Roy and I undertook the fourth section of the London Loop on a brilliantly sunny day in early March, starting at Hayes railway station. We looped away from the main road, through grassy tracks behind housing estates, down Pole Cat Alley to rejoin the Loop at the Doomsday Oaks – large but largely derelict stumps near the board of by-laws I featured last time. The day started in a very urban environment, quickly becoming suburban, and then utterly rural, so much so that it was difficult to remember that you were in London at all. We had 10 miles of walking, largely tree’d, through paths and fields of great pleasaunce. There was no stately home, but a series of charming prospects and good views – and one near disaster, of which more anon.
Soon after the start, we walked through Coney Hall Recreation Ground, a slightly depressing collection of football pitches, playgrounds and pavilions, and a dirty concrete bollard of indeterminate shape marking “the prime meridian of the world”. But we were soon out of the rec, and walking across to the pleasant church of St John the Baptist, which stands almost surrounded by fields and at the centre of a network of ancient pathways, yet is only a quarter of mile from a major A road and busy roundabout. Across the roundabout, we entered Sparrows Den – more playing fields – and then into a long stretch of fine woodland, including Spring Park and Three Halfpenny Wood. In the wood, we crossed from Bromley to Croydon, and thus from Kent to Surrey. The woods were muddy and leafless, of course, but still lovely in the sunshine, and will shortly be alive with spring flowers.
Leaving these woods, we became lost, as the signing let us down – really for the first time in walks – but we soon rejoined the proper route and passed the Sandrock pub in Shirley, arriving at a quarter to noon. We were cold and thirsty, and a drink of some kind appealed – but the pub was not open. Now I cannot pretend that the Sandrock was an attractive pub. But it came at the right time. But we passed on, merely buying a bottle of water in the corner shop, secure in the London Loop leaflet’s assurance that "there are numerous pubs on the route". Reader, it was not so, and we eventually ate after every mile of the walk was done, at a time nearer tea than lunch. But back to the walk: we entered an area of mixed woodland and heath called Addington Hills. Addington was a nineteenth century Prime Minister who followed the mighty Pitt (the Younger) from 1801 to 1804, but I don’t know if there is any connection; he is one of the few Prime Ministers who has served another PM afterwards, in his case as Home Secretary. He was not highly esteemed, then or later:
Pitt is to Addington, As London is to Paddington.
A viewing platform on Addington Hills gives spectacular views back towards London, very distant to the north. Looking from heath, birch and pine across Croydon, you can certainly see the Dome, the City of London, and - on a clearer day – Windsor Castle.
Hopes of food rose briefly when we found a restaurant just back from the viewpoint, but it was chi-chi Chinese, fluffy and expensive, not at all the place to for two muddy walkers in search of a baked potato or bowl of vegetable soup. So on, on, across the tramline at Coombe Lane, and through the charming gardens of the 18thcentury Heathfield House (now a local authority training centre), where we also saw some wonderful rhododendrons, that is, dead ones. Through more muddy woods, where we found and kicked a tennis ball along, before pocketing it. Across a road into open grassland, we gave the ball (repeatedly) to an excited dog, who chased it energetically, found a party of people learning woodland crafts and charcoal making, and made our way further south into completely rural country.
We walked down green lanes (like Baker Boy Lane) with London on our right and the open country on the left, indistinguishable in field, wood and glade, through the lovely Mossyhill Shaw, and up into the lanes leading to Hamsey Green at about 3.20pm. An obliging transport cafe, due to close at half past, provided strong tea and omelette, beans and chips, thus saving our lives, and we caught a bus to Croydon and homeward trains. The rural joy was great, but in all these walks, it has to end at a busy suburb and a railway station – but this is a price well worth paying.