In the interest of keeping that dreaded post-summer Buddha belly at bay, I decided to undertake a bit of a project. While the days were growing shorter, but there were still nice days in store, I started taking the train out of London, and bit by bit I was walking the entire 153 miles of the North Downs Way.
Another National Trail! This one the closest to London, and you can hike it in a series of easy day trips as the rail system radiates out like spokes on a wheel away from London. You can hike the North Downs in 10 to 15 mile chunks, with a train ride back to the city at the end of the day. It starts in Farnham, goes through Surrey and into Kent, and ends at Dover, with an option to visit Canterbury.
Being this close to London has its disadvantages: it's much more urban than the South Downs, not quite so pretty with some dodgy industrial parts, and there is a good chunk that skirts the motorway for a joyless 25 miles.
Still...another chance to get out and see the countryside, have some solitude and quiet (when the cars aren't whizzing past at 70 anyway) and get to know my adopted home a bit better is an opportunity I won't pass up. Having countryside access is key to my well being, both mentally and physically, and I love going through such a historic area of pilgrimages and drover roads, watching for birds and badgers and other twee English countryside critters.
The trail starts in Farnham, a quick 35 minute train ride out of Victoria Station. So the journey begins.
I wandered around in circles for a bit looking for the trail head, which didn't seem to have a clear official start spot. I think I found it though....
I really. Just don't. Even.
Judy Chicago would be very proud at this artistic rendition of pudendum on a bench. This is borderline pornographic! I giggled and spent far too much time admiring the artistic handiwork. I was able to capture the most awkward trailhead selfie ever:
A trail that starts off with that- it's got to be quality.
The trail follows an A road for a bit, winding its way through farm fields and along country roads. It wasn't all that exciting, but it was a nice countryside walk.
I did end up walking alongside two busy golf courses on this day. Comforting, no?
Oh! and while I packed a lunch, there were plenty of brambles to pick clean.
The joy of all of this was that I saw few people. A handful of dog walkers here and there, but only two other people walking the North Downs Way, and only one was a through hiker. I think this is probably the most used but least through-hiked national trail. It's just not that exciting for people to commit a couple weeks of their lives to.
One of the things about the North Downs is that a great deal of the trail is woods. Unlike the South Downs where you are exposed most of the time, you can walk through quiet forest and have a little shelter and shade. It also dampers the noise of the A31 road quite nicely.
Finally, Downland! You can see the Hog's Back, a big distinctive chalk hill that the A road goes right over and along the ridge.
However, most of this part of the NDW is also labeled "The Pilgrims Way", which is the route taken from Winchester to Canterbury Cathedrals to visit the shrine to Thomas Becket. The actual route the Pilgrims took is debatable, but they do occasionally find artifacts lost and forgotten by pilgrims of yore all along this area.
The rest of the day- well, I don't want to call any time spent outdoors walking in nice weather boring, but it wasn't exactly Switzerland. Even a roman site ended up being a let down- on my map it was identified as a "Roman Villa", but it ended up just being the "Site of" as they had build a road over it.
..Then back down to the River Wey, which had a series of lochs that people were chugging along in their flat-bottomed boats up. I love the idea of this- I see these all over the upper Thames, and pretty much every waterway big enough to float down. I would live in one of these if given the chance.