A Straight Line Walk Across London

by Paul K Lyons

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Kip Fenn
A novel about
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3 - From a moated homestead to the ladder of salvation via a secret foodstore

The North Downs Way continues east along a track called Pilgrim's Lane, but I go north along the same Pilgrim's Lane towards Tollsworth Manor and Tollsworth Manor Farm. This is where I say a far-from-fond farewell to views of the M25. There are some ancient earthworks here, but they're not easy to notice, especially with a thick hedge between my track and the next field. A booklet published by the Bourne Society gives me some information based on an Earthworks Committee Report from 1921. The earthwork consists of a raised platform, roughly rectangular, with the north and west faces clear, rising to 5ft above ground level. The east line, though, is confused by a field boundary, and on the south there is no distinctive bank but a number of ridges running parallel to an old chalk pit cut into the scarp face. Because there are slight indications that the earthwork was originally surrounded on two sides by ditches, the report says, this earthwork 'may prove to be a moated homestead'.

There is no moat around the stone-fronted Tollsworth Manor, although there is a pool of water in the front garden which is either a very small duck pond or a large water feature. Beyond the pond, almost within spitting distance of the manor's front door, are the huge barns and heavy machinery of Tollsworth Manor Farm. All the barn doors and window frames are painted dark bottle green. Walking on past Tollsworth Manor and observing the building from the side and back, I notice a series of extensions making the whole a rather odd conglomeration. Further along the ugly concrete track are the Tollsworth Cottages. A ramshackle garage, with a trapezoid-shaped door (which I can't believe ever opens any more), sits next to part of an old dark brown van with a roll-up roll-down shutter back, and without its cabin or undercarriage. This is the sort of van that might have been used to deliver bread or groceries decades ago. Both garage and van, cosy neighbours, are covered in a mature climber, a clematis perhaps.

I cross Dean Lane, climb over a stile and walk along the muddy edge of a field to Alderstead Heath. Despite its name this is now a wood not a heath, spread over very flat land. Oddly, the ground is laced with concrete paths. I talk to a portly middle-aged man. He has a posh accent but wears a knitted bobble cap which says 'loud music'. He tells me that Canadian troops used the area as a food store - a secret food store, in case of invasion. During the Second World War, these same troops destroyed the south parapet of Dean Lane Bridge, in Hooley next to the Little Chef on the A23, so their vehicles could gain access to Alderstead Heath. Dean Lane Bridge is one of the last surviving archeological remnants of the Surrey Iron Railway.

On one tree I find a notice, a warning to dog owners. It tells me that thieves are operating in this area, stealing dogs and handing them over to organised rings. Pedigree dogs are most at risk. I'm advised to protect my pet. North of Alderstead Heath, visible through the trees, is the Alderstead Heath Caravan Club Site. It's a large place, and, although it's the middle of winter, there must be 40 or more motorhomes and caravans parked. Motorhome owners come here largely because of the site's proximity to London, but they also like the fact that the toilet blocks are sometimes festooned with flowers. To stick to the 300 easting I would need to walk north through the caravan site, but it's private land, and I don't think I'd be welcome. In any case, there's no public route north of the site, and I'd be forced to skirt round a long way west through Grascuts Shaw and Netherne.

I head northeast to emerge out of Alderstead Heath along Furzefield (i.e. gorse field - gorse used to be grown for fuel) Wood, and across a wide path through an open field, in the middle of which is a free-standing stile. I could pass by either side of it, but since it's there, I climb it. If I had a dog with me, I'd probably want it to go through the ground-level access hole built into the stile (a countryside dog-flap) which I can open by lifting a thick post. Although I expect my imagined best friend (if it hadn't been stolen in Alderstead Heath) would prefer to bound across the field than stop for the stile.

Emerging from the fields, my route takes me past a church. On entering the graveyard, the first grave is dedicated to the sacred memory of Henry Earnest Weatherall, who, for 21 years was chaplain of St Paul's Church in Valparaiso, Chili. The country name should be spelled Chile, but whichever way it's written its still sounds an inhospitably cold place to visit. I can, though, personally vouch for the country, which is long and thin, baking hot in the north, cold and wet in the south, and for the people, who are unusually warm and friendly.

The church named after both St Peter and St Paul at Chaldon is believed to be of Saxon origin. It is recorded in the Charter of Frithwald, dated 727 AD, and came under the overlordship of the King of Mercia who founded Chertsey Abbey in 666 AD. Chertsey Abbey, run by Benedictine monks, was the first religious settlement in Surrey. The west wall, of traditional flint construction, is thought to be original, and a pair of windows depict St Peter and St Paul to the north. There is a bell hanging in the porch, which dates from at least 1250, and may be one of the oldest in the country. Inside, there is a small, beautiful and simple pulpit, bearing the name Patience Lambert and the date 1657. The geometric pattern carved in the wood is different on each of the five sides (the sixth, which backs onto the wall has been left unadorned). Also of note is a tablet which depicts the flaming sun. It carries this inscription:

'Good Redar warne all men and women while they be here to be ever good to the poore and the nedy.
The cry of the poore is extreme and very sore
In thys worlde we rune oure rase.
God graunt us to be with Christ in tyme and space.'

However, the one truly intriguing character of the church, the one that has walkers queueing up on Sunday mornings waiting for the service to finish, is the famous mural on the back wall, probably painted by an artist monk. Measuring 17ft across and 11ft high, it's thought to date from as early as 1170, the year of Thomas Becket's murder. The picture, which is entitled 'The Ladder of Salvation', had been whitewashed over, but was restored in the 19th century. The complex design is divided into four segments by a band of cloud dividing heaven and hell and the thin ladder of salvation rising vertically in the centre. As with the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, who lived 300 years later, 'The Ladder of Salvation' is crammed full of moralistic vignettes. For example, demons are portrayed pulling souls off the ladder and then prodding them with huge pitchforks in a cauldron; above the clouds, angels weigh those souls that have managed to make it to heaven. Part of one of the many descriptions of the mural says this (thanks to the website Southern Life (UK)): 'The lower division portrays the torments of hell. Next to the tree two huge demons hold up the bridge of spikes, over which cheating trades-people, who carry symbols depicting their trades, are timidly walking. This punishment is another very old idea going back as far as thought can reach. The nightmare bridge over Gehenna was believed to be as narrow and sharp as a razor. A blacksmith is one of the unfortunate crossing the bridge and his hand is raised clutching a hammer and he is about to strike a red hot horseshoe which he holds in pincers.' With television programmes naming and shaming trades people, not much has changed in near on a 1,000 years.

 A Straight Line Walk Across London - along the 300 easting

by Paul K Lyons
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