What with Christmas and travelling it had been a few months since our last North Downs Way excursion when we set off to Boxhill and Westhumble (near Dorking) for stage 3. A slightly shorter stage and longer days meant we could have a bit more of a lie-in and so met at Victoria Station for the 10:19 train.
The train to Westhumble seems to stop at every possible station and we went through places with names I had never heard before, gradually leaving London behind. We arrived at Westhumble an hour and ten minutes later, leaving the station with a bunch of other groups of hikers looking around them as if to say “where’s the North Downs Way?”. Well, we knew where we were going and so turned left, walked up a hill and then took a footpath beside some houses to our left. This took us back down onto the North Downs Way where we had left it a few months before.
After a short walk we reached a main road. The signpost said to go left to a subway but we decided just to go straight across the road – it was straight and not too busy so it was easy enough. Then we found ourselves at the famous stepping stones across the river Mole. Apparently there is a bridge further up that you can use when the river’s high but we were able to cross with no problems – other than James standing far too close behind me and making me think he was going to push me in…
Straight after crossing the river we started climbing up Box Hill. I’d heard so much about Box Hill that I expected the climb to be really, really hard. I did have to take off a layer but I was quite confused when we reached the top as it was nowhere near as steep or as long as I had been expecting! It’s certainly possible to do it without stopping. All that Colombian hiking has toughened me up 😀
I’d planned for us to have lunch at the top but it was only just 12pm so it seemed far too early and we decided to continue on, walking along the side of Box Hill for a while before descending down a narrow, slippery path into the trees. The path then opens up into downland as you walk past the old Brockham lime works and then descends sharply down to the village of Bletchworth.
We walked past a few cute little cottages and then reached the main road. The path turns left and follows along the main road for a short distance before we crossed over and began to walk away from the main road, past a very muddy section and then slightly uphill again as we entered the trees. Just when we thought we were going to have another steep climb, the path turned right and instead we skirted along the side of Juniper Hill, through some old woodland.
But we were not let off the hill and eventually had to climb to the top, the sound of the M25 getting louder and louder as we did so. We never actually saw it, but could hear it for the rest of the walk. There were some beautiful large houses at the top of the hill but I would just never want to live there as the sound of the motorway at this point was so loud that it overwhelmed everything else. This was the loudest point.
From here, we walked along a ridge at the top of the hill a short way, along Colley Hill, with lovely views to our right, cows grazing peacefully. The path was quite busy at this point – it had been very busy going up Box Hill but otherwise we had only seen the old trail runner or dog walker. Here there were more families out with kids for the day. We walked on and came to Reigate Fort which was built in the late 19th century to protect London from invasion by the French. We didn’t go in but had a brief look at the outside. At this point the temperature also suddenly dropped dramatically and we all quickly put our layers back on! There was no real sign of why, a slightly strange weather phenomenon.
We crossed a bridge over the main road and entered a car park with a little snack bar. As we hadn’t had lunch we stopped for hot chocolate with marshmallows and cream (absolutely delicious) and ham & cheese toasties before continuing on our way!
As we left the snack bar my mum called and so I spoke to her for ten minutes or so as we walked downhill, not really aware of my surroundings but just following James and Charlotte! We entered Gatton Woods and came out into the grounds of a boarding school with lots of playing fields. There was also a strange looking monument of standing stones – the Millennium Stones, in which each one of ten standing stones marks a 200 year period between the birth of Christ and 2000 – so we went in to get a closer look before continuing on our way through the school grounds.
We left the road on a narrow path through some very posh-looking and huge houses and came out into the sunshine of the wide-open vistas of the Reigate Hill golf course. Merstham was in front of us and I realised with surprise how close we were to the train station, having misjudged the size of Merstham (very small!).
The hourly train had left just ten minutes before so we popped into a nearby pub for a glass of wine / cup of tea to celebrate completing another stage before our 35 minute train back to London Bridge – very easy and a lovely day out of London.
The route was mostly well-marked and easy to follow – at some points there were white arrows painted on fences rather than the usual sign-posts but these always did send us the correct way. It was useful to have phones with maps and also this blog post just to confirm that we were on the right path but generally we didn’t need to use them. I was also using my new Garmin Fenix 3 – more on which later – but I think I need to learn a bit more about how best to use it for navigation!
All in all we walked 10.8 miles, measured on the Garmin GPS. The next leg is even shorter so we’re hoping to get it in on a few weeks time. Looking forward to it!