Our first July walk started at Coulsdon South station and involved an immediate climb to the top of Farthing Down. At 150 m above sea level, the Down usually provides good views north to the Thames Valley. Unfortunately this was not so today, as early morning cloud obscured the view. From the open Downs we descended into Devilden Wood, following the tree-line and emerging into a beautiful swathe of chalk grassland known as Happy Valley, an area of special scientific interest managed by Croydon Council. We now turned to face south-west and made our way to the mediaeval Chaldon Church for our first stop of the day. This was an opportunity to see one of the earliest known examples of English wall paintings, the internationally renowned doom mural on the west wall of the church which dates from about 1200. The mural consists of an image of the Last Judgement, in which souls were being consigned to Heaven or Hell. Apparently such images were very often painted on the west wall of churches, so it was viewed by the largely illiterate congregation as they left the church.
Our walk now continued towards the south, gradually climbing until we reached the top of the North Downs at Tollsworth Manor. We were now over 200 m above sea level and were able to enjoy fine views, south towards the Weald and east and west along the crest of the Downs.
After lunch, the route continued east along the North Downs Way, before turning north and descending towards the village of Chaldon. From here, we headed across the fairways of the Surrey National Golf Club to the very edge of Caterham, following the perimeter wall of the former Caterham barracks to reach Coulsdon Common. After walking around the edge of the Common, we re-entered Happy Valley directly opposite our morning viewpoint. By now the sun was shining brightly and the temperature had risen, so our final climb back onto Farthing Down was rather more challenging than the one completed at the start of the day. Fortunately the café in the Coulsdon Memorial Grounds was only a short walk away, providing the group with refreshment before the journey home.
It was in expectation of one of the hottest days of the year that the group assembled at Box Hill and Westhumble railway station. No bicycles today, but a walker who had forgotten their boots instead! After a minor diplomatic incident with the owner of the station café concerning the use of the toilet facilities, we had our first climb of the day as we headed north through Norbury Park. A steady descent brought us back into the Mole Valley and after crossing the A24 into the village of Mickleham, we embarked on our second climb to reach Mickleham Downs and our lunch time picnic spot.
The afternoon’s walk continued across the Downs, the route dropping steeply into a dry valley only to climb steeply out again. By now temperatures were in the high twenties, so we were grateful for the shade provided by the trees, as we continued around the perimeter of Headley Heath, with only the sound of the distant M25 for company. In mid-afternoon we reached the settlement of Box Hill and soon joined the North Downs Way National Trail to head west to the Box Hill viewpoint known as Salomon’s Memorial.
Scene of the 2012 Olympic cycling road races, immortalized by Jane Austen in her novel ‘Emma’ and by Richard Thompson in the song ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning’, this is one of the most famous vistas in southern England. Although it was hazy due to the heat, we had a very clear view, roughly south over Dorking and further and right across to the South Downs, including Chanctonbury Ring and Devil’s Dyke, Sussex (a distance of 26 miles, according to the inscription on the viewing platform).
As we continued west towards the River Mole, we enjoyed very good views to Denbies vineyard just outside Dorking, before embarking on a steep descent down the 275 step flight of National Trust stairs leading to the Stepping Stones over the river. Credit where credit is due, every single one of us crossed the river via the stones, although disappointingly nobody fell in! One of our number even celebrated by having a paddle in the Mole, a well-deserved reward for walking in sandals all day.
Soon, we reached Box Hill station just in time for the next train to Victoria. We were hot and thirsty but after completing the most challenging walk the group has attempted so far quietly satisfied with our efforts.
A group of 18 were expected this month’s walk to Ivinghoe Beacon, but at the last minute we had to cater for an unexpected guest. A bicycle! A broken lock meant this most treasured of personal possessions could not be left to the mercy of the Euston station bike rack and so it accompanied the rest of us on the 9.34 to Tring and then on the entire 11 miles of the walk in the Chilterns. To begin, we headed for the Ridgeway National Trail, taking the track north through the Aldbury Nowers Nature Reserve and climbing steadily all the time. Emerging from woodland into open chalk grassland, we followed the ridge over Pitstone Hill before a steep climb up the south side of Inchcombe Hole. We were now in the Ivinghoe Hills and although there was still much low cloud following early morning rain, were rewarded with views west to the Vale of Aylesbury and north to Edlesborough. Meanwhile to the east, the recently restored giant chalk figure of a lion marked the location of Whipsnade Zoo. Continuing our climb the party reached Ivinghoe Beacon, which at 233 metres above sea level is the highest point the group has reached on our walks so far.
After a photocall to mark this summit topping achievement, we took advantage of the open spaces on the beacon to eat lunch before dropping off the ridge to join the Icknield Way and heading south east.
At Hanging Combe our stamina was tested once more, as we were faced with climbing a flight of 134 steps, (try doing that while wheeling a bicycle!). At Little Gaddesden, we joined the Chiltern Way which took us into Ashridge Park and on to Berkhamstead Common. Not only was this area the scene of a mass trespass in 1866, but on the day we walked through it was being used by a film crew, preparing to shoot scenes for a new Robert Downey Jr film ‘The Voyage of Doctor Doolittle’ due out in 2019. The Chiltern Way now turned to face west, following a woodland walk to the village of Aldbury. By now the clouds had lifted and we were walking in strong sunshine, so we were forced to take a break in the beer garden of the ‘Valiant Trooper’, before tackling the final stretch of the walk across the fields to Tring Station. The bike by the way did make it back to Crouch End, although somewhat muddier than when it started!
The group met at Gordon Hill station and as there was little to delay or amuse us in the immediate vicinity set off promptly towards Hilly Fields Park. At the park entrance, our route took us downhill and over Turkey Brook (a tributary of the River Lea) before climbing out of the valley to reach Clay Hill. From here we headed north-west on a bridle path that descended to reach the London to Hertford railway. With no footbridge or tunnel, we carefully crossed the line, before another climb took us across a golf course and into Crews Hill. With lunch booked for 12.30, we had to leave the undoubted charms of the garden centres for another day, instead continuing north towards the first of our ever-popular M25 crossings.Once under the motorway, we carried on to reach Goff’s Oak, where we enjoyed a pub lunch (last one for the time being!) at ‘The Wheelwrights’. Our route now turned to the south east as we made our way towards Bury Green, where we joined the New River to head south past Theobald’s Park. By now we were enjoying typical April weather, with rain drops one minute and sunshine the next, and so it was with somewhat dizzy waterproofs that we crossed the M25 for the second time and reached the highlight of our walk, the Tottenham Hotspur training facility. Having managed to get our Arsenal supporting members away without serious incident, the group continued south, to pass Myddelton House (regrettably with no time to stop for a look) before meeting Turkey Brook again. At this point we also met the London Loop, following it and the brook through the Forty Hall Estate and back to Gordon Hill.
After what seemed like weeks of freezing cold, the group assembled at Rickmansworth Tube Station in what felt remarkably like spring sunshine. So it was with a somewhat jaunty air, we headed out of town to follow the River Chess upstream past the Royal Masonic School towards Loudwater. After about 2 miles, we briefly left the valley to cross the M25 and shortly afterwards headed south west to reach Chorleywood Common. The next stage led us across the common to the delightfully named ‘Artichoke Dell’ and our lunch stop at ‘The Black Horse’, a traditional pub with oak beams and a roaring log fire.
Victualled and refortified, the group continued across the common to cross the Metropolitan line by a narrow road bridge and descend into Chorleywood Bottom. Almost immediately we began to climb steeply out again, to join the Old Shire Lane circular walk. With lovely views over open countryside this section ended in a footbridge over the M25, before taking us on into the Colne Valley. A short section of road between the flooded gravel pits that typify this area brought us to the towpath of the Grand Union Canal at Springwell Lock. Here we turned to the north east and followed the canal towpath past the ‘Hanging Monkey’ to Batchworth, and a short town walk back to the station.
This linear walk started in the Essex town of Loughton, from where we were able to access the tracks and rides of Epping Forest. Once in the woods, we headed north east past Strawberry Hill Ponds, and followed the Three Forests Way to the Iron Age Hill Fort of Loughton Camp (which according to local legend was once used by Queen Boudicca during the Roman occupation). Shortly afterwards the route took us north west, across the Epping New Road and on to High Beach and the Epping Forest Conservation Centre. Here we walked north east to Woodridden Hill, with a steep slope down into the Lea Valley visible to our left and the noise of the M25 becoming ever more obvious up ahead. We soon reached the motorway, crossing on a foot bridge that had recently been used by wild deer for the same reason. We then reached Upshire and the neighbouring village of Copthall Green where we stopped for lunch in ‘The Good Intent’ ( a café not a pub!). The afternoon section took us through mixed farm land in the area of Copped Hall, where we were fortunate enough to have two different sightings of deer, a herd of about 20 near Copped Hall Green and a smaller group of 4 who attempted to stare us out as we climbed to cross the M25 for a second time at Ladderstile Farm. Once over the motorway we re-entered Epping Forest briefly before crossing Bell Common into the centre of Epping and the Central Line back to London.
After a week of greyness, gales and rain, the group met at Hertford North Station to be greeted by blue skies and sunshine. The fine weather stayed with us all day and made up for the sometimes boggy conditions underfoot, which prompted one walker to ask if we were doubling up as the CEDU3A swimming group. After skirting the suburbs of Hertford, our route took us through Hertingfordbury,where we joined the disused railway track known as the Cole Green Way to head towards Welwyn. After a mile or so, we joined the Hertfordshire Chain and headed south-west through fields and woodland. At the appropriately named Waterhall Farm we followed a short stretch of the River Lea, before continuing south-west to the village of Little Berkhamsted, where lunch awaited at the Five Horseshoes. This marked the most southerly point of the walk, as we now headed north east along theHertfordshire Way and climbing through Bayford Woods to reach the pretty village of the same name. By now we were literally on the home straight, as we followed the railway line north into the Hertfordsuburbs, before crossing the historic centre of Hertford to return to the station and the train back to North London.
Our Christmas walk began at Kew Gardens station where, after the snow and rain of earlier in the week, the morning was crisp, sunny and bright. Skirting the Kew Gardens boundary wall, we headed over Kew Bridge to pick up the Thames Path on the north bank of the river. There followed a varied and interesting walk along the Brentford waterside, with its house boats and old wharfs and warehouses, before we reached the Grand Union Canal for a short section along the tow path. Leaving the canal behind us, we entered Syon Park passing the frontage of Syon House (London base of the Duke of Northumberland) before heading back towards the riverside at Isleworth. Another 15 minutes brought us to Richmond Lock, where we crossed the river and continued on into Richmond for our Christmas lunch at the ‘Slug and Lettuce’. Much better than it sounds, the service was not only first rate, but we also received free Santa hats! The afternoon section of the walk stayed on the Surrey bank of the Thames. The elegant riverside of Richmond soon gave way to the water meadows around Ham, and once past Eel Pie Island and the Ham Lands Nature Reserve, the end of the tidal Thames at Teddington Lock.By now we could see Kingston in the distance, and we were entertained by the many coxed fours out on the river as we headed towards the town. Eventually the Thames Path led us beneath Kingston Bridge, and we ended our walk by heading to the Christmas market for the opportunity of a warming cup of mulled wine.
Having assembled in Chesham, we left town via The Chiltern Link path, and headed north-west along ‘Herbert’s Hole’. After overnight rain the ‘Hole’ was rather muddy but somehow, we all managed to stay more or less upright. In fact after an hour’s walking we were able to turn off the ‘Link’, and follow a minor road south towards an area of woodland. The path through the trees (still in their autumn colours), led us to the very busy A413, which we crossed safely before continuing south into the delightful village of Little Missenden. This is where we stopped for lunch at the ‘Crown Inn’, a delightful country pub with a good reputation. Pleasingly it didn’t let us down, not only was the food good, but the service was also first rate. We shall return!
Unfortunately we couldn’t stay in the ‘Crown’ all day, so it was back on with our boots for the afternoon walk. This section followed the Misbourne valley, which ran south east into a landscaped park complete with water features belonging to the Shardeloes estate. By now we were close to Amersham Old Town and were soon walking along the High Street with its fine collection of listed buildings (150 apparently!). In the centre of the old town, our final stretch of walking was revealed, a steep climb of 50 metres through Parsonage Wood to reach our train home. A walk with a gentle sting in its tail!
Our inaugural group walk started bang on time, as we headed south from Totteridge underground station along the Dollis Valley Greenwalk. After crossing Dollis Brook we cut through some 1930’s suburbia to reach Totteridge Green and the illusion of a rural idyll at least for a while. Following a brief road walk, we turned southwest through The Darlands, where, with overgrown parkland to our left and pasture land to our right, it really felt like we were in the countryside. After going through a very muddy field corner (nobody fell over!) we exited through a kissing gate to pass Folly Farm. The walk now went uphill across cricket fields to the Ridgeway and then on into Mill Hill Village and our lunch stop at ‘The Three Hammers’.
Despite having pre-ordered our lunch, service was painfully slow, so we were well rested when we emerged into the drizzle to complete the walk. After descending Highwood Hill, we re-entered pasture land to climb back towards Totteridge, where a walk through the Totteridge Fields Nature Reserve reunited us with the Dollis Brook. At this point we joined the London Loop heading towards Underhill where we followed the Greenwalk back to the tube station.
A successful first outing, even if we never did find Arsène Wenger’s house!