Stroll on: the step-by-step guide Michael Leapman saunters around Oaks Park

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The Independent Culture
the oaks, the premier classic race for fillies that will be run at Epsom this afternoon, was inaugurated in 1779 and named after Oaks Park, the Sutton estate where its founder, the Earl of Derby, lived. The following year he started a similar race for colts and named it after himself.

This walk starts and ends at the park, which has been public land since 1933. Some of the oaks that gave it its name are still standing, although many were uprooted in the great storm of October 1987. The first thing you see, as you walk back from the car park past the cafe and towards the park gate, is a montage of trunks that have been left where they fell to commemorate the event.

From the park entrance cross Croydon Road and climb a stile. We are following the Sutton Countryside Walk, its route marked at most junctions by arrows bearing a distinctive logo with a white background. At this, the first of many stiles, the arrow points you directly ahead across a field to two more stiles, leading to a close-cropped field with buttercups, where horses graze.

Make for the signpost ahead and turn left at it to a stile by Carshalton Road. Turn left on the road and, after about 100 yards, just past Seven Acres stables, climb a stile on the right into a scrubby field. Cross it diagonally, half-left, keeping to the right of a trailer park. A finger- post points you towards another stile leading to the shaded Grove Lane, where you turn right and glimpse the two Crystal Palace television masts in the distance on your left.

The path becomes a farm driveway. Where it turns left, go straight ahead through two plump aluminium posts. There are many horses in the fields on your right and soon you pass through a black iron gate, with a golf course on your left. The path becomes a road, Grove Lane, with the Jack and Jill pub on your right and, beyond it, a desolate shopping centre (if you arrived by train from Woodmansterne you will join the walk here).

Turn left just past the shops, by some recycling bins, on to a shaded metalled path that runs through the golf course. Just past the bungalow- style clubhouse turn left along a narrow path signposted to Little Woodcote Lane. After crossing two stiles the path becomes wider and chalky. Where a signpost offers you a choice of paths, keep straight ahead.

Passing the gates of New Lodge stud farm on the left, walk ahead on Woodcote Grove. Where it meets Little Woodcote Lane, turn left on a path behind trees alongside the road. As the path ends, cross the road and climb a stile to take the right-hand of the two paths that confront you, crossing Little Woodcote Wood - a small wildlife area managed by Surrey County Council.

Ignoring diversionary signs to the right, carry on along the main path and then up some steps, passing an information board, to reach Woodmansterne Lane. Keeping to the right of the cowshed opposite, take the Telegraph Track, a concrete path that swings right and goes uphill to pass market gardens interspersed with distinctive black weatherboarded houses. These are smallholdings created by the Council in the 1920s for servicemen returned from the First World War. Some are given over to field crops and others have become nurseries for garden plants.

At the crossroads turn left onto a path marked "Oaks Park only". On your right is the water tower of Queen Mary's hospital, close to the site of a prehistoric fortified village. Cross Woodmansterne Road and enter the woods ahead on a narrow path, almost immediately turning right to cross the Oaks Park drive.

If time presses you can go back along the drive to the car park, but one of the most pleasant parts of the walk is still to come. Cross the drive and take the right-hand of two near-parallel paths. For a few hundred yards this runs close to the roadside and traffic noise is a nuisance, but just before some houses ahead, the path goes left past a wide wooden gate by a large tree stump, to go deep into the wood. At Woodpecker Triangle, you may or may not spot one of the striking birds.

From here it is a pleasant walk through trees, shrubs and wild flowers. A huge upended tree on the left, presumably another victim of 1987, has chalky soil still clinging to its roots. At the shallow, wood-edged steps keep on the path as it goes to the left of a fence and bears left, signposted to Oaks Park Cafe.

At the junction turn right and then left, following the arrows to pass the flower bed and return to the car park. Those who came by train now follow the beginning of the walk back to the Jack and Jill.

A leaflet about this walk is obtainable from the Downlands Countryside Management Project on 0181-541 7282

Distance: Five miles

Time: Two-and-a-quarter hours

Car park: In Oaks Park off Croydon Lane

By train: Woodmansterne Station (hourly from Victoria Mon-Sat, from Charing Cross on Sundays) then a 15-min walk to the Jack and Jill pub, Grove Lane, starting and ending the walk there

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