Hidden treasures: The Tarn in Eltham

OK, before I start I just know some will be scoffing. Hidden treasure? Well, many people in my experience do not seem to know about this place so yep, I’m going with that headline.

Anyway, now I’ve hopefully preempted the inevitable comments, what is the Tarn and where is it? Well, it’s a bird sanctuary just over the road from Mottingham station (though the address is Court Road, Eltham) with meandering paths surrounding a lake. Which has a tad of algae.

There’s plenty of birdlife on the water so I’m not sure it’s doing much damage, but then again this really isn’t my area of expertise.

A bridge crosses the lake offering views of birdlife below.

There’s a very large number of ducks and geese strutting about looking for a feed.

What you got?

Clearly it’s good pickings here given the sheer amount of them.

A separate butterfly area is located to the rear upon entering nearest Mottingham station.

A friends group meets every Sunday for tea and I’m sure they would be raising it if a great concern.

Hut overlooking the lake

According to their website the friend’s group is meeting every Sunday in July:

“Tea in the Tarn will also be held on the following dates from 2.30 to 4.30pm with homemade cakes, tea, coffee and cold drinks:
Sunday 7 July
Sunday 14 July
Sunday 21 July
Sunday 28 July

All our events are free and suitable for all ages.

We always have lovely cake and teas and coffee. Our events are run entirely by volunteers and any donations generously received at events are put towards improvements to the Tarn.”

They also hold volunteering sessions every 11am to 3pm.


Originally a part of Eltham Palace’s gardens, the site was purchased in 1934 and became a public park.

There’s a silo-like structure in one corner which was formerly an ice well for Eltham Lodge. Both the lodge and Tarn were formerly part of Eltham’s Great Park. A golf course now occupies much of the land.

A five minute walk north will take you to Eltham Palace. Sadly at £31 for me and my partner we gave that a skip. Children over five are an extra £9.20. It’s free for English Heritage members but at £105 a year for two adults it’s pretty steep.

Their website makes a big play about free car parking in 2019. Not much use if using public transport.

The site is also just a 15 minute walk to Eltham High Street.

Bus routes 124, 126 and 161 pass the site offering direct links from Woolwich and Greenwich, though it may be better just taking a train to London Bridge then another train to Mottingham station.





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J Smith

I've lived in south east London most of my life growing up in Greenwich borough and working in the area for many years. The site has contributors on occasion and we cover many different topics. Living and working in the area offers an insight into what is happening locally.

8 thoughts on “Hidden treasures: The Tarn in Eltham

  • Eltham Palace is English Heritage, not National Trust.

    • They never said National trust 😬

      • To be fair I did then edited it once I got home. I put it on Twitter as soon as was told but didn’t have access to PC for most of the day.

  • The Tarn is a beautiful place I remember from my Childhood when living on the Coldharbour Estate nearby. Near the busy A20 cross roads of Court Road. A tranquil oasis many must just pass by and not realise it is there. I went there many times. I don’t every remember the water looking like that. Long may it continue to be the beautiful unspoilt place it is.

  • Thanks for the nice comments. The ‘green lake’ is duck weed ( to algae). It’s naturally occurring but because the water flow is slow and poorly oxygenated, it develops rapidly in warm weather. We need rain …..or a lottery winner to pay for the lake to be dredged and improved!! Still an oasis of calm with wonderful wildlife and natural planting. Come have Tea in The Tarn, Sunday’s throughout July and enjoy the new grassed area with event space by the small hut.👍
    Friends of The Tarn

  • I remember many a walk around the Tarn as a child. Im now 42, feeding the ducks but that was when the ponds were alot less “green” than they are now. Many a stories told about the ice well and the haunted pond where the little boy fell in. It was a lovely little place to go then it was off to the swings down the road.

  • Ducks and geese unfortunately make it an environment in which other wildlife can struggle to find a place. Are there any other birds that can be found at this sanctuary? Perhaps you could schedule a volunteer day to help get rid of the duckweed?

    • Hi Claudia – Not sure how familiar you are with this Council public wildlife park? It’s not a ‘sanctuary’, although the part of The Tarn that is off limits to the public and is left as a natural woodland, has for years been referred to as the ‘bird sanctuary’. This seems to have been highlighted on google maps with people looking for a sanctuary. Wrong! Happily, the more familiar you become with The Tarn the more wildlife you’ll find, amongst the common ‘garden’ birds you’ll also find from time to time a heron, cormorant, spotted woodpecker, ring necked parakeet, tawny owls, song thrush, wren, goldfinch, collared dove, blackheaded gull, blue tit, great tit, robin, starling, wood pigeon, blackbird. And whisper it….. a Kingfisher! Although sadly not seen in the last couple of years. Given the expanse of water (aka a lake!) it’s no surprise that there is an abundance of ducks, geese and rails. All are wild and the Canadians, Greylag and Egyptians fly in every Spring. The mallards are habituated and many overwinter in The Tarn.
      As to the water…it’s a problem. It had finally gone earlier in the year but like the last 10 years is back with a vengeance. It’s not as simple as scooping it up….. if only! The Council has commissioned two reports and it’s a much bigger issue to do with the flow of water, where it comes from, depth of the lake, etc, etc. The current estimated cost of dredging, removing enviromentally, repairing, etc ….. is towards a million! Are you the millionaire we need? If you’re local please do raise the issue of the lake with your local councillors and MP. Royal Borough of Greenwich is just in process of making Park inprovements and we would love them to improve the lake!
      As to volunteering … we would welcome you and others any Thursday at eleven. Whatever the weather! Meet at The Hut, just down from the Ice Well. We are a small but active volunteer group and would LOVE some extra man and woman power!!
      Check us out and like our Facebook page…. Friends of The Tarn ….and also take a look at our website http://www.thetarn.org.
      Normally I would say check out a Tarn Tea run by volunteers as a fund raiser every summer Sunday …. sadly covid has put paid to that. But we hope to be back for our normal Christmas Singalong in December.


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