WANDLE WANDERER: There’s a slight end-of-term feel to our non-resident rambler, KEN TOWL, as he sets off on what for him is the final Croydon stage of the London Orbital walk, the LOOP. He’s even walked straight past a pub as he set off to explore Happy Valley…
A walk with a pub at the beginning rather than at the end?
Against all my instincts, I alighted from the 466 bus from Croydon and entered the LOOP over the road on Fox Lane. It was no great feat to walk straight past The Fox, as I was starting this walk a little after nine o’clock in the morning. You may have noticed that it is hot these days, and I wanted to get the walk done before the sun was too high in the sky.
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 (weblinks to all of the walks can be found below). This, the second half of Section 5, is to be the final part of my LOOP exploration.
The lane from The Fox that takes you towards Happy Valley offers a bit of shade, and this increases as you enter the trees, descend a little and bear to the right until you emerge into Happy Valley.
This is, perhaps, the most stunningly beautiful part of the LOOP.
The path skirts the top of the meadow, enters the woods again and emerges at a point overlooking the valley from a table which looks like as good a spot for a picnic as you can get. I also know, from a previous trip some years ago that, when it snows, this is as good a spot for sledging as you can get.
Across Happy Valley we go, diagonally, following the foot-worn path through the long grass flecked with purple thistles, to the woods on the other side.
Here we make our way up a gentle slope as we ascend up to Farthing Down. We emerge at the southern end, near the road – Ditches Lane – that runs its length. There are grassy paths either side that run parallel to the road and offer views north and south, including across to London.
As I walk, I consider how grateful we should be to those members of the City of London who, back in the 1870s, had the foresight to buy and preserve so much land around the capital so that we could continue to enjoy it. There ain’t half been some clever burghers.
DH Lawrence, it turns out, appreciated Farthing Down. When he was a schoolteacher in Croydon he came up here for a walk with his colleague, Helen Clarke, who wrote, “Farthing Down – it is as though we walk along the smooth rounded back of a huge animal, in mutual isolation from humankind.”
Interestingly, we are not really isolated from mankind. Dog walkers and cyclists abound.
And runners, too.
This used to be the training grounds of the 1950s world record-breaking athlete Gordon “Puff Puff” Pirie, so named because of the way he would puff out his cheeks when racing around the White City track. Pirie, to make his runs up the steep downland hillsides even tougher, would sometimes wear heavy army boots. Unlike Lawrence, the South London Harrier was not known for his poetry, though his training diaries were full of metres…
This is a great space to be out and about in and accessible (as my next paragraph attests) to all. It is popular now and it has been the site of human occupation since our prehistoric ancestors cleared it of trees and farmed the land. Later, Saxon settlers used it as a burial ground.
A little way along, a gated fence crosses the path and here I encounter a woman with a walking frame who appears to be having difficulty with the gate. I offer to hold the gate open for her but she explains that the problem is that she has got her dog’s poo bag caught up between the wheel and the frame. She is having trouble even reaching it. If she continues on her way the bag will burst. Something will have to be done.
I bend down and gently squeeze the bag so that its contents are evenly distributed and I can extract it. It occurs to me that for palpating a plastic bag of still-warm shit, I have probably earned some good karma.
The path starts to descend and we find ourselves at the end of Farthing Down, where Downs Road meets Marlpit Road. Across there is a park with a café. I wash my hands (not a euphemism), and pause here at Poppy’s Café for a cup of tea and sit on the terrace that overlooks the park, with its bowls lawn and putting greens.
If the tea (£1/cup) is anything to go by, then the advertised Caesar and Mediterranean salads at £3.80 are probably a good deal, too.
Coulsdon South station is just down Reddown Road, or you can get the 405 bus to central Croydon from a stop opposite the station. Either way, this is a relatively gentle, alcohol-free walk of some three miles.
Alternatively, of course, you could start at Poppy’s and walk the other way, ending up at The Fox. They have a decent beer garden…
The next bit of the LOOP, Section 6, goes from Coulsdon South to Banstead Downs. But for me, for now at least, I’ve reached the end of the footpath.
You can follow in the footsteps of Ken Towl, and DH Lawrence, with these previous guides to the LOOP walks, all of them accessible by public transport from central Croydon:
- Click here to catch up with Ken Towl as he sets off on Section 3 of the LOOP
- And click here for the second LOOP walk, from Farnborough to Hayes
- For the start of LOOP Section 4, from Hayes to Coombe Lane, click here
- The second part of LOOP Section 4, to Hamsey Green, is here
- Section 5 of the LOOP from Hamsey Green to Coulsdon Common
- Check out Ken Towl’s previous wanderings along the Wandle and elsewhere around Croydon, and his visits to some of the area’s better pubs
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