There are not many places in London where can you walk from the source of a river to the point where it flows into a tributary. You can in South East London. The source of the River Shuttle lies between Pippenhall and Conduit Meadows in Eltham. It flows in an easterly direction and into the River Cray close to Hall Place in Bexley. The walk is well signposted and there are areas in which the river can be seen and in some it is hidden underground.
As you walk across Avery Hill Park you will not see the river it is in an underground channel or culvert. In Victorian and Edwardian times rivers were diverted, often underground, which created a network of lost urban rivers. In recent years more rivers have been restored or ‘daylighted” as this helps to reduce flood risk and increases bio-diversity. The river emerges at the far end of the green space on the Alderwood Estate. Restoring Avery Hill Park to wetlands would certainly give the parkland more interest. The Quaggy has been restored and is now a major feature in Sutcliffe Park Eltham.
From Alderwood the river runs in a channel along a residential road and then into parkland. A long ribbon of meadow, of variable width, follows its path. This in itself is astonishing; that there are approximately 10 miles of meadow in South East London. On the water’s edge are nettles, coarse grasses, canary grass, sedge and soft rush. This vegetation provides shelter for small animals as well as food for birds and insects.
The alders that run along the banks of the river are renowned as the best in London and give the name to the estate and the primary school. Other native trees along the banks are weeping willows, Lombardy Poplars and whitebeam. You will have walked about 4 miles by the time you get to Bexley Woods. If your feet are tired you can relieve them by putting alder leaves into your shoes. This and other folklore stories in on a helpful information board. A great urban walk.