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The countryside in the city
Farthing Downs (Greater London)
Member Name: tirial
Farthing Downs (Greater London)
Date: 24/10/12, updated on 24/10/12 (38 review reads)
Advantages: Quiet, peaceful, relaxing
Disadvantages: None really
Farthing Downs is a small patch of countryside within South London. Preserved by the Corporation of London in the 1800's to ensure that Londoners would always have somewhere green, it is legally protected from development and continues to offer a retreat today. There is no entry charge, or even a manned gate. It is simply free public land to get away from the city for a while.
The Downs covers 235 acres. Undeveloped and fringed with woodland, the first hint that you are leaving the city comes when you walk over the cattle grid at the entrance. Cattle and sheep graze on the Downs, which was originally London common land, and horse riders use the bridleways. Wildlife is also common - foxes, deer, badgers, and a huge variety of bird life can all be seen here, little more than a mile from one of the main routes out of London. Because of the trees and the lay of the land, the sounds of traffic are inaudible once you enter. There are no streetlights so after nightfall it gets very dark and it's best to take a torch.
Farthing Downs is now part of the route of many London walks, including the London Loop. Ramblers, dog walkers and cyclists all enjoy it - however the only rule remains to respect the land: take your litter home with you and don't disturb the wildlife.
The Downs itself rises to a hill at the midpoint, and you enter at the lowest point. Walking (or driving) up the main route it is worth stopping to look behind you however. As the Downs rise above the tree level, the horizon view covers most of London. From the top of the rise, you can see Canary Wharf, the BT Tower and the entire London skyline just by turning. However it is windy and exposed so dress warmly.
There is a tarmac road that runs up through the centre of the Downs to the Visitors Centre, although this has no pavements and pedistrians will need to walk up onto the verge if cars come by. The road is still a popular walking route, and can be done with a pair of stout shoes. Rambling however will need boots - this is a wilderness retreat and a lot of the walks run through forests and bridleways which are unmade and can get muddy.
The Downs is almost completely undeveloped. There is a visitor's centre at the top, but this offers little more than toilets, a few displays and a place to sit. At weekends however there is often a food van of some description available to buy water.
Other features of interest include the Millenium Cairn, which is at the centre and shows distances to famous landmarks from the Downs, the remains of the Surrey Iron Railway, the first public railway in the world, and the Saxon burial mounds. There are also events such as nature watching, and star gazing which take place regularly, managed by the wardens.
Farthing Downs is in South London outside Croydon. Getting there is simple: the nearest train station (Coulsdon South) is five minutes walk, there are two other stations within twenty, and the nearest bus stop is opposite the entrance road. The car routes are simple (just grit your teeth over the cattle grids) and directions and maps can be found easily on Googlemaps or many other online systems. However it is largely unsigned so you may need to ask a local if you get stuck.
While this is a great quiet escape for a couple of hours, it is less suitable for active children who want to play games rather than explore - simply because active games like football will probably disturb wildlife. There is a park nearby where games can be played if you prefer.
However if you are looking for somewhere quiet to hike, a chance to just get away from the city, or somehere to sit and enjoy the country, the Downs are ideal for an hour or two as a getaway.
Summary: A great place to escape the city for an hour or two.