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Due South for an Exploration of Dulwich

Through the leafy lanes and woods of Dulwich, where explorer Ernest Shackleton went to college.

Distance 3.5 miles (5.7km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 164ft (50m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Tarmac paths and some woodland tracks

Landscape Village of Dulwich and its woodlands

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 161 London South

Start/finish TQ 328731; West Dulwich rail

Dog friendliness Keep on lead near lake

Parking Some in roads near station

Public toilets None on route

1 From West Dulwich Station turn right along Thurlow Park Road, cross the road and turn right, just after passing the playing fields, into College Road.

2 Follow the road past the toll gate, and after a further 550 yds (503m) find a path on your left, practically opposite Sydenham Hill Station. Walk through the kissing gate and along Low Cross Wood Lane, which descends quite steeply to reach another gate. Opposite this is an Italianate building, the Dulwich Wood House (now converted into a pub).

3 Turn left into Crescent Wood Road and, opposite a block of flats, go through another kissing gate into Sydenham Woods, a nature reserve managed by the London Wildlife Trust. Walk down the slope and turn right down the steps. Follow the track and, where another one meets it, bear to the right of a wooden marker, to the left of which are some ruins. Next bear left and, a few steps further on, you will pass a pond. Turn right to join a long path that follows the trackbed of an old railway. (If you'd like to see the remains of the old railway tunnel, turn left here and then retrace your steps.) Where the path ends go up some steps on the left and bear right to follow a row of wooden posts. There are some good views across London from here. Go through a kissing gate and continue ahead, ignoring the bridge on your right, along the wide Cox's Walk, a path that passes the golf course.

4 At the end turn left, along Dulwich Common Road. After 440yds (402m) turn right into Dulwich Park. Take the wide tarmac path on the left, past the park lodge. Where some paths meet take the central path, then bear right, with the lake on your right. A few paces beyond a bronze statue, cross the bridge over the lake, bear right and take the path to the park gates, towards a white building in College Road.

5 Turn left and cross the road to visit the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Continue along this road. At Dulwich Common turn right to retrace your steps back to West Dulwich Station.

Dulwich is one of London's oldest recorded villages - it only became a part of London when the city was expanded administratively. A few minutes from the South Circular, Dulwich is still a world apart from the capital. While the famed Dulwich College may be its centrepiece, this is only the tip of the iceberg, for there are some quaint medieval lanes to explore and Dulwich Woods, not to mention the village itself and its many restaurants.

The attractive buildings of Dulwich College are made of a deep-red brick that resembles terracotta. The college was built in 1618 to educate poor boys. Edward Alleyn, a prominent actor at the time and owner of two Bankside playhouses, financed the project. Even today, former pupils are known as 'Old Alleynians'.

Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922) was educated at Dulwich College for three years. As his family lived in nearby Sydenham he was a day pupil, but he left, aged 16, to join the Merchant Navy. Ten years later he joined the 1901-4 British expedition to the South Pole, led by Captain Scott. At the age of 33, while leading his own gruelling expedition, he came within 97 miles (156km) of the South Pole. Despite this failure, it was Shackleton's dogged and inspirational leadership which won him respect. Determined not to repeat Scott's tragic mistakes, he led his team safely out of the Antarctic with no loss of life.

The toll gate on College Road dates from 1789 and has a board indicating that the pre-decimalisation amount payable for cars to pass here was 6d (2½ new pence). You'll have to pay somewhat more for that privilege now, though it's free for pedestrians. This is the last toll gate in use in London. It was erected by a farmer who once rented the surrounding fields from Dulwich College, and they continued the tradition after his death.

What to look for

If you go down to Sydenham Woods in spring, you will probably notice the unmistakable odour of ramsons, also known as wild garlic. The plant is part of the lily family and its bright green leaves are shaped like spears. The long stalks resemble stars and are also used for medicinal purposes.

While you're there

If you'd like to visit England's oldest public picture gallery, head for Dulwich Picture Gallery in College Road. It actually dates from 1626 but was later re-designed by John Soane and has a magnificent collection of Old Masters and 18th-century paintings.

Where to eat and drink

The Crown and Greyhound in Dulwich village is a pub of monstrous proportions but it has a friendly, unassuming air. One of the bars, serving Old Speckled Hen, Tetley's and Young's, contains Victorian prints, gas lamps and an ornate ceiling. The former billiards room is now a self-service restaurant with wooden kitchen tables. The large portions of home-made food include a vegetarian option.

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