London Loop Walk 7:
Petts Wood to West Wickham

9 April 2006

Today Stephen did the seventh of his  London Loop walks, once more with George for company. After a slightly frustrating journey, missing the train at London Bridge by only 30 seconds leaving 29 minutes to wait, we set off from Petts Wood, initially with a mix of suburban and park and woodland, but the second half being mostly rural or wild, eventually reaching the end of the stage at the west end of West Wickham Common where Lucy, Henry and Ellie had just arrived on their way back from a dog show, where Ellie was placed 4th and 2nd in her two classes, and Henry was Reserve Best of Breed.

The village sign in Petts Wood is looking very smart. Upper left is Invicta, the white horse of Kent; upper right is the Pett family coat of arms, granted to them in 1583; lower left is an Elizabethan galleon representing the ships built at Deptford using oak from Petts Wood; and lower right symbolises the involvement of William Willett in the invention of daylight saving time.

Trees in bloom in Faringdon Avenue as we aim south to escape the built-up edges of the borough of Bromley.

George in Sparrow Wood - looking forward to his birthday tomorrow?

Emerging from Roundabout Wood we find daffodils on the green at Crofton

The village sign of Crofton

After another short walk through houses, we find ourselves gradually climbing through Darrick Wood...

...on emerging from which we are at the top of a hill, looking out across the edge of suburbia and the sprawling foothills of the North Downs, and it being one o'clock, a good spot to stop for lunch.

Safely victualled, we press on and reach the centre of Farnborough village, now bypassed by the A21 (we're making more progress around the clockface numbering of London's roads). The guidebook describes it as having "one of the best village centres around the LOOP". Its nice enough, but not outstanding - certainly inferior to Havering and probably Bexley (though Bexley has too much traffic on its narrow roads), and even Chigwell or Rainham had much in favour of them.

An attractive old house in Farnborough

The parish church of St Giles the Abbot, Farnborough: we have now left the suburbs

After a pleasant walk along field margins, we reach High Elms Country Park, another of the lapsed country estates that are one of the staples of the green belt and hence the LOOP. Once the home of the Lubbock family, it is now in the ownership of Bromley council: all that remains of the house is this Eton Fives court...

...and this stable block.

The main house burnt down on August bank holiday Monday in 1967. These garden terraces show where the house must have stood.

After crossing High Elms Road we make our way through another of the golf courses to be found in such great numbers around the margins of London, but beyond is real farmland.

We cross North End Lane and then make our way up this ancient lane.

There are views on both sides of farmland. reported unpleasant walking along this section, but with the extremely dry winter and spring it was very easy going both on the lane itself and in the field margins to which the waymarkers point walkers.

George on Bogey Lane

Some of the many horses to be seen around here

Then a short section of road-walking along the quiet lane of Farthing Street. No cars to be seen, though. Is this really London?

The first cows we've seen on the LOOP.

A look up the hill to the magnificent house of Holwood with its Grecian portico. William Pitt the Younger bought the estate in 1784 and built a house built on it. The landscape gardening carried out by Pitt largely destroyed the early British camp in the estate. The house seen here was built in 1823-6 by a later owner, Decimus Burton (famous as an architect and garden designer).

The house is now owned by property developers.

As we walk up the hill towards the Holwood estate, a look back towards this very rural part of London.

A clear message from the property developers: such notices were very prominent around the estate.

The oval of this large stone seat is inscribed thus:

From Mr. Wilberforce's diary. 1787. "At length I well remember after a conversation with Mr. Pitt in the open air at the root of an old tree at Holwood just above the steep descent into the Vale of Keston 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."

Beneath the oval it reads: Erected by Earl Stanhope 1862. By permission of Lord Cranworth.

The seat is out of bounds behind a high fence and more "private property" signs. I suppose it is thereby protected from the more mindless members of society, but it is a shame that a historical monument on the very edge of the Holwood estate is shielded so. Is there something symbolic in the exclusion of we ordinary people from the activities of our rulers in making such important decisions?

William Wilberforce was a close friend of William Pitt (Prime Minister at the time), who owned Holwood estate. Wilberforce was a frequent visitor there and used to sit under the tree which became known as the Wilberforce Oak. The oak tree in question is fenced off on the opposite side of the path but has fallen down.

George on the path around the edge of the estate. There are several places where trees have been cut down, but which in growing had become embedded in the wire of the fence, leaving fragments swinging sadly on the wires, as here on the right.

After crossing Westerham Road, we reach the delightful Keston Common

George by Caesar's Well, source of the River Ravensbourne (which runs north, becoming Deptford Creek just before it reaches the Thames opposite the tip of the Isle of Dogs). The Romans built a camp nearby, in the grounds of Holwood House.

The feeder from the well runs into the uppermost of the three Keston Ponds: the two upper ponds were created in the 19th century to act as a reservoir for Holwood House, but now are a delightful local beauty spot on Keston Common.

The middle of the three ponds, looking up to the highest.

Bravely resisting the temptation of the ice-cream van, we press on through Keston village and across Hayes Common, now reaching West Wickham Common, indicated by this huge sign (George posing to give some idea of scale, but it must be over three metres high).

The Corporation of London established a policy in the 19th century of acquiring land for public open spaces within 25 miles of the City for the benefit of Londoners and the nation. West Wickham Common was bought in 1892. Although it is not a commons today, it is protected from development by the Corporation of London (Open Spaces) Act 1878.

Unusual earthworks crown the hilltop, but their origin is unknown - perhaps a prehistoric fort, or perhaps just an Elizabethan military camp. This broad ditch encircles the top of the hill.

More earthworks on top of the hill, with trees having recently been cleared. When the Common was bought by the Corporation, it was used for cattle and sheep grazing, and was thus grass and heathland, but with grazing having ceased, it is now almost entirely woodland.

Looking out between a gap in the trees shows the housing of Coney Hall, demonstrating two things - the height of the Common, but also its fate had the Corporation not bought the land and preserved it.

As we finish our descent out of the Common, we reach the famous pollarded oaks, believed to be 700 years old, but looking rather sad, proped up and fenced off. While there is historical significance, I think there comes a time when one has to accept that nothing lives forever! Lucy, Henry and Ellie were waiting in the car just around the corner, the success of our mutual timing in a walk across London and drive from the dog show resulting in only five minutes waiting.

The first half of the day had interesting bits, but the second half was a delight (and not just because the sun came out!) showing the entirely un-London-like aspect of south-east Bromley. And the next couple of sections look just as good.

The quality of the signing on today's walk was similar to last time, perhaps slightly worse - in some places scattered as thickly as confetti, but missing in quite a few "which way now?" moments. A 1:25k map or the guidebook is essential. (The TfL leaflet for this section was unavailable.) Next time, the London Loop from West Wickham Common to Hamsey Green

Section 3 Petts Wood station to West Wickham Common: 13.2km, 3 hours 50 minutes (including 55 minutes stopped), 227 metres of ascent

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Unless otherwise stated, all images copyright (c) Stephen and Lucy Dawson