Tuesday, 27 February 2018

The London LOOP. Part III:Jubilee Park to West Wickham Common (The Bromley Contingent).

From Crofton Wood to the rolling hills between Holwood House and the village of Farnborough and on to Keston Ponds (below) there are sections on the third part of the London LOOP that really don't look like part of London at all. OK, we're in the BR and DA post codes as opposed to the SEs, and we're in those liminal areas that seem to double up as the London Borough of something or other whilst simultaneously laying claim to being in either Kent or Surrey, but every stretch of this walk, and every photo taken here, is part of Greater London.

Shep and I met, where we finished last month, in Petts Wood. I had a shorter journey (by some way) than him but it turned out to be none too straightforward. My Samsung phone packed up the night before so I thought I'd pop in to the Vodafone shop in Penge and get a long overdue upgrade (I needed to take these photos on it after all). Only problem was when I arrived in Penge it turned out the Vodafone shop (on their surprisingly busy High Street) was no more. Some helpful Jehovah's Witnesses used their phones (mine was totally dead by this point) to source the nearest alternative. It was in the Glades shopping centre, Bromley. I took a cab there. £15. A friendly chap named Mica fixed me up with a new (and very impressive) Huawei and, panic over, I hopped on the bus for a short ride to Petts Wood.

I'd arranged to meet Shep in the Petts Wood Wetherspoons, the Sovereign of the Seas, because we both knew (from last time) where it was. I got myself a lemonade, had a quick perusal of Saturday's Guardian, and charged my phone. Shep arrived and we decided we didn't want to have our breakfast in there or line Brexit cheerleader Tim Martin's pockets any more than we already have so we headed over the road , past my little carpet and tile empire, to the Petts Wood Café.

A cosy, if somewhat odd, little place. As Shep tucked into bubble'n'squeak and I went half-beans, half-scrambled egg on my toast we couldn't help noticing that the shop seemed to be full of old mobile phones for sale with a lot of the signage written in Turkish. I could've saved myself a £15 taxi fare but, on balance, I think I did the right thing.

Suitably fed and watered we headed back to Jubilee Park Country Park, skirted round the edge of that, crossed Southborough Lane, and headed down broad and sun soaked residential avenues until we reached the edge of Crofton Wood. The forecast had been for a very cold snap but, luckily for us, the worst of it was holding off until Sunday. We just got clear azure skies that made each and every photograph an absolute joy.

Crofton Wood is described as "a pleasantly wild tangle of oak and birch" and if my tree identification skills have yet to be honed to that level of precision I could see nothing in that description I'd argue with. Crossing over a couple of picturesque brooks and winding through some gladed sun traps we arrived on the A232, dipped down the path at the side of the Scout and Guide HQ, and came out at the pleasingly titled Lovibonds Avenue.

A very suburban feel hung over the area, it was actually rather pleasant. But, after a quick right turn, things went from pleasant to beautiful. We'd hardly noticed our gradual ascent but, all of a sudden, the view of the surrounding area spread out for miles in front of us. As we studied the information board a local park drinker paused briefly from his can of White Star cider to offer us unsolicited directions to Farnborough, our next village and one that our book has described as having "one of the best village centres around the LOOP" but also of having "seen far better days". Mixed messages - like so much in life.

Like Petts Wood, Crofton, and later on Keston, it had a village sign (these seem almost de rigueur around these parts) but it didn't have a lot else really. A bank that looked like it belonged in the wild west and a pub, The Change of Horses, whose name reflects the historical associations of the village as a place where people (and horses) would rest on the journey from London to either Tonbridge or Hastings.

We'd hoped for better luck with this pub than we'd had so far on the LOOP (we'd not visited anywhere dire but neither had we found any true gems yet) and from the outside things certainly looked positive. Both the Orpington folk club and the local Rotarians meet there but it was the hanging basket, the white paint and shutters combo, and the font of the sign that suggested a roaring fire and a stack of board games that really made us think our luck may be in.

Inside it was a different story. Though my Sussex Best and Shep's Doom Bar both tasted lovely the service was grudging, the décor was unimpressive, and we had to sit in a dark corner as a screen blasted out the Ireland Wales Six Nations match to nobody in particular. Ah well, the quest continues.

Back in Farnborough village we saw the ideal friend for the Traffic Girl of Foots Cray and then cut into the churchyard of St Giles the Abbot just as the bells were pealing. The pealing was appealing to me but Shep claimed it to be one of the most annoying sounds he's ever heard!

It's an old, and pretty, church. Its flint nave was rebuilt in the 1640s and at the same time they planted a yew tree near the door which still provides shade or shelter for those who wish to sit on the bench beneath it. We descended through a graveyard into open fields and carried on downwards until we reached High Elms Country Park.

Like so much on the LOOP this was something in London I'd hitherto been totally ignorant of. What a charming place it is. If I'd ever got my shit together this is the sort of place I'd like to imagine me and my imaginary wife would bring our imaginary kids for imaginary picnics and imaginary kickabouts.

The former home of the Lubbock family (the Earls of Avebury) was bought up by Bromley Council in 1965. The Italian style mansion that once stood here has long since burned down and all that remains is a stable block and an Eton Fives court. The grounds have been populated with specimen trees collected from around the world by Sir John William Lubbock the Second, a former banker and MP for Leominster. I loved following the grassy avenue flanked by tall hedges even if it took us to nothing more exciting than the car park of a golf course.

Having negotiated that we were soon on a path that follows along the side of an orchard looking over towards the white weatherboarded tower of Clockhouse Farm. This example of early Victorian efficiency was where the bell was rung to inform workers both when their lunch break started and, no doubt more importantly to their bosses, when it finished. Just behind that (if you squint or enlarge the photo you'll see it) there's an octagonal timber building built in 1850 to house a donkey-wheel for pumping up water. Those donkeys worked even harder than the men.

A knot of paths took us to the amusingly named Bogey Lane. NO DUMPING said the sign. So bogeys are fine but nothing more. We walked along Bogey, and then Farthing, Lane before crossing the very busy Shire Lane on to a permissive way. Permissive, that is, to all but bikes, horses, and Donald Trump. One thing you can guarantee anywhere you go these days is that the gun worshipping, bullshitting, probably yet to be potty trained, orange moron that's working so hard to make America the laughing stock of the world won't be welcome. I kind of hope he comes on a state visit just for the protest. Egg farmers will be quids in.

Up across the fields we could see the stately pile that is Holwood House. Fronted by a Grecian portico and designed by Decimus Burton (see also Hyde Park and London Zoo) it's on the site of an earlier building where William Pitt the Younger lived and the gardens were spruced up by Humphrey Repton, the man seen as the successor to Capability Brown.

We soon came to Holwood Farm where geese and ducks squawked and quacked and signs pointed to Downe and Down House (site of a TADS walk last March) but the most interesting sight of the walk so far, and possibly the LOOP so far, was to follow on in very quick succession.

On a clearing with views over the Vale of Keston framed by the splintered spikes of an old oak sits another, more historically important, oak tree. The Wilberforce Oak. There's not much left of it. Just a stump. But it marks the spot where Pitt the Younger sat with William Wilberforce and resolved to abolish the slave trade. Wilberforce's 1788 diary entry reads:-

"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, I 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".

There's a fenced off commemorative stone bench (put there in 1862) next to a plaque with that very quote etched into it. There's a newer wooden bench for those that either want to sit down and enjoy the view or ponder the momentous decision that was made there and, more importantly, the historical crime that was slavery. 

Equally historically interesting, but less sobering, we soon descended into Keston Common and came across the source of our fourth LOOP river (following the Thames, the Darent, and the Cray). The Ravensbourne bubbles up from the ground here in the rather grandly named (below) Caesar's Well.

From the brick lined circle of pebbles the river, barely a trickle at this point, flows into Keston Ponds before continuing north through Beckenham, and Ladywell, and then, finally, joining the Thames between Deptford and Greenwich by which point it's changed its name to Deptford Creek. I could hardly wait, Betty, 'til we go down to the well.

As you can see from the photo that heads up this blog Keston Ponds is a picturesque spot. Seemingly created in the 19th century to provide Holwood House with a supply of water it's now, like High Elms Country Park, a popular picnic spot. On a not particularly warm February afternoon there were more aquatic birds about than people, however. The ice cream lady was ambitious in the extreme and the phrase 'nice weather for ducks' never seemed more apt than when we spotted a trio of mallards perching on a block of ice in the central pond.

It's still a really beautiful place and better still the nearby village of Keston has not one but two pubs. Unfortunately The Fox Inn (as recommended in our book) had a car park full of 'terrifying youth' loitering around making it look a little uninviting. They were probably just bored teenagers with their hands slumped into the pockets of their puffa jackets but we decided to continue round the corner to the Greyhound Inn instead. It was the correct decision.

Despite being next to a garage that seemed to only deal in Porsche 911s (!) and having some of the weirdest dog based pub décor either of us had ever seen it was a friendly, and thriving, joint. Scotland were beating England in the Six Nations and it seemed as if the world and, quite literally, his dog were in the pub to watch (or ignore) it. This pub is so dog friendly they provide blankets so your hound can rest comfortably on the seats. Dog beer next?

They also arrange quiz nights, local walks, Monopoly pub crawls, and cater for just about every whim a pub goer may have. They even host Bromley's most dog friendly ska and reggae Sunday afternoon session. Sounds niche - but sounds nice. I had a Timothy Taylor Landlord and we set off towards our final destination, West Wickham Common.

It was starting to get dark and it was starting to get cold. In the twilight we made our way along a path that undulated parallel to the A232, past some rather cute cottages, until we reached Coney Hall, on the edge of West Wickham Common.

Coney Hall is a part of London that not only had I never visited in my 21 years as a Londoner, I'd never even heard of it. It's just a row of shops and restaurants about one kilometre south of the equally obscure Hayes but there was a nice waft of curry coming from somewhere and we were determined to find where.

(Yet) another pint first though. The Coney Bar and Restaurant provided a good pit stop but it wasn't long before we headed over the road to i-Naga. The oddly named joint served us the best Indian food I'd had for quite a while. That red stuff is coconut powder, the mango chutney hit the spot, and my main course of brinjal bhajee, tarka daal, chapatti, and pulao rice went down a treat. Best of all though was tasting some of Shep's paneer shashlik. An absolute taste sensation and one I hope to experience again soon.

We'll be back to Coney Hall again very soon where once again we'll pick up the LOOP, this time heading through Shirley, over Addington Hill, around Selsdon and Forestdale, before rocking up in Hamsey Green, a place I know as much about now as I did about Coney Hall this time last week. Hopefully there'll be an equally excellent eatery there too.

We grabbed (yet more) beers for the train and back in London went to The George on Borough High Street to watch The Pogue Traders roar through The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn, Greenland Whale Fisheries, A Fairytale of New York (in February?), Fiesta, and many more. As their frontman smacked himself repeatedly over the head with a tray and people bounced joyously around it was time to reflect, once more, on another great day on the LOOP - and one that, unlike the previous two, saw no dead creatures. Could it be spring (a time for new life) or just an illusion?

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