diamond geezer

 Saturday, June 03, 2023

A Nice Walk: Wimbledon Common (1 mile)

Sometimes you just want to go for a nice walk, nothing too taxing, a bit of a stroll, lots to see, pretty views, surrounded by wildlife, entirely off-road, pockets of history, litter-free, won't take long. So here's a pleasant mile across Wimbledon Common, nowhere near enough to make a day of it but a nice walk all the same.

Caveat: This walk from the windmill to Caesar's Camp is one mile as the crow flies but best treat it as an exploratory wander and follow the footpaths of your choice. I zigzagged it in two miles and here's what I saw.

Wimbledon Windmill first turned in 1817, not that it was a smock mill back then, that evolution came later. Today it's a non-twirly museum at the heart of the common, open summer weekends. Even if it's closed you'll still see the sign saying Baden Powell wrote Scouting For Boys here, but you won't see a man up a hoist cleaning the woodwork because that's what I saw yesterday. The neighbouring car park is technically free but the Conservators invite a charge of £1 per hour - your choice.

The cafe does a roaring trade, I suspect a lot of people get no further. Tomato and Basil won't be Soup of the day because that was yesterday's, but you can always order yourself a Wombles Omelette (which for the avoidance of doubt is ham, cheese and mushroom, not sliced fictional creature). They also sell handmade doggy treats, like the dogs actually care, and a variety of cakes from Lemon Drizzle via Sticky Chocolate Orange to Trillionaire Tart.

Alongside is the clubhouse of London Scottish, England's third oldest golf club and the first course to have 18 holes. The building resembles a cricket pavilion and is bedecked with rampant lions, and it's possible you'll also see a box of Worcester sauce crisps in the window because I did yesterday. Golf and the common are totally integrated, the course threading sinuously through the woodland so Caution - Pedestrians Should Take Care When Crossing The Fairway.

Paths thread everywhere across the common, it's proper open land. One has Capital Ring arrows but I eschewed that and instead followed a less frenetic track bearing off near the eighth tee, which descended rapidly from the nettled edge into woodland thick with laurel and holly. They call this The Ravine, hence the trickly stream at the bottom and a similar ascent on the far side, though it's nothing so steep as to impair breathing, merely a broad notch cut into the plateau.

Queensmere, created to commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, is the common's deepest lake. One end is graced by a broad layer of yellow water-lilies, still burgeoning at present but give it a couple of weeks. Instead you may meet a feathery gaggle of ducklings, yesterday deemed cute by a gangly youth clutching a rugger ball, and also expect to be warned that allowing your dog to enter a sett is in contravention of The Protection of Badgers Act 1992.

Cross the fairway with care, looking out for the pillar-box red jackets all the golfers are obliged to wear. The next path, if selected adventurously, leads deep into thick birch woodland blessed with brambles and ferns. Nobody else was around for the next five minutes so I was at one with the great tits and a single squirrel scrambling up a gnarled oak. It's ever so easy to get lost, indeed earlier I'd had to direct a mum with a weepy toddler back to the car park because she was totally adrift.

Beyond the last of the fairways is Gravelly Hill, not the iconic M6 junction but a relative highpoint, barely discernible. Here the Upper and Lower Gravelly Rides fork, and here I had to step out of the way of a park ranger riding a chuggy John Deere. I also came across a group of oddly-dressed adults in the clearing below, one asking "Any more whips to go back?", this because I'd stumbled upon a horse exercise ring where a group of hardhatted riders had just finished a dressage lesson, nothing kinky.

Within a lofty pine grove, backdropped by a single stunning pinkish rhododendron, is Caesar's Well. Julius never came but it is proper ancient, a natural spring emerging five metres down, though muddily undrinkable these days. The local landowner had it surrounded with twelve blocks of granite, and you can tell who and when thanks to an inscription round the inner rim. Apparently it says PEEK MP 1872 (I couldn't read the first and last characters but I got the rest).

Across Robin Hood Ride, a three lane bridleway, the common drops to another micro-brook. Crossing requires stepping on strategically-located branches to keep out of the mud, blimey, even after all this lengthy dry weather. Upstream is an even damper patch, Farm Bog, one of London's six remaining lowland bogs, where the springwater puddles on the clay. Hard to find and hard to see, it's been carefully segregated behind a low willow fence because it's a fragile habitat so best keep out.

And so we come to Caesar's Camp, an Iron Age Fort 300m in diameter on the common's edge. It would be one of London's finest prehistoric treasures had not local landowner John Erle-Drax had its ditches filled and its ramparts levelled out of spite after being refused permission to build houses on the site. Even in 1875 some Tory MPs were bastards. Today the Royal Wimbledon Golf Club covers the interior, or at least half of holes 6, 7, 10 and 11 do, and peasant pedestrians are restricted to an armswidth footpath across the centre.

The only earthworks easily discerned are now the lips of artificial bunkers, such is the vandalism wreaked, although I did see one golfer smile as he let go of his trolley and watched it speed down what might have been a fundamentally ancient slope. The course looks beautiful at present, tinged with rusty red grasses, such are the delights of acid heathland. But it's entirely off limits so best end the walk here, or indeed anywhere else your Wimbledon Common perambulations take you because it's all nice.

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