On arriving back in the UK from Madrid, I wrote a post about how I was going to try to keep having adventures back in the UK. One of my ideas was to walk the whole North Downs Way – all 153 miles of it from Farnham to Dover – in day trips out from London. A month or so ago, James and I did the first stage, from Farnham to Guildford, and you can read my post about that and a bit of the history of the North Downs Way here.
We had originally planned to walk the second stage of the North Downs Way on Saturday, but a weather forecast of torrential rain put paid to that and so we woke up on Sunday, nervously checking the weather forecast, and made our way to Clapham Junction for the 9.39am train to Guildford. There’d been a bit of back and forth about this, as I’d originally planned to go earlier to make sure we’d finish before dark, but even leaving the house at 9 (as we eventually did) on a Sunday morning is early so eventually we hit on a compromise at the 9.39.
James and I had a new recruit to our hiking team – Charlotte. We’ve tried to recruit her to other active persuits and her boyfriend even bought her a bike last Christmas but I think she’s ridden it maybe three times and hated it. She’s more about the wine than the outdoors 😀 But she turned up at Clapham station fully kitted out in appropriate clothing and snacks of iced buns and pork pies – perfect!
We left the train at Guildford and walked past a group of fully kitted out hikers, with an older man who was clearly the leader berating some of them in an extremely loud voice for arriving late. We grinned and walked on – far too early on a Sunday morning to be told off! Our grins faded however when difficulties crossing the road at the big Guildford roundabout meant the group caught up with us, overtook us, and then stopped to have a chat about some statues. We realised there was a chance we would be constantly either stuck behind them or being overtaken by them and hearing that loud booming voice which was not ideal for a peaceful walk in the country! We sped on, hoping to stay ahead.
The walk from Guildford began by retracing our steps down the path alongside the River Wey. It was a hive of activity on a Sunday morning, with dog-walkers, runners, mountain-bikers, nervous-looking children learning to row and their coaches cycling up the banks of the river next to them.
We crossed over the river, walked through a field and across Shalford Park where several football matches going on. The hiking group had caught us up by this time and so we made an excuse to stop, James deciding he needed to change his shoes (yes, he had bought two pairs of shoes :/). As the group passed us we overheard that they were doing a different route from us and we breathed a sigh of relief.
It got muddy pretty quickly as we walked through Chantry Wood and then climbed up the hill towards St Martha’s Church.
According to Wikipedia, we were on top of the 18th highest hill in the country. St Martha’s is accessible only by foot and there has been a church on the site since the 12th century (the present church was built in the 1800s).
We walked along a sandy ridge, played on a rope swing, and then descended down slightly through a chalky, bright orange forest. The path soon climbed up again, and then we walked across a wide open field to end up at Newlands Corner – where the trail meets a quite busy road at the top of a hill.
We stopped at Tillings Corner Cafe for a quick lunch. James and Charlotte went for cheese and ham toasties while I shocked everyone by going for a jacket potato with tuna & sweetcorn, baked beans and cheese. Apparently this is just not an acceptable mixture of jacket potato toppings – so much so that they were still going on about it at dinner that evening. I have to admit I felt slightly sluggish setting off after lunch…
The path then mainly took us through woodland for the remainder of the walk, along the side of the north downs, occasionally opening up with views over to the south downs, so many footpaths criss-crossing each other all over the hillside, nothing to see by this point but trees, leaves, mud and the occasional long-distance runner with a backpack on.
It’s kind of incredible to think about just how recent that was – gives you a whole new appreciation of the peace within the EU and how quickly generations can move on, given the right environment. A thought for another day perhaps.
The path seemed to go on and on and on as we climbed over fallen logs, down steep slopes, and through numerous kissing gates, before we came out of the woods again at Ranmore Common, looking out at views of Dorking and the South Downs across the valley. The field was inhabited by the striking Belted Galloway cows, really noticeable for the white stripe around their middle so of course a few bad cow jokes were made and pictures taken.
The path then took us for a brief walk along a country road, turning north away from Dorking, past another church and down a steep hill into Denbies vineyard. Here we took a detour off the North Downs Way because Charlotte had sniffed out wine and decided we had to visit the vineyard.
The Surrey climate is apparently perfect for producing sparking white wines, and Denbies is one of the largest vineyards in Britain, having won numerous awards for their wine, most sold in the vineyard visitors’ shop, which of course we visited, buying a few bottles each to take home.
Leaving the shop and checking the way, google maps said 17 minutes walk… and the next train to London left in 20 minutes. So we sped off through the vines as it began to get dark, making it to the station just in time for the 4.17 train home and just 6 minutes after sunset. Success all round!