Farthing Downs is a small patch of countryside, remarkable only in that this small patch of tranquillity is within London’s borders.
For the history of why 120 hectares of country exists within a city, you need to go back to the early nineteenth century. As London expanded, the population became concerned about the lack of open space. Therefore the Coporation of London, the body that ran and owned most of the city, bought patches of land within twenty-five miles of the city to ensure there would always be open space. Originally these spaces, of which Farthing Downs was one, were common land so locals could graze animals.
Now, no longer common land, they are protected by law as the value of these small green refugees has been realised. Havens for wildlife, rare plants and history, these small areas are also retreats for city dwellers who want to get away for a while. While a road runs through the Farthing Downs, a bridle path to one side allows hikers to admire the view without the disturbance of cars, and benches give tired visitors a place to put their feet up.
A variety of bird, animal and and insect life can be found, but there are other features to see. The Millenium Cairn at the top of the Downs contains a time capsule sealed in in 2000, and on top shows a dial with details of the Downs features and locations, such as the old iron railway. The Downs are also part of several walks such as the new London Loop that circles the outer boundaries of the city of London.
Not surprisingly for such an area of natural beauty it is popular with hikers and dogwalkers, and horseriders can be seen up there frequently. However, as cattle and sheep graze on the Farthing Downs, which were originally common land, animal owners need to be responsible.
From the top of the Downs you can see Docklands, Crystal Palace, and are surrounded by the London suburbs, but the trees bordering the Downs, the wildlife and the open space create the feeling that you are in the countryside. Once below the ridge of the hill, you can hardly see the suburbs surrounding the Downs.
Less than five minutes walk from Coulsdon South Station (London Travelcard Zone 6), the Downs are an ideal break from the city for anyone looking to spend a morning somewhere green without leaving the city.
About the Farthing Downs: (contains details, map and photographs)