The Boroughers 24/02/18: Bromley The Crystal Maze

Hi, hey, hello. Welcome aboard the 6th instalment of The Boroughers, a year-long journey to each of London’s boroughs ostensibly in search of culture. Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, is actually going to announce the Borough Of Culture 2019 and 2020 in just a few days from now, but that won’t stop my girlfriend Helen and I from gallivanting around and passing our own judgement. As you saw above, this time around we went to Bromley.


The London Borough of Bromley is London’s heftiest borough, taking up a giant chunk of the south east – 59 square miles or something. Visiting it 6th balances our north/south divide at 3 apiece, after the hat-trick of Harrow, Barnet, and Tower Hamlets which collectively did not exactly form a Northern Powerhouse. As it happens Bromley did not submit a bid to the Borough of Culture scheme, but if they hoped that would stop Helen and I from visiting they were sorely mistaken.

Bromley ain’t tiny.


What did we know about Bromley before we went there? Well, on the Friday night we watched a few Bromley-based videos on YouTube and read a few web pages about the Borough and were delighted to learn these things:

  • Bromley has more gritting lorries than any other London borough
  • The term “spend a penny” for needing a piss originated from how much it cost to visit the reading rooms (thanks, Victorian prudishness) at the Crystal Palace, built at Hyde Park but then moved to Bromley
  • The world’s largest amosite mine is called “Penge” because a British director of the mining firm thought the part of South Africa in which it is situated looked a bit like that part of London.


So, off we go then. Being a Saturday, I headed out first to do parkrun (my 194th, and 5th fastest) while Helen prepared the picnic, a now traditional part of our day. Once ready, Buster assured us he’d be OK sunbathing in our absence.

The contents of the picnic were kept secret from me. Actually the first bit had been eaten on Friday night, a chocolate nest with a chocolate “dinosaur” (Easter) egg in it; this was preposterously messy and, having come out of the fridge, tooth-shatteringly hard. Not a great start. And now on Saturday morning, I’m told to keep a firm grip on the paper plates. Helen is nervous about whether this will actually live up to the standards she’s been promising.

There’s actually two sets of sandwiches, rather than the more traditional one. They are fantastically branded. This is looking good.

Lo and behold, we’ve got dinosaur shaped sandwiches split between spicy cheese and ham, both with carrot. Awesome. And they taste great, too. She’s pulled a winner out of the bag here, the only downside of which is that subsequent picnics have way too bloody much to live up to.

Beneath the dinosaur puns and the dinosaur shaped sandwiches are hand-drawn legit mazes, like a McDs happy meal or summat. I solve them both without a single backtrack or mistake at my first attempt, because I fucking rule. Or something.

The rest of the journey is not quite as fun. At Clapham Junction we nip out for a quick vape-and-change-payment-method break, and then get on a train to Crystal Palace from platform 15. As the train comes in a bloke semi-barges between me and Helen, seemingly just trying to get on quicker like a rush hour arsehole. But then he sits directly opposite us and stares directly at her, mouthing the word “bitch” over and over again. “Shall we move seats?”, yeah, let’s. It’s really bloody unnerving. Thankfully he doesn’t block us or say anything or follow us, in fact when I glance back he hasn’t even diverted his gaze from the seat where Helen was, but even so fucking hell. We actually debate jumping off somewhere just to avoid the guy in case he wants to cause some shit, but he gets off at Balham and whew. That was really unpleasant. We can only surmise the guy is off his head, or ill.

But, it’s over, and not long until we arrive at Crystal Palace. Wow, this station is pretty impressive.

Despite spending many hours watching Wimbledon FC play at Crystal Palace FC’s ground in the late 90s and early 00s, I’d never actually been to Crystal Palace itself. First impressions are good.

Second impressions are good too; being in the beautiful south, there are signs. We like signs, especially when they are immediately outside the station and pointing us to exactly the things we’re interested in visiting. Dinosaurs, see? Them sandwiches weren’t quite so random as you might surmise.

But first, there’s a big fuck off transmitting tower to gawp at. This one.

That’ll be the Crystal Palace transmitting station, not surprisingly. I’m a little disappointed the air isn’t pulsing in the shape of steadily increasing brackets from either side, but whatever.

It’s windy and cold as we wander around the remains of the Palace, which was destroyed by fire in 1936. There’s lots of stone bits still around, including sphinxes. Why are there sphinxes?

I mean, I don’t really care why there are sphinxes. In fact it gives us a good chance to participate in SPHINX TRANSMITTER SELFIE MADNESS.

There were bearded men with flat caps filming something around the first sphinx pair, so we didn’t hang around. Ascending yet more stairs and a hill, there’s a replica of a single corner of the actual palace situated at a fairly nice vantage point.

“Check out this Palace corner!”, says Helen.

A few more steps away and there’s the Crystal Palace museum. It only opens on Sundays. Bugger. Also one of the many maps of the park, which makes it look like a big shield.

At the very top, just behind the bus station, is a flower garden in which the flowers are just starting to bloom. I can’t remember the names of any of them, but am told to go admire them for the camera.

Caution: admiration in progress

As it happens, our original plan for Bromley was to visit Xmas Tree Farm, which has the most staggering website in the world and I sincerely recommend you all visit it for the experience (though perhaps not if you have epilepsy): http://xmastreefarm.co.uk But the discovery that Crystal Palace park is in Bromley and not Croydon as I’d long assumed was the cause of our change of plan and, wonderfully, also gave us the chance to seek out a welcome sign.

Oh my god, what a hilariously awful welcome sign. Look at it! It’s just like a normal road sign, and Bromley’s logo and slogan are both shit. “The London Borough”? What on earth is that meant to mean? They’re all London boroughs. I’m wondering if the council meetings are like those for Stonybridge in Absolutely back in the day. “Stonybridge! There’s a stony bridge!”

Anyway. That’s enough standing-in-Lewisham, facing Doris The Florist. Back into the park for more sweeping views of where the world’s largest building used to stand.

In the corner there’s a henge. Those of you who read and recall our first Boroughering adventure at the start of January in Lewisham may remember my excitement about the henge in Hilly Fields. Well, check this bad boy out...

Er, oh. This is a shit henge. I wonder if by sitting and contemplating it a bit (having been instructed to do so) I can connect with the ancients and gain some profound insights into life, the universe, and everything.

No, I can’t. It’s just a bench next to a shit henge. Poor show, Bromley, poor show.

Well, the henge was a bonus; we had no idea it would be there, so I can’t be too angry about it. Let’s go to the farm and stare at some alpacas and meerkats.

This is Crystal Palace park farm, or “mini farm” as the sign by the station had said. It’s attached to a college, Capel Manor, and used to educate people in topics such as “plantsmanship” which apparently is an actual thing. The happy goat above sunbathes while taking precisely no notice of any of the visitors. Don’t blame him. All his goat and sheep mates are at the other end of the pen, eating and also ignoring us visitors.

There’s a black metal rabbit, which is metal as fuck.

There’s signs around the place telling you what animals you should expect to see, if they’re not currently inside a hutch or whatever. Or if they don’t actually have them despite promising them on the website, like meerkats. You bastards!

And in comic fucking sans too, adding insult to injury.

Up at the top level there are groups of people flouting all the rules about no food and drink, no scooters, no shouting, no running. We peek inside the bit where the ferret is asleep in a hammock at the back, because apparently that’s all ferrets do.

Then the “aviary”, which is just a bunch of ducks and a few unimpressive chickens.

He doesn’t like being called unimpressive, mind.

Then, aha! An owl! Helen loves owls and I’m a fan too. Let’s look at the owl!

Nope. Can’t see him. Fucks sake. Still, at least we’ve still got an alpaca to come.

This sign is not on the pony enclosure

And before we know it, we’re done. Wait, what? Where’s the fucking alpacas? God damn it I’m so angry. The website definitely says they’ve got alpacas and meerkats, which is a bit different to no alpacas and a “meerkats coming soon” sign. LIARS! LIARS!

NB. Checking the website this morning, to ensure I’m throwing my abuse righteously, there is no mention of alpacas or meerkats, but Helen assures me it definitely promised them as recently as a few days ago, so there.

Well, that was a shit farm, the worst yet. But hopefully the dinosaurs can impress us more than the living animals.

Dinosaurs, you say? Yep, dinosaurs. Crystal Palace park has a shitload of dinosaurs around the lake, all built in the 1800s by Richard Owen. In fact he coined the term “dinosaur”, and this was the world’s first exhibit of them. Basically this was a big fucking deal – they took a bunch of bones and recreated what all these animals must’ve looked like back in the day.


And y’know what? These things are fucking fantastic. Just a bunch of weird looking dinosaurs that our modern eyes don’t quite recognise – no diplodocus, T Rex, stegosaurus, etc – because they’re comedically inaccurate. Back then they really didn’t have much of a clue and had to guess a lot, because full skeletons hadn’t really been found. So here, the info plaques tell you what you’re looking at as well as what these animals actually looked like, based on more up to date science.

You can’t get proper up close and personal with any of them, except the disembodied head at the start, because they’re all on islands in the lake around here. Next to the monkey puzzle trees.

And, there’s really nothing much to be said except how much fun it is walking around here on a nice sunny day. These things are wonderful. Yeah, we’re laughing a bit at the inaccuracy, but it’s also great to appreciate just what a step forwards in paleontology this was, and to place them outdoors rather than some sterile musem. “We’ve built a load of dinosaurs near Penge, everyone come have a look!”

Argh! Dinosaurs!

Eventually, and somewhat sadly, they stop, and it’s merely a pleasant lake.

So now it’s time to have a crack at talking to living animals again. Here, squirrel, come have a word will you?

No, I don’t have any food, it was all a con to get you to stand up.

But then, oh, hang on, there’s some kind of big fucking off dinosaur reindeer thing!

Then it really does stop, because we reach the end of the lake. There are many ducks, and many signs saying “if you’re gonna feed the ducks, don’t feed them bread”.

Pond life

I’m a bit thirsty, but we’ve read that the cafe (“open all day, every day”) is not open today, because it’s being refurbished. That seems to be a bit of an understatement, to be honest.

“Please excuse our appearance”

We’re in the heart of the park now, by the main path forming the centre of the shield on the map. There are loads of random things dotted around. Like, this rock.

And this gorilla.

And this ... bell thing. No idea, and no explanatory plaque.

Just beyond the lake we’d popped into the information centre where a friendly man had told us what things we were yet to see, plus how impressive a restoration job had recently been done on the sphinxes and dinosaurs. He also sold us some “jubbly”, which is what they call duck food, and was very keen to impress upon us how amazing the skate park just up the way is. There’s a lot of skaters there, sure, but we can’t figure out how to actually get close to it.

We stop at a van to buy smoothies and flapjacks which are as unimpressive as they are expensive, and follow the path towards our next designated stop: the maze. By now I am angry as fuck, “heh, bit cold innit!” cheer subisding as quickly as the feeling in my hands and being replaced by “STOP BEING SO UNREASONABLY FREEZING BASTARD COLD AND WINDY” rage. For fucks sake. Right, here’s the fucking maze, let’s just get this shit over with.

Turns out it’s not windy in the maze, and therefore not cold, and my rage dissipates immediately. Good. I allow Helen to drive and the very first choice, at the entrance, is left or right: we go right, and it’s a dead end. Oops.

So we go left, and then in, and then do that stuff you do when you’re in mazes: make decisions and junctions, retrace steps, get led in circles, become frsutrated at how this maze – the hedges of which are below shoulder height, and all wintery and sparse – can be so difficult to solve. Damn it!

After a couple of manifest mistakes I take over, and like the boastful twat I am immediately lead us to great progress and the other side of the maze. We skirt around the corridor bordering the victorious centre, tantalisingly close, and exchange “how is this so difficult?” remarks with another couple. I’m not immune to finding dead ends meself, but eventually we make it to the centre. Success!

Hurrah! Helen is exceedingly pleased with our victory.

I wouldn’t mind trying to find our way out the same way, but she insists we take the “escape route” straight line back to the start. Well OK then.

Back outside and I’m freezing fucking cold again. Stop being so cold!

Now, we’re at a disused stage in front of another little pond. According to the info guy, Bob Marley and the Wailers once played here. There are large speakers and lighting rigs flanking the big concrete thing and that. The pond is mostly frozen over, and the ducks we want to feed are on the other side. Come here! Oh, OK, we’ll come to you.

Obviously, once we get to the other side the ducks have fucked off to where we first stood. Damn it! But there’s a coot to throw jubbly at, and the ducks notice and slowly head over. We’ve tons of feed so keep throwing and throwing.

At this point I am fucking livid at my phone, which has decided to disable itself and refuse to let me unlock it for 15 minutes. It’s been in my pocket all the time except for when I’m taking photos, so why the fuck it thinks I’ve failed authorisation repeatedly is beyond me.


Eventually a seagull comes along too, and he’s really hungry.

Having literally thrown away all the duck food, we wander back past a headless statue, then a statue of a head.

The head is of Paxton, the bloke who was MP around here and also invented the palace ‘n that. Quite important. His bust is in the middle of a car park next to the National Sports Centre. Despite sport being officially NOT CULTURAL according to the rules of the Borough of Culture, I still want to enjoy checking out the facilities because it’s pretty impressive. World records got broken on the track around here! And look, there’s a load of people playing hockey.

Pretty much in-keeping with the whole park, it’s got this air of “bit shit, but not awful” about it. Basically the entire place is a mishmash of randomness, none of which are spectacular and none of which are really awful. The paths are uneven and often gravelly, the dinosaurs are inaccurate, the farm is shit, the athletics stadium has seen better days, the gorilla and bell are random. There’s no overarching theme to the park, and it’s endearing.

Our last stop is to stare at a Shetland pony from afar, and then we exit for the last time, past the station. I’ve done my research for beer, and that means going to the Douglas Fir up on Anerley Road for craft beer ‘n that.

Unexpectedly, I completely love it. They are having a takeover by Signature Brew and the coffee porter is spectacular. There are only 3 other punters, all solo and keeping themselves to themselves. It’s small and quiet, background music at just the right level

On the wall is an art exhibition, “Dino Island and the Lake”, a bunch of photos taken by two local photographers of all the stuff we’ve just seen. I make the mistake of reading the spiel about the exhibit as a whole, and have to stop at the bit when it says she “gravitated towards the healing power of water”. Pfft. Apparently had I read about the other artist I would’ve been less turned off, because the most desperately-seeking-profundity thing about him was “once took a photo of Eddie Izzard”.

Now we had a bit of a problem. Everything on our list for Bromley was complete, but we hadn’t eaten (the flapjack from the calorie cart doesn’t count) nor had we used any intra-borough transport, a subject close to Helen’s heart. Thankfully, during our beer stop, Helen had discovered we were quite close to a shit canal.

This is the last remaining piece of the Croydon canal, a hopeless piece of waterway engineering in the 1800s where they decided to build a canal through loads of not-suitable-for-canal-building terrain. It was rarely used, and railways came along soon after anyway.

At the big junction just near the Anerley Aldi, we get to Penge. There’s no welcome, it’s just PENGE.

When I were a lot younger than what I is now, I read the odd bit of fiction, and in particular I recall reading the 4-part Brentford Trilogy by Robert Rankin. He long claimed that Penge didn’t exist, based on the fact that trains from Victoria (or was it London Bridge?) used to always be at pains to point out that they would not be stopping at Penge East/West. I recall this exact phenomenon from my youth, so it was a bit remarkable to actually enter a place claiming to be a Penge that exists.

We were really pretty hungry by now, and Helen had heard about an Italian restaurant that was meant to be good around here. We found it, and it was shut. I suggested “you always know what you get in a Wetherspoons” – which I maintain is true, in every good and bad way – but she said we should “be brave”. So we walked up the high street and took a brief break to look at some murals/graffiti.

Next to here is a brewery with a tap room. It’s currently closed, and will reopen next week. Damn you, Southey!

At the top of the high street is a genuinely historic pub called the Crooked Billet, but we can’t get a photo because holy jesus it looks sketchy as fuck and the smokers outside would probably not appreciate our snapping. So we wander further up, failing to find anywhere to eat or drink except for a wide selection of no-sit-down takeaways. One of them is “Maaleys”, a fake Morley’s reminiscent of Lewisham.

Between two bridges, each carrying trains, there’s a pub! Let’s go take a look in there, please? I’ve had enough of being outside in Penge, which not only exists but is cold and shit.

This is a good move. We get a seat, though the place is heaving and noisy because it’s full of middle class white folk like us except not like us, because we’re not using the nearest decent pub as a place to descend upon on Saturday afternoon to show off our latest child. Seriously it’s like a fucking creche, but the drink is decent and I’m a big fan of my burger, as well as the leftover mac and cheese Helen donates to me.

The table next to us is populated first by a couple of lads who I think may be on their first date, since they’re saying things like “yeah, normally I like my hair shorter and beard longer” and other learn-about-the-person smalltalk that mates wouldn’t bother with; when they leave, a woman sits there with a dog that alternates barking incessantly at all the other dogs, and begging Helen for some macaroni.

In the gents toilet I am compelled to take a photo. Don’t panic.

In lieu of a mirror, I am very amused.

The only thing left for us to do, now, is some intra-borough transport. We’re within walking distance of Crystal Palace station tbh, but a 227 comes to the nearest bus stop as soon as we approach – too soon for us to even get a photo – and we jump on. Hello, Bromley bus.

We get off one stop early, deciding very late to get a few twilight close-up shots of the transmission tower. It does look very cool, tbh.

Also around here we can sneak a quick look at the entrance to the Crystal Palace subway, which is sadly not open to the public. There used to be another train station up here, “Crystal Palace (high level)”.

When browsing a map in the pub, my phone had also said that the bus station up here near the pitiful welcome sign was actually the Edible Bus Station. What? No, seriously, we looked it up and there’s this whole thing called Edible Bus Stop which seems to be a project to make bus stops less brutal and more, er, allotment-y, and at Crystal Palace they made a big deal about doing this stuff back in 2015, look here.

Er, yeah. They don’t seem to be taking much care of it these days. Shame, it’s a nice idea. Anyway, calling back to the fact about gritters, here’s some grit.

All them gritters need grit.

We’re now back at the welcome sign and, in fact, multiple borders: this road junction is where Croydon, Lambeth, Lewisham, and Bromley all meet. Sticking on the Bromley side, we can see a coffee shop celebrating this location over in Croydon.

Our vague intent was to look at a few antiques shops, but they’re all shut and not in Bromley. So we walk past some nice looking pubs and eateries that we wish we’d found earlier instead of trekking to fucking Penge, and then wander through some mixed housing and past some art. Also we argue a lot about where we are. All the residents wheelie bins say Bromley, because we’re in Bromley, but Helen swears fucking blind that we’re in Croydon. We’re not.

Back down the hill we’re at Crystal Palace station again, with 90 seconds until the train. No-one scowls at us or causes any other unpleasantness en route to Clapham Junction, and with Bromley over we’re able to distil everything we’ve done into a few numbers.

Judgement Day

Yes, it’s time to rank Bromley out of 42, by each scoring Bromley out of 7 for “fun”, “learning”, and “nice”.


  • Fun: 5. Too fucking cold and I’m holding Bromley responsible. Also the farm lied.
  • Learning: 5. Dinosaurs good, “existence of Penge” less so.
  • Nice: 5. It all went downhill once we left the park; unimpressed by Anerley and Penge.


  • Fun: 6. Dinosaurs and a-maze! Point deducted for absent alpaca.
  • Learning: 4. Didn’t learn that much other than to avoid Balham.
  • Nice: 6. Park is about as nice as it gets. Point deducted for poor welcome sign.

So that’s 31/42 in total, making it (at the time of writing) joint second with Lewisham. And next time I’ll try and do the write-up quicker, shall I? I dunno, some people...

Didn’t anonymise this very well, did I?
Created By
Darren Foreman

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