In the middle of the hottest of heatwaves, KEN TOWL set off from East Croydon for the sea. He travelled not by train, but on foot along the Vanguard Way
I am looking at a plaque on the side of Berwick Station that marks the place where the “Vanguard Way, long distance path from Croydon to Newhaven” was relaunched by the Ramblers Association in 1998. I am about to get a train back to East Croydon, having set out from there three days earlier.
This piece covers the first day, and the first of the 10 stages of the Vanguard Way, and where and why I got lost, a barbed comment about a golf club, and the discovery of the first of two phenomenally old churches. There will be a subsequent piece covering the rest, and where and why I got lost, where and why I cheated just a little bit, a barbed comment about a golf club and the second of two phenomenally old churches.
The first stage makes a convenient seven-mile walk out of Croydon with a reward at the end (especially if you go on a Sunday – but more of that later) and a convenient bus ride back into town. A brief reference to the www.vanguardway.org.uk website showed me that the route starts down Altyre Way opposite the cantilevered pulchritude that is East Croydon railway station. There are lots of instructions on the Vanguard Way site, pages and pages to print off and carry, along with OS maps and paragraph after paragraph of, quite frankly, too much information.
Here’s a taste: “Altyre Road contains several buildings worth noting… On your right you pass the First Church of Christ Scientist, then the concrete-lined law courts. On your left near the end is the plush red-brick Croydon Park Hotel (currently owned by Croydon Council), then Altitude 25, providing nearly 200 apartments on 25 floors.”
All that extraneous detail makes the Vanguard Way site a little less accessible than it ought to be.
For the first stage of the route, they have produced a 17-page brochure. There are 10 such tomes altogether, a significant addition to your rucksack if you are going the distance.
Rather than print that off, I decide to rely on the waymarkers. This, it turns out, is a mistake.
The route is actually well-signposted most of the way at the beginning, and after the architectural delights of Altyre Way we are pointed in the direction of Park Hill Park, then through an ingenious network of footpaths through suburbia to Lloyd Park, Croydon’s gem of a sprawling series of meadows providing acres of space for dog-walking, children’s play areas and even a frisbee golf course. It is a very attractive space and, I think, under-appreciated.
The walk is not well-signposted in Lloyd Park but you won’t go wrong if you go straight ahead and then turn off to the right after about half a mile on to Oaks Road and then take a right over Coombe Road into Conduit Lane.
At this point you might want to visit another under-appreciated local gem, Coombe Wood Gardens. At this time of year the flowers are at their best.
If you haven’t already stopped for a break at the Water Tower Café in Park Hill Park or the Park Life Café in Lloyd Park, you may wish to take pause in the sunken walled garden of the Coach House Café before heading off down Conduit Lane.
This turns into Ballards Farm Road and, though still in deepest suburbia, feels like a country lane. At the end of it, take a right on to Ballards Way but be sure to take a quick left into Crest Road. I missed it and had to retrace my steps after a rather frustrating 20 minutes. At the end, a rather discreet footpath takes you into Littleheath Woods.
Here the signage gets serious where the route follows part of the London Outer Orbital Path, the LOOP, the source of several previous Inside Croydon walks, conducted both on the web pages of this site, and in the company of some of our loyal readers.
We can now follow the doubly well-signed path down to Selsdon Wood where the LOOP heads towards Hamsey Green. The Vanguard Way, however, turns left into Farleigh Golf Course which thoughtfully provides a footpath for non-members and, on the off-chance that you have forgotten your cheese sandwich and energy bar, invites you to visit its “fabulous restaurant”. While I have indeed forgotten my cheese sandwich and my energy bar I decide to get on and leave fabulous dining for another time.
At the end of the golf course you turn left along a lane and see the prominent sign for St Mary the Virgin pointing off to the right. You may not see the rather less prominent VGW sign also pointing off to the right, since it is almost completely obscured by brambles. I lost another 10 minutes this way.
The church makes it all worthwhile though, and I sincerely thank the Vanguard Way people for facilitating my visit to this marvel that sits quietly and unassumingly just to the south of Croydon. It has been there for almost a thousand years and it makes no fuss apart from opening up in the summer months for afternoon tea on Sundays. I made a mental note to visit one Sunday.
After this, I made my way south on footpaths past Chelsham Road and down to Limpsfield Road where I lost the trail due, it turned out, to another foliage-obscured waymarker on Limpsfield Road.
You could turn right on either of these roads and they will both take you, after half a mile or so, to the Sainsbury’s at the eastern tip of Warlingham where you can get a 403 back into Croydon.
I walked a stop further, into Warlingham, in search of refreshment. I found a truly fabulous lunch, a massive cup of tea and a gigantic (and delicious) coronation chicken sandwich that came to £4 in total. I cannot recommend the Flavours Coffee bar in the centre of Warlingham highly enough.
With my energy renewed I resolved… to go home, get up early the next day, get a 403 back to Warlingham and set out for Berwick.
And that is what I did…
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