Car-free adventures in theCroydon countrysideGreater London
One minute you’re standing in the shadow of London's sky-scraping Shard, the UK's tallest building; half an hour later you’re striding over chalk downland with the wind in your hair. There are surprisingly beautiful landscapes around the South London town of Croydon, with direct trains from London Bridge or Victoria. It may not have a great reputation (comedian Sue Perkins grew up in 1970s Croydon and calls it “less of a place, more of a punchline”), but you can find beautiful walking country nearby. These itineraries all start from East Croydon railway station (the markets are not far away if you want to pick up a picnic), but, of course, you can also head to each one straight from Central London if you prefer...
1. Walk London’s “Happy Valley”
From Coulsdon South station (ten minutes south of Croydon on a train towards Horsham and Tonbridge), you can be up on the chalky downs in no time, with stunning views on all sides and wild flowers in the grass. A beautiful 3-mile walk, over hills and through woods, brings you to the Fox Inn and a bus back to Croydon.
- Simply follow signs for the London LOOP long distance path left out of the station onto Reddown Road, turn right and right again to find a wooden gate onto Farthing Downs
- Walk straight uphill, enjoying views on all sides.
- Turn left at the car park (loos here!) and right at a sign saying Downland Circular Walk. Follow a stony track down through trees into Happy Valley, a site of special scientific interest, with carpets of cowslips in spring.
- Head diagonally left into valley bottom and keep going in same direction uphill into trees at the top, signed Coulsdon Common. Follow the path, past playing fields, onto a tarmac lane where you’ll find the Fox Inn.
- Bus 466 runs frequently from a stop on the road nearby to East Croydon station.
- For a longer walk (about seven miles altogether), continue to follow the London LOOP, passing close to Kenley Aerodrome (one three main airfields responsible for defending London during the Battle of Britain – now home to a gliding club).
- Climbing, eventually, onto Riddlesdown Road, another lovely path high on the downs, keep straight (ignoring the LOOP, which turns right). After a mile, follow the path left downhill to reach Kenley Station.
2. Take the tram to Morden Hall Park
Rushing mill steams, leafy branches, a rose garden, and an ornate Victorian bridge over the River Wandle… It may not sound like most people’s idea of Morden, south end of London’s Northern line tube. Morden Hall Park is an urban oasis, complete with 18th-century statues of Neptune and Venus on a wooded island and – best of all – a choice of cafes.
- The Croydon Tramlink runs frequently from outside East Croydon railway station and stops outside the park on its way to Wimbledon.
- Lookout of the window for views of the historic Whitgift almshouses in Croydon, Wandle Park and Mitcham Common.
- Get off at Phipps Bridge and wander right through Morden Hall Park, across the river, to find the cafés. The Potting Shed even serves veg from the neighbouring kitchen garden.
- On the way, you’ll pass the one of the old Wandle snuff mills, with a water wheel and millstones. They used to grind up dry tobacco leaves to make snuff – a quick nineteenth-century path to a sneezy nicotine rush.