Wednesday, 27 January 2010

London LOOP section 4 Hayes - Whyteleafe

Crossing the Hemispheres
After my last outing on the LOOP I had eagerly anticipated this section, which looked like a lot of country walking full of interest. Alas the weather wasn’t as good as last time, but it did look a bit more promising than the weather forecasters had predicted, with a bit of watery sun threatening to break through the clouds. I had decided to break with the suggested itinerary today as the lengthy bus ride from Croydon to Hamsey Green didn’t look very promising so I instead used Whyteleafe station as my next staging point. This is an easy place to park, has a frequent train service and is only about half a mile off-route so I wasn’t entirely sure why it is overlooked. Unfortunately being a Sunday I had some dodgy connections and although the train/ tram journey via East Croydon/ Elmers End was easy enough I did get some annoying waiting about time, which meant that my 10 mile journey took nearly 1 hour 20 minutes. 
Coney Hall

When I got to Hayes, it was rather more deserted than the last time I was here. The station was closed other than to receive trains and all the shops were deserted. I didn’t hang around, keen as I was to get going on the day’s walk. I retraced my steps back to the Doomsday Oaks and headed out towards my car. After negotiating some residential streets in Coney Hall, I came out into a recreation ground which was full of footballers warming up and getting ready for the morning’s fixtures. The smell of bacon rolls permeated the air, courtesy of a few players who obviously needed some extra fortification before strutting their stuff. Almost unnoticed I passed from the eastern hemisphere into the western hemisphere as the Greenwich Meridian passes through here. A small dalek-shaped stone marked the official point.
Wickham Church

I headed across the road and up to Wickham Church, where I took the opportunity to have a nose at the adjacent private school. As I reached the church I could hear the congregation in full voice, an unusual experience for me since I rarely pass a church while a service is actually going on. I took the opportunity to look out across the valley ahead, initially marvelling at how countrified the scene was and then I noticed the urban reality of the scene when a discarded shopping trolley invaded the view just below where I stood.
Into The Woods

I continued on my way down to the main road to Croydon and crossed to another set of playing fields where the sport of choice was rugby. In fact I’m not sure I have ever seen so many children playing rugby as I did when crossing the fields. There must have been nearly 200 children in all, from all age groups. Most appeared to be training rather than playing proper matches, but in a way this made it harder to negotiate the fields as almost every available space was taken.
Shirley Windmill

I was quite pleased to enter the woods of Spring Park and get away from all the hullaballoo. Unlike last time I was out when it was so cold and frosty, this time the woods were full of birdsong, a sign perhaps that spring isn’t too far away. The ground conditions suggested otherwise – all the rain and snow that we have had recently meant that the paths were pretty squelchy and this made walking quite hard work. Soon I came across another border marker – this time the more mundane stone marking the boundaries of the London Boroughs of Bromley and Croydon. For a couple of hundred metres past the sign the mud abated – I thought this was a magical cure from the powers-that-be in Croydon! Another sign advised that I had now entered Three Halfpenny Wood. The guide book had mused about what a younger generation might make of the name. Well, I remember halfpennies but it didn’t help. I still couldn’t work out how it got its name! It was a pleasant woodland walk though, until it gave way to heathland on top. For the next few hundred metres until I reached the Shirley Road I had to keep my wits about me, for although the signage wasn’t too bad some of it was obscured and the map wasn’t a lot of help with a constantly switching back walk through the woods.
View to Central London

At the Shirley Road, my dip into the countryside seemed pretty short-lived as I faced a longish tramp along the main road, until reaching a large school where the path detoured around to head towards Upper Shirley. This short footpath was a noisy affair, with parakeets screeching in the trees above me, magpies angrily shouting at each other with their strange calls and two teams of children playing a football match in the school grounds. I couldn’t help but smile at the game, since the children looked like the under 10s team playing on a full sized pitch with full sized goals. How the goalkeeper managed to save anything was beyond me!

When I reached the Sandrock Inn at Upper Shirley, I took a few minutes to detour down to the windmill. This fine old specimen has managed to escape being demolished, and looks to have recently been refurbished since it was surrounded by construction fencing still. It is now surrounded by new-build houses, but still maintains an air of dignity and looks to be in fine fettle.
Croydon Tramlink

After having a nose around as much as I could, I retraced my steps to the LOOP and headed into Addington Woods. There was a short and steep climb up onto Addington Hill and the viewpoint at the top. This was a feature I hadn’t been expecting. From the viewpoint I got a great view across Croydon and the main part of the capital beyond. Sadly it was a fairly murky day and so the view wasn’t as good as it could be sometimes. Maybe a trip up here on a clear day with binoculars is in order?

I didn’t hang around as long as I wanted to, on account of a group of foul-mouthed blokes with aggressive looking dogs turning up. Their behaviour rather distracted me from the view and so I pushed on. Through the woods I came upon Coombe Lane station, a fairly recent addition to this area on account of the Croydon Tramlink line that runs out to New Addington from here. There were no trams in sight, but I was immediately struck by the rural nature of the line, which here is separated from the road, running through trees alongside.
Heathfield House

I briefly walked alongside the line before crossing the road and descending the steps into the grounds of Heathfield House. This delightful place, with some obviously pretty gardens (although looking far from their best!) is now owned by the London Borough of Croydon and appears to be used as a training centre. I had a nose around the grounds for a bit before continuing on my way. The surrounding countryside is slightly odd here, interspersed as it is by tentacles of suburbia extending out into it. Alas the hazy sunshine that had been a feature of the day so far, finally gave in to grey cloud and the remaining part of the day was dull, dull, dull. I soon realised how grey and uninviting the landscape can be at this time of the year. Luckily, I entered more woodlands at this point and the terminal greyness of the day was initially tempered by watching the antics of the grey squirrels running hither and thither. Far away I could hear a woodpecker knocking six bells into a tree and a robin tried its best to follow me for a while. On the map the section through Selsdon looks like a tramp through suburbia, but the reality is somewhat different. After winding around through some wooded sections (and sharing the route with the Vanguard Way), the route through Selsdon takes advantage of an old alleyway that existed long before the housing. As a result of the fencing alongside, I actually felt quite insulated from the surrounding housing.
Elm Farm

At the far end of the housing I entered the old Selsdon Wood, which proved to be a short stiff climb followed by another mud bath down the other side. At the far end of the wood I looked out over Farleigh Golf Course, where a few hardy golfers were completing their rounds. I went through the gate and crossed out of Croydon into Surrey for a brief section outside the clutches of the capital. The path got a lot better for awhile, probably on account of it being an ancient trackway (the so-called Baker Boy Lane). I couldn’t help but be amused by the ditch alongside the lane, coinciding with the London boundary. I wondered if it was a vain attempt at defence?
White House

At the end of the lane I had to traverse a hideous little path that was horribly churned up by horses. This ran parallel to the main road and I assume helps to keep walkers and horse riders separate from the traffic. If I’d realised how muddy it would be I might have been tempted to take my chances on the road! Worse was to follow; when I crossed the road and headed past Elm Farm the track was horrendous and made for very hard going. By now I was longing for the end of the day’s walking. Strangely, although this was true countryside by anyone’s standards, I found this part of the LOOP a lot less interesting than the more man-made features I had passed earlier in the walk. The problem is that it is not great countryside – just run-of-the-mill stuff and decidedly muddy. Actually I think the mud rather coloured my judgement.
Hamsey Green

Eventually I reached Kingsland Lodge, not really a lodge but a very large white house (at least I think it was the main house – if it was just the lodge, I’d hate to see what the main house looks like!). It was an impressive sight nonetheless and importantly had a tarmac drive, which meant that I was spared any more mud. From here it was a short walk into Hamsey Green and for most walkers that would be it for the day, but I still had a couple of miles to complete down into Whyteleafe. Hamsey Green is an odd sort of a place – it’s a long finger of suburban Croydon reaching far into the countryside. It is basically an extension of Warlingham but without the charm of that place. On a grey January day, it wasn’t a place that I wanted to hang about for very long.

By now I realised that I was in the chalk hinterland of the North Downs and the path heading towards Riddlesdown confirmed this, with a much better drained path underneath me. It meant my pace could quicken and the level path across the top of this section of downland was completed quickly and without much fuss. I did pass yet another pillar of significance – this time an Ordnance Survey triangulation point – surprisingly the only one on the entire LOOP!
Surreptitious Trig Point

I dropped down into the valley here and crossed the Oxted Rail Line where work appeared to be going on today. I resisted the temptation of taking the quickest route back to Whyteleafe station from the bottom of the hill as it looked like a fairly uninspiring trudge along the A22 through some fairly unlovely urban dereliction. Instead I crossed the other railway, surprised to find an unprotected footbridge (especially by a school!). I then took the first left and wandered down a street full of 1930s houses to get to the station. It seemed a much more dignified and civilised ending to the day. This was another enjoyable section of the LOOP, but if I’m honest it would have been much more fun in the spring when the leaves are starting to come out and woodland flowers are at their zenith. Woodland walking in the depths of winter isn’t particularly fun, especially as they seem so grey and monotonous after awhile and the going is muddy! Carefully planning the travel between the beginning and end is crucial as the connections can be tricky, especially on a Sunday as I learned.
Journey's End

Still, I’m out on the Downs now and the next part promises more downland and I can finally catch up with the odd bit that I started with back in October.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

London LOOP section 3 Petts Wood - Hayes

Jubilee Country Park
On paper this looked like a most promising day of walking and it did not disappoint, being by far the most enjoyable of the sections so far completed.  Of course it helped that it was a cold, crisp winter’s day with plenty of frost around, hardening what would normally be impenetrable mud at various points along the walk.  I parked at Hayes station for a very reasonable £2.40 for 4-6 hours (plenty to allow for extra snooping around time on the way!).  Trying to avoid the use of buses, I took the train from Hayes to Petts Wood, which is slightly convoluted but with the aid of a brisk walk from Clock House to Kent House stations en route I managed to get from one end to the other in a little over 40 minutes.

Upon alighting at Petts Wood I retraced my steps back to Jubilee Country Park, stopping to stock up on refreshments at the bakers shop in the parade of shops on the way.  It was soon clear when I entered the park that all the ground was frozen solid, making walking conditions pretty good for this time of year.  The brief cloud that had passed over while I was on the train thankfully passed away, and bright blue skies and sunshine were once again the order of the day.  I took a small detour off the main route to look at the remains of an old gun turret that once stood here, manned by the Home Guard as one of the early defences against an enemy invasion in World War II.  Now nothing remains except a vague circular pattern in the grass where it once stood and an interpretation board showing what it would once have looked like.
Rabbit Tree

Jubilee Country Park is obviously a very popular place for dog walkers as there were dozens of them all trying to wear off the after effects of New Year celebrations and give their pooches some much needed fresh air.  A bit of sunshine helped give the canines plenty of energy, with much running around and one or two skirmishes taking place as I headed through to the end of the park.  After the brief flirtation with countryside I passed through a gap between houses and once again entered 1930s suburbia, walking the length of a street with some seriously pollarded trees.  Bungalows gave way to brick built houses and eventually at the end of the street I was faced with open fields once again.  However instead of continuing across them, the path suddenly veered left and headed through Sparrow Wood.  This is a surprisingly remote feeling piece of woodland given that is surrounded on three sides by suburbia.  In contrast with Jubilee Country Park I did not meet a soul through here, although looking at the paths I suspect that it is normally a sea of mud and probably put most people off!

At the end of the wood I came across the busy A232 at Crofton.  I am guessing that this was once a village in its own right, although the only evidence of this from the LOOP is the village sign.  Otherwise it just seems like yet another slab of suburbia.  I crossed the road and headed along yet another alley between fences and then another residential street full of kids playing on their bikes. 
Grand View

I was soon back into countryside as I climbed up through Darrick Wood and got a very pleasant surprise after I had wandered along between a large school and some playing fields.  There was suddenly a view out across Orpington, somewhat surprising as I didn’t think I was that high up.  The view was fairly short lived as I dropped down into Farnborough, a place that most definitely still feels like a village.  After walking up along Gladstone Road (all the side roads were also named after former prime ministers), I reached the old village centre.  This was once a horse changing point for stage coaches heading from London out into the provinces along this coaching road.  I walked up through the village centre, with its very Kentish clapperboard houses.  It may be part of the London Borough of Bromley now but its soul is very much part of Kent.  At the end of the village I passed through the lych gate and into the churchyard.  Immediately the character of the walk changed, with the other side of the church facing out across open countryside as far as the eye can see.  The church itself is an attractive one, but it was a couple of the churchyard features that really caught my eye.  The first was a very large yew tree with a very fat trunk, suggesting a tree of great age.  The second was a wall of memorials dedicated to fallen soldiers in the World Wars, making a sobering reminder of the sacrifices made by so many.
Farnborough Church

Upon leaving the churchyard it was fairly obvious that I was entering a country park, judging by the landscaped tree clumps, and so it proved.  As I crossed the very busy Shire Lane I entered the car park of High Elms Country Park.  This was once the formal estate of a country house and while the house itself is sadly no longer with us (having burned down a number of years ago), the grounds are still lovingly maintained by the London Borough of Bromley Council.  Even in the depths of winter there were plenty of visitors, although surely most of the gardens must look a whole lot better in the spring and summer.  I passed by the stable block of the old house, now used as a maintenance yard and the old Eton Wall, where a number of children were playing the game once famous but now just a memory for most.
High Elms Park

There was a fair amount of golfing activity going on at the adjacent golf course, with most players surely now heading back towards the club house for fear of the dark cutting short their game.  For awhile the clouds also bubbled up, threatening to make for an overcast day.  I passed the old High Elms Clockhouse, an odd feature to see on a farm but which once rang out to tell farm workers when their lunch break was.  From here the path meandered along through bits of woodland and along Bogey Lane, where mercifully the path actually followed the (dry) side of a field, instead of the muddy looking lane itself.  The views back down the valley were marvellous and I was surprised how countrified it all was, considering I was supposed to be in a London Borough!

Eventually I was reunited with Shire Lane, now seemingly a lot busier than the same road I crossed a mile further down the valley.  I was glad to find that a path had been provided on the other side of the road, for I would not like to have tried walking along the road itself!  The path then ran round behind Holwood Farm, with very spectacular views up the hill to Holwood House, the one time home of William Pitt the Younger.  Alas this is the closest I got to seeing its beautiful Greek architecture, since the surrounding parkland is very off limits to the hoi polloi like me!  After an encounter with some chickens that were obviously very free range from the nearby farm, I had an unusual experience for the LOOP, I actually got to climb a hill!  As well as the chickens I also had a close encounter with a small jet passenger plane, making me realise how close I was to Biggin Hill Airport, only a couple of miles away.
Holwood House

Rather breathlessly at the top (too much Christmas Pudding I think!), I encountered the famous Wilberforce Oak and commemorative seat.  This was the place that supposedly the two Williams, Pitt and Wilberforce, got together to thrash out the deal to abolish the slave trade.  A young oik was sitting on the bench, smoking and listening to his MP3 player.  I like to think that my hanging around made him move on, but realistically it was more likely that here merely finished his cigarette and wasn’t remotely interested in me.  Having got rid of him I was free to linger for awhile.  As an attraction, the spot is pretty lacking.  The oak is almost completely decayed after its collapse in a storm in the early 1990s and the commemorative seat, put there in the 1880s and kept behind a fence for fear of vandalism presumably.  Although it rather detracts from this historic sitting place, it does at least stop any skulduggery.  The view across towards Nash is still good and one can still imagine how such a place inspired such a historic agreement.
Wilberforce Seat

A short walk beyond the Wilberforce Oak, I came upon probably the highlight of the day for me.  After crossing Keston Common I came upon Keston Ponds, a local beauty spot that also serves as the source of the Ravensbourne Stream.  While they would normally be very attractive spots, the three ponds were extra special today as they were largely frozen over.  The wildfowl that live here were restricted to a small area of the top lake that was unfrozen, but the other, lower ponds were completely solid.  After having the countryside to myself for awhile, Keston Ponds were alive with people, with many children enjoying the spectacle of a frozen pond.
Source of Ravensbourne

I took a quick look at the Keston Windmill, just off route, one of the few remaining in the area.  Unfortunately I couldn’t get a decent photo of it (probably a visit will be required), but it is open from time to time (see  It is complete but apparently the sails cannot be hung because the building is a bit unsteady and couldn’t cope!
Keston Ponds

Further on I came upon Hayes Common, where the Fox and the Greyhound pubs overlook each other.  As I looked at the pub signs I recognised the work of Peter Oldrieve, a prolific pub sign painter that I have come across a number of times on my walks.  Maybe he got the second commission when the first pub saw the quality of his work?  Whatever, he seemed to have got both gigs for one reason or another!
West Wickham Common

The last section of the day passed along the top of the escarpment of West Wickham Common.  Glimpses of the view across towards Croydon were tantalising, but for the most part the trees got in the way of any decent view.  Nevertheless the last couple of miles were a very pleasant walk through beech and oak woodlands, initially through open countryside and latterly along the back edge of the housing that had encroached the top of the ridge.  At the end of the stretch I had an encounter with some remarkable trees as the oaks at the end of the path were allegedly 700+ years old and had been hacked back periodically to provide wood without actually killing the trees.  One or two looked a bit disabled as they had props to help them stay upright!  I also had a quick look at the by-laws on the back of the very large Corporation of London sign and made a mental note not to do any cursing!
West Wickham Oak

From here it was a short walk back along the signed link route to Hayes station and reunited with my car.  This is a hugely enjoyable section of the LOOP, with the few short parts of suburbia not unpleasant but quickly forgotten and the countryside both very attractive and full of historic resonance.  I’m already looking forward to the next section!