The Garden Guide

Book: London Parks and Gardens, 1907
Chapter: Chapter 8 Commons and Open Spaces

Bostall Woods

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One of the most thoroughly rural spots within the London area is Bostall Wood. There is nothing to spoil the illusion, and for quite a considerable walk it would be easy to imagine that a journey on the magic horse of the "Arabian Nights" had been taken to some distant forest land, to forget that the roar of the town was barely out of one's ears, and that ten minutes' walk would take one, out of the enchanted land, back to suburban villas and electric trams. Beyond the inevitable band-stand, which attracts thousands on a summer Sunday evening, there is nothing to jar, and spoil the illusion of real country. The woods, and Bostall Heath which adjoins them, can be reached from Plumstead or Abbey Wood Station, in twenty minutes' walk up the steep hill. Pine woods crest the summit, and below them stretches a delightful thicket chiefly of oaks and sweet chestnut, with an undergrowth of holly and a pleasant tangle of bracken and bramble, where the blackbirds, chaffinches, and robins call to each other and flit across the path. Steep slopes, and valleys, and hollows clothed with trees, give possibilities of real rambles, in a truly sylvan scene. Under the pines, which are tall enough to produce that soothing, soughing sound even in the most gentle breeze, the carpet of pine needles is cushioned here and there with patches of vivid green moss where the moisture has penetrated. Beyond the Wood lies the Heath, studded with birch trees, among gorse and bracken. There are narrow gullies and glades, like miniature "gates" or "gwyles" of the sea coast, and at the foot of the Heath lie the marshes, often in the soft light as blue as the sea, and the silver Thames, a bright streak across the picture, chequered with the red sails of the barges, and tall masts of the more stately ships. The whole area of woods and common is only about 133 acres, but the varied surface, and the distant views from it, make it appear of larger extent. It is little known to most Londoners, although the Heath was purchased as far back as 1877, and the Wood bought by the London County Council in 1891. The place, however, is much frequented and duly appreciated by the neighbouring population. This peaceful country-side could be reached within an hour, from any point in the City. It is attractive at all times of the year, especially in spring, when the green is pale and the young brackens, soft and downy, are uncurling their fronds, and the dark firs stand up in sharp contrast to the tender greens. Or, perhaps, still more delightful is it in autumn, when "Red o'er the forest gleams the setting sun," and the oaks have turned a rich russet, and the birches, of brilliant yellow, shower their tiny leaves on the mossy earth, like the golden showers which fell on Danac in her prison. The attractive wood-clad hills of Bostall are the most remote of all London's open spaces. They lie the furthest east on the fringe of the suburbs. From Bostall westward roofs and chimney-pots become continuous- Woolwich, Greenwich, Deptford, Bermondsey, Southwark getting more and more densely crowded. But westward also begins the chain of commons which circle the town round the southern border-with breaks, it is true, yet so nearly continuous that from the highest point of one, the view almost ranges on to the next.