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The Boroughers 22/04/2018: Merton Back to Merton!

Christ, it's only been 3 weeks but it feels like forever since Helen and I last ticked off a London borough. I guess that's what comes with moving in, suffering a giant dollop of stress, and having a weekend out of the country to boot. Besides, we've decided against having such a relentless schedule than originally planned. The aim stays true: we'll have a day out in each of London's boroughs, ostensibly in search of culture – just maybe not by the year end. A bit of flexibility hurt no-one.

Good thing too, because today I should be writing about Bexley but here I am talking about Merton.

Where?

Merton. Not Bexley. Merton.

The calendar – which, as I've already implied, we are no longer slaves to – had us down for Bexley today. There's a big hitting centrepiece attraction over there, and it only opens once a month. But right now the centrepiece of the centrepiece is out of action so we just could not be bothered with a substandard visit. However with such glorious weather forecast, and me being in shitholes like Wigan and Sheffield for the next two weeks, we wanted to go somewhere. Merton, being about 12 minutes journey from our flat, seemed like an easy choice.

Facts

To be honest, our new lackadaisical approach does not lend itself to the kind of research we'd diligently performed on all our previous outings. Never mind, I thought, I probably know everything there is to know about Merton anyway what with living there for the first 25 years of my life. Au contraire! Here's three of the things what I found through a quick search while watching the London Marathon this morning:

  • the only English Pope ever (so far?) was taught at Merton Priory
  • the Romans built an important road from London to Chichester right through what became the borough
  • ... shit, I think that was it.

Oh dear. Perhaps the old allegiance to well-laid plans is a better approach after all. Never mind.

Merton

The terribleness of my fact research was not mirrored by Helen's picnic making, thankfully. While I took my first bath in about 30 years thanks to the shower breaking immediately before I wanted to use it, her creativity with a fairly limited choice from mostly bare cupboards and fridge shone through.

Picnic of win(dmill)

Remarkable. And not just an excellent riff on one of Merton's premier attractions, but a bloody lovely stilton and chicken combination on much better bread than the local caff serves.

I barely had time to eat it though; it's only 7 minutes from Surbiton to Wimbledon, in Merton's heart and where we had to change onto our first tram ride of the project. Maybe even our only one? Helen was very excited, having never been on the Croydon Tramlink before (is it still called Croydon Tramlink?).

Lady and the Tram

It leaves almost immediately, and 3 stops later we're off at Morden Road. I have regaled her with my rubbish anecdote about my brother teaching me a fare-dodging trip from when this was a British Rail station in the early 80s. The sun is shining and we're through the tunnel, emerging into a deserted industrial estate leaving a BIG FONT public transport sign in our wake.

There's a map and a few signs. We take note and wander towards our first proper stop, Deen City Farm, and successfully get lost en route, just around the corner from the beautiful pylons.

Doubling back past the numerous small business offices and a bible warehouse we're eventually on the green edges of Morden Hall Park estate and can hear a lot of noise from children. This'll be it then.

First up, chickens. There's some kind of Spangled Hamburg things next to the Buff Orpingtons. I think I'm starting to realise where wrestlers get their gimmick names from...or rather, where they should get them from.

There's a lot of cage, which makes photography somewhat challenging.

The turkeys seem glad that Christmas isn't for a while.

Edna the barn owl is double caged. They let her out a couple of times a day to fly, but due to avian influenza no-one's allowed to poke her any more.

There's a pen full of goats. We're fawning over some of them when this head pokes out, giving it the "what's all this about?"

These cows are awesome. Our whole time there, none of them stand up. They just sit there chewing, slowly. Briefly, the black and white one rolls slowly onto her side, almost her back, then rights herself and gets back to chewing.

For possibly the first time in my life I exclaim "those kids are so cute!", because in the field adjoining the cows there are baby goats, plus sheep and Kimby the alpaca.

There are tons of families there as well, unsurprisingly. We didn't have any animal feed but all the human kids did, so most of the animals pay us no attention. Until, that is, Kimby comes over for a chat.

Hey Kimby. How you doing? Y'know, we've seen a lot of your kind this year so far and most of them have this pretty dopey expression. But you're not like that, right?

Oh.

Oh. OK. Well it was nice talking to you, have a great day.

Across the way this goat decides standing on four legs is for losers. Meanwhile a lamb appears to take a drink from the paddling pool, but on a closer look doesn't actually seem to know how it works.

"I just dip my nose in and stand still, right?"

After a distant horse and a larger sheep with giant bollocks, we stroll back into the main yard and spot ferrets doing what ferrets do best: sleeping, albeit not in hammocks.

The pigs are asleep too, separated and indoors. Can't say as I blame them.

That's about it really. It's not a big farm, and not particularly good farm. We've been spoilt this year. But the weather is glorious and ahead of us is a scenic walk through a car park just across the Wandle from the wondrous Phipps Bridge estate.

"Here's where darren went to that party with his mates in 1992, and that kid's dad threatened them with a knife"

There's an enormous pylon next to us on our side, but somehow there are tiny stretches which look almost nice.

Along the Wandle Trail is Merton Abbey Mills. What with me growing up around here it's been tough to keep to the "only do stuff neither of us have done" rule, but fuck it, I've not been here for bloody years. Approaching from this direction we cross the water to enter next to the pub, which has a sign on its windows saying they're closed for refurbishment right now. Dated December 2017. Huh.

Never mind. I'd read there's also a place called Wimbledon Craft Beer Emporium here so we'll find that. First, though, we'll wander around a handful of craft shops and while Helen looks at fossils I try and convince her we should buy some chakra candles dedicated to miracle manifestation and contentedness, or some stress relief incense sticks. The tarot cards and books of spells catch my eye too. In the end, and on our second circuit, we end up with 4 new fossils for the living room.

Elsewhere there are outdoor stalls, and some owls catch her eye, of course. We both think they're just craft stuff, but the man whose stall it is decides he wants to talk to us about how they're made and explain all this stuff about orgone energy and how he hand makes every single piece with exactly 50% energetic material and 50% non-energetic, interspersed, or none of it works. There's all these vibrations and stuff see. It all sounds way too scientifically rigorous for us and we back away towards the safety of dull pottery in the wheelhouse.

Oh, it's the mill. Cool.

All these tools and stuff on the wall. Apparently operating a water mill was a bit of work.

The mill still runs, and you can go stand virtually inside the wheel.

There's actually much less arty-crafty stuff here than I expected, and it's all shops. I'm sure back in the early to mid 90s it was mostly open studios apart from the pub, but now there's about 3 shops, a handful of stalls, and everything else is a cafe, restaurant, pub, or similar. Except for the hairdressers that's where the Craft Beer Emporium once stood, buggering hell. Still, there's a seat outside in the shade by the pub facing the bandstand. Anyone for Pimm's?

After the drink we've run out of things to do around here. Colliers Wood has fuck all else except what used to be the Brown & Root building, and some absolutely enormous shops. There are plenty of signs to some other things, mind – either stuff that used to be here, or stuff that's elsewhere. Crossing Merantun Way I'm surprised to learn that a nondescript arch we have to pass through is all historic, like.

The Wandle manages to look quite nice, briefly, which is more than can be said for the bus stops just up from the grotty bus garage. Away we go, on a 200 through Wimbledon's back streets until the bus garage near Wetherspoons where we shall wait for a 93 up through the village and to the common. After the excellent tram ride, this is a step down in intra-borough transport experience. Both buses are boiling hot and busier than either of us expected. Bleurgh.

On the second bus, a vague panic. Originally our intended destination for this part of the borough was Caesar's Camp, a hill fort made way before Caesar even lived. I guess it's probably just a mound now. But actually we've changed tack and are heading to Wimbledon Windmill, if only to make the sandwich earlier relevant. However, the map made it look like perhaps it's over the border into Wandsworth. That would be disastrous, and no amount of amusement at pubs in the village still proudly boasting of winning Pub Of The Year in 1970 would fix it.

Thankfully, it's in Merton. And being so close to the border means we can also go look for a welcome sign in a bit, but first we'll go see the mill. It's surprisingly hard to find on foot. Well, not hard - there are signs - but you can't see it until you're properly up close. En route there's a boring stretch of common full of signs about how there are skylarks around here that you're not allowed to shoot or something.

The Windmill is a museum of itself, windmills in general, and scouting. We had no idea why the latter was involved, but having earlier been past a place called something like "IT Wizard and Dry Cleaners" we figured perhaps Merton just loved to mix and match disparate interests into single venues.

2017 was Wimbledon Windmill's bicentenary so it was free to get in. Apparently the glue they used to put the "free for bicentenary year!" stickers on their sandwich boards was too strong, so it's still free in 2018.

First up is a room full of woodworking tools. I'm happy about this. I love planes, me.

Up on the first floor you can see how mills actually work. I accidentally learnt more than I wanted to, because one of the volunteers insisted on showing me how the main mill used to work and how it would ring a bell automatically when it ran out of grain.

There's models of windmills all over the place, upstairs and down. Some are of Wimbledon, but there's also a room full of models of real windmills of different types from all over the country. Apparently Wimbledon – and Mitcham, down the road – were of a particularly rare type in the UK. Huh.

Turns out there's a real link to scouting; Baden-Powell wrote Scouting for Boys while he lived in the Mill House next door. I really want to buy Helen a copy of "How Girls can Help to build up the Empire" but she won't have it. Also the shop sells fuck all except windmills, maps, and Wombles. Apparently the only place you can buy a legit Womble. Who knew?

There's a third floor, where you can go stand inside the main mechanism or whatever the room is called. Access is only via a perilous ladder that's probably not too perilous but we're both too woussy to go up. Well, I think going up would be fine but I'd be a wreck at descending. Also, frankly, windmills aren't that interesting. We'd rather learn about this dressmaker who lived in one of the six rooms the building got converted into back in the mid-1800s.

We're not there for that long. I'm more interested in it than Helen is; she's almost spitting blood now, and things get worse when we walk around the perimeter to at least get a photo of the building we've just left looking like a windmill. Turns out the only place you can do so from is if you stand tiptoe on a golf green and hold yer photo-capable device above your head, and even then the view is shit.

Merton's not doing well in her book. She's not giving me any spoilers for what scores she has in mind, but nothing seems to be impressing her much. Well, let's see if I can do something about that eh. Surely an amazing welcome sign will help? In fact, we already know - having recently been to a B&Q near another Merton border - that they've a trick up their sleeves in these parts.

Boom! The borough of my formative years doesn't just do welcomes, we do polite goodbyes 'n all! This is the first such thing we've seen in our adventures and I'm so stupidly pleased with it. Helen, however, wants to photoshop "sorry" into the blank space. Bah.

Triumphantly, I lead us to the reverse so we can get our now traditional selfie with the welcome side. It is, uh, somewhat grubby and disappointing. Like they ran out of cloth very quickly last time they went to clean it.

Hmm. OK. Well, let's see if my last suggested stop - we're yet to eat in Merton - can get any redeeming points. We get on a 93, almost immediately passing an "apostolic nunciature" which the internet tells me means "Vatican embassy (except not an embassy, and Holy See not Vatican, but you get the gist)".

Back through the village, past another pub boasting of its 1970s award, and down the hill we change onto a bus into Raynes Park. At AFC Wimbledon vs Oldham yesterday, three personal friends had each raved about a restaurant in these parts. It's one stop further than the station, which made our decision to stay on the bus despite "it'll be quicker if you just walk" style announcements a little daft. As we wait, a police helicopter circles overheard ominously.

"about 10 minutes, tbh"

But here we are, eventually, at Earth To Table. There's only one other punter. We're given a warm welcome and can sit wherever we like. The menu is as extensive as we'd been warned with multiple cuisines but we both opt for their Sunday roast and a beer. It arrives promptly and looks very nice. There's even enough gravy for Helen.

Beef or chicken?

The food is nice. Really. But it's not amazing. I'd been led to believe we'd be wowed, and had we had something off their regular menu we probably would have been. They're not experts in Sunday roasts though, probably only doing them because "that's what people want, innit?" or something - there's a Wetherspoons just up the road to compete with after all. Maybe we'll go back in future and have summat else.

Up the road and back to Raynes Park station, ready to get the train home. Having failed to buy anything sweet in the Co-Op en route I want to pay with my card at the platform vending machine which proudly informs me that I can. Insert your card! Pay with Apple Pay! But, er, there's just no mechanism for it at all. WTF? Bizarre. And so ends our time in Merton, on a largely deserted platform waiting for a train back to Surbiton. Best ascribe some numbers to the day, eh?

Scoring, scoring Merton

Quick recap of the rules: ratings from 1-7 on three categories, giving a potential maximum score of 42.

Darren

Even though I'm from Merton and cannot fail to have a significant preconception problem combined with manifest pride, I have attempted to be as objective as possible with my scores and limit it only to my experiences on the day.

  • Fun: 6! I always rate pretty high on fun just 'cos I like getting out and doing stuff, but actually Merton's attractions are a bit meh. But it gets bonus points because I'm from there.
  • Learning: 5! actually learnt a fair bit, honestly. Like that windmill stuff and the Pope thing. Also I WENT TO SCHOOL IN MERTON and if that's not learning I don't know what is. Only got an E in A-level maths though.
  • Nice: 6! Merton's lovely. None of it is horrible at all. Certainly not the Phipps Bridge estate, nor Morden. Absolutely not. Plus Merton spat me out, and I'm lovely too.

Helen

  • Fun: 5. It was fun to be back boroughering despite everything Merton threw at us.
  • Learning: 2. I learnt that Victorian seamstresses lived in very small rooms and that ferrets are lazy bastards the world over, but that was it.
  • Nice: 4. Industrial estates, stagnant waterways, pylons, circulating police helicopters and pubs that have been shit since the 70s only redeemed by a lovely sunny day and therefore an opportunity for outside Pimm’s.

So that's a total of 28/42, putting it in a poor 6th place. Helen thinks it should be in 7th and that perhaps my objectivity can be called into question. I'm somewhat disappointed that actually yeah, we didn't engineer ourselves a great day today and even the farm was a bit shit, but I reserve the right to be highly biased. Normal service will be resumed when we next visit some godforsaken shithole out east, north of the river, or both.

Created By
Darren Foreman
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