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Coulsdon Commons

I’m still furloughed and it is boring, but we have to do what has to be done to get through this. I have been working backstage in the theatre industry since graduating from uni back in 2007. At the start of lockdown one I was furloughed from the National Theatre, where I was working as a deputy Production Manager. Then when my contract expired I was left with no job. I had to find something else to do, so fell back on the only other job that I had ever done – I managed to get a job working in a camping shop in Surrey. Since July I have been selling tents, camping equipment, gas bottles, chemical toilets, and packing and shipping lots of internet orders of all that gear. Winter is a slow time for camping shops and we found that sales ground to a halt with the new lockdown. So there it is, I’m currently furloughed again, from a job that that I wound’t say was even my “real job”.

What do you do when you are furloughed? In lockdown one I redecorated the whole house, so there’s no decorating to be done. The garden is still a bit too wet and muddy to jump on just yet. Boris says that we should exercise, so going out for a morning walk has to be the first job of the day when the weather is nice. We have never lived in the trendy parts of London but have always been somewhere close to lovely open spaces. When we first come to London in 2006 we lived in Tooting Bec – close to Tooting Bec Common and Wandsworth Common. Then we moved to Muswell Hill, living on the doorstep of Alexandra Palace. Then up to Bounds Green, still a short walk to Ally Pally, or a short hop on the Piccadilly Line to Trent Park.

A couple of years ago we went south again and have ended up in Coulsdon, on the London / Surrey border.  Nobody seems to know of Coulsdon, apart from people who live in Coulsdon. We’re not far from Purley and not far from Redhill, close to the M25, and can jump on a Thameslink train into London Town. It’s one of those places that isn’t really London, but it is, because our buses are red and you can use an Oyster card on the train. As you might expect with being this far out, there are plenty of big and beautiful open spaces to explore without having to jump in a car for an eyesight test at a local castle.

A five minute walk from our front door is the entrance to Farthing Downs. From Farthing Downs you can take a walk up onto New Hill. From there you can drop down into Happy Valley and from there onward to Coulsdon Common. If that’s not far enough for you, keep on going to Kenley Aerodrome and Kenley common, and then on further to Riddlesdown. There’s lots to explore, but right now it’s only for you if it is on your doorstep.  Together, these areas are now called the “South London Downs National Nature Reserve” and are looked after by the City of London and Croydon Borough Council.  Farthing Downs and Happy Valley are also Sites of Special Scientific Interest as they are the largest chalk grassland habitats remaining in London.

I didn’t go too far today. Across the downs and up over New Hill, a pause to get a coffee and pastry from Coughlans Bakery in Old Coulsdon, then along to The Fox and back towards home through Happy Valley and over the downs.  I had intended to map my route on Strava, but as usual I forgot to start it when I left home.  My iPhone tells me that I ended up walking 12,314 steps – 8.6km, which I think is a good morning’s walking. It’s been a beautiful morning. Not too chilly, with a broken cloudy sky and the sun peeking through. There’s been a few dog walkers and cyclists about, but I think I got here late enough to miss the runners and early beat the crowds. Now that I am back home with a cup of tea it is looking pretty grey outside, so I was probably best to get out when I did.  

In my short journey I walked down paths, through fields, over hills, across grass, through mud, under trees and through woods.  It’s quite a diverse environment to go wandering in and there is some amazing wildlife to be found if you go looking for it.  I wasn’t really looking for it today. I was just out enjoying my surroundings, listing to all the birds that I wouldn’t know where to start identifying, seeing the occasional squirrel and hearing the occasional drilling of a woodpecker.  The most obvious animals that you can run into up here without going looking for them are the cows and sheep that live up on the downs and New Hill.  They were brought in by the City of London Rangers to help manage the grassland.  At the moment there are just a few cows in one of the fields, they usually bring the herd back in the spring.  A sign tells me that they aren’t fenced in and they are testing out Geofencing collars that make a sound when they are approaching the “fence” and then give them a zap if they cross the boundary.  The sheep are in a fenced in field and from a distance can easily be mistaken for a heard of dairy cows because they are “Jacob Sheep”, which have black and white patches.  I snapped a few pictures of the cows and sheep but didn’t want to get too close and disturb them.  That’s the problem with an iPhone camera – great wide shots but crap zoom.  I’ll get the camera batteries charged up and go on a proper photo walk when we get the weather for it.     

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