I am finding myself addicted to these countryside walks. Any day I'm not working and its not forecasted to be miserable out, I hit the rails and trails.
I chose a walk through the North Downs in Surrey. It was a longer walk and more bustling than my previous walk in Kent- instead of a quiet country ramble bumping into occasional walkers, this was much more busy, with lots of day trippers and picnickers out on a walk.
Still...it was nice. And it wasn't like it was crowded.
This walk started at Gomshall Station, with my trusty guide book at my side and a back-up ye olde GPS device doubling as my camera. I tried to follow the suggested path to get to the first stop, but I ended up hitting multiple dead ends before backtracking to the station and just walking the first stretch through the cute little village of Gomshall.
Soon enough, the pavement turned into dirt and then into trail.
The North Downs are a series of chalk hills that run all the way to Dover. There's a couple major trails that cross them, so there was much less stile and pasture crossings on this walk.
The first stop on the trail was the tiny village of Shere, with a perfect 12 century Norman church that was a stop on the pilgrimage to Canterbury.
The village was perfectly adorable as well, with an old country pub and a place to get good ice cream.
We crossed under the A25 (a big highway) and went up a fairly strenuous muddy path up the hillside. At the top, the path widened into the North Downs Way, a major trail that was used at least since the Bronze Age by traders.
This is known as the oldest road in Britain.
Once you get out of the woods, you get quite the view.
It was windy as hell up there, but a really good walk. We stopped and broke out our picnic lunch, where I ended up eating a great deal of my hair as it blew in my face.
The trail lead to another ancient church on the hill- this one was abandoned, as there was no road to actually get there by car. This marked the divergent of the NDW from the "Pilgrims Way", another well-beaten trail that runs down the valley from London to Canterbury. I totally understand why they would want to be walking in the valley instead of the hillside, as it was much more peaceful without the wind constantly howling and trying to tear you down.
The walk was really peaceful, until I smelled a strong whiff of Sulfur, and discovered a belching industrial complex. Apparently, they are fracking here. This seems like a new-ish development since this wasn't mentioned as a landmark in the oh-so-detailed guidebook.
I waxed at one point about how I kind of missed the endless landscape of vineyards that hiking and biking around France entailed. Then, like magic!
I had heard about this, but haven't had a chance to sample yet. They are making a Champagne-style bubbly in the hills here, saying that the chalk soil is similar to that around Reims.
Further on, the Silent Pool- a beautiful spring-fed pool. Sadly, they have a really bad invasive weed problem in the pond, and it's almost completely clogged with brown tendrils of plants that are choking the rest of the ecosystem.
It's too bad- the spring looked inviting and there are lots of anecdotes and legends of this being a nakededy kind of bathing pool, but apparently the plant is so invasive that you could easily spread it by bathing and bringing microscopic bits of it with you when you leave.
Back on the Pilgrim's Way back to Shere.
A much enjoyed stop at the White Horse Pub, housed in a medieval building next to a creek. It was a great place for a warming bowl of soup and a glass of grape juice.
And then, back to the trail. More sheep! What are these, Shropshires, maybe?
Thankfully, my camera is back from the shop, so this is the last of the crummy grainy pictures. I hope. I must admit, it was much easier to carry the relativity small phone around then the big clunking camera and several lenses, but the quality was pretty crap.
The walk looped back to the train station at Gomshall for the hour ride back to London. The whole circular loop hike was a bit over 12 miles, and more strenuous than the Hever walk just based on the steep uphill at the beginning. There was very little roadside walking, which was nice, but you crossed several busy roads on the way. I was tired, but not dog-tired exhausted.