Chessington South to Epsom Downs; 6 December 2014

Ashtead Park, Surrey

On Saturday, 6 December we went for a walk. The weather was moderately cold, but bright and clear, and there was almost no wind.

We decided to walk from Chessington South in a roughly south-easterly direction and then take a train and/or buses back into South London from wherever we ended up. Because we started out rather late, we only made it as far as Epsom Racecourse.

We began by taking the tube from Manor House to Victoria, then a train to Chessington South. A short distance from the station, we picked up a footpath that took us uphill and east, by the side of a golf course, to Green Lane.

Turning south on the lane, we passed an outpost of early-twentieth-century suburban development – a string of houses with fanciful names such as Hybola, Windy Dene, and Sunny Field. These petered out after a while, and we continued through a narrow belt of woodland, stopping briefly at one point to observe a squirrel dragging a plastic bottle high into a tree.

At the junction with Chalky Lane, near Park Farm, the footpath turned south-east across fields and then skirted the northern perimeter of the former West Park mental hospital; however, as we advanced along the narrow path between two metal fences, the way ahead became waterlogged and impossibly muddy. Luckily, we were able to pass through a gap in the fence and instead use a road through the old hospital grounds, now partly redeveloped as housing.

Beyond Christ Church Road, we entered the woodland of Epsom Common, where some of the paths were well trodden by horses, leading to further struggles with mud. At length, we crossed a railway line and shortly after emerged onto Dorking Road.

Epsom Common, Surrey
Above: Epsom Common

A little further on, we found the entrance to Ashtead Park and continued south through the landscaped grounds; however, at Rookery Hill we were forced to make a long and rather tedious detour around Park Lane, as the area containing the eighteenth-century mansion is inaccessible to the public. Since 1924, this has been the home of the City of London Freemen’s School. Of the people mentioned on Wikipedia as being former pupils of this public school, the two names that jumped out were Simon Cowell and Joe Strummer.

At the eastern end of Park Lane, we took footpaths along Greenslade Avenue and Chalk Pit Road, then descended in the fading light to Langley Bottom. At this point, lack of time and light meant we had no alternative but to change direction and head north to Epsom, so we climbed uphill, crossing various gallops, and finally reached the racecourse and Epsom Downs not long after sunset.

Emerging onto Tattenham Corner Road, we were still a mile or so away from the centre of Epsom, but we spotted a bus stop just by the huge racecourse grandstand. The fare for our short trip on the local 480 bus was a rather steep £2 each, but the blow was softened somewhat by the windfall of a pound coin we found on the empty seat in front of us.

From the traffic-choked town centre, we took a 470 London bus to Colliers Wood, and then the tube to Turnpike Lane.

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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.