Random Station: WOODMANSTERNE
London Borough of Croydon Southern, zone 6 Hinterland: 3.6km²
The village of Woodmansterne is in Surrey, but its station lies quarter of a mile inside London, which is how I've managed to randomly select it. Its hinterland covers a slice of the Chipstead Valley west of Coulsdon, and spreads uphill into the borough of Sutton. On the right day it's delightful, and yesterday was the right day. Here are 12 local delights peaking, I think you'll agree, with number nine.
Four from the London borough of Croydon
Nobody would consider building the Tattenham Corner line today, linking leafy estates and green belt, but the commuters of the Surrey fringe (and local estate agents) greatly value its presence. Woodmansterne station sits in the notch of the dry valley between Coulsdon Town and Chipstead, a single island platform accessed via a key community-linking footbridge. It also retains a ticket office opposite the entrance, despite seeing fewer passengers than every single Underground station (although I don't believe it stays open until midnight any more, as the notice outside claims).
The suburbs flanking the hills overlooking the station are more Coulsdon than Woodmansterne. Avenues of half-timbered semis climb steeply to rows of Dulux white detacheds, a bit like Metroland but with proper contours. Ocado and Asda vans ply the slopes. Brightly-blazered children caper home after school. The local nailbar is sandwiched between a bike shop and The Smugglers Inn Free House. The newspaper of choice outside the Londis on Chipstead Valley Road, always a good social indicator, is The Times.
If a website ever claims to have a definitive list of London's Most Hidden Secret Cafes, and doesn't include Mother Kitty's, they are wrong. Potential diners first have to find Rickman Hill Recreation Ground, the last greenspace in Croydon before the road goes private, then think to walk round the blind corner to where the changing rooms used to be. Lara's done up the interior as a vintage cafe and soft play space, named after the adjacent woodland, where parents can soak marshmallows in coffee while their littl'uns romp. As for the "sandwitches" offered on the chalkboard outside, I'm just about willing to believe they were a Hallowe'en treat, never erased.
The Third Surrey Pauper Lunatic Asylum opened on a hill above Coulsdon in 1883, and soon had 2000 patients. As Cane Hill Hospital it survived until the 1990s, after which the buildings were emptied, left to fall into dereliction and then either demolished or lost to arson. Today it's being reborn as Cane Hall Park, a collection of three, four and five bedroom Barratt homes, an ideal stockholder bolthole sweeping down towards Coulsdon South station. The Woodmansterne side is part of the final phase, as yet utility-free, barriered off and covered with piles of sand.
Four from the Surrey borough of Reigate and Banstead
The Midday Sun
Just beyond the rail bridge, this longstanding pub is now a lacklustre eatery from the Hungry Horse chain. Expect white van drinkers, chip-shovelling families, two-for-one burger Fridays and, if you come on the first Monday in July, a full-on Psychic Experience. The 166 bus used to terminate outside, and still circles round to pull in beside the little wooden shelter, like it's 1970, before continuing on its way.
What a lovely little village Woodmansterne is. Set round a crossroads on a hill, it manages to support a parish church, a primary school and, somehow, a fish and chip shop called the Codfather. It even merits two convenience stores, although the second hand golf club shop is a bit niche, and the wellness clinic has folded. I'm also willing to bet that The Woodman pub is the best local in the catchment area, especially if you're a dog. All this and three Oyster-enabled buses an hour to the proper shops, it's a true Surrey sanctuary.
Woodmansterne village sign
I particularly love the village sign, not your usual heraldic rectangle, but gouged from the wood of a felled tree trunk on the green. The villagers love their open spaces, this being a tiny corner of the much larger Woodmansterne Recreation Ground, opposite a pristine cricket ground, round the corner from the Walcountian Blues Lacrosse Club, the Old Walcountians Rugby Club and the Purley Walcountians Hockey Club. "New members of any standard are afforded a very warm welcome."
Woodmansterne Community Garden
Just past the scout hut, a little wooden gate leads into the haven of a community garden. The Residents' Association, the Women's Institute and a local aggregates company helped put it together. The shrubbery in the formal garden is currently peaking, while the pond looks like it's disgorged its frogs and the orchard awaits autumn. And I mention this not because you ought to visit, but because there are always little treasures to discover when you're out exploring.
Four from the London borough of Sutton
Mayfield Lavender Farm
Hell yes. For nine months a year this is just a big field, but in mid-June it bursts into gorgeouspurple, and the cameraphones of the world descend. Only the lavender planted in the central section is on the turn at the moment, but for those who have come to walk, kneel and nestle that's sufficient for a whole gallery of carefully composed selfies. I can't top this post I wrote about the place three years ago, except to say maybe wait a couple more weeks (and if you enter via the public footpath you won't be asked to pay the £2 entrance fee). [12 photos]
Immediately across the road was The Oaks estate, now a municipal park, but originally home to the Earl of Derby. He gave his name to the most famous race at Epsom, and his estate gave its name to the second. You'll not find his mansion here now, the Second World War did for that, but its outline is marked by a white line in the grass beyond the bakehouse. Today's visitors can enjoy a stroll through the walled garden or a cooked breakfast from the Tea Rooms, although the walls of the latter are adorned with pugs in tiaras, so maybe best eat outside.
North of Woodmansterne, 79 semi-detached weatherboarded cottages were built on former lavender fields in 1920 to provide smallholdings and employment for soldiers returned from the war. Somehow they've survived, if mostly no longer used for their original purpose, although some are still occupied by families scraping a living off the land by selling logs, hiring out horses or flogging cuttings from polytunnels. Anyone who's walked London Loop section 6 will have passed by (although for the full-on oppressive Little Woodcote experience you need to take the Telegraph Track to Carshalton).
Sutton's most isolated estate is bolted onto Coulsdon, and named after the farm it replaced. Economically it's going downhill, with the Jack and Jill pub closed unexpectedly last month, and the sole shop left trading in the parade an unbranded convenience store. I headed for Big Wood in the far corner, Sutton's largest wooded area, tempted by the promise of fine views over London. But poor signposting by the entrance almost led me up the drive of a shack with dogs running free, then I met an unaccompanied staffie by the non-exit into a private sports ground, and basically I couldn't get out of Big Wood quickly enough. Mercifully Woodmansterne station was a brief stroll downhill, for a quick getaway.