I’ve got a bit lazy recently, part of a cycle of binge exercise followed by nothing for a week or more, and bored with the really local walks, thought it was time for a walk on the North Downs. So that’s what I did.
Looking back at my calendar, and my Social Hiking maps, it turned out the last time I did such a walk on the Downs was March last year, and so I was well overdue. Given the passage of time, I felt I’d be happy with treading some familiar paths, with no need to explore into less well-trodden areas.
Having failed to park in Cobham which was, not surprisingly, a bit swamped, I headed back to nearer the A2 to Ashenbank Wood, adding a mile each way to my walk, but making parking a lot more straightforward.
Parking the car and stepping into the trees felt a bit weird – this was the first walk since February that hasn’t been done from the front door – but the calm of the wood soon worked its magic.
A few people about, some tentative shuffling about when we met, but otherwise ok. People standing aside on narrow sections, or waiting at the end (mostly).
Back in Cobham and it was teeming with cyclists. I was glad for the relative quiet of the track out to the Darnley Mausoleum. On arrival, for good measure, I walked around the back of the structure itself to ensure I bagged the top of Williams Hill.
I was itching to escape this relatively busy space though, and continued east to join the path that would lead me deeper into the Downs. I emerged from the woods at the edge of the field of extremes: it’s either winter and heavily ploughed up so you double the weight of your footwear with accumulated mud, or it’s summer and it’s delightful. There is no middle ground in this field, at least not when I visit. I think it’s pretty obvious what today was.
It was so nice that there were people right in the middle doing closeup photographs of their offspring among the poppies. Which was quite irritating for capturing the full splendour of the field. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it quite so magnificent.
The next field offered a sweeping vista too, although without the red. This is classic North Downs.
Across the railway lies Upper Bush. Nuff said.
The bush valley itself seems to have recently been planted with a mesmerising array of green plastic tubes protecting whatever the crop is. It looks a lot less desolate than normal as a result.
It’s always nice to climb out of the valley and join the top of the escarpment. Here lies an extensive forest. More classic North Downs.
The clearings were looking suitably unkempt, especially “Slug Meadow”. I decided to take a break in the Cherry Garden though.
I was making decent time, and better still, my feet were doing quite well. I’d decided to forego my usual Mids and try some lower cut trail shoes – specifically the ones I used for running, a pair of Salomon XA Pro 3Ds.
I felt none of the problems that have plagued the last 3 years, so maybe I’m on the mend and can wear low cut shoes again.
I felt I had enough in me to head for Holly Hill, so did.
This was as far as I’d realistically hoped to get, and moreover, I’d done the longer part of the walk. Now I just had to get back in a much straighter fashion to Cobham. The key to this is the Bowling Alley – another stretch of big open, and sloping fields. Unfortunately, it looks like this has been planted since my last visit, and now resembles a juvenile orchard.
I topped out at the northern end of the field and looked down on Luddesdown. One more big pull uphill onto Henley Down and I’d broken the back of the walk. I stopped for tea on the Down as my feet were starting to hurt.
On my way again, there was the small matter of a field of “flea darts” to cross to get to the (newly replaced) bridge over the railway.
This was great but was disturbed by a chap coming up fast on me from behind. He surged past, guidebook in hand, but despite this I found myself in front of him by the simple expedient of knowing the path through the orchard, and he didn’t catch me again until we reached Cobham.
By now my feet were really feeling it and I was glad to pass through Cobham and the wood to arrive back at the car. A walk of 22.3km which I later worked out was the longest single day’s walk since the SWCP last July. I’m paying for it now though.