Fairest of months. Ripe summer’s queen! The hey day of the year; With robes that gleam with sunny sheen, Sweet August doth appear. R. Combe-Miller.
These August ramblings will take you off the main pathway around the park to look for hidden gems that may not be with us much longer. When the housing development on the Mansion site begins, these treasures may be lost for ever!
This month take the path leading towards the MUGA (Multi-Use Games Area) and focus on the little strip of woodland to your right. This wood was once Greenwich parks’ department’s tree nursery. In places you can see neat rows of overgrown Beech hedging. This is a great place to find birds foraging; listen out and there may still be some late nesters still singing. Take the path through this wood that goes through to the little Victorian cottage in the Uni. car park. Soon to be occupied by the “preferred buyer” of the Uni mansion site; this was once the home of Colonel North’s Stud Groom. In day’s gone by this was the hub of Col. North’s racing stables. His most famous being Nunthorpe who won the Jubilee Stakes at Kempton Park in 1891. The single story brick built stables can still be seen just west of the Groom’s cottage. To the best of my knowledge this is the last bit of agricultural architecture in the borough that hasn’t been either converted or demolished! Look out for the Black Mulberry tree just in front of the stable block. If you’re in luck there may even be some berries on it! Just behind the stables at the junction of the 2 arms of the building is an ancient horse Chestnut; planted by North’s predecessor, James Boyd and now around 180 years old.
Ringlet Butterfly (under side of wings)
Wander back towards the Uni. along the edge of the car park and look out for the Ringlet butterfly, a little brown butterfly with a series of rings along its under-wing. This is a recent migrant in the UK; I guess because of our old friend “Global warming”! On your left is another fine old oak tree, again a James Boyd planting, it’s about 175 years old. Before you turn right at the bottom of the brick steps up to the road to the café; look about you and notice the difference in height between the uni. car park and the road down to the café.
Ringlet Butterfly - Upper side of wings
You are in a little valley cut by the Eltham Warren stream, a headwater for the river Shuttle. Yes you’re quite right; there is no sight or sound of this little steam anymore! James Boyd put it in a brick built culvert that runs beneath your feet! If you’re really curious you can still see the inspection pit surrounded by some ancient railings if you peer down through the undergrowth from the road. On the Uni site to the east there’s an interesting building with a clock tower on top. This used to be Colonel North’s carriage and riding horse stables. It had a revolving door to the carriage room and central heating for the horses; they even had a sauna for the horses in the basement! When this building became a teachers’ training college in the early years of the last century it was converted into a science block. What will happen to it in the 21st century I wonder?
Walk through the council car-park and take time to look at the brick wall along the north of the “Rose garden”. Col. North’s Vine house was here and if you look carefully you can still see brick arches where the vine roots went. Take the path up the steps past the small shed, to the West house of the Winter Garden. Once housing a lovely “jungle” of banana, tea, coffee and ginger plants; ruined by the heating failure a decade ago, it looks almost derelict now. Beneath your feet are two Victorian curiosities. The raised area covers a rainwater storage tank harvesting the run-off from the Winter Garden roof. Between this and the Uni buildings is another underground room lined with shelving for Rhubarb and Mushroom growing. More about Avery Hill’s treasures next month!