I'm continuing my outer orbit of London in Tandridge, East Surrey. It's possibly the least well known of the seventeen administrative districts touching the capital, even though it's quite big, and can be found clinging onto the bottom of Croydon. The northern strip is spacious suburbia, while to the south are a selection of minor towns and tiny villages amid rolling fields. Alas, Tandridge is not over-endowed with places of interest. I discovered this by downloading the council's "Your Guide to Tandridge" booklet off their website, only to discover that the majority of their "Places to Visit" were in fact in neighbouring districts. But I found a few worthy of investigation, and at least two of them turned out to be much more interesting than I was expecting.
Somewhere pretty: Oxted
I've always liked the name. Short and snappy, with an Anglo-Saxon feel, and of course that lovely X. This may just be because I grew up somewhere similar, but I'd always wondered what the place was like. Relatively small it turns out, indeed Croxley's technically bigger, but Oxted hosts the council offices and is administratively far more important. The main shopping street's split in two by the railway, with the west side shorter and more Mock Tudor. It's really rather nice, and includes cafes, a proper ironmongers and a second hand bookshop. Plus there's an adorable-looking cinema whose wooden beams might appear 16th century but are really 1929, ditto the Barclays Bank nextdoor. But then Tandridge is allegedly Housewife Central, with the highest proportion of economically inactive women in Britain, so it's as well they have somewhere to go.
I had feared that, bar the shops, there'd be little in Oxted to write about. Thank heavens then that I'd arrived on the one afternoon the town lets its hair down and parties... at the OxtedCarnival. Held every first Saturday in July since 1966, this annual shindig takes over Master Park at the bottom of the hill, and is unashamedly local. You might walk in from neighbouring Hurst Green or Limpsfield, but the carnival is really an opportunity for residents and organisations from Oxted to come together. The Rotary Club had a paddling pool full of rubber ducks to fish in, for example, while the Cystic Fibrosis tent housed a bottle tombola to put the nearest supermarket to shame. On the fringes an army officer, or a man dressed convincingly as one, waited patiently for anyone to approach so that he could talk to them about centenaries and stress. It being a bit early the bar tent hadn't quite taken off, and the Barn Theatre ladies were still declingfilming the sponges in their tea tent. But I swapped two pound coins for a tasty hotdog at the carnival committee's gazebo, this pure profit what with all the bread and squeezy ketchup having been kindly donated by Morrisons.
A very mild stir was caused by the arrival of Tandridge's Chairman of the Council, that's Councillor Elizabeth Parker, in a Ford Fiesta driven by her Consort Robin. He traversed the carnival in his hatchback and parked up on the grass by the ice cream van, because you're totally allowed to do that when your wife runs the place. Exiting the car in chains, Elizabeth was resplendent in cardigan and straw bonnet, but was outshone by the feathery attire of the town crier and her big bell. Meanwhile on the other side of the park, the carnival procession (theme 'Toys and Games) was lining up prior to its tour round the town. One local school had dressed up collectively as Angry Birds, while another group disguised as Duracell bunnies bounced around to music in the far corner. One float with guitarists and drummer was decked out as "Roxted" (see what they did there?), practising silently as the time for departure approached. And right on schedule out came Oxted's householders to watch the parade from their front verge, its musical soundtrack echoing all the way to the town's outskirts. And that's where the similarity between Oxted and Croxley finally struck me, one with its Carnival, the other its Revels. Each a community celebrating its individuality and togetherness annually in friendly style - I felt very much at home. by train: Oxted
Meridian Interlude - Oxted The Greenwich Meridian runs down the east side of Tandridge, approximately in line with the East Grinstead railway, including a direct hit on Oxted School and the Ellice Road Car Park. My target was the town's one public manifestation of the zero degree line, which is a centenary plaque on the front of Paydens the Chemists at the bottom of the parade. This is a splendid Tudorbethan pharmacy, its interior laid out rather how Boots used to be, with bottles and creams stacked neatly on shelves and a proper prescription counter at the rear. Look down low by the left of the front door and there's the meridian marker, cast in 1984, below a window display of small town pharmaceutical perfection. Lined up on the meridian itself are a strawberry-themed shower hat, a box of three rose-perfumed soaps and a St Moritz self tan applicator mitt. The first toiletry in the western hemisphere is an RHS Sweet Pea Body Balm, positioned close to the pièce de résistance - a bottle of blonde-pigtailed Matey bubble bath. It's the finest meridian marker I've seen in many a year. Meanwhile nextdoor, firmly in the eastern hemisphere, is Paydens Bookshop. Again it's everything you'd hope an local independent shop would be, with books giving way to an eclectic range of non-poncey stationery as you walk through. I succumbed, zero resistance.
Meridian Interlude - Lingfield
The Greenwich Meridian oh so nearly swipes through Lingfield racecourse, but not quite. Step a hundred yards or so past the entrance to the hotel car park and there, on the other side of the railway bridge, is a small stone monument set into the pavement. It was installed by the parish council to celebrate the millennium, and is oddly hard to read for a memorial so young. Still, it's better placed here than on the opposite side of the road outside the Lingfield & Dormansland Rifle & Pistol Club hut. I wonder if they have a meridian-sighted target lined up inside.
Somewhere sporting: Lingfield Park
Yes, Lingfield's where the racing is. It boasts one of the handful of all-weather racecourses in Britain, always usable but not always used. Last Saturday was an off-day, save for a team of groundsmen tending to the non-artificial bits, and the Arpa & Hemanshoo Wedding in the Pavilion Suite. The owners have made sure that the course is almost, but not completely, invisible from the road outside. Stand outside the main gate, which is a peculiar wooden-topped glass box with some turnstiles inside, and you can see a fraction of the outer rail, while a bit of the parade ring is visible through the conifers a little further down the road. So that was well worth my train ticket and a lengthy yomp across Tandridge, I thought. A dedicated footpath leads from the far end of the northbound platform, via which those coming by rail arrive at the races. More typical visitors come by car, and park up in fields labelled No Trespassing at all other times. Ah but this is more than a racecourse, this is the Lingfield Park Resort, complete with golf course for swinging executives and a four star hotel with jockeytastic views. I imagine many a corporate conference takes place within, although the reality next weekend appears to be a Whitney and Beyonce Tribute for all you Ladies out there.
OK, so the sporting end of Lingfield proved rather dull, but the centre of the village was gorgeous. An unlikely mega-cluster of listed buildings swirls around the medieval church, itself Grade I, on the site of a Saxon structure. The current St Peter and St Paul's owes its existence to a dynasty of crusaders, and its most prominent feature is the ostentatious tomb of Sir Reginald de Cobham and his wife (resting her feet on a small dragon), plonked directly in front of the high altar. It's a fine building to explore, but first and foremost a place of worship rather than any fossilised heritage asset. Likewise the surrounding cottages, still very much family homes... and then there's The Guest House. Built in Wealden style for guests of the neighbouring college, this timber-framed beauty turns out to be full of books, and perchance the only 15th century public library in Britain. by train: Lingfield