Take a walk over the downs in Coulsdon with an all-star cast

Dominic North (left) the council’s countryside warden, did the work on the audio trail in his spare time. He is here with Graham Lomas of the Friends group at the start of the trail

The Friends of Farthing Downs and Happy Valley have relaunched their nature trail in Coulsdon, with the help of an all-star cast of celebrities.

Joanna Lumley, Benjamin Zephaniah, Noddy Holder, Martin Jarvis, Miriam Margolyes, Gyles Brandreth, Tony Robinson and Richard O’Brien are among those who have volunteered their time to narrate sections of the trail, which can be accessed by smartphones using QR codes on 29 marker posts.

Actor Jarvis – an old boy from Whitgift School – grew up up in South Norwood and South Croydon. “Doing the narration stirred up so many nice memories of my childhood,” he said.

Dub poet Benjamin Zephaniah is one of the recognisable voices on the nature trail

“We used to go on rambles around the Downs but I wasn’t at all educated about it as this trail will help teach everybody.

“I’ve done two separate narrations and one about a particular pond is my favourite because it reminds me of a character I later became associated with – William in the Just William stories who is very keen on ponds.”

The relaunched trail and accompanying 64-page booklet were organised by the Friends of Farthing Downs and Happy Valley and made possible by a grant from the City of London Corporation. The project was pulled together in his spare time by Croydon Council’s countryside warden, Dominic North, who contacted the celebrities and edited the material, dubbing in bird song and other background effects noises.

“Originally, I was going to narrate the whole thing but when I put my voice on tape I thought people would get bored,” North said.

“So I came up with the plan to contact well-known people and I must have written to 150 of them, including personal heroes like Bob Dylan. I’ve ended up with one celebrity each doing a couple of posts.

“I don’t know of another nature trail quite like this where so many famous people have been involved.”

Martin Jarvis: gives voice to the trail

As well as enjoying the distinguished voices, visitors to the trail will also be able to use the QR codes to access a library of information relating to that particular location.

The trail can be split into two sections. The Farthing Downs section (Posts 1 to 10) is reasonably flat and takes roughly 90 minutes to walk. The Happy Valley section (Posts 11 to 29) includes some steep hills and steps and takes roughly two hours to walk.

The route is shown by red discs mounted on wooden posts. You can also follow the trail using your smartphone’s GPS, by using one of two free apps: Viewranger or TiCL.

Post 1, for the start of the Farthing Downs section, is just outside the public car park on Ditches Lane. Post 11, for the beginning of the Happy Valley section, is a short walk from the same car park, off Drive Road.

Happy Valley (owned by Croydon Council) and Farthing Downs (owned by the City of London Corporation), together with adjacent open spaces at Coulsdon Common, Kenley and Riddlesdown, form part of a newly designated South London Downs National Nature Reserve – only the third National Nature Reserve in London.

The trail can be tackled in two parts – Farthing Downs and Happy Valley

Graham Lomas, the chair of the Friends of Farthing Downs and Happy Valley, said, “I hope these initiatives will encourage more people to visit these much-loved, historic open spaces.

“What Dominic has achieved in his audio-trail is not just delightful but groundbreaking and we also plan to add translations so visitors will be able to hear everything the celebrities have said in their own language.

“My other hope is that more schoolchildren and college students will now engage with the Downs and Happy Valley and I would love to see schools in the area that are studying biology use the material that we’ve provided.”

The audio-trail is now live and you can access it through the link http://goo.gl/GAeAZk which also features a text version of the trail.


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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in City Commons, Community associations, Coulsdon, Environment, Friends of Farthing Downs, South London Downs NNR, Wildlife and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Take a walk over the downs in Coulsdon with an all-star cast

  1. Moya Gordon says:

    A great idea. Will enjoy doing the trail.

  2. Lewis White says:

    What a fantastic initiative!
    Farthing Downs and Happy Valley are some of the most beautiful landscapes in the World! Now justly designated as the Inside Croydon article notes– a National Nature Reserve. And all this in Croydon !

    It is great — before, but particularly during lockdown — to have seen so many people of all ages, and ethnic backgrounds, enjoying the freedom and the fresh air, the upland sunshine, and the panoramic views from Farthing Downs, over London to the North, and the Surrey countryside of the North Downs all around. And leaving very little litter!

    The enclosed but spacious and sweeping valley landscape of the Happy Valley, edged by the sinisterly-named Devils Den woods to one side, is literally filled with wild flowers (some very rare) during Spring and Summer.

    Placid red-brown Susex cattle graze the Downs, oblivious to the human users and passing cars. Sheep graze some of the slopes of Happy Valley.

    Both the Downs and Valley are beloved by joggers, dogs and their owners, frisbee players, horse ridres, people watching the birds and enjoying the wild life and wild flowers, cloud-watchers, picknickers and of course, by many just for sitting on the marjoram-scented turf, alone, with family and friends (socially distanced of course), and taking in the air and beauty. It is also on the Paris to London green cycle way, so for thousands of tourist cyclists cycling the last 15 miles into the centre of London, as they reach the ridge and see the distant Shard, City and Canary Wharf, from such an unspoilt rural viewpoint, this must be a very special moment.

    We who live within easy travel distance of this wonderful rural and natural environment are definitely privileged. The great thing is that it is open to all, and costs nothing to enter. All we need to contribute, is respect for this unique environment, the safety of its cattle, sheep and wildlife, and our fellow users.

    Congratulations to Warden Dominic for this inspired idea, and to the Friends, to Croydon Council and City of London for taking the project through to reality. Plus , of course, to all these National Treasures whose voices will be heard and appreciated by all who access the audio trail.

    It’s about time that I joined the app-savvy generations. This will definitely give me the key to the door!

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