|Location Map ( geo)|
|From:||Elephant & Castle (TQ319789)|
|Distance:||9.5 miles (15.3 km)|
|Meets:||A3, A202, A2217, A2216, A2214, A2199, A205, A214, A212, A213, A222, A232|
|Route outline (key)|
The A215 is a fairly long, straight and direct route by South London standards, and yet still - because of the nature of transport in this part of the world - not a road that many of its users would ever travel end-to-end. It's easy to forget just how big the urban area of London is: the A215 starts well short of Central London, and finishes some distance shy of the green belt, and yet still notches up nearly ten miles of suburban driving in between with very few twists and turns.
Elephant & Castle - Tulse Hill
Elephant was, for many years, a double-roundabout maelstrom of nightmarishly high-speed traffic. Its five-armed northern roundabout is still there, and still as frightening as ever; its southern one was always a smaller and less frightening affair, three-armed and decidedly triangular in shape and forming the junction where the A215 branched off the A3. It was swept away altogether in 2010 and replaced with a big signalised junction that remains distinctly roundabouty in shape but is much more sedate in character.
The A215's first order of business is to pass under the Blackfriars to West Croydon Railway, which we will parallel all the way to Tulse Hill. The road swings right to begin its long and more-or-less straight run towards Camberwell. Soon the speed limit reduces to 20mph and an extensive (but largely ineffectual) traffic calming scheme runs for the length of Walworth's commercial district. The speed picks up again where the 20 limit ends, but the town-centre feel continues with large blocks of flats to either side and shops lining the road for some time yet. Burgess Park (named after a local councillor) provides some green relief to the left. There's some evidence, now and then, that Southwark had an interest in widening this road once upon a time, and here and there it becomes substantially wider for a short while before narrowing back down again.
Before long we arrive at Camberwell Green, a square of parkland on the left that once formed a one way system. The eastern side has now been returned to a traffic-calmed residential street, and so the junction with the A202 is - as it must originally have been - a simple crossroads. The direction signs here show silhouettes of butterflies on either side of the junction's name, and other butterflies can be seen here and there referenced in, for example, the name of the shopping centre. It turns out there is a species of butterfly called the Camberwell Beauty which is clearly a source of some local pride.
The junction here is chaos and immediately afterwards the road narrows sharply, which is most inconvenient as this short section is carrying a large amount of traffic wanting to turn off at the A2217 Coldharbour Lane. An elaborate (and badly signposted) journey through one-way streets on the left must be made to perform that right turn. Those of us staying on the A215 can, thankfully, just continue ahead. From here the boundary between the London Boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark follows our route, and we'll continue to note the slight differences between Southwark (on the left) and Lambeth (on the right) until we've passed Herne Hill. As we begin to climb, we pass the Maudsley Hospital set in grounds on the left and the vast Kings College Hospital on the right.
A set of traffic lights come immediately after the railway bridge over Denmark Hill station, and here the improbably named A2216 Champion Park bears off to the left, taking with it traffic bound for East Dulwich and Forest Hill. There are often a few Salvation Army personnel to be seen here, as the William Booth Memorial College is just off to the left as well. To the right, a gate provides a secluded entrance to Ruskin Park.
After the lights the road climbs very steeply indeed. As it levels out there's further evidence of Southwark's ambitions for this road, as it widens to a full dual carriageway and continues in that manner all the way to Half Moon Lane. From these traffic lights, the street name changes to Herne Hill, and we begin dropping down again until we reach the town centre of the same name.
The traffic lights here control a complex junction where the A215 and A2214 cross over and the B222 terminates. Neither of the A-roads here follows the obvious straight-through path, and the railway that's been tracking us all this way chooses this inopportune moment to cross over our path. The direction signs here are somewhat lacking, so you'll have to place your faith in your navigator and turn right under the railway and then left. The next section is decidedly pleasant, with some of Herne Hill's interesting shops on the left (including Olley's award-winning fish and chips) and the decidedly handsome Brockwell Park behind iron railings on the right. The A2199 Croxted Road bears off to the left at a set of lights, bound for the heady thrills of Gipsy Hill and Crystal Palace, and takes the Lambeth-Southwark boundary with it. The A215 continues ahead, entirely within Lambeth now, leaving the park behind and running through a district of once-grand Victorian townhouses. The road leads gently uphill now and meets the A205 South Circular Road at a set of traffic lights beside the faded grandeur of the Tulse Hill Tavern.
Despite the traffic lights, the whole of Tulse Hill town centre is really a gyratory system to service the interchange of the A204, A205 and A215. Northbound traffic must navigate three sides of it, but as we travel south our journey allows us to just continue straight ahead into Norwood Road.
Tulse Hill - Shirley
Leaving the gyratory behind, the A215 passes under the railway from Blackfriars for the last time. We are now in West Norwood and to begin with the road seems thicker with traffic than it has been since we left Camberwell, but a few sets of traffic lights later and this problem eases with the start of the one way system. Once upon a time, this was the fork of two separate roads; the B232 Norwood High Street going up the left side of St Luke's Church and the A215 Knight's Hill going right. Today that fork has become a triangular gyratory system and so we pass to the left of the church regardless of our destination. Northbound traffic approaches us from the right-hand fork.
To the left just here are some unassuming gates set in a high brick wall. This is the main entrance to West Norwood Cemetery, once the South Metropolitan Cemetery and one of the "Magnificent Seven" established in the early 19th century as London's population underwent rapid expansion and the existing church graveyards were overwhelmed. Today it makes for a peaceful (if slightly macabre) place to explore on foot and escape the noise and rush of South London.
Continuing southwards, we pass under the railway by West Norwood station (though, thanks to the sloping land here, northbound traffic on the other side of the one-way system passes over it), and to stay on the A215 turn first right into Ernest Avenue and then left to rejoin Knights Hill. The road climbs steadily now and we from here the surroundings strongly suggest we have passed from inner London to outer London. A crossroads called Crown Hill lies at the top of the ascent, and here we meet the A214 Crown Dale. This road also marks the boundary where we cross into the London Borough of Croydon, where we will remain until the end of the road.
The next section, running through increasingly affluent and grand houses, is named Beulah Hill, though it remains quite noticeably flat as we run for a time along a ridge, with streets on both sides sloping down away from us. Gaps in the buildings on the right reveal an extensive view across the tower blocks of Croydon and the North Downs.
At Beaulah Heights, the A212 crosses at a staggered junction, suffering an identity crisis that will continue to grip it all the way down to Thornton Heath, and after the traffic signals under the Croydon Transmitter mast, the A215 begins to slowly descend again. This is South Norwood Hill, a long and much less steep hill than some we have already traversed. Part way along another set of signals greets the B266 Whitehorse Lane, and shortly afterwards the surroundings become more built-up and much less leafy as we reach South Norwood. This area reputedly had the busiest police station in the Metropolitan Police area, though it remains more salubrious than some of the northern reaches of the A215, at least in appearance. The police station closed in 2012 because of budget cuts.
Another set of traffic lights patrol the small and rather cramped crossroads where the A213 Selhurst Road crosses over, and the A215 completes its descent, passing under the London Bridge to Croydon Railway with a low bridge that has been the unhappy terminus of many double decker buses. A spur of the A213 meets us just afterwards; this is the badly signed route for overheight traffic.
From here, the A215 is known as Portland Road, a street of small terraces that could be anywhere in Croydon. A few bends bring us to a traffic light junction where the road ahead is the B243, and A-road traffic must turn left into Spring Lane. A bridge (with inexplicable central reservation) carries this broad street over the Croydon Tramlink line to Elmer's End before it stops at the A222. The A215 follows this road for a short while, so a right at this set of traffic lights and a left at the next will carry us past Ashburton Park and into Shirley Road - the name of the street indicating that the A215 has nearly reached its destination.
This road is almost straight and, at the next roundabout, a dual carriageway lies straight ahead, giving false hope that the road continues even further towards the countryside. No such luck, unfortunately: the A232 is the road ahead, bound for West Wickham and Orpington. The A215 can take you no further.
The A215 remains on precisely the routing it was given in 1923, with only very slight deviations made at the one-way systems it encounters at Tulse Hill and West Norwood.
What has changed much more are the roads it encounters: while the physical highway network of South London has changed little over the years, the classification of its streets have changed again and again as traffic flows increased. So it is that the A215 used to meet a number of roads that are now, sadly, no more.
At Herne Hill, the B225 came down Croxted Road instead of the A2199. Before the A212 was extended south from Crystal Palace, it was the B231 which crossed over at Beaulah Heights. And most remarkably of all, one of the busiest junctions of the route - Tulse Hill - was once not the bustling A205 South Circular Road, but instead just the quiet and innocent B228. How times change.