Football-free walk takes in murder, rare orchids and the stars

WANDLE WANDERER: It’s a couple of months since our non-resident rambler, KEN TOWL, reached Hamsey Green on the fourth section of the London Orbital walk, the LOOP. On Sunday lunchtime, he picked up where he left off, and headed in the direction of Coulsdon Common

The LOOP walks are never too demanding, but can be thirsty work in the summer

The beauty of the LOOP is that you can walk sections of it whenever you choose, picking them up in sequence, or as suits you, whenever you please, but you are always following a circular route that takes even the least intrepid rambler all the way around the outside of Greater London. And all of the routes can be reached by public transport.

The LOOP route as mapped out runs about 140 miles from Erith near the Dartford crossings to Purfleet on the other side of the River Thames. It is divided into 15 sections, each around 10 miles long. So far, we’ve walked Section 3, in two bite-sized chunks from Kent into Surrey, and then Section 4, in two bits, arriving in Croydon and then venturing off as far as Hamsey Green amid the springtime bluebells.

Section 5 of the LOOP begins at Hamsey Green, the somewhat unlikely murder central of the leafy Croydon-Tandridge county borderlands.

It starts at the corner of Limpsfield Road and Tithepit Shaw Lane, once the site of the Good Companions pub, now a much-objected to potential Lidl.

Murder Central, apparently

It was here in February 2002 that two young men were lured out of the pub and blasted at close range with shotguns by a couple of local businessmen. Then, in 2011, a Polish worker was murdered after being tied up and badly beaten. It wasn’t until two years later that his body was found in a well in Audley Drive, just over the road. Agatha Christie never had plot lines like these in any of her sleepy little English villages.

It was late Sunday morning, and I meet my friend Pete, a local who is not involved in even the most innocuous criminal activity, and hastily we set off for less murderous parts.

The LOOP is easy to follow here – straight down Tithepit Lane and, following the signs, along a country path through the meadows of Riddlesdown, some of it, mercifully at this time of year, under cover of trees to provide shade from the June sun.

The rare pyramidal orchid, which thrives on our nearby chalky downland

After a few hundred yards, a sharp left takes you downhill and on to the old drovers’ road that some sources claim to be Roman, through more meadow where you might spot rather a lot of pyramidal orchids if you go in the next few weeks.

The  plant, with its deep pink blooms, is regarded as rare, though around the chalky soil of the North Downs around Riddlesdown and Coulsdon, especially in meadows that have become part of an ecological reclamation project, it has been thriving. Certainly, we managed to spot some as we ambled by, and we did as we were asked, and resisted the temptation to pick any.

At the bottom, cross Godstone Road and follow the signs along New Barn Lane and up to Kenley Airfield.

Pete and I stopped in the Warlingham Arms for a pint (it was hot work) but left on the dot of 1pm. A football match was about to start and the pub had been invaded by a large group of gentlemen who, judging by their St George flags, appeared to have a partisan interest.

Following the signs, we crossed the stile at Old Lodge Lane and into the field along the side of the airfield where we found the quaint Croydon Observatory open for business, members greeting us and inviting us to look at the sun through their very powerful looking telescopes.

Quaint, but fascinating nonetheless, the Observatory alongside Kenley Airfield

Apparently, and contrary to everything I had been taught, it’s perfectly OK to look directly at the sun through a telescope. Though please don’t try this at home. They use some sort of clever filter so that your eye doesn’t suffer the fate of ants under a magnifying glass. In attendance was ex-Croydon Central MP Andrew Pelling who, too, appeared to be avoiding the football.

The Croydon Astronomical Society ( welcome members of the public every Saturday night and lets people have a look through their telescopes from 8pm or dusk, whichever is the later. At the moment dusk is somewhat later.

Sufficiently dazzled, Pete and I set off again and followed the signs down Rydons Lane and across Coulsdon Common to The Fox, a pub which had decided not to show The Match.

On a bright sunny Sunday, the big beer garden of The Fox is usually full, of families and lunchers. On Sunday June 24, 2018, it should be recorded that The Fox wasn’t full.

The Fox, a welcome sight, and surprisingly empty

Around 3pm, I asked a passing waitress whether she knew the score, and she said “6-1, I think”, and paused.

When I failed to look ecstatic, she clarified: “To England”.

I allowed myself a smile. We had another couple of pints and some thrice-cooked chips to celebrate and got the 466 back up to Croydon.

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