Yesterday, Saturday November 26th, we walked the penultimate section of our London Loop, Petts Wood to Coney Hall. I didn’t have the strength to write it up when I got home, as the journey back was arduous to say the least!
We set off early to get back to the starting point at Petts Wood. Because of a train strike affecting some lines in the area we had to get a bus for the last part of the journey. This meant a 2 hour expedition across London from west to south east, but we are all early birds and we started the walk at 9.30. Plenty of time to walk 8-9 miles, and get back in time for the evening – or so we thought.
The weather was perfect for an autumn walk – a little cloudy perhaps but some blue skies and sunshine broke through, and the trees glowed yellow and copper, with occasional bursts of red and orange to liven up the view. And woodland is what this section is all about. Apart from some short links through 30’s suburbia (where you could be literally anywhere on the fringes of London to be honest) almost the entire walk was through woodland. Most of it was very quiet too, just the usual dog walkers near housing developments.
We stopped in the pretty little village of Farnborough (first mentioned in official records in AD 862!) where we had a very good cup of coffee. Walking on we passed the village church with stained glass windows designed by William Morris – sadly it was locked so we couldn’t get a proper look.
However we did spend a little time in the peaceful and very well kept graveyard looking at some of the inscriptions and monuments. There was a very dramatic tomb with a reclining angel. And then we saw a tombstone for Gipsy Lee “Gipsy Queen”, along with her husband Levi Boswell – “The Gipsy Chief”. I have since then done a bit of online research and it turns out that Urania Boswell – otherwise known as Gipsy Lee – along with her husband were very famous gipsies in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and their funerals were in the national newspapers. There is even newsreel footage of Gipsy Lee’s funeral which thousands attended. Click here to see it!
A short while after this we came to High Elms Country Park which was originally the grounds of a large house which burnt down in the 1960’s. There was a small Christmas craft fair which was fun to visit. I bought a little crochet star ornament for the Christmas tree! Also in the park was a very good cafe: The Green Roof Cafe which I can highly recommend if you are in the area. Fresh home made food and very efficient, friendly staff.
Fives is a game of ‘hand tennis’ with origins seemingly in the mists of time (18-19th centuries) in the poshest schools in England. There are variations depending on the school. This court is for the Eton Fives version which is basically a courtyard complete with steps, sloping ledges and a buttress on the left. Amazingly Steve has played Fives back in the day, when he was at university! He was able to explain how it all worked, and also that a common hazard was broken fingers. Yikes!
On we went through more woods, along muddy paths and through piles of leaves.
The next interesting thing on the walk was Holwood House, a massive Grade 1 listed mansion built in 1826 in Greek revival style. Before this huge house was built a smaller country house was on the site, owned by Britains youngest Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger. A momentous occasion took place in 1787 in the grounds of this house, when Pitt, William Wilberforce (already a campaigner against the slave trade) and William Grenville (future Prime Minister) met and discussed how to push forward the Slave Trade Act, to abolish the slave trade. It was eventually passed in 1807, but it would be many years before slavery itself would be outlawed.
The meeting took place (it is said) under a mighty oak, which became known as the Wilberforce Oak. Sadly the actual tree is now dead, but a new oak has been planted in its place. There is also a stone bench nearby engraved with a diary entry by Wilberforce recording the occasion.
The next point of interest on this walk was Keston Common and Keston Ponds. The Common is the site of an Iron Age earthwork which is pretty impressive but difficult to capture in a photograph. Easier to photograph are the ponds, with the spring rather beautifully encircled by brick.
Another pretty stretch of woodland, with some ancient oaks – some said to be 600 years old – took us to the end of our walk. We were congratulating ourselves on our good timing – only 2.30 and done already! But we spoke too soon. A series of travel problems starting with an hour wait for a bus on diversion due to a road collision further back, plus a power outage at Paddington meant that it took us FOUR HOURS to get home! Seriously! We cheered ourselves up with the thought that it really had been one of nicest sections we’ve done. And we only have one more to go!