Staines Moor is a stunning expanse of wildlife-friendly flood meadows in Surrey, enclosed by the M25, huge reservoirs & gravel pits.
Many of my walks end in darkness, and this one was no exception. There is an extra frisson to walking the urban edges in darkness, as your senses attune to the fading light and the sounds around you. I appreciate not everyone will enjoy that. With earlier starts such situations are easily avoided; you don’t have to walk with the bats.
I took the train out from Waterloo for this one, alighting at Staines. Crossing a bridge over the final stretch of the Rivers Wraysbury and Colne, just before they join the Thames, the B376 leads out of town. Moor Lane peels off to the right, and after a patch of open land, a path heads over the River Wraysbury and the railway line, before turning left, under the A30.
The moor is a sudden, unexpected openness, rough terrain grazed by a few cattle. The River Colne meanders through the middle of the moor, a few footbridges providing crossing places. The water is sparkling and alive. On a summer’s day, it is hard to resist a barefoot paddle.
Staines Moor is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), home to rare plants and with the neighbouring reservoirs, winter wildfowl. You will also find some of the oldest anthills in Britain, irregular low mounds across the moor. The ant hills are estimated to be more than 220 years old and are home to yellow ants.
The moor has been common land since 1065. It is special because it has avoided the fate of much of our countryside, which has been effectively wiped clean of wildlife by intensive agriculture.
The path leads north and leaves the moor to trace the side of the massive King George VI Reservoir, up to Stanwell Moor.
Stanwell Moor is now a village, with Horton Road leading to Junction 14 of the M25, the London Orbital Motorway. The path passes under the slip roads and over the motorway, and Horton Road continues east, through a traffic-blasted industrial estate, lined with fag butts and discarded litter. Outgoing Heathrow aeroplanes roar overhead.
At The Golden Cross pub, a path leads unpromisingly from the car park and into a patch of woodland, which follows Stanwell Road. Inspecting a stolen, discarded cash drawer, I found it unsurprisingly short of coins, but now home to a disgruntled wood mouse. The wood was beautiful, but had an edgy feel to it, not helped by traces of ‘sex litter’ – the detritus of urgent, anonymous sex.
I managed to miss the Arthur Jacob Nature Reserve, which neighbours the wood. This small, wetland reserve sounds special; one I need to return to.
Horton and Berkyn Manor
Stanwell Road continues to Horton, passing Berkyn Manor Farm on the right. Within the grounds, Berkyn Manor is a crumbling manor house, abandoned since 1987 and much beloved of urban explorers. The poet John Milton lived here in the early 17th century and is honoured with a blue plaque on the farm entrance wall.
In Horton, just past a village green and the Crown and Kitchen pub, Park Lane heads south. At the end of this leafy lane, a rough track continues south, across a landscape of flooded gravel pits. This is a beautiful and little-trodden path, complete with a wild mirabelle plum tree. I visited during summer and the tree was loaded with delicious fruit, protected by nettles.
Reaching a railway track I tried cutting left, a beautiful diversion which led, eventually, to a tangle of impassable green. Retracing my steps, I found the foot crossing, and continued onto a field of horse pasture, complete with friendly ponies.
Joining Station Road, a left turn takes you to Wraysbury Station, and potentially a train home. Alternatively, a footpath follows the rail line, the narrow track fenced and pinched between Wraysbury Reservoir and the railway. This would get you back to Staines Moor, but I crossed the line and picked up another path, this one tracking the Colne Brook.
Dead ends and 14 lanes of traffic
With darkness falling fast, I made the mistake of following the Colne Brook to its union with the Thames. Ferry Lane and then a private road pass increasingly expensive, walled property, with the Brook babbling alongside. This is a nice little detour, as long as you are happy retracing your route. The track steps down into the Thames, and that is it. There is no river walk here, just a moored barge; the only way to continue forwards is to swim.
Now forced to pick up the busy Wraysbury Road, I trudged towards Staines, not enjoying the traffic. Where Wraysbury Road passes below the A30 and M25, a path cuts south, towards Runnymede Bridge. Anxious to escape the cars I followed the path, and up to the bridge. It is slightly surreal to find yourself gazing over the beautiful Thames, while behind you, 14 lanes of traffic roar blindly past.
Once over the bridge, I jumped a wooden fence and scrambled down the A30 embankment to the Thames Path. There is a path, if you walk a little farther, but I missed that.
The Thames Path leads safely back to Staines Bridge. Occasional flickers of light revealed silent, silhouetted anglers. The only scary moment was when my fading torch caught the bright, reflective eyes of a cat. Even a small predator can startle in the dark when you’re not expecting their company.
Back at the station, industrial action meant an hour’s wait for a train. Thankfully, a nearby pub offered cider and crisps before a train home.