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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.