Saturday, 21 February 2009

North Downs Way Day 3 Dorking - Merstham

Mole Stepping Stones
A year had passed since I had been out on the North Downs Way. It was now February 2005 and I found a free day after dropping off my wife at Heathrow Airport. It would be my first day out of the year, but unfortunately the weather was pretty awful and while I needed the exercise it was not at all conducive for taking pictures. So, instead I waited another almost eighteen months before attempting the walk again. This is the day I will describe, since there was much more to be interested in than the fog, rain and mud endured first time out!

View From Box Hill
It was now July 2006 and it promised to be the hottest day of the year. It had been nearly three months since my week long outing on the South West Coast Path and I was feeling desperate to get out once again so I grabbed the opportunity even though it wasn’t the ideal day. I set out very early as I felt fairly sure that I could complete the day’s walking before the sun got too hot. I parked at the bottom of Box Hill (it’s free there, but unless you are a National Trust member there is a fee at the top). Almost immediately I crossed the River Mole by means of the stepping stones and then prepared to slog to the top of Box Hill. This was a very steep climb and by the time I reached the top I was already dripping and the day’s heat hadn’t even got going yet!

Path Companions
At the top of Box Hill I lingered for awhile, gathering my breath and admiring the view. The air was surprisingly clear for a summer’s day and I enjoyed the view over Dorking and across to the South Downs before getting on my way once again. This section of the North Downs was a little frustrating since it did not follow the ridge for most of the way, instead alternating between halfway up the slope and the top. It made for an unusually strenuous day, given the modest number of miles I would be covering.

Brockham Lime Works
As I left Box Hill I wandered through some shady woodland, most welcome on such a hot day. Soon I would reach Winterfold Hill and the path negotiated the side of an active landfill site and wound its way down to an old limeworks at Brockham. There wasn’t much left of the place, save for a very large Kiln Tower and a big scar in the landscape that is now ironically a site of special scientific interest. There was quite a lot of vehicle activity in the area so I couldn’t hang around long. I wandered further down the hill where I met the old quarry cottages, which now make for very desirable looking homes.

Brockham Quarry Cottages
I soon met a main road and had to walk alongside it for a short stretch, which was just as unpleasant as any other road walking. I was thankful to eventually cross the road and continue ever eastwards across open countryside. Eventually I reached a field of wheat overlooking Reigate Hill and found it so easy to cross compared with my winter walk from before. Last time the mud was so deep and thick that it was a real struggle to cross the field. Now, the ground was baked hard and I just heard the whispers of the ears of wheat as they waved slowly in the wind.
Reigate Hill

I faced another climb to the top of the ridge and eventually wound up above Reigate. It was now that I heard the roar of the traffic from the M25, a noise that would dog the remaining part of the walk. I passed an interesting old milepost that was nicely painted but horribly skewiff. Their was also a very large water tower hidden in the trees, which was obviously still in use judging by the railing fence around it and all the mobile phone masts on top. I couldn’t help wonder what it would be like to live there though, if it was ever declared redundant. Would make for an interesting project!

Art Installation
I soon left the trees behind and wandered along to Reigate Hill. The view from the top was truly magnificent and in my opinion vastly superior to Box Hill. I stopped for a long drink at the ‘temple’ on the top of the hill and admired the view for a bit. From here it was a short walk down to the car park adjacent to the Reigate to London road. I took a quick look at a fortification that looked as if it were from World War II vintage before getting to the car park and the very welcome little refreshment bar that operates here. After a top up with drink I continued on and once again down the hill although this was the last time. I wended my way around some school grounds, where the students were knocking off for the summer by the looks of activities going on.

Lodge Cottage
After leaving the school grounds via the lodge house I then negotiated Merstham golf course and found my way into the village. Not a hugely interesting place although it did once have one of the earliest railways when the Surrey Iron Railway once ran through here carrying freight to Croyden using horses. Some old rails are still in place in the village to serve as a reminder. For me though it was off to the station and a train via Redhill to rejoin my car back in Dorking and a breather from the hot weather.

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