Following Fairfield Path

By - Friday 27th January, 2017

Strolling back in time via Croydon’s suburbs

Photo author’s own.

The idea first surfaced after I’d been contemplating some old maps of Croydon for a now-forgotten purpose. Whatever that purpose was, I almost certainly did have something better to do with my time – but everyone needs a break once in a while.

What struck me was the persistence over the years of a trail called Fairfield Path. Originally a rural route beginning from approximately the junction of College Green and Park Lane, it now runs mostly uninterrupted from Barclay Road (opposite the court building, adjacent to Park Hill Park) to Lloyd Park. A casual mention on Facebook caused a friend to inform me that it was the beginning of the Vanguard Way, which runs for 66 miles from East Croydon to Newhaven, from where you can get a ferry to Dieppe and pick up the Grande Randonnée 21.

Intrigued, I decided that a gentle afternoon itinerary could be wrought from this with the reward of afternoon tea at the Coach House Café at the end of it. I mentioned it to a couple of friends and we found a convenient Saturday afternoon. Almost as an afterthought I listed it as an event in the Purley Social Meetup group; soon there were half-a-dozen sign ups.

At the beginning of Fairfield Path

As the day approached, I started checking the weather forecast obsessively; it looked like we’d be able to reach our destination before it started raining. The day before I checked Meetup to ensure I would still have some companions – to my surprise, we were up to 16 walkers.

The day itself arrived and, after half an hour or so in Caffè Nero, the time had come to venture forth. After a mere 15 minutes delay resulting from having met in a café with only one toilet, we were ready to leave. A short stroll down Altyre Road (which could merit its own article, given how often I have found myself there) took us to Barclay Road, and crossing this surprisingly busy thoroughfare found us at the beginning of Fairfield Path.

So far I’d managed to keep our party intact. To celebrate, we paused for a group photo. At this point it would be hard to get lost, as the path is straight and runs between solid fences. Shortly it emerges on to The Avenue, where it survives between a small green and Park Hill Infants School. The school is on the site of Park Hill House, which was demolished in 1949. Cotelands follows, an unexceptional road with the school on one side and typical late 20th century houses on the other. Chichester Road proved more interesting as we found ourselves walking through St Bernards, now a conservation area and amongst Croydon’s most architecturally significant residential developments.

Park Hill Road was a challenge to cross

In fact, the entire Park Hill Estate, which had formerly been covered with Victorian villas in large grounds, was developed by local building firm Wates during the ’60s and ’70s, although their good intentions eventually went by the wayside under commercial pressure, most of the development was far more conventional than St Bernards, which itself was much smaller than originally planned.

After the quiet backwaters we had started our walk upon, Park Hill Road appeared to be a major through route and, in fact, it was quite a challenge to cross – and even when we reached the other side, Fairfield Path was far from obvious. A short stroll revealed a gap in the bushes and a tiny sign on a lamppost; walking down the narrow, leafy alley took us into Reynolds Way and then Brownlow Road, which has a mix of larger houses in generous grounds together with higher-density developments. Tucked away again is another narrow alley leading under the tram tracks to Lloyd Park.

At this point, we had reached the end of Fairfield Path so far as it survives to this day – and also this was where we would deviate from the Vanguard Way in the interests of exploration and again trying to follow routes that would have existed in the mid-19th century. This took us along Croham Manor Close; officially a bridleway, it has the added appeal of running between the back gardens of the houses in the adjacent roads. As well as the expected Victorian and newer properties, there are still a few remnants of much older buildings. I must have passed either end of this track hundreds of times without even noticing it.

We paused to look back down over Central Croydon

Emerging on to Croham Road, we quickly crossed into Croham Manor Road, which runs alongside the Old Whitgiftian Rugby Club. Here, we decided to follow Manor Way to the left, gaining height as we entered Winchester Rise (I guess there’s a clue in the name), pausing to look back at the view down over central Croydon before walking along Bankside, located opposite the northern edge of Croham Hurst.

Photo author’s own.

At this point, we had literally reached the end of the road. A steep descent through woods ended in the car park for Croham Hurst Golf Club. Crossing Croham Valley Road took us on to another muddy wooded path, this being an extension of Conduit Lane. The Coach House Café was our destination and we reached it just before the heavens opened, having been lucky for the duration of the walk. After tea and cake, it was something of an anti-climax to head back to East Croydon by tram.

In conclusion, this had proven to be an interesting walk, full of contrasts, and also revealing the piecemeal development and in some cases redevelopment of this particular area of Croydon. I’d recommend it to anybody with a free morning or afternoon who wants to explore some of the peaceful backwaters on our doorstep. It wasn’t too strenuous and would be appropriate for most people; if it’s been wet, then suitable footwear would be a good idea, and the sections through the woods wouldn’t be accessible with a pushchair.

Further photos from the walk can be viewed here.

Ian Marvin

Ian Marvin

Ian is a product designer who moved to the borough in 2003. His interests in all things Croydon stretch from being on the committee of the Constructing Excellence Croydon Club to active membership of the Croydon Clandestine Cake Club. During the day he works on his interior lighting businesses which are also based in Croydon. In the unlikely event that he has any leisure time, he enjoys creating ceramic pieces and playing bass guitar. Any opinions expressed here are personal.

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  • George Harfleet

    Great to wander along this lovely path again. l have a vague memory that it had some connection with trees, something like ‘seven oaks’ – or similar. Nice article and photos, thanks for posting.