Back two days from the Lakes, and I felt I ought to capitalise on any fitness that had crept up on me while I was in hillier parts, so the next section of the LOOP beckoned.
An uneventful journey back out to Coulsdon then saw me cross the railway and then the busy road to the bus shelter where I stopped last time. On consulting the map in the guidebook, it soon became clear that the route required me to cross the railway at this point, meaning I’d unnecessarily diced with the traffic. It also meant that if I’d carried on last time, I’d probably have gone wrong at this point and carried on up the road.
I retraced my steps and then walked through a residential area that brought me to the foot of Farthing Downs. I certainly didn’t expect to see a cattle grid (and there was one the other end too).
I stuck to the metalled surface as I stomped uphill through the drizzle that wasn’t forecast to be falling for another couple of hours. As was to be the theme for the day, I shared my surroundings only with dog-walkers.
At the “top”, I stopped to read the information boards pointing out the geology and archaeology of the place (they’re on my London LOOP Flickr Album to avoid cluttering up here) and then cut down to the woods for the walk into Happy Valley.
It’s been a while since the LOOP has been on this sort of terrain, so I made the most of it. It was vaguely reminiscent of the North Downs – not surprisingly as I was only a few miles from the NDW itself.
Fields eventually gave way to woods and then a succession of road crossings and some road walking, before dirt and grass came under my feet again. As I neared Kenley Airfield (unseen behind trees), I came across the small observatory at the corner of a field.
A few twists and turns, a walk through the woods and then a small patch of civilisation to be negotiated at Whyteleafe. Ahead of me chalk downs rose from the valley. I strolled downhill for two railway crossings and a major road. Around me hedges were being trimmed, and the sound of nursery rhymes floated out from the primary school.
I climbed up to the next section of downs and found myself, for the second time today, confronted with some very large cows. You know how when you’re walking towards someone and you both sidestep the same way a few times and consequently keep blocking each other ? Well it was the same as that except in bovine form.
Cows passed, I headed along a wooded track above the downs, looking out for the old trig point – apparently the only one on the LOOP. This sounds pretty preposterous, but on checking the maps, it appears to be true. I bet though, that the route passes over, or very close to where some used to be – but I’m not anal enough to cross-check the list with the map.
A short way further on, I nipped through a break in the hedge and found a bench for a bit of a sit. My legs felt fine, but I was flagging a bit energy-wise, so an early lunch stop was called for. I sat overlooking Skylark Meadow.
Hoping that the rest would feed through into rejuvenated walking apparatus in the afternoon, I got on my way, knocking out the remaining kilometre or so to Hamsey Green, where a convenient chip shop was relieved of a bag of chips. Munching chips, I ambled down Kingswood Lane.
The fact I was concentrating on something else whilst walking, resulted in me tuning out the environment slightly, coinciding with the variety in the landscape petering out. From here it was increasingly about wooded paths and alleyways.
So I settled into a bit of a daze as my thoughts drifted off to other things. I had plenty of time to do this as I’d now committed myself to a long walk – at least 14.5 miles using the book distances, but which I suspected were more.
The LOOP joined the Vanguard Way as we fringed Selsdon and followed wooded corridors. An irritating descent at Heathfield House then promptly turned into an irritating re-ascent a mere 90 degrees from the previous path – I couldn’t help but feel that the many unmarked paths through the grounds of the house could probably have provided a welcome shortcut.
Soon I was crossing the A212 and walking alongside the tram, briefly toying with stopping here. But I’d worked out the remaining sections, and this would muck them up so I strode away into the trees once more. I reached the viewpoint on Addington Hill and took a break to look out over a panorama of south London.
Sensing a group of raucous lads bearing down on me I skedaddled and headed down into Shirley, my head filling with that classic Leslie Nielson line from Airplane.
More roads, playing fields and woods greeted me, and with my legs starting to feel the strain, I walked on becoming increasingly oblivious to my surroundings. I did however, spot the boundary marker that showed I’d finally finished with Croydon and was now in Bromley. That felt like practically home.
I got to Wickham Court and now just had the last bit to do. As usual, when my body knows I’m nearly there, it seems to switch off in anticipation, so I lurched and zombie-staggered my way up to the main road and then along the paths alongside a school that brought me. Not wanting to stop in case it completely zeroed my momentum, I carried on, only pausing briefly to acknowledge crossing the line:
I staggered into Hayes Station, with 16 miles under my belt, plus about 3 more walking between stations in London, plus the effect of all of the ascent I’d done. Legs were shattered, but I was pleased to have got myself back in sync with the sensible staging points. One and a half sections to go and then the LOOP is done.
While I was on the walk, I did come to a decision about the next project, and this grew out of reflecting on the fact that I’d started this path from home. It struck me that I should walk from the end of this path to the start of the next one, so the next path should be not too far away. This way, I will eventually have done a long meandering walk from home, and it will be interesting to see how long I can keep it up for. This also meant that the path I’d been gradually coming around to the idea of walking was now almost definite. So another 25 miles or so and then I’ll be heading for the Saxon Shore Way.