Walk: Puttenham Common circular

21 January 2012

£11 buys me and the boy return train tickets to Farnham in west Surrey, a small town or red brick Georgian houses, topped by a modest bishop’s castle, ruined by a one way system.

A more arduous 6 mile cycle ride than we expected (via the ruins of Waverley Abbey) brought us to Puttenham Common, an area of rare heathland. Starting at the Tarn, a fishing pond surrounded by deciduous woods, climbing gently to open heathland next to an iron age fort with views across the valley to the Hog’s Back. Dry red sand. Heather. Gorse with yellow flowers. Along a section of the North Downs Way, a climb up a muddy track floored with sandstone cobbles. Then back within sight of Lutyens’ Lascombe Farm, round and back down to the Tarn.

Cycling back we passed through a wee village named The Sands and saw more English flags flying from flagpoles in 5 minutes than I’ve seen in the last 5 years. Also the first daffodils I’ve seen flowering, anywhere.

The General's Pond, Puttenham Common

The General's Pond, Puttenham Common

Walk: Reigate to Merstham via Colley Hill

14 January 2012

£8.50 gets me and my son by train to Reigate on a beautiful frosty morning. After half an hour pootling along the high street and round the mound of the ruined castle, we walk up the A217 to a nondescript turning into a muddy lane and embark on a 2 hour circular walk, at first along the bottom of the North Downs, through bare wintry woods, and skirting disused quarries, now overgrown and full of rich auburn leaves; then up a steep zigzag track to the top of the Downs, here called Colley Hill, stopping for a sandwich and the view.

The North Downs Way runs along the top here so we abandoned the circular walk and, instead of returning to Reigate, decided to follow the Way, walking 2 miles or so down through Gatton Park, past the lake, the private school, and the golf course, to Merstham, just as the sky turned pink with sunset, to catch the London train home. The whole day cold and crisp and beautiful.

Reigate to Merstham

Path at the foot of Colley Hill

Path at the foot of Colley Hill

Walk: St Leonard’s Forest

8 January 2012

£15 buys me a return ticket to Horsham where I discover the High Weald Landscape Trail starts on the actual train platform, a waymarked trail which runs 90 miles to Rye in Kent. But I’ve come to do the first of 28 walks in the Jerrold book of walks in Surrey and Sussex, 4 miles round St Leonard’s Forest starting at Roosthole. The sky is a deep soft winter blue, criss-crossed by distant vapour trails, the woods are thronged with slender silver birch saplings, or are deep lanes lined with muscular beech trees, or the path heads uphill among the Forestry Commission’s conifer plantations. Suddenly, downhill through the trees, appears another hammer pond, scores of them round here to drive 17th century iron works. The works have disappeared utterly. The ponds remain, quiet among the forest, keeping their secrets to themselves.

Surrey and Sussex Walks (Ordnance Survey Pathfinder Guides)

Beech trees near Roosthole, Sussex

Beech trees near Roosthole, Sussex

Walk: Haslemere to Sandhills

3 January 2012

50 minutes by train from Clapham Junction and you’re in Haslemere. Up the High Street, opposite the Olde Sweete Shoppe is a narrow alleyway between two stone buildings and a non-descript sign announces the start of the 108-mile Greensand Way, ending at Hamstreet in Kent .

Thirty minutes of back streets and increasingly muddy paths bring you to the edge of the Devil’s Punchbowl National Trust property, where you can stride through heather, bracken, ling and broom to the DP car park and cafe with its stunning views over one of the beauty spots of South England.

The GS way heads east to the splendid views of Gibbet Hill but I walked north along slowly declining and narrowing paths till I was trapped in a narrow gorge lined with sandy mud, eventually staggering out to the bridge over the DP stream, at which point I decided not to complete a circuit of the DP but pick up the GS Way, and walk across country to Brook and Sandhills.

Here, I sat in the sunshine on a bench on the tiny common admiring the wonderful view. Sandhills became an artists’ colony in the late Victorian period, led by the artist Helen Allingham and her chocolate box paintings of rural life. It still feels special, remote and the view from the bench on the small hillside was wonderful.

Late afternoon sunlight in Sandhills

The bench on Sandhills Common

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