diamond geezer

 Sunday, July 24, 2022

It's hilly round Croydon, and one of the finest is Croham Hurst.

Height: 145m
Nearest station: Sanderstead (15 min walk)
Nearest tram stop: Lloyd Park (15 min walk)
Nearest bus route: 412

It's also well hidden thanks to lumpy landscape locally, so you won't have seen it from the tram or train.

I went because it was in a grid square I thought I'd never visited, and that's my thing at the moment. But when I started researching the area it turns out I had passed through aboard the number 64 bus in December 2003 so it didn't count. I went again anyway, and this time got off and walked around. I'm jolly glad I did.

It's a proper hill, rising on all sides to a flattish ridged peak and liberally smothered with trees. Imagine 80 acres of prime woodland and then imagine that a giant's finger once pushed up the centre of the wood from underneath to create additional contoured interest. It's quite a thing to have at the end of your road.

Geologically it's chalk covered by sand covered by a layer of pebbles. The stone cap protected the sand and prevented erosion, hence the hill stands out above its unpebbly surroundings. Also the northern flank is less steep than the southern which has precipitous slopes. Choose your path to the summit with care, which if you come in from Upper Selsdon Road might include a substantial number of primitive wooden steps. They call this Breakneck Hill for good reason.

The sand gives rise to an acid soil which favours oak and silver birch, while the lower chalk is dominated by mighty beech and a wider variety of flora. Only in a couple of places are there clearings, these being home to heather, gorse and (currently very dry) grass. Elsewhere the canopy is so thick that even if it suddenly chucks it down you'll not get too wet, as I thankfully discovered mid-visit.

One of the clearings is at the summit, which is useful because otherwise you'd never be able to enjoy the view. It's a splendid panorama with the slope slipping away to reveal a leafy landscape of gabled roofs and white suburban houses - sequentially Sanderstead, Purley and Coulsdon. Beyond the farthest treeline is the gentle ridge of the North Downs, and I think the one small intermediate highrise cluster must be central Sutton. A convenient bench has been provided, but alas may already be occupied by lager-swilling dubious smokers.

It's so nice up here that prehistoric man moved in around five thousand years ago. The remains of two Mesolithic huts were discovered on the flat peak in 1968, including low turf walls, a hole for a central post which kept the roof up and a scattering of flint tools. Also in situ is a bronze age round barrow, marked today by a ring of trees and an austere council plaque.

There'd be modern houses here today had locals not kicked up a fuss in 1899 when the Whitgift Foundation tried to sell Croham Hurst to the developers. But Croydonians had no intention of losing a valued open space, pleading that "what we have enjoyed for all our lifetime shall not now be taken from us", and were rewarded when Whitgift sold to the council instead. A Friends group now helps coordinate work on site, including clearing invasive vegetation and providing benches, not to mention maintaining a jolly helpful website.

Paths spread out everywhere, some with gnarled roots underneath, others crossing beds of pebbles laid down when all this was a shallow sea. On the northern slope you can wander pretty much anywhere, across what's plainly going to be a stunning beech carpet in a few months time. I cannot comment on mud because the summer's been so dry but I imagine the hurst is proper welly territory in winter.

On my perambulation I spotted a disused gravel pit, a child's den made from fallen branches and two original parish boundary markers. I passed a number of constitutional walkers, including one elderly gentleman fearlessly tackling the summit on two walking sticks. And I met several dogs because this is quintessential walkies country, all of them terribly well behaved apart from a retriever called Alfie (Alfie!) who a lady handler with multiple charges (Alfie!) was totally struggling to control (Alfie!!).

The southern edge of Croham Hurst is all road and the northern edge mostly golf course. It's surprising to see the land suddenly so flat, assuming you can peer through the fringe of private trees and see anything at all. Some marginal trespass allowed me to note that the course was being well used by retired folk, and generally a parched yellow colour throughout apart from the greens which were well named thanks to diligent watering.

As I re-emerged into top notch suburbia I wondered how I'd never made it here before. In part I blame the devisers of the London Loop which gets within a mile but takes in the Addington Hills, Bramley Bank and Selsdon Wood instead. It just goes to show that it pays to try to fill in the gaps on your map because some of them are an elevated woody treat. How wonderful to have all this on your doorstep.

🟨=1410, 🟩=37, 🟦=6, 🟥=10

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