Sunday, 28 January 2018

The London LOOP. Part II:Old Bexley to Jubilee Park (Disgrace To The Corpse Of Sidcup).

I woke up in a good mood on Saturday morning. It felt like ages, well it was last year, since Shep and I completed the first stage, Erith Riverside to Old Bexley, of our London LOOP project and I was raring to go. I look forward to the walking, the chat, the beers, the food, and all the new things I'll discover along the way. I was not to be disappointed but the expressionless face of a model of a schoolgirl standing silently by the side of a road opposite a school may be an image that haunts me until my dying day.

It's definitely some kind of traffic calming measure and it's even been suggested that it possibly marks the spot where a child died under the wheels of a careless driver. If that's true it's probably very effective. I actually thought it was a real girl for a moment and it gave me quite the scare. It wasn't the only odd sight we'd see on our eight mile stroll from Old Bexley to Petts Wood.

But first the familiar. Shep and I met in London Bridge and took the train to Bexley where we headed straight to The Village CafĂ©, outer London is a hotbed of greasy spoon cafes and we're looking forward to experiencing plenty of them over the next year or so, for milky tea, watery beans, lukewarm chips, and some doorstep sized crusty bread. For some reason I was given two pieces of bread and Shep just one. The meal came to less than £4. It's amazing, but great, that these places can keep going in the current financial climate.

Metaphorically loosening our top buttons to provide space for our expanding guts we endeavoured to walk off some of our new calories. A bridge under the railway line took us to a sports pavilion, a row of cottages, and a gentle incline to a windswept waste ground populated by dog walkers, joggers, and two, already muddy, ramblers.

Pylons stood proud against the greying sky and winds and as we descended past a red brick pumping station we came across, what Chris Morris in his Brass Eye pomp, would've called 'evidence of a drugging'. Gas canisters tossed freely aside along with crunched up Guinness cans and the obligatory McDonalds crap. I'm not judging. Life can be shit sometimes and if you've got to get high to get by I can understand that. But please put your rubbish in the bins provided afterwards.

A sharp left turn on this well signposted walk took us between suburban homes and back to the banks of the Cray. A shallow, fairly fast flowing stretch, which saw a family wade past and dogs frolic in the water. But, perhaps even more disturbing than traffic girl, it also saw a dead fox. At first I thought it was a badger then I convinced myself it was just rocks giving that illusion but as we got nearer we realised, as you'll see, that it was definitely a fox. RIP Reynard of Old Bexley.

Many of the local trees had met with the same fate as Reynard Bexley and it was as if they'd even be felled to provide us with a window into the picturesque, kissing the clear water of the Cray as it bubbles over its gravelly bed.

The visual climax comes in the spectacular sight of the Five Arch Bridge, built in 1780 as part of the now departed Foots Cray Place. The bridge has created a weir to its south aspect that's proving popular with mute swans, mallards, coots, moorhens, and Egyptian geese. As well as a final resting place for Albert 'wise mentor' Pring, a man subsequently referred to as the Pringmeister.

A visitor throwing bread to the waterfowl was somewhat alarmed when a swan reared up at her. It was quite a beast with its wings in full span but I was more concerned by over eager canines sniffing around my ankles and thrusting their wet noses into my groin. The onset of a little drizzle had already moistened my jeans.

As ever we passed through numerous kissing gates and through a verdant stretch that looked like Teletubby land if it let itself go. Tribute was paid to Tinky Winky who died this week and, not for the last time, both Mark E Smith and Hugh Masekela.

Our walk didn't see us spending much time on the road but we did have to briefly pass through the centre of Foots Cray. The school, the one traffic girl keeps her blank vigil outside, looks more like it belongs, architecturally, to Germany or the low countries, and the house festooned with branches looked a lovely place to live. Peeping through the windows I saw a Siamese cat spreadeagled elegantly over a pouffe.

There was, according to our map, a pub in Foots Cray but all we saw was a terrifying looking working man's club and an absolutely enormous Coca Cola warehouse/factory so we continued on uphill to Sidcup Place Park past the sort of garages where in my youth you'd expect to find a discarded stash of adult 'literature'. Alas all we saw was a middle aged man doing some grouting. From grot to grout:the garage in cultural history.

A pony, and more fucking dogs (I'm not a fan at the best of times and I was getting fed up with them now), welcomed us to Sidcup Place Park while a group of youths hovered silently on the periphery seemingly lost without their phones to look at. They stared at us as we walked by. There was no sense of impending violence but just a dead eyed impassiveness. Traffic Girl could probably hold a more interesting conversation.

We hadn't minded there not being a pub in Foots Cray because we'd read that Sidcup Place had been converted into quite an impressive, and large, one. It was closed. And then it started raining. And then we had to walk over the convoluted roundabout that marks the junction of the A222 Chislehurst Road and the bustling A20 road that takes traffic from London to Dover and back.

It wasn't the best ten minutes but it was brief and it was absolutely bearable, into all walks a little darkness must fall and this was it for this one, and it wasn't long before we cut off to the side of the A20 into Scadbury Park Circular Walk, a surprisingly large, and surprisingly wild nature reserve where, except for the faint rumble of traffic occasionally, you feel like you could be in the middle of the countryside.

The dirty information board (with a map that didn't include a You Are Here, quite an oversight) had a pub on it. The Sydney Arms. As it was raining and we'd already missed out on two potential drinks we headed straight there. Through the park and down a suburban lane of expensive cars and even more expensive houses. The Sydney Arms looked from the outside like it'd be quite an upmarket boozer.

But appearances can be deceptive. It was more like an estate pub full of locals downing lager and showing horse racing on three screens - which is three screens too many. The landlord was friendly and the beer was potable. Shep didn't rate his Doom Bar but my London Pride went down smoothly.

Nice pub though it was it wasn't worthy of a 'two pint mistake' so we headed back into Scadbury Park Circular Walk and tried to pick up the LOOP. We thought we'd taken a wrong turn many times but it seems we hadn't and it wasn't long before we crossed the A208 and headed into a dense wood of slender birch trees. At the 'National Trust Petts Wood' sign we were advised a small diversion would lead us to a granite column in memory of William Willett of Chislehurst, a staunch campaigner behind the Summer Time Act of 1925, that operates, appropriately, as a sundial. Not when we there it didn't though. The sun was hiding resolutely behind a barrage balloon of grey clouds.

If you're a fan of granite columns, and don't mind a bit (or a lot) of mud, this is fertile territory. Only a few hundred metres down from Willett's erection there stands proudly a monument to Francis Joseph Frederick Edlmann who saved this part of the wood for us lucky visitors back in 1927.

It was at this point I needed to get my own granite column out and water the local holly tree. For fans of outdoor urination these walks can offer a rich and satisfying plethora of improvised public conveniences and I, for one, rarely miss the chance to use them.

There are also plenty of spots that look ideal for finding, or hiding, a dead body. Railway sidings, ditches, murky tunnels that carry sewer water away from the places people sleep, work, and eat. If you're not into murdering but fancy doing yourself in, however, you've come to the wrong place.

As you cross Chislehurst Junction many of the bridges over the grey straight, receding into the distance with the wistful sadness of a setting sun, train lines have cages over them to prevent you jumping. The fact a couple don't suggests that the primary concern here is getting the trains to run on time (which they don't anyway) as opposed to saving lives. A capitalist society places far more value on your productivity than your mental health and that will never change.

Don't let it get you down though. The world's still a fantastic place. As long as people are insane enough to name roads things like Tent Peg Lane there's always hope for humanity. Lovely spacious white houses join surprisingly directly to the centre of Petts Wood where sits a JD Wetherspoons with the ostentatious name 'Sovereign of the Seas'. Further research reveals this to be in honour of a 17c naval vessel that participated in the Battle of Kentish Knock (First Anglo-Dutch War), the Battle of Beachy Head (Nine Years' War), and the Battle of La Hogue (War of the English Succession) before being destroyed in a fire in Chatham in 1697. Built in Woolwich Dockyard by the master shipwright Peter Pett whose family owned the nearby Wood leasing timber to other shipbuilders.

The history of the pub's name was far more interesting than bothering to visit it. Shep couldn't face an hour in a room with grim faced Wetherspoons alcoholics sitting around waiting to die so we crossed the railway line once more and headed into a spacious, roomy, and warm pub called The Daylight (a name William Willett of Chislehurst would no doubt approve of).

We each had a couple of pints of Harvey's, charged our phones and vapes up, chatted about love, work, and miscellaneous and set about sketching out some rough details for the forthcoming season of TADS treks. We came up with some great ideas. You'll be hearing about them soon.

Once again we couldn't decide what to eat. We looked at Indian Essence but main courses were the best part of £18 and we weren't on a date so we tossed a coin between trying another Indian, Raj Doot, or chancing our arm with some Mexican food in the cornily monikered Desperados.

Mexican won out. The jalapeno bullets were fantastic, the San Miguel was refreshing if from the wrong country, and my quesadilla and Shep's fajitas were both perfectly acceptable. The waiter presented us with a couple of frozen margaritas with the cheque and the initial satisfaction at the lovely taste was almost immediately replaced by a brain freeze so severe I thought I was going to faint and had to go outside in the cold and lean up against a door. It was intense and the generous offer of a free drink backfired a little.

We perked up, hopped on the train to London Bridge, and promised ourselves we'd not leave it long before we return to Petts Wood for the next stage of the LOOP which should take us through Crofton, Bromley, Locksbottom, Farnborough (not that one), Keston, and on to West Wickham Common. This is proving to be a great little project.

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