diamond geezer

 Friday, August 18, 2017

4 Croydon
The County Borough of Croydon came into existence in 1889, with the parish of Addington added in 1925. Local burghers have long been keen to grant the borough city status, but proximity to London, and then being amalgamated into it, seem to have quashed that dream. For today's post I've chosen to visit the tongue of farmland which became New Addington and to walk around the edge of the infamous estate. In news which may surprise you, I had a lovely time and it was very pretty.

A walk around New Addington

It's unexpectedly difficult to leave New Addington. Despite the estate's boundary being over five miles long, only two roads lead out of the built-up area and connect to their surroundings - one to the north and one to the south. Both exits follow the line of the sole country lane which once wound across open fields, and inexplicably no other roads (only a tramline) have been added since. What's more, if you check on an Ordnance Survey map, only one public footpath leads out of New Addington to the east, and none at all to the west. Can somewhere with a five-figure population really be so insular, I wondered.

The obvious place to start a circumnavigation of New Addington is the bus station opposite 'old' Addington at the foot of Lodge Lane. Most residents drive or bike or bus or tram or walk up the hill from here to get home. Instead I headed along the dual carriageway towards Selsdon to follow another survivor from agricultural days, Featherbed Lane, which runs parallel to the west. Initially it's very suburban, with a crescent and cul-de-sacs off to one side and the woody ascent into Forestdale on the other. A large meadow opens up on the eastern flank, seemingly somewhere for local hounds to run and defecate, then a Jehovah's Witness hall with a Sunday-sized car park. But all further access to the east is blocked off by the largest landowner hereabouts, Addington Court Golf Club, and they're not letting any New Addingtonians through.

Its 18 holes are split, unseen, on either side of the lane, which proceeds serenely screened through the centre. A long strip of unmown meadow runs along half a mile of footpath, alive with yellow flowers, in complete contrast to the housing estate out of sight atop the ridge. And aha, there is one track straight down from there, it's just not been designated an official public right of way so tends not to appear on maps. It's also a very steep path, so steep that the council have added barriers to prevent two-wheelers speeding down... and this being New Addington each barrier also has a motorbike-width diversion pressed into the surrounding undergrowth.

The upper entrance to this path is poorly signed, and runs down the side of Fishers Farm, a council tip, where cars queue to chuck away recyclables and crushables. It's no alluring exit. But there is a marvellous scenic treasure to be discovered beyond, namely Hutchinsons Bank, a steep chalk escarpment blessed with long grass, woodland and scrub. A labyrinth of gated paths runs along its length, at various heights, ripe for exploration, and with fine views out towards thick leafy canopy on the opposite bank. The shrieks you can hear over there are from a Scout camp, fractionally into Surrey, the capital coming to an abrupt end just across Featherbed Lane.

So quiet were the paths in Threecorner Grove that I startled a deer, right up close, which attempted escape through a concealed fence before realising its mistake and hopping off Bambi-style down the path. I don't think I've ever been closer in the wild, and felt like I was having my own proper wildlife adventure. I'd have expected this doorstep wilderness to be well used for rest and play, especially in the school summer holidays, but the only other people I met across its many acres were white-suited contractors here to spray the grass. Instead this half-mile-long natural resource is barely accessible from the estate above, linked via overgrown footpaths most modern offspring are kept well away from.

'Twas not always thus. At the top of a particularly brambly footpath I reached Fairchildes Avenue, once the home of author John Grindrod, whose latest book Outskirts explores the influence of the edge of the Green Belt. In this case the Green Belt begins immediately across the street, a fringe of trees and undergrowth above a sharp dip, tumbling down towards the amusingly-named hamlet of Fickleshole. John lived in one of these houses facing the outer edge of the estate, occasionally venturing out down the track I'd just panted up... and now I've visited, Chapters Three and Ten make a lot more sense.

At the end of Fairchildes Avenue is a cluster of schools, the secondary named after the Greenwich Meridian which cuts directly across its site. Here too is the only other road out of New Addington, King Henry's Drive, winding briefly towards fields, narrow lanes and Biggin Hill. Even here the public rights of way are non-existent, the only footpath down the side of the playing field unsigned until it crosses into a neighbouring borough. The path also follows a former Roman road, which once linked London to Lewes, and later marked the boundary between Surrey and Kent. As such it defined New Addington's entire eastern boundary, the line beyond which development could not take place, and my next task was to attempt to follow it north.

Initially that was impossible and I had to walk through the estate instead. This meant passing postwar semis nestled round communal greens, with occasional modern infill where the council later realised they could squeeze in more. If you've never visited, it's nicer than you probably imagine. An outlier shopping parade has local needs perfectly sewn up... two supermarkets, two takeaways and a hairdressers... while opposite is New Addington's low key industrial estate, home to welders, car repair centres and evangelical churches. From the pavement at the top of the hill a fine view of distant City skyscrapers can be enjoyed, briefly, before the road dips. And somewhere round here is the entrance to the woods, and another way out...

Croydon council's contempt for New Addington's peripheral space is summed up by the unwelcoming gates and faded warnings across the only entrance to Rowdown Wood. Nothing suggests it might be enjoyable to wander past, deeper into the trees, to meet a forest track along the (approximate) alignment of that Roman road. Five minutes to the right the path stops abruptly at the wall of the industrial estate, with no way of nipping through, before doglegging into the adjacent agricultural nowhere. Even though you could walk out of New Addington this way, it's hard to see why anyone would want to.

But in the opposite direction the track weaves down through the woods, rubbing up against a golden harvested field, before briefly breaking out beside an open space. Alsatians are sometimes exercised here, I noted. I also noted a rough road which I thought might be the elusive 'other way to drive out of New Addington', but it stopped abruptly at the gate of a large electricity substation a few metres beyond the boundary. And then I dived back into the woods, another verdant linear treat, again with the dappled paths entirely to myself. Does nobody ever venture out here, I wondered... and then I got my answer.

Five burnt-out mopeds had been abandoned beside a footpath junction near the top end of Birch Wood. It didn't take long to discover an access point close by, and the boxy closes of Fieldway just beyond, whose youth clearly enjoy having a scrambling track on tap. Logs have been placed strategically along the main path to make driving through the woods more cathartic, and burning your steed at the end of a circuit is presumably sometimes par for the course. When the riders aren't here, however, a mile's hike through the woods is highly enjoyable... all the way down to the main road, one stop from the bus station where I started.

Having been to New Addington several times before, it was a surprise to break out to explore its perimeter, having previously been hemmed in by miserably limited road and footpath access. I don't expect you'll ever follow in my green and pleasant footsteps (although you might give Hutchinsons Bank a try). But I do now understand why John Grindrod describes his home estate as "not just on the edge of the green belt but encircled by it", "an atoll of concrete and red brick surrounded by a sea of green". Unless you know where to find its minimal exits, New Addington really is an isolated residential island.

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