Friday, 20 February 2009

North Downs Way Day 2 Guildford - Dorking

River Wey
A few weeks had passed since I had made a start on the NDW and it was now March although at the start of today you wouldn’t have known it as the weather was extremely cold and miserable. Unusually I was out on a Sunday and that meant only one thing; my options would be limited because of public transport limitations. In fact that is why I settled on a second day on the NDW as I knew that I would be able to get from Dorking to Guildford by train on a Sunday. I parked in the small car park at the bottom of Box Hill and wandered down to Depedene station where I caught the train to Guildford.

St Martha's Church
Of course the NDW does not go through the middle of Guildford but rather crosses the Wey Valley to the south of the town. I had a mile or so to walk down the towpath of the Wey navigation to reunite with the NDW, which was quite a pleasant little run. When I reached the NDW my first task was to dodge the Sunday League footballers who were out in force in Shalford Park. From Guildford I would link up with the ancient Pilgrims Way, once the route of people travelling to Canterbury Cathedral. This route either shares or follows most of the way from here on until the city of Canterbury. I climbed up out of Guildford and headed for the first major landmark of the day, St Martha’s Church a couple of miles further on. This is a very large church not near any village, which is a bit of a surprise. By the time I got up here it was perishing cold and snow was in the air. The air was heavy with black clouds, which gave the church a rather dour atmosphere, although on a sunny day I’m sure it feels somewhat different up here. The Church also marks the starting point of the Downs Link, a forty odd mile journey south to meet the South Downs Way. The church was also very much on a sandy hill and not chalk, which meant that in geological terms I was on the wrong ridge.

Albury Downs
That was soon put right as from the church I headed up on to Albury Downs, the first true section of a downland Ridge and only 13 or 14 miles into the walk. The view south from here was pretty amazing even on such a gloomy day and the Greensand Ridge was very evident. This would be the last view for awhile as after this short section (which was very densely populated with dog walkers) the NDW plunged into woodland where it very firmly stayed for a good couple of hours, with only occasional glimpses of the wider countryside. While I am a great fan of woodland walking there were few items of particular interest along the way.

Hackhurst Hill View
One bugbear of mine is the damage done by off-road vehicles and after the recent rainfall I can across perhaps one of the worst examples ever on this section. One of the tracks through the woodland had been turned into a muddy quagmire by goodness knows how many vehicles, making it almost impossible to get through without getting completely covered in mud. How I didn’t fall in it is beyond me. A little further on from here were a whole load of pillboxes, tucked away in the trees. I had never seen so many in such a small area before, but undoubtedly the result of needing to protect London at all costs.

Eventually I reached Ranmore Common and the character of the remaining part of the day changed considerably. The walk opened out into a plateau and by now the sun had made an appearance, brightening up the countryside considerably. I also got views once again and Dorking was not far ahead now. Ranmore Common had an interesting Victorian church, with an unusually shaped tower that was very large considering the size of the village it was meant to serve. From here the path ran down through the Denbies Estate, now locally famous for being a wine producer. Being March, all the vines were rather dead looking now, but I did fancy that one day I might come walking along here in the summer to see how different it might look. The other thing that caught my eye were the isolated Scots Pines on the estate. For my money these are the most interesting native trees we have, for although they have rather sparse foliage and can look a bit weedy, you rarely see two that look like each other.

Box Hill View
The dominating view though was ahead, with Box Hill standing proud above the Mole Valley. This would be for another day though as I only needed to reach the car park at the bottom, which I did within half an hour.

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