Norwood Junction to Mitcham; 13 December 2014

Hackbridge, London

On Saturday, 13 December I went for a walk. The weather was sunny, clear, and not too cold, and there was hardly any wind.

I decided to take the Overground to Norwood Junction and walk south-west to Wandle Park in Croydon; from there, I’d pick up the Wandle Trail and get as far along it as I could before it got dark.

At Norwood Junction, as on an earlier visit on 2 March 2014, I walked up Station Road to buy a sandwich at the branch of the Co-op by the South Norwood Clock Tower. But I was surprised to find that the store had closed down. Instead I turned into the High Street and bought a tuna baguette from a branch of Gregg’s.

Retracing my steps, I was reminded that, shortly after my previous visit, I’d read about a crime that was committed here on 15 March 2014: Thirty-seven-year-old Michael Hunt aka ‘Irish Mick’ was beaten nearly to death and died the same day in hospital; later, in October 2014, Arry Green and Fiona Nalty – both in their twenties, and acquaintances of Hunt – were found guilty of his murder. On her Bebo profile, Fiona Nalty once posted that she was ‘down for whatever … im up for a larf jus dont piss me off.’

As I passed the vacant former supermarket, I glanced down the alleyway where, having beaten their victim unconscious, the murderers stripped him naked and dumped him into a wheelie bin.

Continuing along Station Road, I passed quite a few Crystal Palace fans, who were emerging from the station and making their way to Selhurst Park for the match against Stoke that afternoon. Leaving them behind, I turned right at Cargreen Road and soon reached South Norwood Recreation Ground, and beyond it Tennison Road. Here, Arthur Conan Doyle lived at No. 12 from 1891 to 1894.

On the other side of Tennison Road, I found the entrance to Heavers Meadow, a sliver of open land wedged between the Selhurst railway depot and some allotments. The willow trees in the swampy meadow looked beautiful in the sunlight, so I stopped to take some photos.

Heavers Meadow, Norwood, London
Above: Heavers Meadow

Emerging onto Selhurst Road, I turned right and made my way to Whitehorse Road via Dagnall Park and Saxon Road. Then, anxious to get away from the heavy traffic, I turned off down Princess Road and walked along the south side of Queen’s Road Cemetery.

Through the cemetery railings I spotted a grave with a striking-looking angel figure, so I decided to take a look around, but during my short perambulation I didn’t notice what are perhaps the most notable graves: of Bridget Driscoll, who in 1896 became the first pedestrian in Britain to be killed by a motor car; and of the three victims of the unsolved Croydon Poisoning Mystery of 1928–9.

After leaving the cemetery, I continued into Croydon by road, eventually reaching Wandle Park, which although not the source of the River Wandle is nowadays the first place it can be seen above ground. Here, I stopped to eat my lunch.

Beyond Wandle Park the river disappears briefly underground again, so I made my way south and west via Vicarage Road, Waddon Road, and Mill Lane to Waddon Ponds, where, as I tried to take a photo, a number of geese gathered around. At first I couldn’t work out why these birds were so interested in me, but then I realized they had noticed the plastic bag I was carrying and were expecting me to bring out stale white bread for them to eat.

A little further on I picked up the well-defined Wandle Trail, and after some time reached Beddington Park, pausing there for a moment to admire the medieval church before heading north up London Road to Hackbridge Corner. Turning west down Hackbridge Road, I rejoined the riverside path just by the Hack Bridge, from which this district takes its name.

As I passed the dingy Corbet Close housing estate, a man walking nearby shouted, ‘Rat!’ and gestured to me with his hands to indicate the apparently enormous size of the rodent. He asked me if I’d seen it but sadly I hadn’t.

The light was now almost gone, and as flocks of parakeets flew noisily overhead I hurried north along the more or less deserted riverbank, meeting only one man travelling in the opposite direction on a bicycle; as we passed he warned me of mud up ahead, but, to be fair, I’ve seen a lot worse.

River Wandle, Mitcham, London

North of Middleton Road, and skirting Poulter Park, I began to hear faint shouting. At first I thought the noise must be coming from a playing field, but soon I realized the sounds – now recognizable as chanting – must be the crowd at the Tooting & Mitcham United FC ground, Imperial Fields.

On approaching the football ground, it became apparent that not only was a match in progress under the floodlights inside the KNK Stadium (Tooting & Mitcham v. Folkestone Invicta, won by the latter, 3–1), but some of the shouting was coming from an adjacent practice pitch. Here, another game was being played – perhaps involving the Tooting & Mitcham reserve team – and, just as I passed, a coach leapt from his seat by the touchline and bellowed, ‘Get organized! Get organized!’

Emerging finally onto Bishopsford Road, I turned right and walked uphill to a bus stop on London Road, where I caught a 280 to Tooting Broadway, eventually returning to Turnpike Lane by tube.

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Riddlesdown to Merstham, Surrey; 22 November 2014

Pilgrims Way, Tollsworth Manor, Surrey

On Saturday, 22 November I went for a walk. The weather forecast was bad, with rain expected almost everywhere, but I decided to risk it and walk from Riddlesdown, in the London Borough of Croydon, to Merstham, Surrey.

I began by taking the tube from Manor House to Victoria, then a train to Riddlesdown. Outside the station, I followed a footpath south alongside the railway tracks, then approached the entrance to Riddlesdown Common via Mitchley Avenue.

Riddlesdown was acquired by the City of London Corporation in 1883; thus, it escaped the suburban building development that swallowed up much of the nearby countryside in the late nineteenth to early twentieth century.

In the long grass not far beyond the entrance, I spotted some metal railings enclosing what I thought at first was a monument. It turned out to be an old Ordnance Survey triangulation point, with a height inscribed on it – 449.24 feet.

However, I failed to notice on my map that there was an Earthwork nearby. This is mentioned on older maps by name – Newedich or Widedich. Although reduced in size, having been partly covered by the houses built at the northern edge of Riddlesdown, some of the earthwork – thought to be Celtic in origin and agricultural in purpose – still survives, but I didn’t see any mounds as I walked by; I’ll have to look for them the next time I’m there.

After following the higher part of the ridge for a short distance, I descended gradually downhill and south-east towards the Godstone Road. It began to drizzle, and the rain then continued more or less throughout the day, much to my annoyance.

At the road, I turned south-west up Old Barn Lane, crossed a footbridge over the railway line, and continued up New Barn Lane. Then, after climbing a series of steps up the steep hillside, I followed a footpath across Kenley Common, another area of open land owned by the City of London Corporation.

With the rain becoming harder, I skirted Kenley Aerodrome, which was established in 1917 and played an important role in the Battle of Britain in WWII. I was interested to read – on one of a number of information boards dotted around – that, in 1919, Winston Churchill, War minister at the time, flew from here to France to attend the Paris Peace Conference.

On the west side of the aerodrome I saw several preserved WWII ‘blast pens’ – designed to protect aircraft from the effects of bombs exploding nearby – and in one of them was a war memorial. I’d have liked to have taken a proper look at it, but a number of children were using the concrete-paved area to race around on their bicycles, so I decided not to bother.

Continuing on, I took a footpath across Coulsdon Common, past The Fox public house (est. c.1720), and eventually turned south through Piles Wood.

Beyond Piles Wood I stopped very briefly to admire the church at Chaldon (see history here), but it was still raining and the light had started to fade, so I hurried on, crossing muddy fields near Court Farm to reach the woodland of Alderstead Heath.

Near the attractive, partly timber-framed, partly stone Tollsworth Manor, I was struck by the rather desolate, upland nature of my surroundings – now over 600 feet above sea level. The empty fields were shrouded in mist, and although I could hear the hissing of traffic – from the M23 and M25, just to the south and at the foot of the ridge ­– it added to the atmosphere in a way.

I stopped to take a few photos, and would have liked to linger some more, but it was getting quite dark, so at Pilgrims’ Lane I gingerly descended a rather steep, very muddy path south-west down the hill and then crossed the M23 via a pedestrian tunnel.

Still heading for Merstham, I walked west part way along Rockshaw Road, before turning south again down a footpath leading to a footbridge over the M25.

From there it was a short distance to the centre of Merstham, where I caught a 405 bus to central Croydon. After stopping for a drink at the Wetherspoon’s on George Street, I continued my journey home by taking the Overground from West Croydon to Dalston Junction, and finally the 67 back to St. Ann’s Road, Harringay.

Beddington Lane to Hackbridge; 4 November 2014

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.

Beddington Farm, nr. Mitcham, London

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.

Beddington Farm, London [2]

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).