We always find the festive break a great time to get out into Croydon’s green spaces for some much needed exercise, to walk off the extra helpings of roast potatoes, whilst enjoying some local nature.
Guest writer Peter Hall introduces us to his Green Line walks. Here is part 1 in the series for you to try out between Christmas and new year, or indeed in any season.
The Coombe Lane stop for Selsdon
I believe that the tram line is one of Croydon’s greatest assets. The green logo and livery is so appropriate for a route which connects the town centre to many beautiful natural environments and makes nature accessible to all in our borough. I have been travelling the length of the line for several years, with my camera at my side. This article shares the wonderland which is a short walk from the Coombe Wood stop on the New Addington branch. Follow me, on a short walk to Selsdon Village, where you will find refreshments and frequent buses to Croydon. Most of the walk is through woodland so, if you attempt it in wet weather, make sure your footwear is up to the job! The walk is under two miles but in that short distance you will pass through three woodlands, pass two natural ponds and you would be very unlucky not to see any wildlife.
Whether you approach Coombe Lane from East Croydon or from New Addington, the ride is a real treat and a masterpiece of railway design. In both directions, the tram climbs steeply, through cuttings in dense woodland to reach the high point of Addington Hills, which is the Coombe Lane stop. Although the stop is close to the main road, you feel as if you are alighting in a magical wood. In Autumn the rustic-red colours surrounding the track are magnificent.
Take the footpath through the woods which runs parallel to the line, in the Addington direction leading from the East Croydon platform. It feels like an enchanted path, forging a tunnel through trees which meet overhead. You will emerge into the complicated junction where the Shirley Road branches northward and the tramline crosses Coombe Lane. Cross over Coombe Lane, walk a short distance back towards Croydon and almost immediately take the left turn down Ballards Way.
Very soon on your left, is the entrance to Heathfield House and Gardens. It is one of Croydon’s least known, but most beautiful parks. In late May to early June, the walk downhill to the House is magnificent with massive rhododendron and azalea bushes adorning both sides. Each bush is covered in oversized bright white, pink, blue, yellow, and red flowers. At the bottom, is the old Manor House, a duck pond, ornamental gardens, and a wonderful view over the Downs towards Bromley. It is worth pausing to sit on the chairs on the veranda, to take in the fresh air and view. There is a huge oak in the meadow and often horses grazing around it.
There is a track through the bushes on the right, just after the pond which takes you through the thickest and most magical part of the rhododendron. If you follow it to the end, you will find a hole in the fence which takes you to the track leading to the riding school, and you will immediately see in front of you the gate leading to Bramley Bank nature reserve. If you miss the hole, you will end up in the car park, turn left as you leave the car park, and you find the same place on your right.
Bramley Bank is a woodland reserve managed by the London Wildlife Trust. It is a great place for bluebells in the spring. There are two winding footpaths. One branches off to your right as soon as you enter, the other is probably the shortest route. The right-hand branch takes you down to a large pond where there is usually a moorhen family bringing up chicks in the spring. If you are a little bit lucky and approach very quietly, you will see a heron who spends some part of everyday fishing in this pond. I have found late afternoon to be the best. The pond is buzzing with the sound of frogs in early spring and adorned with the brightly coloured flowers of water lilies throughout the summer.
When you emerge from Bramley Bank, there is a stretch of open grass and a path with a railing running downhill towards your right. Follow that, and almost immediately you will find the track on your left to Littleheath Woods. The path takes you alongside residential properties, but look to your right, and in between the path and the fence of those properties is a huge area of fenced in, lightly wooded, mud hills with numerous large holes. The hills and the holes are evidence of an enormous badger set. You will find holes from the set everywhere – including on the footpath itself, so tread carefully, or you will twist your ankle! You are unlikely to see any badgers during the day, but if you come at dusk, and stand there still for a period, you will see the little black and white heads pushing out of each hole and scampering between holes.
The path turns sharp right and takes you into a wide-open grassed area known as Oak Field. In the summer, they let the grass grow, flower and seed. The wild-flower meadow becomes a haven for butterflies – usually found around the woodland edges. The meadow is very popular with dog walkers, so if you have a dog, this is somewhere you can safely let your pet off the lead and keep it in sight. The meadow is quite hilly and on the rare occasions when we have snow, it is alive with children on sledges. If you manage to time it when you can be alone in the meadow, sit very still on one of the benches and you might see a fox passing by or even deer. There are several clearly marked tracks across the meadow. Follow the main one which runs diagonally across to the opposite corner of the field, past a spinney of trees on some high ground.
Walk uphill following the ‘ride’ – a broad path through the woods. In spring, there is a magnificent bluebell display. You come to a small open field which affords a view over South Croydon, and offers great sunset photo opportunities, especially in winter.
There is a wooden bench where you can take in the view. Take the first path (before the bench) leading uphill out of the field on your left and at the fork in that path, take the left branch. This is a delightful stretch of woodland in all seasons. It is always alive with songbirds and squirrels – you cannot miss them! At the high point, a path crosses the track. The right-hand branch takes you to the ‘keyhole pond’ which is a playground for frogs in the mating season.
Your walk is almost over! Walking downhill into Foxearth Road in the spring, look to your left and you will witness the most splendid bank of bluebells. When you leave the woods, turn right, and then left down a steep footpath which takes you to the shops. There is a pub, a micro pub, three cafes, a pie and mash shop, three restaurants as well as various takeaway offerings. It is a good place to stop, rest and get refreshments. The 64 bus is very frequent and takes you to Croydon in one direction and to New Addington in the other.
Posted by guest writer Peter Hall (all photos courtesy of Peter).
Peter lives, works, walks, and often runs in Croydon – always with his camera – visiting green spaces and places with an interesting history. He is a keen Instagrammer who loves to give and receive comments on his peter_at_croydon account.