Hello dear readers and thanks for checking out the ninth day of my walk round the London LOOP Orbital Path (LOOP). If you’ve been reading the previous posts then just skip down to the read more button as the next paragraph is merely a cut and paste of an earlier one for the benefit of readers who have just landed on this post.
The London LOOP is a little over 150 miles of designated and way-marked public right of way which is just concentric to the M25 motorway and as always I start with a quick word of advice. This post is one of a series and it will make more sense if you read from the beginning as it will explain what lunacy had compelled me to undertake such a large project.
Thanks for clicking and welcome to this instalment.
I should explain that there was a slight hiatus in this series, well not so slight at nine months, where I was doing all sorts of interesting things that you can read about elsewhere on this blog. I do hope that if you are reading this as a piece that you managed to negotiate yourself here successfully, thanks for your patience.
Yes, it had been three-quarters of a year since my last little trek round this path. If you were just following the “next post” buttons at the bottom of the page you will have seen what I was up to. I was back now and raring to go. This was proven, as you will see if you read right through this series, by the fact that I was to do four consecutive hard day’s walking.
It was now April 2014 (remember I am writing this retrospectively in 2020) and Spring had most definitely sprung. Writing this now six years later I could not help but think about the silly old verse from the comic genius and sadly mentally-ill Spike Milligan which runs, “Spring is sprung, the grass is riz, I wonder where the boidies (birdies) is”.
Isn’t it strange how so many of our wonderfully funny men suffer from mental illness? Tony Hancock, John Cleese, Stephen Fry (who wonderfully fronted a campaign for mental health) and dear Spike to name but a few. Is it a pre-requisite of being fantastically funny that you have to bring it from a very deep, dark place inside? I don’t know.
I was most certainly not feeling depressed as I headed off that day which was gloriously sunny and I made my way back to Farnborough Village where I had finished my trail all those months before. Finding the LOOP again was rather like running into an old friend you have not seen for a while. Certainly there was no social chit-chat and I certainly was not going to embrace a way-mark (that really would have been weird even by my standards) but it was a good feeling.
I should offer a word of explanation here. In previous posts in this series I was constantly apologising for the images, some of which were frankly awful due to a compromised lens on my little camera. In fairness to it, we had been through a lot together. I do not remember doing it but at some point in the intervening nine months I must have bought myself a new camera, I knew it as soon as I looked at the images to accompany this entry. Look – no smudges! OK, the image quality might be better but the technical ability doesn’t appear to have improved much.
I got to Farnborough at some time I cannot remember. According to my images it was about 1800 but it clearly wasn’t and it is equally clear to me now that I had been overseas in the intervening period and forgotten to change my camera time settings back. I’ll take a guess at about midday and we’ll work from that base position.
Last time I had been in Farnborough had been in the evening with the light failing and it was great to see it in all it’s Spring glory, it really is a beautiful village. When I had visited before, I had seen St. Giles’ Church but not had a chance to visit. I think that in the intervening period I must have looked it up online and wanted to visit it, which I did.
I have mentioned this many times in the blog before and make no apology whatsoever for doing so again but I am appalled that the disintegration of society in the UK has led to churches having to be locked up when there is nobody there to guard them. I find this disgusting. In days past, churches were places of sanctuary and where even the “police” of the day could not arrest you. They were places of refuge in times of trouble, shelter for travellers in bad weather, the centres of village and town life. Now, sadly, the huge majority of them are locked up to prevent theft, vandalism and all sorts of human anti-social behaviour. What have we become?
Despite it being closed, I did take a few images which hopefully show you what a glorious day it was and what a beautiful church it is so you can only imagine how happy I was to be back walking the LOOP again. I had started it and I am a stubborn old cuss so I was going to finish it.
For the sake of completeness I’ll tell you a little about what I could not actually witness personally, at least from the inside of the church. St. Giles’ is a very ancient site of Christian worship, possibly dating back to about 500 AD although this is a much more modern building, dating mostly to the Victorian period.
Undeterred by my understandably refused entry to a place of refuge for the traveller, I struck out walking again. Let’s be honest, the train from central London had hardly left me in need of sanctuary at that point.
The path quickly led me to the wonderfully named Lubbock’s Landscape at High Elms.They don’t make names like that any more. It is named for John Lubbock, 1st Lord Avebury whose palatial home here, Nine Elms which gives it’s name to the whole 250 acre modern park. So who was His Lordship then? Obviously I had to research him, as is my wont, and almost inevitably, he turns out to be fantastically interesting.
Born into the aristocracy in 1834 he was brought up in High Elms, the home of his father the 3rd Baronet and also called John. Lubbock the younger soon showed a great aptitude for and love of sciences of all kinds and he was most certainly in the right place at the right time as his near neighbour at Down House was none other than Charles Darwin.
Darwin befriended the young man who assisted him by painting and cataloguing barnacles of all things. His love of science was to continue throughout his life and it as he who coined the terms “neolithic” and “paleolithic” and had archaeology recognised as a science rather than just a rich man’s hobby.
Lubbock had a successful career in the family’s bank before he entered parliament as Liberal MP for Maidstone in 1870 and he certainly wasn’t there just to make up numbers. He managed to steer no less than 28 Bills through Parliament including the National Monuments Act of 1882 which was effectively the start of legal protection for historical sites and for which I think we all owe him a great debt. He actually bought the Avebury Stone Age site in Wiltshire to save it from destruction.
If you’ve ever enjoyed a Bank Holiday Monday at an ancient monument or some other natural beauty spot, then you have His Lordship to thank as he was responsible for the Bank Holidays Act of 1871.
He was not only a busy parliamentarian, somehow he managed to find time to do much archaeology including helping to excavate the hugely important Iron Age site in Hallstatt (Germany) the contents of which are still in the British Museum. As if all that wasn’t enough he was the first President of the Institute of Bankers, one time head of the London Chamber of Commerce and head of several charities and scientific societies. He wrote a book on Ants, Wasps and Bees, he really was a busy man.
In later life he moved to Broadstairs in Kent which regular readers of my pages will know is a place I spend a lot of time. He renovated the magnificent Kingsgate Castle which still stands, albeit as private luxury flats, and which I pass if I am doing the clifftop walk from Broadstairs to Margate.
High Elms House was built on the site of a dwelling going back to the Norman invasion with the land being given by William the Bastard to his half-brother Bishop Odo who we met in the last instalment. As for the house itself, it regrettably burned down in the 1960’s although there are a few listed buildings still standing like the ice well and the Eton Fives court. The Council have marked out the corners of the various buildings on the ground so you can judge the scale of the mansion. There is also a gleaming old Sunbeam Talbot sitting there which I simply had to take a couple of images of.
Time to leave the good Baron now but I think a fitting final word is to reproduce a humourous verse penned to accompany a cartoon of him as a bumble bee in a Punch magazine of 1882,
“How doth the Banking Busy Bee,
Improve his shining Hours?
By studying on Bank Holidays,
Strange insects and Wild Flowers!”
I couldn’t have put it better myself.
Leaving the rather pleasant High Elms estate behind, you are straight back into pleasant open countryside and it is no time at all until you come upon another place of huge historical importance, the Wilberforce Oak. Actually, the oak is nothing but a dead stump now and a replacement, grown from one of it’s acorns blew down in the Great Storm of 1987. They are having another go now with a sapling grown from an acorn from the second attempt but don’t hold your breath.
The rather grand stone seat here was where William Wilberforce, the man credited with abolishing the slave trade in the UK in met the Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger (our youngest PM ever at the age of only 24). Pitt lived in the nearby Holwood House, a much grander version of which still stands in private ownership. The two men discussed the slave trade and determined to pass an Act of Parliament outlawing it. It was pleasant to sit on this very historic seat and take in the lovely view over the vale of Keston but it was only a brief respite as I wanted to get a few more miles done.
A short distance from the Oak I came upon a fairly modest looking little spring bubbling up which brings me back again to my theory about things going round in circles. The last project I undertook in early 2020 was to walk another London path, the Jubilee Greenway and in my writing about that I mentioned the Ravensbourne River at some length. Well, this is the source of the said river and if you want to read what I wrote about it elsewhere you can have a look here. The spring is rather grandly called Caesar’s Well as there is local folklore suggesting Julius Caesar was hereabouts during his invasion.
Before the spring becomes the Ravensbourne it feeds two artificial ponds that originally provided water for Holwood House but nowadays provides a very pleasant recreational area as you can see.
Walking on and being very careful not to stray onto the open land where signs informed me the Metropolitan Police train their dogs, I approached Keston and saw the very welcome sight of the Fox Inn so in I went. As usual at this time of the day I restricted myself to the one pint in pleasant surroundings as I wanted to get a bit done and I had a sneaking suspicion this would not be the last pub I would encounter that day. I was to be proved correct as I had not gone another 50 yards when I happened upon the Greyhound so that was another pint.
For anyone who may have found this page without reading the previous entries I should explain that I had set myself a task of having a drink in every open pub I found. Lunatic I know but that is what I was doing.
The Greyhound struck me from the outside as being 1930’s just by the architecture although I am no expert. It was a big old place but I opted to sit out in the garden which really was big and included a lovely little building being used as a “tea room”. The Ravensbourne Morris Men, whom I know a couple of and who are mentioned in the linked page above, have “danced out” here every Boxing Day since 1963. It’s all going round in circles again!
It was very pleasant sitting there and I could have stayed longer but that was two pints in 50 yards and I had no idea what was coming next.
On my way out of the village I stopped to take an image of the rather lovely village sign which indicated that the village dated back to 55 BC and that is pretty ancient even by UK standards so naturally a bit of research was called for. There is some debate as to the origin of the name of the village. Some say it is etymologically (I love that word!) derived from Caesar who, as mentioned above, may have been here in 55BC or thereabouts and hence the date on the sign. Alternatively it may be derived from Caester the Roman name for a camp or fort. Whilst Ceasar may have passed through, there is no archeological evidence of Roman occupation until the second century AD. Who knows?
What I do know is that I must have passed Ravensbourne College whose alumni read like a who’s who of modern popular culture. David Bowie, fashion designers Stella McCartney and Bruce Oldfield, Beatles producer George Martin and Tim Pope, the pop video producer who worked with Bowie, Neil Young, Iggy Pop and the Cure no less than 37 times! Some lineup, eh?
Another short walk brought me to West Wickham Common, another delightful public open space. At a mere 26 acres it is nowhere near as large as some of the huge estates I had previously been through on this walk but it is very appealing as it is a really old oak pollard. If you are wondering, pollarded trees have their tops lopped off to encourage new growth. I didn’t know that until I researched this piece. Live and learn, eh?
The Common is one of those strange places that is administered by the City of London (i.e. the one square mile at the heart of the city) even though it is miles away from it. Just another one of the anomalies about the governance of our capital. If you want the full rundown on the City of London and have not read all the previous instalments of this series you may wish to have a look here.
Sadly, many of the older trees appear to have died but they made for some great images and I did go on a bit of a shutter frenzy as you can see. I am quite happy that the City of London Commons (as the administrators are known) have the conservation of this particular Common well under control.
Leaving West Wickham Common I had actually finished Section 3 of the walk and could have walked the short distance to Hayes railway station but I was still in good order and I had plenty of daylight left so I carried on. My completing of sections was a bit out of kilter already and one of the great joys of the walk is that you can drop in and out more or less anywhere and not have too much bother getting public transport.
From the rural joys of st Wickham Common I was plunged straight back into suburbia although it did look like pretty high end suburbia. At some point in Coney Hall Recreation Ground I apparently crossed the Greenwich Meridian Line from East to West although I certainly didn’t see the marker stone that is supposed to be there. Strangely enough I was to recross it in the next section of what is supposed to be a circular walk. Geometrically I am not sure how that is possible but I was always rubbish at Maths.
The next place of interest I came to was St. John the Baptist Church, another old knapped flint structure which is so common all over Kent and this part of greater London. Whilst the very earliest part of the building dates to the 14th century it has been much remodelled over the years with the last major renovations being as recently as 1961. I did rather like the gate at the entrance to the Church which, like so many others, was regrettably but understandably locked.
I also came upon a memorial to five men of the Beckenham Auxiliary Fire Service who were killed on the night of 19th / 20th April 1941 and paid my respects in the usual manner. The risks these brave volunteer firefighters took during the Blitz were unbelievable and many made the supreme sacrifice. As always I had to have a bit of a research into the affair and yet again something strange cropped up.
Firemen Drew, Fitzgerald, Moore, Palmer and Short did not die fighting fires in and around Beckenham but miles away in Plaistow Road in Stratford which is a couple of miles up the road from where I live and an area I know well. Along with Fireman Huggett of West Ham AFS, presumably acting as local guide, they were killed on their way to the nearby Silvertown Docks, a frequent Blitz target. It just goes to show how stretched the Fire Brigade must have been during that awful period.
In mid-April I wasn’t expecting to see what I saw next in the wonderfully named Sparrow’s Den Playing Fields which was allegedly a rugby pitch that looked better suited to water polo. This was a hangover from the catastrophic flooding that had affected most of the country a while before and indicates just how serious that inundation was. Some local wags floated a submarine, some plastic ducks and a shark in it at various points. I kid you not!
Skirting the newly opened Sparrow’s Den outdoor swimming pool and boating lake I Soon came to Spring Park, another one of those curious City of London Corporation holdings and even here the going was still a bit mucky. I was glad I was wearing my boots that day. I hadn’t expected poor conditions underfoot, it is just that my old boots were more comfortable than any pair of training shoes I had, I loved them.
In Spring Park, I came upon the rather old way-mark you can see in one of the images. Dated 1996 it was obviously the forerunner of the much more visible and corporate kestrel logo way-marks that indicate most of the route now. The first section of the route, not far from here at Coulsdon, was opened in 1996 so this really is a bit of LOOP history.
Spring Park is now only 50 acres but is part of a much large although extensive harvesting of timber has much changed the appearance of the Park but it is still a very pleasant place for a walk.
Spring Park becomes Threehalfpenny Wood and the London Borough of Bromley gives way to the London Borough of Croydon. I had lost all track of how many of London’s 32 Boroughs I had visited now not to mention brief forays into Hertfordshire, Essex and Kent. It’s quite a walk.
Threehalfpenny Wood is even smaller than Spring Park at 25 acres and if you are wondering about the name, it is a rather gruesone tale. On Sunday the 19th December 1802 Robert Rutter, the Parish Clerk of Sandersted Village (a respectable position) left his house and simply vanished. Three years later, in 1805 a badly decomposed body was found in a pond here and was “identified” on the rather sketchy forensic “evidence” that the body had three (old) halfpennies on it which was the amount of money the unfortunate Mr. Rutter was known to have on him. It is hardly CSI Croydon, is it?
After Threepenny Wood I was immediately into Shirley Heath, don’t you just love these place names? I even left out Corkscrew Hill earlier! So who was Shirley Heath? Film star? OK, I am being flippant, it is named for the nearby village of Shirley where the motorsport racing legend John Surtees was brought up. You don’t really get into Shirley Village properly, more skirt round it but if you have planned your timings right you could certainly get into the Sandrock pub in those days, and I did. I was getting thirsty again.
I liked the Sandrock and indeed I liked it so much I decided that one pint wasn’t enough so I had a second. Well, as I said, it wasn’t an endurance march and I had nowhere I had to get to if I didn’t want.
I hate to continue this piece about a thoroughly enjoyable day’s walk by introducing a sour note but I fear I must and you’ve probably already guessed what it is by my comment above. Yes, it is another dead pub. The lovely Sandrock, which is actually a listed building, was sold by Mitchell and Butler Brewery to a developer called Marshall Hurley and may all involved rot slowly in Hell when the time comes. By 2019 the developers had closed a well-loved local pub and submitted plans for two huge and unsightly blocks of flats in what is now the pub car park, claiming they wanted to extend and re-open the pub, an obvious lie as the pub would die without the car park because parking is very tight round there.
After a local campaign Croydon Council, in rare attack of common sense not usually associated with local Government, rejected the plans for no less than nine separate reasons which means the profiteers are stuck with a pub they obviously don’t want and can do nothing with. May they choke on it. I said it was a rare attack of common sense but on second thoughts, the bribes were obviously just not big enough. As always, the sorry affair is documented on the excellent Lost Pubs website which regular readers will know I contribute to and have regrettably cause to refer too far too often on my travels around the country.
I reckoned I could manage a bit more walking and so I reluctantly left the Sandrock where I managed to get all of about 100 yards before I was compelled by my self-imposed regime to go into the Surprise Inn and it was not really a surprise to find another cracking pub. I hadn’t really visited too many I hadn’t liked on my trip round the LOOP do far. I particularly liked the bar counter there as it was made up of thousands of old coins under glass which I don’t think I have seen done on that scale before.
Back in 2014 I wasn’t eating a whole lot really and I rarely ate out when I was walking, preferring to go home and cook for myself but the food in the Surprise must have tempted me some way because I seem to have had a right hearty looking plate of bangers and mash served in a slightly unconventional way. Washed down with a nice pint of Stowford Press cider, it was certainly going to fuel me for however much I decided to do.
Actually, I didn’t do too much more as I fell into rather too much of a comfortable position in the Surprise and it was about 2100 and pitch black when I got out. I did manage a quick image of Shirley Windmill in the dark which turned out just about acceptable under the circumstances.
After that I jumped on a bus up to Norwood Junction to catch the Overground home. At last that was the plan but I am sure you can guess what happened next. You guessed it, some joker had put a pub right opposite the station, the Cherry Tree to be precise, which is now renamed Cherry Trees for some unknown reason. Perhaps they planted another one. Well, I might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb I suppose so it was in there for a nightcap or two. I have now worked out the time discrepancy between my still overseas timed camera and the actual time and I reckon I got out of there at 2300 to head home. It has been quite a day one way and another.
In the next instalment I walk through some more woods, find several pubs both open and closed down, see lots and lots of bluebells and even find a trig point so stay tuned and spread the word.