Wimbledon and Putney are not only connected by bus routes, but also their lovely grassland. So if you want to get from one place to another there are two choices. Either you can get an overcrowded, hot, stuffy, noisy bus, or you can walk through a serene landscape of heaths, valleys, ponds, and woodland (and a bit of mud). Take your pick.
If you have chosen the bus, then I'll see you round on my next article, but if option B was your pick, then put on your boots and follow me through 1140 acres of natural beauty. Okay, I admit it, I did not walk the entire area, but there was an awful lot of walking involved.
The site has an interesting history; in the past Wimbledon Common was used as a place for early railway and aviation experiments, and because of its wide open spaces was used for training troops and practising archery. Putney Heath on the other hand was a spot favoured by 18th century highwaymen and duellists.
Starting from Wimbledon War Memorial, I could see the first of nine ponds. The common is a popular spot with professional dog walkers, and two of them were having a grand old time splashing about in there with a long stick (the dogs,not the walkers).
The area is so vast that I had to follow one of the maps that were sporadically posted in various locations. At first I kept to the roadside in order not to get lost, and came across a statue with a trough of water beside it. Engraved in the marble was a quote from John 4:13 that said 'Jesus answered, "He who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but he who drinks the water I give them will never first again"'. I'm not up on my scripture so I don't know the significance of what this means, but the statue had a vessel in the centre, with a button that when you press it, water is meant to come out. Nothing happened, so I continued on my journey.
Feeling a bit more confident in my surroundings, I decided to venture into the woodlands, where I came across another pond. This one was secluded by trees and had a notice saying it was a waterfowl protected area. The two commons are special conservation areas and are the home to several uncommon birds and insects, including linnets, stonechats, whinchats, the black darter dragonfly, and the green tiger water beetle; if you want to see them, you'll have to keep your eyes peeled because they're not easy to spot.
There is also an array of plant life that you won't find elsewhere in London, among which are ling heather, brown sedge, and purple moor grass. These plants and animals were once much more widely spread when the heathland covered a much greater expanse. Sadly what is left of the commons today is only a fragment of what it used to be, which is why there is an ongoing effort to renew the site and keep it protected. Restoring the heathland involves cutting, scarification, reseeding, and removing scrub.
The Heath has highly acidic soil and is nutrient poor; I'm no botanist, so I can't explain why this is a good thing, but for some reason, reducing the soil fertility ensures healthy heather by preventing nutrient build up. Conservationists have ensured that it remains a place of beauty by placing in drainage and maintaining the wet flushes, rare valley mires, and wet hollows, and springs.
About halfway through my journey I reached open parkland, where people were all taking advantage in the first bit of good weather we've had since who knows when. Families were having picnics, teenagers were playing ball, and children were flying kites and climbing trees.
It is a great place for a pitstop when you are on your walk, with a (very busy) tea room, where you can buy cakes and sandwiches. It is also the location of Wimbledon Windmill, which has now been turned into a museum, and makes for an interesting visit. In their gift shop you can also buy booklets about the commons, as well a a nature trail that you can follow.
As I was reaching the end of Wimbledon Common, and getting nearer to Putney, there were many different avenues to take, and the map I had seen so long ago was nothing but a blurry image in my mind. Should I continue or head back home? I was tired, but wanted to see what was up ahead, so decided to continue for a while longer. I made it to Nine Post Pond, which was created in the 19th century by gravel extraction; it was used by waggoners as a 'water splash' so that their cart wheels could absorb the water and expand.
I was just about to continue when I saw an overcrowded, hot, stuffy, noisy bus coming on the other side of the road. Deciding to call it a day, I hopped on and made my journey home.