Sunday, 18 March 2018

The London LOOP. Part IV:West Wickham Common to Hamsey Green (Shirley:- some mistake(s))

Saturday morning I awoke to yet another landscape of white snow outside of my bedroom window and the threat of more cold weather. It wasn't to be the last incident involving the spilling of white stuff that day but even if it was the least embarrassing it would certainly prove to the most problematic.

I was fed up, I had a sore toe (I'd snubbed it but I'd initially misdiagnosed myself with the return of the dreaded gout - not a condition that aids the walker at all), and my hangover from Thursday night's ridiculous level of alcohol consumption and subsequent, and fully deserved, shame weren't making me feel too clever either. I might be taking quite a few wrong directions in my personal life these days (and always have) but I couldn't go wrong on a walk could I? Both the TADS walks and this London LOOP project are almost designed for the exact purpose of cheering ourselves up, they're safe spaces for middle aged men and women (though all ages are invited) to walk, talk, eat, drink, and get things off their plate.

I managed to get the beans and scrambled egg on toast off my plate in the Hayes Cafe (Shep had chips'n'beans, we both had a cup of tea, the whole thing came to a very reasonable £7.20) but the walk, leg IV, turned out to be much like life. At times cold and hard going, livened up with a visit to a pub, but in both cases going round in circles and getting nowhere.

Much like in life we reached the end both older and wearier. It'd been a challenge, sure, but for the most part, and yet again like life, it was a challenge to be enjoyed rather than endured. It's what Ken Dodd, Stephen Hawking, and Jim Bowen would've wanted - even if I can see logistical problems in those three arranging a walk together - not least all being dead. We raised a glass to them all.

At Lewisham station I'd been cheered (and warmed up) by a tinkle of the station's complimentary piano and the sight of a local costermonger losing his shit to a dance remix of Kim Carnes' Bette Davis Eye but it was arrival at Hayes, meeting up with Shep, and getting that breakfast inside me that really got the day started.

It was a 0.7 mile walk just to pick up where we left the LOOP last time, Coney Hall. It was too early for the lovely smell of Indian food to be wafting out of i-Naga so we crossed a snow covered recreation ground where "a little Dalek-like pillar" marks the Greenwich Meridian. We couldn't see it. Too much snow. This will become a familiar theme. Fingerposts, signs, information boards - all next to useless in this climate.

The graveyard of St John the Baptist church did look good in the snow though, and the views that surrounded it were equally pleasing to the eye. From here we cut diagonally through a field and across the A2022 Addington Road and in to Sparrows Den Playing Fields. The rugby goals stood silent and proud and there was barely another soul to be seen.

It was then we got lost, properly, for the first time. We understood we needed to pass through the Corporation of London owned Spring Park Woods but we couldn't find the path no matter how hard we looked. Eventually the path we were on reached a T-junction so we went right as this seemed to match most closely the map provided by our book. The path soon turned back on itself and we conceded defeat. The next named road en route was Shirley Church Road. We looked it up on our phones and that took us through an uninspiring housing estate to said road. It wasn't a short cut (more a long cut) and it was almost definitely less interesting than the proposed road but at least it got us back on track.

It was good to be reacquainted with the London LOOP sign again (and all we'd missed was a 'tussocky mound' and a piece of 'Shirley Heath' - I think I went to school with her). We could live with that. Better still not one but two pubs were promised once we'd passed by or through Foxes Wood, Shirley Church Recreation Ground, and Pinewoods. Sports fields, commons, people's gardens. It was hard to distinguish them under the blanket of white.

The Sandrock pub boasted of its pizzeria but there wasn't a single person in there so we crossed the road to The Surprise. The service was painfully slow but friendly enough. Shep took a Doom Bar and I had a Guinness. As I sipped my Guinness the Six Nations started up and the Irish national anthem was blasted out. I was having a Saint Patrick's Day if I wanted it or not.

The pub was more a CPFC pub than a rugby one though. Signed photos of Ian Wright, Dougie Freedman's framed shirt, and a top that could only be described as a jersey adorned this Upper Shirley boozer. We spotted Mark Bright, Geoff Thomas, and Rick Shaw amongst others celebrated on the pub walls.

Not far from the pub we turned and ascended steeply on Addington Hills. At the top there's a viewing platform where you can see the Croydon skyline and the Crystal Palace transmitter masts! On clear days it's said you can also see as far as Windsor Castle and Epping Forest. It was not a clear day. We could not see them.

Near the spot where an incongruously located Chinese restaurant lurks beneath a pussy willow tree we managed to miss our turn. We turned back but still no joy so we carried on to a road in the confident hope we'd soon correct ourselves. We walked past half a mile or so of grand houses when a pub came into sight.

Normally our favourite site but this was the Sandbrook again, we'd spent the best part of an hour walking and gotten back to the exact point we'd been at nearly two hours ago! A low point. We'd both nearly knocked it on the head first thing in the morning and we came close again then. But we stuck at it and we were glad we did. We turned round and walked all the way back to Coombe Line tram station. A view of a sleek green tram was a great comfort. It wasn't just the tram that was (back) on track.

From there it was a long winding stretch though various parks and nature reserves all rendered interchangeable by the conditions and my choosing to keep my hands firmly in my coat pockets rather than reading the book in the cold.

There was a nice enough pond in Heathfield House. It's one we saw about three times as we kept returning to it due to our inability to successfully read the map or locate the LOOP signs. Eventually we passed through some swooping, really quite dramatic (and potentially slippery) valleys, before picking up the Vanguard Way.

The Vanguard Way is a 66 mile path that stretches from East Croydon to Newhaven and the London LOOP shares a couple of miles of it at this point. It seemed unlikely anyone was walking to Newhaven that particular day as we oft-remarked we were probably "the only twats" who were attempting the London LOOP.

The pictures in the book showed us how lush and verdant this area could be in summer. You'll see from mine that we were dealing with a very different beast (from the East). We were ready for the end now. We were ready for the pub. We were ready for a curry.

But the last stretch proved to be just that, a stretch. One mile became two became three as we passed, limped at points in my case, along Baker Boy Lane, Puplet Wood (normally a bluebell wood but c'mon), and Farleigh Court Golf Club where we bid adieu to the Vanguard Way.

After negotiating some vast windy open spaces, a somewhat picturesque stile (all this walking has made me a specialist in all stiles), and a 'metalled path' flanked with very expensive and very tasteful looking residences we appeared, quite unceremoniously, near a Croydon sign. Sanderstead in Croydon, a good three to four miles from the centre of Croydon.

A row of shops had what Shep considered to be a very interesting funeral directors, a couple of places to eat, and a shisha bar but no pubs. Our phones said the nearest one was a nineteen minute walk, a passing pensioner said it was much further. We took the bus to East Croydon. It was about 1820hrs and we'd normally have been sat in a warm pub an hour or two before that, "one in your hand for the football scores" we call it.

By about seven we'd located a non 'Spoons pub in Croydon, The Spread Eagle, and I had a couple more Guinnesses while Shep necked a couple of Oliver's Islands. Now supremely hungry we moved on to Sangri restaurant. It was warm, first genuine warmth of the day. Cobras were consumed, poppadums too, and I had some paneer thing that was pleasantly presented if a little wanting on the taste side.

I accidentally dropped a spoon full of raita on my jeans near my 'equipment' making for what looked like a somewhat embarrassing jizz stain. It wasn't the worst wanking anecdote of the day (or even the hour). As we left Sangri the friendly, handsome waiter shook both our hands. The shake was remarkably limp so Shep and I (who, despite having a combined age of 99 are still puerile school boys at heart) made silly jokes about how disappointing it'd be to get wanked off by him as we walked along the road. Only trouble was Shep had left his rucksack in the Indian restaurant and the guy was right behind us waiting to return it. I believe this is what's known as 'major awks'.

We had one last drink in a grotty Croydon pub where a table full of West Indian men sat morosely watching football in those giant Guinness hats before retreating to East Croydon station and then home.

By end of play my phone was telling me I'd done 36,000 steps that day. In the snow. With a hangover and a bad foot. We'll be back on the LOOP soon. Hamsey Green to Banstead Downs via Kenley, Coulsdon and Clock House. Hopefully the weather, my foot, and my blood:alcohol ratio will be better suited to the challenge ahead. In the meantime this Saturday sees the TADS hit the road again for the first time since November. 'Walk This Wey' is a route I've designed and annotated myself that leads along the Wey river from the historical town of Godalming to the cathedral city of Guildford. It'd be good to see the sun. It'd be good to see you.

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