Well, we thought it would be blazing hot but in the end it was raincoats and brollies weather. A welcome respite from the sultry shimmer of the weeks preceding, and not so wet that we couldn’t wander gently, and stop for a poem or two. Proper British Summer Time drizzle. So, where is this special place in the heart of suburban Tolworth?
It is part of an ancient drove road, in the middle of Tolworth Court Farm Fields, hidden behind hedgerow on the A240. A beautiful wild, nature reserve, which until the 1980s had been farmed for a 1000 years at least, and is mentioned in the Domesday book.
Drove roads were the network of roads used over the centuries to move live stock up and down and across the countryside, all over the UK. There are traces of them everywhere, and where the drove has disappeared in its original rural form, it may be identified by names, including ‘Lane’, ‘Drift’, ‘Ox’, ‘Way’ and many other lexical giveaways.
There are certainly lots of them in this area. On my Over the Fields poetry map is ‘Sheephouse Way’ – a road characterised for its large number of blocks of flats these days, but which is shown with the same name on maps which are 500 years old of the local area, and which I was lucky to see at the St John the Baptist Old Malden Heritage Day, when I was doing my research at the time.
Drove roads avoided toll roads, and were a direct and safe route through the countryside for the drovers who could be taking large flocks of sheep, herds of cattle, or even large numbers of geese or turkeys to market. The largest and most famous of these markets being Smithfields Market in London.
They were wide, as much as 20 metres, and usually hedged on both sides, containing the valuable stock, and also helping to keep the animals safe and stopping them from getting infected by other possibly diseased animals living in farms en route.
How sweet I roamed from field to field
And tasted all the summer’s pride.
Lots have been paved over, but there is a part of ancient drove in the fields in Tolworth which is grass underfoot, with its double hedge intact, and it is a magical place. And this is where we ended up reading poems, in the drizzle and the green, surrounded by hedges already heavy with blackberries and elderberries, interrupted only by an occasional enthusiastic dog plus owner, not used to seeing a large gathering of people reading and chatting in this in-between-space-between-places. Perfect.
I had hoped to sing John Barleycorn, as we were walking just after Lammas, but my voice was croaky, so I read the words to the old song instead. Alison read the John Clare poemInsects, and Elizabeth read a poem My Orcha’d in Lindèn Lea written by Dorset writer and poet William Barnes (1801-1886)
I also read some Keats and Blake and, not forgetting, some Richard Jefferies.
I had also brought with me a beautiful corn dolly, made by the Wheatweaver, but was worried about it getting damaged during the walk / weather, so I left it for our after-walk chat and write at Court Farm Cafe afterwards- it is exquisitely beautiful, and so good to know that someone is keeping these ancient skills alive.
With enclosure, modernisation, the rail network and then the roads, the droves fell into disuse, farming methods changed and the old songs, traditions and seasonal customs faded… it is good to remember we still rely on the land for food, and that the sun (especially this year!) and rain are still intrinsic to what we eventually put on our plates.
Although this land is no longer farmed, it is a nature reserve, with bats, rare butterflies, deer and beautiful wild flowers, including pepper saxifrage, as well as some of the oldest trees in the borough.
Alison, who has been walking this way for many years, as part of her job as an ecologist and bat expert, has a deep knowledge and passion for this place. I have learned a lot from her and am so glad we have been able to go on these walks together.
People who joined us for the walk, who didn’t already know and love Tolworth Court Farm Fields, were amazed at how easy it was to enter, and how beautiful and special it is.
“…The walk along the old drove road felt like being in the depths of the country and I’ll try and walk the meadows when they are in flower next year…”
Court Farm Writers is a new writing group, and it starts tomorrow, Wednesday 16th May!Each week, you will be able to try different styles and forms of writing in a relaxed, friendly and supportive workshop.
Meeting in the comfortable surroundings of Court Farm Garden Centre Cafe, we will talk about writing and look at various forms, including poetry, short stories, memoir and novel writing. There will be writing exercises to try out and techniques to explore. Each session works as a stand alone, or as part of a bigger exploration of writing in all its guises.
Come and have some fun with words!
Sessions run from 10.00am – 11.30am and cost £8.00 in advance and £10.00 on the day. Price includes a tea or coffee.
Did you know that one of our most cherished and important nature writers lived in Tolworth? Richard Jefferies (1848-1887) was born in Coate in Wiltshire, but moved to live in Tolworth, at 296 Ewell Road, from 1877 – 1882.
During this time he wrote what is acknowledged to be his finest writing, some of which was collected in a book of essays called Nature Near London. Every day Jefferies would walk along the Ewell Road in various directions, but often he would stroll down towards Tolworth Court Farm Fields and to the Hogsmill. Sometimes he would walk towards Worcester Park, at other times he would wander along the river in the other direction, towards Ewell or Chessington.
We can walk in his footsteps, and still see and experience some of what he saw and wrote about back then. Come with us on a journey through the eyes and feet of this prolific and important writer (and walker!) who put Tolworth on the map in a way that no one else has. His work is hugely important and influential, and people still make pilgrimages to see where he lived, walked and worked.
On Bank Holiday Monday, May 7th, we will meet outside Richard Jefferies’ old home, now a Stack and Bonner Estate Agents, at 11am. Then we will walk down the Ewell Road, just as he did (but with cars and a lot more concrete), out to the edgelands between Greater London and Surrey, where the spirit of Jefferies still haunts the landscape.
We will stop briefly at 11.45am, at the railway bridge at Tolworth railway station, and then continue on, down the A240, to the bridge over the Hogsmill and on to the white bridge at the confluence of the Bonesgate Stream and Hogsmill.
We will then cross over the A240 and go to Tolworth Court Farm Moated Manor, and see if we can spot the kestrels currently nesting there; then head down Old Kingston Road and finish at the Court Farm Garden Centre Cafe between 12.30-1pm.
The walk will end with tea, chat and some optional writing activities, plus a chance to look at old photos of the area we will be walking in, including the barn Jefferies described in his essay in Nature Near London, and the old bridge at Tolworth Hall.
We will meet outside the Hogsmill Pub (KT4 7PY) at 11am.
Be an Edgeland Navigator, and see what you discover!
Spot classic edgeland features including:
• Unexpected specialist plants-why are they growing there?
• Paths – are they human or animal?
• Dens- who do they belong to and what’s inside?
• Networks- there is a ‘world wide web’ besides the internet!
• What types of animals, birds and insects inhabit edgelands and why ?
There is a wealth of history around our route, including Tolworth Court Farm Moated Manor. We will be close to the site of Worcester Park House, which is no longer there but has its own fascinating history, stretching way back to the time of Henry VIII.
The walk will end at Court Farm Garden Centre Cafe- please join us for tea, chat and a chance to do some creative writing activities, if you would like to. The cafe sells a wide range of hot and cold food, snacks and drinks. http://www.courtfarm.uk.com/cafe-restaurant
Accompanied children aged 10 and over are welcome, under adult supervision.
Stout footwear essential!
Disclaimer- all walks undertaken at the participants’ own risk and responsibility. Please contact for further information and regarding accessibility and mobility.