Follow in the footsteps of abolitionists and gravel-pit diggers

Holwood House, once the home of Pitt the Younger, can be seen sitting grandly in the distance on this section of the LOOP walk

WANDLE WANDERINGS: Having trekked from Petts Wood to Farnborough High Street on the first section of the LOOP walk, KEN TOWL has pulled his walking boots back on and set off to discover abandoned Eton Fives courts, the Wilberforce Oak and the home of Pitt the Younger

To get back on track, as it were, I travelled from Croydon by tram to Elmer’s End and from there caught  the 358 bus to Farnborough. Alternatively, you can take the Beckenham tram and catch the 358 from the bus stop right next to Beckenham Road tram stop.

The LOOP, the London Outer Orbital Path, is a circular route that makes it a sort of pedestrian M25. The LOOP runs about 140 miles from Erith near the Dartford crossings and around to Purfleet on the other side of the Thames. It is divided into 15 sections, each around 10 miles long. Last time, we walked part of Section 3. Once back in Farnborough, we’re set for the second-half of that section.

Get off the bus at Farnborough High Steet and go up Church Street across the road.

Enter the graveyard of St Giles the Abbot by the lychgate on your right and walk widdershins* around the church and out into a field on the other side.

A Rachel Whiteread piece of art? No, it’s an Eton Fives court

Follow the left-hand side of the field and continue as the trail takes you into woods, through a car park and into the grounds of what once was High Elms Mansion. The mansion burnt down in 1967, but some interesting vestiges remain, such as the Eton Fives Court, now looking like a Rachel Whiteread of one side of Eton College Chapel.

Fives is much like the game of squash, developed from boys bouncing a ball against the chapel wall, and  which is played almost exclusively by some of England’s most exclusive public schools. And Whitgift…

High Elms also has some impressive formal gardens, as well as exotic trees such as California Redwoods, echoing those featured in our earlier walk through Wettern Tree Gardens in Sanderstead.

The gardens at High Elms remain impressive, even if it is 50 years since the house burnt down

Follow the main route through the park till it ends. Here you go straight across the lawn to an avenue of trees in front of you and follow this to another car park and a pathway beyond through part of the High Elms Golf Course.

“DANGER!” say the signs, as they warn the passing ambler of that modern-day peril… golf. Walkers are advised to “proceed with caution”, so I did.

I should have thrown caution to the wind; no one was playing golf on this chill and damp April day.

Clocktower Farm, from the days when labourers didn’t possess watches

After the snows and heavy rainfall of the past month, much of the route was pretty muddy when I passed by this way, though there were no signs to warn me of that.

Follow the trail, with the Clockhouse Farm bell tower to your left (the bell was to notify farm labourers that their shift was about to start, from the days when workers didn’t possess much, and almost certainly not an alarm clock).

Continue till you get to North End Lane.

Turn left here and walk for about 50 yards till you get to the wonderfully named Bogey Lane on your right. I’d advise climbing up the steps a little way along on the left. This allows you to follow a parallel path to Bogey Lane itself, one that you are unlikely to sink in. Otherwise, go with caution.


When the path you are on begins to turn off to the left, go through the opening in the hedge on your right and continue along Bogey Lane.

At the end, turn right on Farthing Lane as it descends towards Shire Lane.

Off to your right, you will catch a glimpse of Holwood House, once the country home of William Pitt the Younger, who remains the youngest Prime Minister in British history (he was 24 in 1783), who was in power in two spells through to 1806, during a period of international turmoil around the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars.

If the weather is good, cross Shire Road and follow the path behind the hedge that runs parallel to the road. Quite frankly, though, if the terrain is as muddy as it was on this trip, I would advise you to, albeit cautiously, follow the road for about 200 yards until you can turn right, just past the Jack Frost Pet and Country Store, on to the footpath that climbs up the hill to skirt the Holwood estate.

At the top you will find the Wilberforce Oak and, next to Pitt’s seat, Wilberforce’s bench.

A plaque next to the commemorative bench relates a 1788 entry from William Wilberforce’s diary:

“At length, I well remember after a conversation with Mr Pitt in the open air at the root of an old tree at Holmwood, just above the steep descent into the vale of Keston, I resolved to give notice on a fit occasion in the House of Commons of my intention to bring forward the abolition of the slave trade.”

This conversation was the genesis of what would eventually be the Slave Trade Act 1807 which outlawed the trade across the British Empire.

The Wilberforce Oak – it’s not the dead one standing up, it’s the dead one lying down

We continue along the path as it descends towards Keston Ponds.

When we reach a road we cross it and follow the path to the right down through the old gravel pits below the iron age settlement on our left. This brings us to Caesar’s Well, the brick-lined spring that is the source of the Ravensbourne and Keston Ponds themselves.

We skirt the first of the ponds to the right, then turn left between the ponds and then turn right down the left-hand side of the second pond.

Caesar’s Well, the source of the Ravensbourne and Keston Ponds

Continue over the road, where when we were there, an incredibly optimistic ice cream entrepreneur had parked his van.

Go on down the hill, with more ponds off to our right. The path bears left and takes us to Lakes Road, at the end of which is the Fox, a pub where you could get a drink if you were thirsty.

Past the pub, a footpath takes you from West Common Road on to a path that runs more or less parallel to it.

When you get to a road, cross it and carry on between a couple of houses, and continue along the trail and down the hill till you come to Gates Green Road, near the corner of Croydon Road.

To continue along the LOOP, turn left and follow the signs. To call it a day, turn right and climb Croydon Road up to the right for 75 yards or so and turn left along the signposted Pole Cat Alley. Continue until you get to Hayes Common on your right and houses on your left and take the second road on the left – appropriately named Station Hill.

This takes you down to Hayes station, a mere three stops from Elmer’s End. You have walked six miles in the footsteps of gentleman tree enthusiasts, Victorian farm hands, abolitionists, iron age settlers and gravel pit diggers. You are steeped in history.

The next part of the LOOP will see us enter the borough of Croydon.

*”widdershins” is old Scots, meaning anti-clockwise, in case you thought we’d made it up.

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