North Downs Way
Farnham to Guildford (via Puttenham)
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Left the house at 11 am, returned at 11 pm, walked from 1:30 pm to 7:30 pm.
Stayed at Andrew’s house in Dulwich, took the world’s slowest bus ride from Dulwich to Waterloo Station (traffic), then caught train direct to Farnham. North Downs Way starts unimpressively at a busy intersection down the hill from the station. It parallels the noisy A31 for most of the day, but is only close to it for a few hundred yards. Then it dives into the network of country lanes and ancient paths that carry the traveler eastward. While leaving Farnham, the feel is somewhat like walking through the back yards of a series of exurban estates, and the cars sighted are mostly Land Rovers and BMWs. There was at least one McMansion. The gardens were spectacular, it being May. Eventually, the suburbs gave way to golf courses, and the golf courses gave way to working agricultural landscapes. There were lots of tired schoolchildren with full backpacks walking westwards, opposite the direction I was walking. They must have been doing the Way as a class or scouting trip (if scouts include both boys and girls). The landscape was often wooded, with open farmland glimpsed through gaps in the trees. The truncated, squat-looking church in Puttenham is actually quite nice inside, with elements dating from 1100 onwards in a polyglot mix. Had a cup of tea in what I would call an ex-pub below Puttenham, it has changed its sign to say “Drinks and Grill.” No atmosphere, surly teenaged wait staff. The walk on to Guildford was pleasant, following sandy farm lanes. A biker who passed me early on got bogged down in the loose sand and had to walk his bike for miles. More tired schoolchildren. Eventually I came down into southern Guildford, and followed the River Wey north to town. Had dinner in a modern but cheery riverside pub—locals dressed up for Saturday night and me in a sweatshirt. Then caught the train back to London.
Guildford to Dorking (Box Hill)
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
By now I had moved to Robert Wallis’ flat. From there I took the train to Guildford, walked south through town and along the river and rejoined the trail. It crossed the river and went through flowered meadows until I crossed the main road into Guildford. Then the trail climbed through open woods until it reached the spectacular St. Martha’s on the Hill church, with wonderful views southwards. The trail became threaded with multiple paths winding through the woods, but eventually the way became clearer. I went through woods and open fields and eventually reached Newlands Corner, which has a big visitor center that was surrounded by hundreds of punters who had driven in. From there I re-entered woods, passing some mysterious dewponds that may actually have had something to do with World War II. The trail disappeared onto a road at that point and there were no signs pointing the way forward. I wandered up and down various wooded lanes for an hour or more, until I was able to flag down a passing policeman. He didn’t know where the trail was, either, but I looked at his maps and figured out a plausible direction to head and eventually found my way back to the trail. Between the White Down Lease and Gomshall there were dozens of concrete bunkers set into the hillside defending the ridge from a German attack from the south that never materialized. Following the bunkers I passed through fields of bluebells, eventually reaching St Barnabas church, which has a giant, wide steeple squatting atop a little church building—beautiful but out of proportion. The approach to Dorking was through vineyards, lots and lots of them, with Box Hill towering in the distance. At the base of Box Hill, rather than walk south into downtown Dorking, I caught the train back to London from the tiny Box Hill and Westhumble station that was just a half-mile north of the trail, leaving just as the sun set. More than a year passed before I could get back to the UK to continue this journey.
Thursday, 17 November, 2011
Landed at Heathrow at 9:15 am, on time. It took me until 12 noon to get to the hotel in East Croydon.
Stayed at Croydon Park Hotel
It was sunny and in the low 50s. Traveled by rail from East Croydon to Box Hill and Westhumble on Southern Rail, on Horsham line. I knew I was starting late on the trail, arriving at my rail stop at about 3:15 pm. After leaving the station and the village of Westhumble, I crossed a busy road and entered a magical place. The border was a little river that I had to cross on stepping stones, very charming. On the other side, there were miles and miles of paths to follow. I did that. However, by 4 pm the light was failing, and the stars were out by 4:30. I walked remaining 9 miles in the dark. I used my mobile phone for light sometimes. But mostly I intuited where the trail was, visualizing the lighter path representing the trail rather than actually seeing it. It was almost like I had seen it before in a dream and was remembering it. More likely, I have now walked enough of these trails that I know where their designers tend to put them. A dog and its owner encountered me at one point, the dog barked and barked, the owner apologized but only after shining his flashlight in my face for a long time. One of eeriest things I experienced was when walking down a lane with row houses on it. As I passed each house its motion-detecting security light came on. I felt like a wizard. Eventually I stumbled into Merstham station and caught a quick train ride back to East Croydon at about 8:00 pm. I had a pretty bad pub dinner at a chain pub, good real ale but lousy fish and chips.
Friday, 18 November, 2011
Gave a lecture at Birmingham University. No walking.
Saturday, 19 November, 2011
Stayed at Croydon Park Hotel
Traveled by rail from East Croydon to Merstham on Southern RailIt was a quick trip, maybe 20 minutes, directly down the main line to Gatwick and HorshamArrived at about 11:20 am. Morning mist was still burning off, turning sunny, temp in low 50s.The path left the station following the bike/wheelchair exit. This led to a residential area (on south side of street) bordering a field sloping up to a big highway (M25?) (on north side of street). The pretty meadow eventually gave way to a pedestrian bridge over the motorway. The we're more pretty meadows but now I was on an island of nature surrounded on all sides by motorways--a Bermuda Triangle of noise. Eventually The trail dived into a tunnel under another motorway and surfaced in a field leading up to some houses with large fenced lawns. There I met a retired farmer who had harvested crops on these fields 40 years ago before the motorway came. He and his dogs stopped me for conversation about the ruinous noise. He had given up on "progress." the harvester that he used to use was still sitting in the barn nearby, and it was still in good condition, but no one bothered to use it any more. The land had reverted to wasteland (meadow) instead of growing crops. The path went up hill to a lane that it followed for quite a while. There was a stable nearby because young girls on horseback passed me regularly. One had trouble getting her horse to go past me so I got way off the trail. She apologized and said that her horse didn't like to walk in mud, which there wasn't much of. I think she was just embarrassed because the horse was not doing her bidding. The trail had many minor ups and downs, coming in and out of woods, going onto country lanes and back onto walking paths. There was variety but little dramatic scenery. One nice thing was that most of the time it was not necessary to walk directly on the country lanes (which were narrow and lacked verges, making them scary when encountering cars). Instead there were walking paths running parallel to the roads, separated by maybe 10 yards. One not so nice thing was that the extremely busy M25 motorway paralleled the path all day. The noise was very loud and detracted from the countryside feeling. The North Downs run just north of the motorway for mile after mile. About midway I passed an old tower with a tree growing out of its middle. Although the map showed a Devil's Hole a little further on, all I saw was weekend lockup for delivery trucks. It may be due to the lack of a guidebook, but I have not seen as many ancient tumuli and Neolithic forts and castles as on the South Downs Way or the Ridge Way. Maybe that will change when I leave tame Surrey. At the end of the day's walk, about 3:30 pm, I descended to Oxted. Barrow Hill Road, leading down from Oxted Downs brought me to a very suburban edge of town. Most houses were duplexes, 2-3 stories, many with Audi convertibles in them. Must be the car of choice for a certain class of commuters. The biggest thing in Oxted was a leisure park that included an indoor pool, cafe, and a bunch of other sporty things, close to the train station. The highstreet included a mix of cutesy and extremely practical shops. I avoided the car repair places and had a nice pot of tea and a warm scone at one of the cutesy storefronts. Caught a train back to East Croydon, service was frequent and quick, no wait. Got back to hotel at about 6:00 pm. Had dinner in the hotel bar. Good red wine, pizza, salad, soup.
Sunday, 22 November, 2011
Picked up Ellen at Heathrow, traveled to B&B in Maidstone. No walking. We skipped over the section from Oxted to Maidstone, will return to it later.
Monday, 21 November, 2011
Stayed at Aylesbury House, Maidstone
Hiked from Detling to Lenham, 8 milesSunny and windy in the 50s, with late fog rolling inWalked to Chequers Bus station, caught 10:30 am bus to Detling. Walked over highway on new pedestrian bridge (dedicated to 4 people killed trying to cross highway). Walked up onto the scarp. Great views. After a mile, came to Thurnam Castle, a motte and bailey fortification built on the site of a Roman watchtower. What is left of the ruin is just a few walls and mounds. But the views are great and the signage helps evoke what it looked like 1000 years ago. Definitely worth the detour off the trail. The trail had lots of ups and downs, so that we did not make good time for most of the day. It took until 2 pm to get to Hollingbourne where we stopped to eat sandwiches in the garden of the Dirty Habit pub, with tea supplied by the pub. Menu looks great, must go there for a meal sometime. Left Hollingbourne at about 3 pm for the long slog to Lenham, an hour of which took place after the sun set. Just before sunset, above Harrietsham, we stopped for a rest on a bench with a statue of a resting pilgrim. Took pics, we're surprised to see a white cat come out of the woods and jump in Clint's lap. Soon a second, orange, cat appeared and also wanted attention. Eventually, we saw a small sign posted by the British Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, indicating that this was a place that people left unwanted cats. Someone was clearly feeding these creatures and they were very friendly. Some time later, we passed Marley Works, which makes something. Their trucks say plumbing and drainage supplies, but we though it looked more like tiles. Must research.Eventually, we came down the hill in the dark to Lenham. There was a harrowing stretch of sidewalkless road that we followed down the hill, wherein we dived for the hedges every time a car passed, which was quite often. We walked through town to a little train station, just missing the 5 pm train. A half hour later we were finally aboard a nice warm sin heading back to Maidstone. We went directly to dinner at a Thai restaurant, the Thai Palace, not too far from the in station. We were the first customers and it took a long time for our food to arrive. It tasted very good when it did arrive.
Tuesday, 22 November, 2011
Stayed in Maidstone.
Hiked from Lenham to Wye, 11 milesFoggy in the 50s, clearing at the need of the dayWe caught the 9:30 am train from Maidstone to Lenham. Walking from the train station up the hill, we discovered a footpath paralleling the scary section of road we had traversed last night in the dark. This route was much more civilized. It was full of beautiful spider webs covered in misty beads of condensation. The meadow at the end of this path was full of dog poop, clearly this was where every dog walker made their first pit stop. The fog was pea soup thick. The route was the old Pilgrim's Way, slight as a arrow and very easy to follow. It was much less work that the pious day's hike, but also less interesting. We walked quickly and made good time, arriving in Wye at 4 pm just as the sun was setting. Not that we could see the sun! But in fact the fog did lift during the last mile of walking so we could at least see some clouds and the horizon in the distance. Highlights of this stretch included a giant stone cross cut into the chalk down above Lenham, a bench called "Arthur's Seat" that was literally just a park bench, an ancient windmill above Charing, the ruin of St Mary's Church on the edge of Lake Eastwell, and Perry Court Orchard, where Ellen picked and ate a Golden Delicious apple off one of the trees. We had hoped to stop for a pint at the Tickled Trout pub on the Great Stour River (not that big) next to the ain station, but they were closed. So we caught the next train out, returning to Maidstone by 5 pm. We had a delicious dinner at Prezzo Retaurant, a good effort at Italian food. Walls were covered in David Hockney memorabilia. I had ravioli stuffed with lamb, an odd combination: it tasted good with the mushrooms but the tomato sauce didn't fit so well. Wine, salad, and dessert were great.
Wednesday, 23 November, 2011 gave a lecture at University of Surrey. No walking.
Thursday, 24 November, 2011
Stayed in Maidstone
Walked from Folkestone to Dover, 9 milesSunny and windy, low 50s, luckily wind was from the southwest so it was at our backs much of the day.Left Maidstone East at about 9:15 am, hence we were able to get cheap day return tickets to Dover Priory. Changed at Ashford International, disembarked at Folkestone Central station. We grabbed sandwiches in a local store and caught the 73 bus up the hill to Alking (?) which is where the North Downs Way crosses the highway to Hawkinge. This was the most glorious walking day we had on this trip. The weather was bright, with good visibility. The walk along the coast was spectacular. There were dramatic chalk cliffs dropping into the sea, pocked with pillboxes and other fortifications left over from World War II. On the horizon we could just see France. Several ferry boats per hour came and went to France. We first walked along a paved lane heading parallel to the coast toward Dover. Soon we we able to join a footpath running parallel to the lane. We went past some pretty nice caravan parks and summer colonies with spectacular views. These alternated with more permanent homes sporting names like "Eagle's Nest." We were able to explore several of the fortifications. They were pretty cramped inside. We stopped for a late lunch in one of them to get out of the wind. It was pretty darned cold nonetheless. Later, we found a giant vertical concrete dish, maybe from a radar or lighthouse, which mysteriously provided great shelter from the wind while continuing to give us access to the sun. The scenery got more dramatic as we approached Dover. Soon we were walking along the very tops of the white chalk cliffs, fighting to keep upright against the wind. Dover itself came into view by parts, because much of it is tucked up into the Dour estuary and invisible until you turn the corner into the estuary. First, the port appeared, then the castle on the East bank of the river, and finally, the redoubt on the west side of the river. We arrived in Dover just as it got dark, about 4 pm. We found the end of the North Downs Way in the old town on the waterfront, took appropriate pics. We walked up the high street looking for tea, eventually settled for a Costa's. Had a nice brownie with cherries mixed in. Caught the train back to Maidstone East via Ashford International, arriving around 7:30 pm. Has a very nice meal ("Thanksgiving dinner") at the Nepali restaurant (the "Gurkha") near the train station. I had a variant of curry chicken over Basmati rice and it was quite tasty. We felt like we wanted a little something more, so we walked up the hill, past the hotel, to the Pippin Pub which the landlord had recommended. It was a modern place and almost everyone was younger than us. Nonetheless there was a fire to sit next to (we did), and we drank cider and ate spotted dick with custard, which basically equals bread pudding with currents covered in sweet yellow sauce. That finished us.