London Loop Walk 8:
West Wickham Common to Hamsey Green

22 April 2006

Today Stephen did the eighth of his  London Loop walks, this time with both George and Ellie for company. This was the longest of our LOOP walks so far, the hilliest and the hottest.

Soon after setting off, we reach a recreation ground with this stone marking the Greenwich Meridian line of longitude, "the prime meridian of the world" as the inscription notes.

Ellie in the western hemisphere, and George in the eastern.

We then soon reached the church of St John the Baptist. This path down from the church across the field is the first section of the LOOP that I had done before south of the Thames - albeit only a small section, I had walked along it when visiting the church on a bellringing outing some years ago.

Looking across to the playing fields of Spring Park - when I was last here, they were under water, presumably from the spring. As we continue through the worst drought in 100 years, the ground underfoot today was extremely dry. Even the bits which looked muddy (notably the bridleways) were dry, and in many places rock-hard.

Ellie and George in the woods of Spring Park

Ellie not knowing what is in store, this being her first longer walk.

A signpost in Spring Park tells us we still have 7 miles to go to Hamsey Green.

Flowers in the wood

As we pass into Threehalfpenny Wood, another of those stones, this time marking the boundary between Bromley (where we have come from) and Croydon (where we are going to), and the ancient boundary between Kent and Surrey.

Apparently one can see the remains of the earth bank which divided Kent and Surrey, but we descended a long way and didn't see anything terribly definite - this may be it, centre picture, but it may not.

An open space among the trees, and an hour into the walk time for our first stop and a drink. Soon after this we passed west of the 371 gridline and thus are the furthest west we've been on the LOOP so far.

After more trees we reach Shirley Road where we have a bit of roadside walking, but as roadside walks go, this is pretty fair.

A tree comes into blossom looking out over these school playing fields

After passing through Upper Shirley we climb up onto the top of Addington Hill, where a viewing platform shows us an extensive view to the north over the top of the trees. It was hazy today, so the view wasn't at its best, but the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf can be seen just right of centre, and on the right hand side is the Millennium Dome.

A panoramic photo of the full view - click the photo to enlarge.

The footpath on the top of Addington Hill, and our lunch stop.

After lunch and drinks, we press on - still more than 4 miles to go, but we are 21 from the Thames - nearly half way to Kingston Bridge where we regain the north bank.

Descending from Addington Hill, we find the Tramlink lines - not really a tram at this point, more of a railway through the woods.

A tram in the trees.

We then have chance to explore Heathfield Gardens. It is a little early for the azaleas to be at their best, but you can get some idea of their coming glory.

Descending to the pond near Heathfield house itself. The sign which can just be seen at the bottom of the stairs rather misled us here, and a few minutes later found ourselves back at the top of the hill with the entrance lodge. But the diversion meant that we saw more of the gardens and it wasn't long before we were back on the right route.

Which was swiftly followed by this slightly intimidating sign. It isn't a public right of way, so isn't illegal, but it is on the London Loop route, so is undesirable. However, after a few more metres we are into the Bramley Bank nature reserve.

From just inside the nature reserve, there is this impressive view over farmland towards New Addington. We press on through the woods of the nature reserve, hearing but not seeing the woodpeckers for which it is well known.

Emerging into an open space, Ellie waits on the attractive log bench.

George: "This really isn't big enough for me - how about you?"
Ellie: "I'm quite comfortable, thanks."

The third stool seems to be begging for Henry to join them!

All the while we were resting, having our drinks, and taking those photos, this tractor and mower were buzzing around making a nuisance of itself, but just as we got up to go, it went too. But time was marching on, and so were we.

We then went into Littleheath Woods where George races away up the line of the Vanguard Way, which we have joined for a while. Vanguard Way runs from London to the south coast between Newhaven and Seaford. It reaches the sea at Cuckmere Haven, so Stephen, Lucy, George and Henry have walked the last 1.5km of the Way from Exceat Bridge to Cuckmere Haven in 2003, and Stephen walked a few more kilometres north from there to Litlington years before that. But back to the LOOP...

Fungus growing on a tree in Littleheath Woods. It is an odd sort of wood, gradually narrowing until it is only fifty metres wide, but continuing like that for quite a distance between housing estates.

We cross Selsdon Park Road, and then should have taken the bridleway between housing, but weren't paying attention to the guide book and must have missed a sign, so we followed this road, Ashen Vale, to its end, then discovering our error, but it was a short journey back to the bridleway which we then followed until it took us into Selsdon Wood

Selsdon Wood is a 81-hectare fragment of the Selsdon Estate which was saved from housing in the 1920s and now a nature reserve and bird sanctuary. It is now owned by the National Trust and managed by Croydon Borough Council

At the other side of Selsdon Wood, we (just) leave Greater London, and there is one of those brief moments where the LOOP just brushes suburbia, which are very common. In one direction we can see houses, cars and garages, behind us is Selsdon Wood...

...and from the same point we can also see open country, albeit now a golf course.

We continue along Vanguard Way, now taking the route of a bridleway just outside Greater London, which takes us through Puplet Wood and back to the edge of the golf course.

When Vanguard Way heads east, the LOOP continues south until we reach Elm Farm, here, where we turn south-west towards Hamsey Green.

Back inside Greater London, crossing a dry valley necessitates a descent and re-ascent - small really, but the day is surprisingly hot and the three of us are starting to wilt a little.

Kingswood Lodge is the first sign that we are approaching Hamsey Green.

And here it is, the information board for LOOP sections 4 and 5, on the green at Hamsey Green in front of the Good Companions pub, where a wedding party was just waving off a newly married couple with the traditional tin cans on the car.

A very good LOOP walk - lots of woodland, and very little housing - just short bits to remind us we are still in London, but noticeably more up and down than previous walks - we are definitely on the North Downs.  As this was about four times the length of the longest walk Ellie had previously done, she did remarkably well - although she slowed down a little from her normal frenetic energy, it was no more than George or Stephen, and she behaved perfectly (as did George). Next time, the London Loop from Hamsey Green to Coulsdon

Section 4 West Wickham Common to Hamsey Green: 14.1km, 4 hours 20 minutes (including 65 minutes stopped), 412 metres of ascent.

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