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.

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