworth Prison. Oscar Wilde was imprisoned here in 1898 for being gay - what a long way we have come since then. Ronnie Biggs also spent time here in 1963 until he went over the wall. I risked an encounter with the authorities by taking a quick picture of the front gate. The walk down Magdalen Road past the cemetery seemed to go on forever before the watering holes of Earlsfield came in sight. Under the railway bridges, we crossed the River Wandle and I made a silent wish and chucked a coin in. This area was an industrial heartland and is still very built up. Beyond a small park, we passed the Wimbledon Mosque and climbed the only hill of the day to Wimbledon Park Station. London Underground were more cooperative than the main line operators and the District Line carried us effortlessly back to town. All that tarmac and brickwork was quite overwhelming. We are longing for some green space and luckily the next stage crosses the wilds of Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park, in my opinion the best part of the Ring. I can't wait!