On Tuesday afternoon, on the way to visiting my mother in Streatham, I went for a short walk. I didn’t exactly plan out where I was going but had an idea it would include Norbury Park and Pollards Hill, which are not far from Streatham. In the end, I went somewhere completely different – Beddington Farm, near Mitcham.
With cool but fine weather forecast, I set out shortly after midday, intending to take the Overground from Harringay to Clapham Junction, via Willesden Junction, then continue by rail to Norbury. (It might seem like an odd route to take, but I have done the bus journey through Kennington and Brixton so many times in the past that I now try to avoid it, preferring something less familiar.)
At Clapham Junction, with no sign of a train to Norbury any time soon, I decided on the spur of the moment to board a fast train to East Croydon. From there I took a Wimbledon-bound tram and alighted at Beddington Lane with the intention of approaching Pollards Hill via Mitcham Common.
I’ve never been to Pollards Hill before but have seen it as a destination on the front of buses, as well as noting that the OS map has Earthworks in gothic type (meaning an antiquity) over the suburban street layout on the summit.
Exiting Beddington Lane tram stop, I made the mistake of not looking at the map (in this case a London A–Z) properly and took the wrong path from the outset. I should have been looking for a path north towards Mitcham Common, but instead headed down one going west alongside the tram tracks.
After a while, I noticed the tracks were gone; there was now a golf course on the right-hand side, and I realized I had made a mistake. But I no longer particularly cared – the path through a narrow belt of woodland, with the golf course on one side and the metal ‘trident paling’ fence of the Beddington Farmlands sewage-treatment/landfill site on the other, was intriguing enough for me to decide to follow it just to see where it went. (Pollards Hill will have to wait for another day.)
Reaching a railway line running north to south, at right angles to the path, I had to make a choice between crossing a footbridge over the railway and continuing west into a landfill area, or swinging south on my current path as it began to skirt the rail tracks.
There was something about the path to the south that was appealing. It seemed to head off into the middle of nowhere and I liked how isolated and remote it felt. I hadn’t seen a single person since getting off the tram despite walking maybe half a mile.
As I walked south, the rail tracks were not far off on my right, while to the left, behind a wire fence, I was increasingly aware of the mysterious Beddington Farm site and the distant views of tall buildings in Croydon to the east.
After passing under electricity pylons, with the weather becoming greyer, I rounded a bend and, suddenly, before me, was a huge landfill area and some bodies of water. There were hundreds of birds, mainly gulls, on the artificial hill, and they all began to take off and circle the sky. As a small tracked vehicle engaged in tipping of some kind came slowly but noisily into view on the crest of the hill, it became apparent why the birds had all flown off.
After a few minutes of watching the birds in flight, I continued on my way, but the weather soon began to deteriorate. By the time I emerged through a kissing gate into Beddington Park, it had begun to rain rather hard, so I decided to look for a bus stop.
At Hackbridge Corner, my best option to get me in the direction of Streatham seemed to be a 127 towards Tooting Broadway. After a long wait, one finally came along, but inevitably it was packed with schoolchildren. For some reason the roads all along the route were jammed, so it took a while to get to Mitcham Lane, where, with the rain still belting down, I switched to a 57 for the rest of the way to Streatham High Road.
Later, while Googling Beddington Farm, I found a website that has a lot of very interesting birdwatching information going back to the early twentieth century: http://beddingtonfarmlands.org.uk (see pages arranged in chronological order under ‘History’).
The website explains how various historical changes in the methods used to treat sewage, as well as other alterations in land use at Beddington, e.g. the removal of cattle and introduction of horses, have at times caused the numbers of some bird species to increase and others to decline. But the Beddington Farmlands Bird Group seems to think that the most recent changes, from the 1990s onwards, i.e. a reduction in traditional sewage treatment combined with a large increase in landfill, are responsible for a serious downward trend in the numbers of rarer bird species.
Even more worryingly, there is also a plan to build a large solid waste incinerator plant at Beddington, which opponents argue will have a negative impact on both human health and wildlife (see http://www.stoptheincinerator.co.uk).