diamond geezer

 Friday, July 21, 2017

5 Coulsdon & Purley/Caterham & Warlingham
Not every district proposed to become part of Greater London in 1965 made the cut. Coulsdon and Purley made it in, and probably would've rather not, whereas Caterham and Warlingham were left outside, and remain resolutely part of Surrey. Today a seemingly arbitrary dividing line wends its way across the suburban landscape, with one side genuinely part of the Home Counties and the other merely looking the part. In trying to work out where to visit for today's post I realised I'd been to Coulsdon, Purley and Caterham but never Warlingham, so headed there, then threw in a bonus trip to Woldingham for good measure.


Warlingham's a village on a hill, or rather the scarp of the North Downs, which grew from medieval manor to commuter nirvana over several centuries. The heart of the village is on the Limpsfield Road around a triangular green, at the centre of which is the war memorial, and above which flies a Union Jack, because its that kind of place. It's also the kind of place that still has a 'hardware' store and a newsagent that sells books, as well as an independent cafe and a gift shop for dogs (as beneficiaries, not as shoppers). But not a bank, because NatWest just whitewashed the windows of the branch on the corner, nor an old-school petrol station, because that's barriered off awaiting transformation into a dozen flats.

The absence of pubs in neighbouring Sanderstead and Woldingham meant that several could be supported here, although Ye Old Leather Bottle has upgraded to tapas, The Hare and Hounds has downgraded to coffee, and most of the others now prioritise food over ale. Of these the half-timbered White Lion looks by far the most appealing, although the phrase 'Free House' painted on the side wall is alas no longer true. Gold gothic letters above the door confirm the inn as '15th century', but also warn off potential canine visitors with 'No Dogs Please' in similar script.

All Saints Church is 13th century, and is said to be where Archbishop Thomas Cranmer first conducted a service from the Book of Common Prayer. It's definitely the site of Britain's first ever televised church service - the BBC filmed the Harvest Festival here in 1950 - while the inventor of the incandescent light bulb, Sir Joseph Swan, is entombed in the graveyard. Of more immediate importance (if banners plastered all around the local area are to be believed) is the 2nd annual Warlingham Sausage and Cider Festival, taking place all this weekend at the John Fisher Sports Ground, with a rumoured appearance by Randy and the Rockets.

Warlingham's centre of gravity has shifted noticeably west since Victorian times, thanks to the arrival of the railway. Ironically Upper Warlingham station is at the lowest point in the village, but a steep flight of steps leads up to a residential quarter where the avenues are more sweeping and the back gardens more spacious. Less stockbrokerish types can enter the village by London bus - the 403 rumbles regularly across the border through Hamsey Green, and terminates at what used to be Chelsham bus garage but is now a large Sainsbury's.

How to walk from Warlingham to Woldingham

1) Follow the track opposite the Village Hall into Blanchman's Farm Local Nature Reserve. The farmhouse used to be opposite the pond. On the opposite side, where the narrow lane of Bug Hill starts to tumble over the escarpment, look out for the historic coal post masquerading as a gatepost. To avoid any traffic, take the footpath across the very top of a steep pasture, focusing on the great view and trying not to wonder whether the Longhorn Beef cattle sharing the field are all bulls. Then hairpin back down a long path called Butterfly Walk and follow the remainder of Bug Hill down to the crossroads.

2) At the village sign, just past Sainsbury's, turn off down High Lane (which Surrey County Council wisely signs as inappropriate for vehicular traffic). Plantation Lane hugs the rim of the delightfully-named Halliloo Valley, and swiftly narrows, bordered by anguished signs warning dogwalkers to keep their charges under firm control. After a pleasant half mile the track swings down into the golf course which fills the entire valley floor, passing an ostentatious pillared clubhouse where players gather on the terrace for a post-round drink. Don't linger, stride on towards the gates, and they won't look at you too funny.


The next village south is very much not part of London, more a sprawling web of lanes dotted with detached homesteads. Woldingham covers approximately the same area as Caterham on the opposite side of the A22 but has only a tenth of the population, such is the allure of a Downland hideaway. This time a bus service isn't an option, not unless you catch one of the two minibuses a day, but the East Grinstead railway provides a perfect commuter link to the City. The station's small car park fills up fast (BMW, Landrover, Lexus, Landrover, etc) so latecomers are forced to leave their vehicles in single file down Church Lane, 50-strong, rather than endure the inconvenience of a long walk down Long Hill.

Woldingham's village green looks a lot more rural than Warlingham's traffic island, with horse trough planter, recently disconnected phone box and almost enough space for cricket. The remains of an air raid shelter can be seen in one corner, while a nearby cottage proudly displays an inn sign out front despite the fact it hasn't been a pub since 1884. Local residents' retail needs are met in The Crescent, a brief parade offering semi-permanent eyelash extensions, replacement windows and, at the far end, a saddlery. A key difference between Warlingham and Woldingham is that the latter only supports one estate agent, not two, but the majority of its properties top the million threshold.

St Paul's is a flint church in medieval style, but built in the 1930s, as the artsy craftsy lettering round the tower subtly hints. Of rather more interest is Woldingham's former parish church, St Agatha's, hidden up a lane to the south and built on the site of a 13th century chapel. This is one of the smallest churches in England, seating 20 in six pews either side, but still perfectly functional and still used for a weekly service. Lift the latch to look inside and admire the (old) piscina and (much more recent) stained glass windows. The ash tree in the churchyard is reckoned to be 800 years old, while an ancient yew shades the burial ground where generations of Woldingham paupers lie in unmarked graves.

Close by is the entrance to Great Church Wood, gifted to the Forestry Commission by conductor Sir Adrian Boult. Walk its shady paths half a mile to the south and you reach the crest of the North Downs, indeed the very section of the North Downs Way I told you about on Sunday. It seems incredible that so pastoral a viewpoint could ever have been considered for the southern edge of Greater London, but Surrey would not let go, and Woldingham's rich and famous certainly prefer it that way.

» Warlingham Countryside Walk 1
» Warlingham Countryside Walk 2
» Woldingham Countryside Walk (recommended)
» Woldingham Millennium Walk

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