Monday, 27 April 2015

Balcombe Circuit

I went for a walk last weekend that is freshly titled at my "new favorite" outside of London.  I loved it so much, I'm thinking about doing it again very soon.  Care to join me?

On your way south out of London, tucked between the paralel hills of the North Downs and the towering South Downs, there is a valley called the Weald.  If you've ever flown in or out of Gatwick, you would have been there.  It's mostly pastoral farmland and encompasses parts of Sussex, Hampshire, Surrey and Kent.  I kind of discounting it at first- I had hiked the North and the South downs, how could a valley be interesting?  Except it was.  

I did a bit of research online, bought the OS map and created my own trail.  This isn't an official trail at all, but just a pretty circular walk around the village of Balcombe, a 45 minute train ride out of central London.

I was awfully worried about those clouds though.  This could be a miserable stormy day.

The first stop was around the small, secluded Balcombe lake.  It made me pause- one thing this part of England doesn't have too many of are lakes.  I can't even remember last time I saw one.  It was full of Great-Crested Grebes, one of my favorite water birds, with their eccentric plumage and energetic courtship displays.

The walk was just strikingly pretty, and there was an unusual amount of forest walking.  It was also much hillier than what I expected.

One thing I should have planned on visiting more was the Kew Gardens Millennial Seedbank and the National Trust Wakehurst Place.  The gardens were spectacular, and we stopped for tea and a sunny spot to have our lunch.   Peeking into the seedbank was fascinating- the vaults here contain thousands of seeds from around the world.

It was just all very  easy.  No road walking, and aside from around Wakehurst, no people at all.  It was a blazingly sunny warm spring day out, and we saw nothing but cows and sheep and some very cozy little cottages that I'd be pleased to live in.  Views of the South Downs and the birdsong in the forest was reaching deafening decibels.

The most thrilling thing was that the bluebells are out:

These lovely Hyacinthoides carpet the forest floors in springtime, creating a fairy-forest blanketed in purple.  It's spectacular to stumble upon a grove of them.  Last spring, we were a bit late to hike through the groves when they were peaked, but this year, I've been seeking them out.

We walked through a university campus and around Ardingly reservoir, where I may have gotten a bit more house envy.

The next landmark on the trail was the brick Ouse Valley viaduct, an enormous railway bridge that is still very much in use despite the fact it was built in 1841.  I counted 37 arches, but my eyes started going fuzzy mid-count, and dozens of trains sped across it in the time it took to walk past it.  

After more farmland to meander through and a last big hill to haul ass up- I counted six hills for the day.  While they weren't mountains or even downs, they really added up to burn a bit those last few miles.

Back in Balcombe, we had plenty of time to sprawl out at the pub with a pint and a G&T before our train sped us back to the city.  Coming back into London on a Saturday evening in hiking gear is always an adventure, as everyone else taking the train into London at that time are people "dressed up to get messed up" and chattering about what after-hours clubs to hit.  Meanwhile, I can only think about showering and bed, and hopefully a plate of food will materialize before I pass out from exhaustion.

14 miles behind us and a new favorite walk to add to my list of favorite walks.  A perfectly pastoral slice of Southern England, in easy reach of London.  

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