diamond geezer

 Monday, May 30, 2016

7 Amazing things to do in South London
(by which I don't mean Elephant & Castle, I mean the very furthest south that Greater London goes)

1) Stand at the southernmost point in Greater London: Your target is a bend in a country lane, five miles south of Croydon. That's Ditches Lane, a narrow rat-run with passing places which links Coulsdon (in London) to the village of Chaldon (in Surrey). The precise spot is the inside of the first bend north of the church, by the first passing place, where the treeline opens up to reveal a field beyond. It used to be really obvious, because Croydon's municipal transport division had painted a white line down either side of the road whereas Surrey's had not. Now that white line has faded, or been covered over by gravel, or possibly both. But there is still a clue because the Croydon side has a kerb and the Surrey side doesn't, so track down the very last narrow paving block, and that's as far south in London as you can go. Why not take a selfie and post it to all your friends?

2) Hail a cab: It's a well known fact, in certain circles, that no taxi driver will ever take you south of the Thames. How hilarious, then, to stand as far south in London as you possibly can go and flag one down. To be fair you could be waiting some time, as we are over fifteen miles south of Waterloo Bridge at this point, so it's unlikely one will go randomly pootling by. But in this ages of technological advance, remember that you can now summon an Uber, or even an appropriately enabled black cab, from any roadside location you happen to be. Enjoy the driver's scowling face when you announce you've dragged him out to the most extreme point in South London, just because you could. And enjoy the driver's happy face when he reveals quite how much it's going to cost you to get back into town.

3) Stand in the southernmost field in Greater London: Whilst obviously not quite as exciting as standing at the southernmost point in Greater London, the border drifts only very slightly northwards as it cuts through the adjacent field. And it's a lovely field, irregular in shape and tumbling gently downhill with views of Chaldon village at its foot. To either side are woods with notices warning they're Private Property if you get too close, because you wouldn't want to get shot. And a footpath cuts diagonally across, leaving the lane fractionally into Surrey and climbing between early green shoots of something arable. We asked this nice rambler to pose at the point on the path where London ends, and he very kindly obliged.

4) Walk the Downlands Circular Walk: That footpath down that field features as part of this six mile waymarked walk around the local area. It kicks off at the car park on Farthing Downs, and spends about half its time in London and half its time in Surrey. The Surrey half skirts the village of Chaldon to head for the finest vantage point hereabouts on the rim of the North Downs. There is a spot where the hedgerow breaks allowing access to a trig point where a broad green panorama can be enjoyed across Redhill, Reigate and that quarry Dr Who used to run around every other week. If this is your kind of stroll, a map and instructions are here, and another map here.

5) Enjoy Happy Valley: Nobody lives in the southernmost square kilometre of Greater London, which is good news because it's ideal walking country. The finest part is Happy Valley, formerly Happy Valley Park, previously the Coulsdon Greenbelt Lands. A steep-sided dry chalk valley is its centrepiece, at this time of year a verdant scoop of downland grass scattered liberally with buttercups. It's glorious, as dozens of dog owners and local mini-ramblers already know. Look carefully in the grass to spot the orchids, and if the time is right the greater yellow-rattle, one of the rarest plants in Britain. It's hard to think of a finer council park anywhere in London.

6) Down a pint at The Fox: The southernmost pub in London (and very nearly the southernmost building) sits on the edge of Coulsdon Common, an expanse still under the tenure of the City of London. There's been a pub here since at least 1720 - this isn't called Old Coulsdon for nothing - and the current owners, somewhat appropriately, are Vintage Inns. The Fox is a cask ales and log fire kind of joint, but with a definite nudge towards "Would you like some food?", and a menu that stretches from the ubiquitous Hunter's chicken to courgette, carrot and chickpea burger in a brioche bun. Their car park's extremely popular as a Happy Valley departure point, or you can get the bus.

7) See the oldest wall painting in England: Back on Ditches Lane, and fractionally on the Surrey side of the border, the church of St Peter and St Paul hides a massive treasure. Parts of the structure are pre-Norman, the south aisle 12th century, and the pulpit a rare installation from the time of Cromwell. But the 'wow' moment is on the flint wall at the back of the nave, a huge mural depicting The Purgatorial Ladder which is believed to have been completed around 1200. In the lower half, depicting Hell, various devils torture and frustrate departed human souls, castigating them for each of the seven deadly sins. A ladder rises up the centre of the painting, from which demons pluck the unworthy, while the chosen few reach potential redemption in Heaven. It's thought the artist was a travelling monk with a talent for story telling, and what truly captivates is the excruciating detail of each tableau within the greater whole. There's nothing else like it, nor so old, and to stand alone in the church facing this parable of existence can be an unexpectedly spiritual experience. Truly amazing, if you're ever down South London way with a soul to thrill.

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