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!

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