An evening walk – Barnehurst to Crayford

by Steve

I’m never quite sure what to call the parkland around Barnehurst Golf Course. I’ve heard it called a few things. I imagine some names will give away your age, a reference from a past time. Or it might give away that you aren’t from around here, as nobody here calls it what you do.

From the hill you can look over the ABC roads of Barnehurst – Appledore, Beechcroft, Castleton, Downbank, Edendale, all leading up to Fairford. A hundred years ago this was all farmland, then these estates were built. I guess one advantage of large building programmes is you can name roads alphabetically, help future generations navigate roads full of similar houses, similar bends in the road.

It felt like an archetypal peaceful suburban evening. And yet the evening was punctuated with noises. There was the loud beat of a party in the golf club. I remembered my school leaving party was there. I saw some teenagers on their way to golf club and wondered if I looked that young when I made the same journey all those years ago.

There was also shouting, and engines running. The driveway to the golf club has a small overflow for parking, separate from the main car park, sheltered by trees. There are a group of young lads there. There is swearing, then hushing. The engines still running, ready to leave at any moment. There is a tension there. Best not to look. I can’t tell if they are trying to be discreet, or are being performative. Look at us, hiding!

On to the main road and past the football club. I hear more shouts. Phoenix Sports are training, readying themselves for the new season. I take a look over the fence, observe the drills, the shots on goal, the running, the explaining. This is where a team is built, home advantage is forged.

I then pass Crayford Manor House. This was once an area of grand houses. May Place and Martens Grove once had country houses, and are now just road names. The Manor House has a bowls club to one side. An observatory too, I believe. And a war memorial that I can’t quite get close enough to read. It feels too late in the day to try and walk the grounds, I worry I’ll look like a nuisance, or a burglar. I understand that the war memorial is unusual in that it not only names those who died fighting in the two world wars, it names the civilian dead too. This feels fitting. We should remember all of the dead from wars, understand all the consequences of conflict.

I stop by the field between Manor Road and Perry Street, where horses graze and the sky opens up above them. This is where it feels like London, and the suburbs of London, are melting away, and the country is emerging. I remember the night of the Millennium being here, leaving a party and wondering how I would get home. It felt like I was at the end of the world. I think I even contemplated sleeping in the field, home felt so far away. I ended up walking half the night, or at least it felt that way.

On Manor Road I see gates, overgrown, underused. I wonder where they lead, or if they lead anywhere anymore. I try to map the destination this once led to, but I fail. I could have looked it up on my phone, but that feels like cheating on this kind of walk. I like there is always more to find out. That I could take this walk, or any walk, and see new things each time. I could rewrite this walk over and over, adding more layers, more facts, more memories each time. Every route has many tales to tell. There is always more to discover, more to learn. Everywhere is unknowable.

St Paulinus Church looks beautiful in the August evening light. It is one of the oldest churches in the area, and there has been a church on this site for nearly a thousand years. These sorts of buildings are a link to our past and a link to our future. It feels like they will always be here, and I hope they will be.

I walk down Church Hill. There was once a pub here, the Rose and Shamrock. I scrutinise the pavements and the walls for traces, but find none. This lane feels like the perfect spot for a pub, in the shadow of the church, just hidden from the main roads. It is shame the Rose and Shamrock is long gone. Crayford still has many pubs, but it once had many more.

I make the descent into Crayford, down the hill, down the high street. The high street is full of takeaways these days, but it still has the feel of a proper high street. There is something in the atmosphere, something in the architecture. It feels less like London, or even Kent, and more like a northern high street somehow. More urban than suburban, a place with its own identity rather than an example of sprawl.

It is getting darker, and I’m getting thirsty. I find one of the pubs that are still here.