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Answers Lie In The Soil

Building on some detailed research by the leader of our February walk,  Moleside members were taken this month to a local area we probably feel we know quite well but whose secrets can still keep us guessing. For his first walk for the club Alec Robinson, accompanied by his wife Carmen, guided 10 of us on a very enjoyable 6 mile hike through the largely wooded areas of Ashtead and Epsom commons.

Alec’s studying of the City of London’s 2021 Management Plan, which includes an 1816 Ordnance Survey map of the area, confirms that the comparatively poor quality of clay soil here and the large amount of wood all around us were the basis of a thriving brick and tile industry, dating back certainly to Roman times.

This perhaps explains the evidence on a more current OS sheet, that the remains of an impressive 2000 year old villa might be found in these parts.


Alec’s Garmin tracker faithfully recorded the route taken by the Moleside group.

After a week of fine weather, we were unlucky to have had rain the night before our walk and the mud for which the Commons here are renowned had had a chance to resurface with a vengeance. 

Although there were plenty of muddy stretches for us to negotiate, particularly in the National Nature Reserve, we had no rain along the way and in fact the weather was very mild.

We walked around the Stew Ponds and from there progressed to  the site of the Roman Villa.  Although there is little to see now, records show that the Villa had had three stages of construction, with the last stage being definitely up-market with underfloor heating!

Photo of Derek Elsley
It was good to have Derek Elsley with us again for the first time in a long time. Happily he had been able to arrange company for Lesley whilst he walked with us.

Ashtead Common is home to over 1,000 veteran oaks, which are truly impressive.  Sadly, a wildfire in 1989 burned for three days before it could be put out, and as a result there are a number of dead oaks.  These have been left standing to provide habitats for all sorts of insects, birds and other animals, as well as fungi and lichens.

Our lunch location, The Star at Malden Rushett, lived up to its previous high standards. Excellent food, service and atmosphere. It was pretty busy. There was another walking group in there as well as many other people. The pub team had been very accommodating when we were trying to fix reservation numbers and there was ample parking. Despite not having to pre-order, service was pretty prompt and we’re very grateful to them for making us so welcome.

Thanks to Alec for planning the walk and for his detailed background research. He advises that much more can be found at –

And thanks to David Owen and our walks coordinator Steve Mustoe for their help in putting together this report.

The next Moleside Walk is on Thursday 16 March.

For reports on all our recent monthly walks click on the Tags below.