suburban Croydon but off a busy roundabout where Cheam merges wearily into Ewell.
It took a while to get to - I'd forgotten how long those residential roads that spread south from Cheam are, though I had trudged them often enough in my youth, at a time when I mingled with the jeunesse dorée of the neighbourhood. Most of their fathers, as I recall it, were geezers made good, with brassy wives and flash houses to suit their status, and some of their sons were involved in criminality to a quite startling extent, the apple not having fallen far from the tree. There was also a breathtakingly beautiful girl on whom I had a big (unreciprocated) crush, but that's another story... Suffice to say, trudging those endless roads again brought back enough memories to keep me entertained.
Eventually I reached the fabled roundabout and took the unmarked path that led swiftly away from it. Almost immediately it forked and, in the absence of signage, I took the more promising-looking path. I'm sure I need hardly tell you that this proved to be a bad decision, and soon I was walking field margin after field margin in scenes painfully reminiscent of my recent quest for the Glanville Fritillary. Once again I bashed through a spinny in hope of better things - only to find myself on a wholly unexpected golf course, from which I retreated at the first opportunity, finding my path again and retracing my steps all the way back to that fork in the path.
As a last throw of the dice, I set out again along the less promising-seeming way. When this path delivered me to a cricket field, I decided to give up my futile quest there and then and write the day off - but, taking a last look around, I glimpsed a line of fencing and a notice. Could this be it, the elusive reserve? Reader, it was; I had found it. By now, after all those field margins and spinnies, I was quite footsore and, since there was no prospect of butterflies, I decided to memorise the location and return when the sun was out. I turned and headed back, crossing a patch of level waste ground that looked as if it might once have been concreted over. Nature was fast reclaiming it, and I was pleased to find some Spotted Orchids growing out of the thin grass...
And then it happened. As I walked along, something flew up in front of me and settled on a Dogwood leaf - a day moth? No, it was a Small Blue, tiny, dark and beautiful, and all the more so for being entirely unexpected. Seconds later, there was another, and while I was gazing at that one - another male - I noticed two more basking close by. Basking in what I don't know - there was still no hint of sun or warmth - but there they were, wings spread, quite still, not going anywhere. And there were two or three more, just yards away, as I made my way back to the path, marvelling. This was truly one of the great butterfly surprises of my life - and I hadn't even set foot in the reserve. But at least I'd found it. In the end.