London LOOP Stage 5 Part 1: Coulsdon to Ewell

Published 2 March 2016

Coulsdon South railway station

Coulsdon South station. Easy to find when you know how.

This is part one of a two part tale on walking the LOOP from Coulsdon to Kingston-upon-Thames. This part covers the morning walk to Ewell.

“Coulson South Station,” shrilled the bus’s automated announcement, leading me to race downstairs and find myself deposited on the pavement next to a large sign informing me I was at “Ullswater Industrial Estate.”

But where was the station? It had to be somewhere near the railway bridge I could see crossing the main road, but there were no signs telling me which way to go. Instead the powers that be had deposited me clueless and confused next to a rather dour looking industrial estate that looked nothing like the place in the Lake District it was named after.

With a sigh I began to scour the road of any hint. Up the hill shortly, or down? Follow the main road, or head into the side streets? And whilst doing so, there it was. A small LOOP waymark attached to a lamppost.

Of course the LOOP goes in two directions. Was this one pointing in a clockwise direction, or anti-clockwise? Who knew? What else could I do but pick a direction and random and follow it. Naturally this was the wrong direction, resulting in me finding myself next to Farthing Downs. Lovely place but hey, been there and most certainly done that.

Emitting an even louder sigh, I double backed and eventually found the railway station tucked behind a housing estate on a side road. Minutes later I was just metres away from the bus stop I’d left some time earlier, busily cursing the council and Transport for London for not bothering to install signs, and thoroughly determined to get out of Coulsdon as quickly as humanly possible.


The Clockhouse estate

The Clockhouse housing estate

There aren’t that many hills in London, so when you come across one, you really notice it. And I noticed this one. Not that it was the most exciting hill in the world though. There were no lush grassy fields or anything; just houses. The Clock House estate had taken up residence here and had filled it with family homes.

A road sign informed everyone we were now entering Sutton, and almost immediately the footpath I was walking on completely disappeared, replaced by a wide grassy verge. There was a proper footpath on the other side, but unless I crossed the road, I’d have to make do with grass. Oh and the occasional squares of tarmac, which had been created for people to stand on whilst waiting for the Hail and Ride bus that served the area. Yes, the council had essentially created bus stops, thus rendering the concept of a Hail and Ride bus service, rather redundant. Still, at least the people waiting wouldn’t get their feet wet by standing on damp grass.

Just beyond the Jack and Jill pub at the top of the hill, the LOOP diverted off down a tree-lined track, leaving the houses behind. The track was clearly some ancient right of way; once important enough for Carshalton Urban District Council to erect a boundary marker here. The council had gone though, long ago merged into the new borough of Sutton, and the lane’s users had similarly disappeared, probably due to it being inappropriate for the era of the motor vehicle. There was not a soul to be seen, and no real indication anyone came this way anymore. Despite being near a large housing estate, there were no dog-walkers and not a hint of litter. In fact the only clue that anyone had visited recently was recently cut grass, presumably attacked by a council employee equipped with a strimmer.

Carshalton Urban District Council sign

Old plaque for Carshalton UDC, somehow still in situ

Shame though, for there were fine views to be had. From the side of a field, the skyscrapers of the City of London could be seen, dramatically shimmering in the sun. The Shard, Walkie Talkie, Gerkin and their friends stood out on the otherwise flat landscape of the capital. From here it was obvious how clustered on such a small area the capital’s high-rise development was.

Near the end of the Lane, the LOOP darted off over a beautiful meadow brimming full of wild flowers and apple trees. Oh and three large piles of fly-tipped rubbish, which appeared to the remains of someone’s old kitchen. Sod the fact that this was a lovely, tranquil field on the edge of a massive city; a place for wildlife to thrive and people to enjoy. If it enabled the person who dumped it there to save the time, effort and the money required to dispose of it properly, well that’s all that is important, isn’t it?


Mayfield Lavender field

It's an explosion of purple!

A nonchalant horse watched me as I struggled to climb a broken stile, and then turned its head slightly as I walked across the field to find a second one also in need of repair. But through a gap in the trees I could see I was about to unexpectedly enter somewhere special. The LOOP was about to take me through a large field of lavender.

The bright flowering plants stretched as far as the eye could see, providing a stunning view of purple. And I wasn’t alone in admiring this amazing sight; the field was full of people. Small children ran excitedly between the plants, and doting parents sat next to the flowers with young babies gurgling happy, whilst a large contingent of Japanese tourists grinned together with a selfie stick waving in front of them, so they could get a group snap set against a backdrop of purple. And soon too I was weaving amongst the plants, joining in the fun with a whopping great big grin on my face.

It was something I hadn’t been expecting at all. Mayfield Lavender planted the field for the first time in 2002, a year after the guidebook I was carrying had been published, and several after the LOOP was officially opened. When my book had been written, this, presumably, was just a rather plain old boring field; so inconsequential that it didn’t even get a mention. Now it was a beautiful place, and a tourist attraction to boot, as made obvious by the coaches and cars parked up at the side, as well as the obvious gift shop. And it was utterly magical.

People standing amongst the lavender at Mayfield Lavender field

The LOOP's varied, but this was quite unexpected

What many people won’t realise is that London was once a major player in the growing of lavender, with the nearby town of Mitcham being a major hub of production. Large areas were given over to the plant in the town, and in neighbouring Wallington, Carshalton and Sutton, with the harvest taken to local factories for processing. It’s all long gone of course. These days you’ll be hard pushed to find lavender growing anywhere other than gardens and parks. The only link with the past is usually a few street names, or council wards with names like Lavender Fields. But here it had been revived. Lavender was growing again in London. And to see it was absolutely wonderful.


The small display of lavender plants at the entrance of The Oak Park, located opposite Mayfield Lavender’s field, simply couldn’t compete with the visual spectacle I’d just seen. Yes the formal gardens – inevitably once part of a manor house – were certainly well tended for and attractively laid out, however they were just like most similar park gardens I’d seen on my LOOP journey. Nice, but no competition.

The park was rather dinky and I was soon following paths through woods as the LOOP took a little detour into Surrey. Thanks to the trees and several large walls, it was almost impossible to see far beyond the confines of the path, and a glance at the map was the only indicator that I was now walking next to High Down Prison, which took over the site of Banstead Lunatic Asylum in the 1990s.

I abruptly arrived at a main road, crossed a railway bridge and before I knew it, I was crossing a golf course before being deposited at the edge of a massive, and extremely busy, dual carriageway. The footpath sign helpfully pointed straight across, although given how many cars there were, it was not entirely obvious how a walker was supposed to get to the other side without finding themselves run over.

A217 dual carriageway on the London LOOP

The towers of London in the distance as the cars roar by

Car after car after car zoomed past and before I knew it, I’d been standing there like Piffy on a rock bun, for ten minutes. With a deep sigh, I prepared myself for a large detour to try and find a crossing when, miraculously, there was a break in the traffic just big enough for me to dart to the central reservation without being killed or sustaining a serious injury.

The other carriageway was, thankfully, a doddle in comparison, although I was less than pleased to find myself once again going through another stretch of golf course.

I hate walking over golf courses. They’re almost always confusingly laid out, the public rights of ways are rarely well sign-posted, and they are usually full of people waving big metal sticks and flying balls, some of whom glare at walkers for having the audacity of using a path that (usually) predates the presence of their green.

Some even have snooty signs aimed at walkers, as if trying to discourage them from daring even to set foot on the place. This one didn’t, it must be said, but then if such signs had been there (or any signs for that matter), I may not have lost the trail, resulting in me started wandering round the fairways, getting in the way and generally being utterly confused.

“Are you alright? You look a little lost?” a woman holding a golf club in her hand asked in a friendly way that ran completely counter to my stereotyping of golfers being people who would rather clobber you with a 4-iron than give you the time of day.

“I was looking for the London LOOP,” I replied. “I seem to have a lost it.”

She paused for a minute as if racking her brains – I guess golfers don’t normally pay that much attention to random walking trails which go over their course, before suggesting I headed towards some trees a short walk away, adding to watch out for flying balls as there was a tournament on.

I rushed off the green as quickly as possible, and sure enough found a LOOP waymark pointing deeper into the golf course in one direction, and out of it in another.

The obvious thing was not to head deeper into the golf course. After all, that’s where the trail would have been coming from. But something didn’t seem quite right; a niggly thought that was confirmed as I went through a hedge to find a a busy main road.

Barrier across the ‘Golf Side’ road

Best not go 'golf side'

Alarm bells were now ringing, and looking at my map, someone had either built a major road in the last ten years, or I was in completely the wrong place. I looked at a nearby LOOP sign in confusion, before spotting four important letters I’d missed.

LONDON LOOP LINK.

The LOOP’s creators had also planned ‘LINK’ routes to public transport hubs: nice signposted routes to follow to ensure you got to the nearest tube or train station with ease. Special signs had been put up to follow, in a similar style to the main waymark signs but with LINK written on them. But perhaps not written noticeably enough.

Had there been a brick wall, I could easily have banged my head against it. Especially as it meant I would need to cross the golf course AGAIN; a thought that almost brought tears to my eyes. I’d had enough of golf courses for sure and there was absolutely no way I was going back to that place.

Thankfully I didn’t have to. Wearily staring at my map, I spotted I could take a bit of a detour down the road before picking up the LOOP again further along. Yes there would be cars and road noise, but frankly that seemed infinitely preferable to having to hear someone shout “FORE” loudly and “accidentally” hit me with a small white ball.


Warren Farm

No houses here at Warren Farm

Despite the name, Warren Farm isn’t actually a farm anymore. Sat on the edge of Ewell, the farm’s 53 acres were given to the Woodland Trust in 1994 after several failed attempts to fill it with housing. The LOOP only crossed a small portion of the land, however it was clear to see that if the builders had had their way, a lot of people would have been living here. Instead visitors got to walk through the tall grass now filling this vast area of undeveloped former farmland.

It wasn’t the only large patch of open space. On the other side of a railway track was another, and one that also survived development plans. Not for housing this time, but an attempt to turn it into yet another golf course for the population of Surrey.

Nonsuch Park is all that remains of the vast deer park created by Henry VIII, which was also to feature a palace. Construction of the latter hadn’t finished by the time Henry died in 1547, and the buildings were eventually demolished 140 years later, to be replaced by a mansion house in the 18th century. In a familiar tale, what remained of the site was purchased by four local councils in 1937, and opened up for the benefit of the local population; a population that fought a vigorous campaign to protect the land from being taken over by golf balls, sixty years later.

Nonsuch Park

Nonsuch Park

The LOOP doesn’t dwell in Nonsuch Park, preferring instead to stick close to park’s boundary. Of course it would have been easy for me to divert off and explore the park, perhaps even wander up to the mansion house with its gallery and museum. Although if I had, I would have found them closed as they’re only open on summer Sundays. But instead I stuck rigidly to the LOOP, and for good reason. Lunchtime was approaching and I was getting hungry.

Nearby Ewell was the obvious place to grab something to eat, not least because it’s on the LOOP. I had in mind a cosy looking pub, but the main street seemed to be mostly lined with supermarkets and trendy looking restaurants. After reaching the end of the shopping district, the only thing I’d found was greasy spoon that – at half twelve – was unnervingly deserted. Still at least there was a table free, and I went inside and ordered my usual menu choice when in a strange eatery of unknown quality: scampi and chips. It’s a hard one to get wrong given that even the dodgiest cafe can shove some chips and battered bits of fish in a fryer, and serve them without cocking it up.

Signpost for the borough of Epsom and Ewell

I don't think we're in London anymore...

My fears that I was visiting the worst eatery in Ewell were thankfully unfounded. As the waitress plonked a plate positively overloaded with food, more and more people entered. Soon it was positively bursting with customers who all – without fail, I noted – ordered one of the several all day breakfast options, making me wonder what I was missing out on.

On the other hand, something lighter on the stomach was probably preferable. After all, I did still have a few miles to walk that afternoon.

Hold tight for part 2 of the day’s walk, as I head further along the LOOP to Kingston-upon-Thames

View all 60 of my photos from the day.

Rambling Man Walks the London LOOP

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Your Comments

Marion

3 March 2016 at 9:57 am

Is there a bit missing between the golf course and Warren farm?

Andrew Bowden (Rambling Man editor)

3 March 2016 at 12:45 pm

There is deliberately a bit missing, as it mostly consisted of walking down roads. As it wasn’t very interesting, and the word count was getting far too high, I cut it out in the editing process.

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