diamond geezer

 Thursday, May 18, 2023

Peripheral Postcodes: CR3 and CR6

CR3 and CR6 are the postcode districts for Caterham and Warlingham respectively, i.e. northeast Surrey, but two tiny fragments of each stray into Greater London. These splinters aren't connected by anything as useful as public transport but three of them are linked via the best section of the London Loop, so I walked that again instead. Not only was it glorious but it also passed two Regionally Important Geological Sites, so what follows is threaded from three distinct blogging strands. Pay attention and buckle down. [map]

London Loop [section 5]
Coulsdon South to Hamsey Green (6 miles)

I love this walk, which ventures south almost as far as Greater London goes, but I'd never walked it in this direction before. It meant starting with the best bit rather than having it to look forward to as the finale, but the chalky downland of Farthing Downs never disappoints.

Starting from the City of London cattle grid, pace yourself for a steady contoured climb onto the ridgetop. To either side are grassy drops scattered with buttercups, speedwell and half-blown dandelion clocks. Pass the millennium cairn, pass the four-way fingerpost, pass the overgrown Saxon burial mounds and pass a section of grass fenced off to allow skylarks to nest safely. And blimey it's worked, actual skylarks were rising into the sky to sing sweetly from above as I walked by, which was proper magic! From the chalk ridge you may spy the distant towers of Croydon, at least two water towers, fluffy fair weather cumulus, long chains of tiny semis, fields of horses, fields of yellow rape, the more distant towers of the City and the even more distant towers of Docklands. Then stride on to the pay and display at the far end where this glorious open uplift sadly ends, and drop down into...

GLA 17: Happy Valley (Old Coulsdon)
Current geological designation: RIGS

I had thought Farthing Downs would be an official site of geological interest but no, its long chalk finger is amazing for London but fairly standard regionally. Instead the nod of geological approval goes to its adjacent inverse, the long woody depression that is Happy Valley [pdf]. This is a pristine example of a dry valley, the water once capable of carving this deep notch, but because chalk is permeable all the rainwater now percolates down out of sight. You can still hear it burbling beneath the odd drain cover, and occasional channels mid-footpath remind us that when it rains hard all that water has to flow somewhere, but essentially what we have here is a river valley with no river. A heck of a lot of south London is streamless, and chalk is why.

The Loop takes the gentle path down through the woods but I dropped straight down to the valley floor instead, a sharp descent to a broad stripe of grass between tumbling trees. It would be easily wide enough for a road but they never built one - Chaldon Way stops dead after number 244 - the Green Belt having saved this valley from development in the late 1930s. Instead expect superlative natural habitat, diverse wildlife and a background of birdsong, plus the largest British colony of the nationally rare greater yellow-rattle (though it's still a bit early for that to be in flower). Eventually the valley opens out to a large curved meadow, this the favoured crossing point for most of those rambling or dogwalking, because we're now just a short hike from the car park...

CR3: Caterham

London's southernmost pub boasts a CR3 postcode, as do two short streets and a football club. You'll find them all amid Coulsdon Common, a City-of-London-owned chunk of, yet again, ancient woodland and rare chalk grassland. But this time it's mostly flat and this time it has a road, so this is the first point in the walk where traffic, lampposts and a regular bus service briefly intrude. The pub is The Fox, a village hostelry with 300 years of history, a dog-friendly door policy and a decent outdoor space when the weather merits. I can confirm they do a decent pint of cider and a perfectly adequate ham and cheddar melt, best enjoyed when walking Loop 5 in the opposite direction.

The Fox is within staggering distance of two contrasting streets with the somewhat obvious names of Fox Lane and Old Fox Close. The former briefly links the main road to the pub and is lined by detached piles with names like Cedar Shingles. The latter is a slightly longer curl lined by identikit pebbledash semis which were added postwar on the site of an army barracks, and it's either a very patriotic cul-de-sac or else they haven't taken down their Coronation flags yet. The only other CR3 addresses belong to three mid-common cottages (one listed) and the home ground of youth side Caterham Pumas (who play in all sorts of Surrey leagues despite their seven pitches being marginally in London).

Loop 5 (contd): Continue down the lane with the mega-bungalows, admire the front garden fountain, yes they do have delivery bikes even out here, nip up the alley by the postbox, ignore the scary CCTV notices at Cornwall Farm, skirt the observatory, cross the paddocks and enter Betts Mead Rec...

..or maybe don't, because I've oft been disappointed that the designers of the Loop somehow managed to miss all the interesting places at the foot of Old Lodge Lane. They missed the Wattenden Arms pub, they missed the village pond and most importantly they missed Kenley Airfield, so I always walk via those instead. The airfield was key during both world wars and is still operational, as the windsock and occasional soaring glider confirm. The public is then restricted to an arc round the apron, securely fenced, but that's more than sufficient for exercise purposes, plus it also provides opportunities to explore the footprints of 'blast pens' used by Spitfires.

With an eye to postcodes I then deviated fully from the Loop's passage across Kenley Common and instead took an eastern path down towards Whyteleafe. And on the brow of the last rise, joined only by skittering starlings, I soaked in a marvellous view across the next dry valley. This photo of rooftops and a cliff face contains major spoilers for what follows.

CR3: Kenley

The other overlap between CR3 and London is a slice of prime 30s suburbia on the Kenley/Whyteleafe border. Spacious gabled semis line a trio of roads layered down the hillside, with Mosslea Road near the bottom, Beverley Road in the middle and Hilltop Road at the top. They snuck in an even higher cul-de-sac later, where the best views are balanced out by the most tiring climbs. Everyone gets a garden on a slope, some sheerer than others, but only Hilltop Road will be in the ULEZ because the boundary is cruel. The other side of Caterham Valley is where all the action is - the shops and Surrey - whereas this side's a severed stripe with a Hail & Ride, a postbox and a couple of footbridges for pedestrian escape. Cross New Barn Lane and you enter CR8, but best not because New Barn Lane is one of the steeper climbs on Loop section 5, which means we're back on track again.

Loop 5 (contd): Assuming you can dash safely across the A22, let's enter Riddlesdown. This is a bit like Farthing Down in that it's made of chalk and the City of London owns it, except it has just the one slope. It is a magnificent slope though, particularly at this time of year with a lush carpet of wild flowers stretching almost a mile. An ancient cartway starts the climb, then just beyond a second railway line you have to watch for the right gap in the trees to start your assault on the upper ridge. I heard no skylarks in Skylark Field, alas, but I did see a woodpecker swooping low across Woodpecker Field so that was a win. And throughout this paragraph we've been skirting a giant hole in the ground, 200m square, and that'll be our second Regionally Important Geological Site. [pdf]

GLA 26: Riddlesdown Quarry (Kenley)
Current geological designation: RIGS

This is geological royalty on the very edge of the capital, a large abandoned chalk quarry with a whopping 50m cliff face. The site was in use from the late 1700s until 1967, came complete with its own narrow gauge railway and was purchased by the City of London in 1996 as a Riddlesdown adjunct. They occasionally open it up for interested groups - here's a report from an Open University field trip - but otherwise it's extremely well fenced off because a tumble from the top would kill you. They're happy to let goats in though, which is why I saw four through the railings at the very top nibbling away on the edge of a precipice to keep the undergrowth in check.

What makes Riddlesdown special is the of exposure of chalk lithology on the quarried face, from Glynde marls to the Lewes Nodular Chalk Formation, complete with conspicuous flint bands, orthogonal joints and associated faults. Like Gilbert's Pit it's often used to show tunnelling engineers what they're about to be boring into, assuming anyone ever has sufficient money to tunnel under London and needs to know what a fractured chalk succession looks like. One of the best views is from the entrance to Jewson's car park on the Godstone Road, or from across the valley on Kenley Common (where I took my earlier photo), you'll see nothing from the top. But there is an intriguingly precipitous public footpath along the southern rim where closer vistas open up intermittently through the railings, though best wait until winter for a clearer glimpse through the trees.

CR6: Hamsey Green

And finally on this supremely box-ticking walk, another postcode district that barely grazes London. Tithepit Shaw Lane is the last street on Loop section 5 and impressively borderline - the London/Surrey border runs down the middle of the road so opposite houses have entirely different bins. But when the Post Office were divvying up post towns they bundled the whole street in with Warlingham because that was more efficient, with CR2 not kicking in until the street behind. Residents on the London side have to put up with pupils bundling out of the Surrey secondary school opposite, noisy scaffolders dumping unwanted skips in their front gardens and the boarded-up eyesore at the end of the street where Lidl demolished a pub in 2012 but never quite got round to building a supermarket.

The boundary continues to divide on the other side of the main road where Kingswood Lane has a similar CR6 split. The first houses are cosy interwar infill, then comes a motley mix of more modern homes and finally the lane makes a break for regimented oak woodland and goes private, but that's Loop section 4 so we've no need to go that far. I will say that one of the bungalows has an impressively lacklustre garden sale spread across its paved area and walls out front, so maybe just give a donation to the MS charity rather than taking home the £5 imitation leather handbag, the Bear Grylls DVD collection or the warped box of Junior Cluedo. Also Hamsey Green pond on the corner is entirely without water, but like I said, that's living on chalk bedrock for you.

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