Autumn walks: Croydon

Woodland foraging, wide-angle views and Gallic soul food…

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Distance 2.9 miles, time 2 hours 30 minutesBy Eddy Lawrence

Snooty Zone 1-dwellers (such as ourselves) generally think of Croydon as a suburban wasteland. Yet the place has much to recommend it. After the brutalist ambience of East Croydon station (S), arriving at Coombe Lane tram stop (1) is like travelling to another country. And not one that’s mainly desert – Chad, say – as some might expect. 

Croydon’s also on the London Loop, the circumnavigatory trail for committed walkers. The trail itself (one of several carving out from the car park) is serene and beautiful. The deciduous birches and oaks mean it’s a regular firework bombardment of degrading chlorophyll right now. It certainly doesn’t look like part of London – and we mean that in a nice way. A quick warning: the area is called Addington Hills for a reason. You’ll be fighting gravity for much of the day, so make sure you wear sensible shoes.

Ostensibly our mission today is to forage for chestnuts. This is complicated by the fact that the trees aren’t, for some reason, properly phylogenetically labelled (sort this out, LBC), but we do find some conkers. We head up to the viewing platform (2) built by Alderman Basil Monk (rhyming slang waiting to happen) in 1961 as a celebration of Croydon’s 1,000th birthday. You might want to read about your camera’s panoramic function in the manual before reaching this spot, as it’s a regular selection box of sights to see. There is a pleasing view over central Croydon, of course, as well as Richmond and Wimbledon to the west and Sydenham to the north-east. There’s also a surprisingly sharp view of central London to the far north. On a clear day, you can see even see Windsor Castle. Even on a slightly hazy, intermittently overcast day such as today, the City is easily visible (in miniature).

Back down the hill we trudge, our imaginary wicker chestnut baskets as empty as our stomachs. We head up to Selsdon Road, eschewing establishments with exotic names such as ‘Chinese Chips’ (named after the least appetising item on a takeaway menu) to highly regarded Gallic soulfood restaurant Le Cassoulet (E).

Ah, cassoulet! Is there any more satiating dish? Vlad Tepes feasted on the still-beating hearts of his mortal enemies (maybe Gordon Ramsay could adapt that for his next hob-buster TV series), but even that can’t beat the French farmhouse staple  for sheer satisfaction.

Le Cassoulet serves cassoulet as both a starter and main course – a tempting idea – but that would be a disservice to the rest of the menu, a varied selection with a south-western accent, meaning dishes which are gamey, hearty, filling and perenially autumnal. Plus there’s a cheeseboard with the potential to give you nightmares for years. Le Cassoulet’s a fitting finale to a perfect autumn outing.

Just make sure you take a designated non-sleeper to ensure you don’t snooze past your stop on the way home.