Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Downland Hills From Devil's Dyke

View From The Dyke
I have had a lot of different weather for my traditional birthday ramble and remember a few years back walking in shorts and short sleeves it was so warm.  This was a first though as this time 'Beast From The East II' seemed to come out of nowhere for my annual outing and I had to dress up on a bitterly cold day.  Eager to make the most of the small amount  of snow that there was around the only destination that really suited the day was up on the Downs.  I didn't want to travel too far from home so walk 20 from Pathfinder Guide volume 52 More Sussex Walks was the perfect one.

Edburton
As I approached the National Trust car park at the top of the Downs I realised that there was definitely a lot more snow up here.  The temperature was several degrees lower too and the biting wind promised to be quite a challenge for much of this walk.  A word of warning if you plan to park at the top of Devil's Dyke - if you are a National Trust member you will need your membership card with you to ensure that you can park for free.  You now have to show your card to the pay and display machine to get free parking - the sticker is not enough on its on.

Snowy Downs
The car park was very icy but thankfully there were enough spaces to enable me to find a safe slot in which to park. I made sure to avoid the worst of the icy patches as I didn't want to wind up having an accident before even starting!  I was very pleased that the wind was behind me setting off as I hoped that warmer temperatures later might help with lessening the gusts later on.  

March of the Pylons
I set off along the South Downs Way in what is traditionally the wrong direction for me. I have walked these paths many times but normally the crest of the Downs is an west to east walk for me.  My destination was Truleigh Hill, marked out by communication towers at the crest of the hill and a landmark for many miles around.  The view across from Devil's Dyke is one of those classic Sussex viewpoints that seem to be on most calendars or in pictoral guides of the County.  They rarely show the view in quite the way I saw it today though; with a covering of snow and leaden skies overhead threatening more to come.

Edburton Hill
One fortunate aspect to the withering temperatures was that  the underfoot conditions were very kind.  The hard ice ensure nice easy walking along the chalk ridge, with mud only appearing in very rare patches around gateways.  Being completely wrapped up against the cold wind helped me move along the ridge nice and quickly and I was at Truleigh Hill in less than an hour.  Along the way the wind teased and taunted the fallen snow, whipping it up from time to time and moving it around in much the same way that you might see on a sand dune system.  The last part of the walk to the crest of Truleigh Hill had seemingly not been walked by anyone as I had to negotiate some surprisingly deep drifts (past my knee) created by the wind.

Heading Up Truleigh Hill
As I approached the settled part of Truleigh Hill, a car approached. This was not a 4x4 but a humble Volkswagen Golf; the driver was clearly being quite brave trying his luck up here.  As soon as he left the main track though his luck ran out as the track he was attempting to access was surprisingly thick with snow.  It wasn't long before he was driving up behind me on his way back from what looked like a fruitless journey.  He was to be the last person I saw until I got back to Devil's Dyke later in the day.  Truleigh Hill must be an acquired taste as a place to live.  On a day like this it really is very bleak and I imagine winters would be very difficult on this windswept section of the Downs.  Yet clearly a number of people have decided that it is their own section of paradise for there are a surprising number of houses up here.

Spindrift
Just before heading downhill into the Adur Valley I turned left and followed a path through Freshcombe and Summersdean Farm.  There didn't seem to be much going on at the farm - probably wise on such a bleak day. Hopefully all the livestock were inside in the warm although I didn't see any evidence of any.

View From Truleigh Hill
Surprisingly as I descended from the crest of the Downs the snow thickness got greater.  The wind had clearly been at work here for the snow had been dumped here from all the fields around.  The natural hollow of the path seemed to be perfect for gathering snow and I went from admiring all the gathered snow clinging to branches and brambles alongside the path to really having trouble walking through it.  As I neared Thundersbarrow Hill the snow was so deep I had to abandon the path entirely and find a new route along the fence line where I was able to find ankle deep snow rather than waist deep.

Drifts
Thunders Barrow, the long barrow after which the hill is named was almost invisible under the snow.  I took a path over the crest of the hill and immediately the sweep of the coast to Brighton and beyond became evident.  This must be a very different sight on a summer's evening.  For now it was very difficult to look at the view for any length of time for I had now turned into the direction of the wind a little more and I needed my hood to obscure the wind and hence the view.

Footprints
Shortly after the crest of Thundersbarrow Hill the waist deep snow turned to boggy mud and the descent towards Southwick Hill was a fairly unpleasant stretch of walking.  I've often thought this stretch of the Downs to be quite bleak - the intensive farming hasn't really done the scenery any favours.  The path soon descended through puddle strewn and muddy sections - a far cry from the snowy conditions further up the Downs.

Contours
When I reached Southwick Tunnel (signalled by the traffic noises from below rather then seeing the tunnel itself), the path took an immediate sharp left hand turn to start the third side of what is essentially a triangular route.  The track down behind Mile Oak Farm was a lot friendlier as it was devoid of mud and puddles and even had the descency to go along a fenced off section off to the side of a heavily waterlogged part of the field that it crossed.  I was now at the lowest point on the walk and my onward route was very much uphill.

Puddles
I needn't have worried about the gradient - the first stretch was nice and easy going with a solid track and a gentle slope. I actually managed this part a lot more quickly than I imagined.  As I climbed the snowy conditions soon came back and it wasn't long before I entered a completely white world again.  I turned left at the end of the track to head uphill on a very straight track almost completely obliterated by snow. 

Heading Back to the Top
The guidebook describes the next part as tedious but it was anything but on this snowy day. The drift across the path got deeper and deeper and I had to thank the bizarre decision by a horse rider taking his/ her steed up here for I needed all the foot holes created by the horse to make my way up the path.  The going here was very difficult indeed and I was very thankful to get to the gate that enabled me to escape to a nearby field.  Somewhere off to the left here is the mediaeval village of Perching but the remains were well and truly hidden today.  My archaeology would have to wait for another day.

Snowy Dyke
I crossed the 'lovely grassy path' as the guidebook describes it.  I assume the grass was there although I didn't really see it as the snow completely covered every blade.  It was quite a relief to get to the top of the ridge once again and once there I started seeing people again. Clearly there were plenty of people willing to have a little outing in the snow - just no-one mad enough to undertake a full scale hike like me!  No matter - I felt full of life by the time I returned.  The dose of cold air really did me a lot of good and I retraced my steps along the short stretch back to my car feeling very satisfied with my day.

Monday, 5 March 2018

South West Coast Path Section 41 Erme Mouth to Bigbury-on-Sea

Burgh Island
When I planned this section it was in the knowledge that there is virtually no public transport in this area and a loop was on the cards, taking in the villages of Kingston and Ringmore.  However, I didn't think for a minute that I would be completing the route in February and conditions on the ground weren't really conducive to completing a loop through muddy farmer's fields.  I instead opted to complete the section as more or less an out and back from Bigbury-on-Sea.  It was a little messy doing it this way but as a result I found myself going the opposite way along the coast path, something I have not yet done!

Sea Tractor
Parking at Bigbury is quite an expensive proposition so be sure to have plenty of coinage with you when you go.  I struck lucky as on my arrival a car was pulling out of one of the few free spaces at the bottom of the hill that leads into the village.  I quickly clocked that the tide was out and before I started my main walk I decided to take advantage by walking across the beach to Burgh Island.  This rather unusual island is linked to the mainland at low tide - when the sea is in the only way across is via a specially adapted 'sea tractor'.  The island was a bolthole for the rich and famous back in the 1930s when an art deco hotel was built to cater for the demand.  Even now it has an air of exclusivity about it.  The island served as inspiration for two Agatha Christie stories; as Soldier Island in 'And Then There Were None' and also for the Hercule Poirot novel 'Evil Under The Sun'.

The Pilchard Inn
I walked across the sand taking care to avoid the cars going backwards and forwards from the hotel.  I imagine arriving and leaving is both more adventurous and problematic at high tide!  Once on the island proper I walked up the modest slope to the former chapel at the top.  After it fell into disuse as a chapel it became a huer's hut where fishermen would keep a look out for pilchards shoaling and raise the 'hue'.  The view from up here was certainly magnificent and I lingered here for a while.  In fact it was while up here that I hatched the plan for the day's walking, having seen the terrain and opportunities available to me.  It looked like the tide was still going out, something I hadn't quite appreciated when I rushed over here.  

Avon Estuary
I walked back to Bigbury-on-Sea and availed myself of the welcome beach cafe before heading out up Folly Hill. I rather hoped I would see a folly but sadly did not.  The path was a little sticky but crucially went up the side of a field alongside the road so I didn't have to worry about dodging the traffic.  At the top I took one look at the farm track that I had previously thought would be my onward route and decided that I had made the best choice by taking the official path instead down to the ferry dock that would take me across the River Avon if I were here in the summer.  The path passed through Mount Folly Farm, owned by the National Trust and worked on organic principles.  I weathered the very barky dog and pushed on to the most magnificent viewpoint that looked down on Burgh Island, the Avon estuary and the coast eastwards towards Salcombe.

Boathouse
The path down to the estuary was a little tricky in places and as I walked down I realised that it would not be necessary to retrace my steps back up this steep path, courtesy of the low tide.  Instead when I got to the bottom I decided to head round to Bigbury-on-Sea by walking around the exposed sand alongside the river.  This proved to be an enjoyable and satisfying way of closing this section of the loop.   By the time I got round the the Beach Cafe again I decided that a hot drink was in order before tackling the main course of today's walk.

Challaborough
My first task was to get around to the neighbouring settlement of Challaborough.  This looks like a village on the mp but is actually a large caravan park and rather a brutal looking one not really sympathetic to its surroundings.  The path around from Bigbury looks like it was once a road but one which has suffered from too much erosion to make it viable.  The tarmac surface was still there even though it was a lot narrower that any road would be.

Challaborough
I passed by the rather bleak looking caravan site and the associated service buildings, including the pub and a couple of shops.  They really looked uninviting on this cold February day; I hope they are rather better when there are plenty of people about in the warmer months.  This was actually the last settlement I saw on this stretch of coast.  I was soon climbing to the top of the first headland and was pleased to see that the underfoot conditions weren't too bad.  Any notion of a stretch of high ground to walk along before the next drop into a hidden beach were soon scotched - almost immediately from the climb I was back down almost to sea level.  As I descended I could see that there were at least 3 more climbs to go.  I must admit though they didn't look too bad and I found them a lot easier in the colder weather!

Ayrmer Cove
The first cove I dropped into was Ayrmer Cove and this probably had the best beach of all of them.  Not many people enjoying it today though - just a couple of people with their dog.  It was straight up the other side via a short but stiff climb and then almost straight down again.  The climbs were perhaps a little more modest than other stretches I have done but there was almost no time to settle before the next ascent or descent.  The next beach was Westcombe Beach and by now I had left other walkers behind me now that I had strayed a lot further from the nearest parking areas.

Viewpoint
At Westcombe Beach I saw a small and curious looking building.  It looked like a cross between a public toilet and a milking parlour. I wonder what it was used for?  The next climb was the stiffest of the lot and  took it slowly and methodically before finding a very welcome bench at the top of the slope.  This was clearly someone's favourite spot for the viewpoint was quite wonderful and definitely a good place to linger.  This was the last major climb of this direction - I of course knew that I had it all to do again  on the way back!

Heading Into The Erme Estuary
There was one more down then up but fortunately I didn't have to head all the way down to sea level.  This time it was only a bit of an undulation but quite a sticky climb as somewhere in the bottom was a stream that had fanned out to form a marshy area.  As I looked back I quickly got the sense I was being followed by someone rather quicker than me.  I never like that to be honest - I never know whether to wait for them to go by or try to speed up.  In this case I didn't do either - he soon caught me up anyway!  Actually he seemed like a nice chap and passed the time of day with me as he passed me at The Beacon.
View From The Beacon

It was at this point that I also turned direction to head into the Erme Estuary.  It was a gentle descent down to the beach and I could see how it would be possible to ford the river in order to cross it.  I was glad I didn't need to do it today though as I had missed the window of opportunity; the tide was now too high.  It was a pretty popular spot though with the sands surrounding the river full of dog walkers and people otherwise exploring the beach.  I lingered for a while enjoying the scene before summoning up the energy to head back in the normal direction for my walk.

Erme Estuary
It felt more customary to have the sea on my right hand side.  My return walk was largely without incident and although I was retracing my steps it didn't actually feel too bad going over the same ground once again.  If anything it was easier knowing how to pace myself for the climbs that I knew would surely come.  This time I think it was the last one that got me the most but that was as much about the underfoot conditions as the steepness of the climb.  All the way back I became fascinated by the sight of the tractor going backwards and forwards across the now underwater sandbar between Burgh Island and the mainland.  I was rather amazed by the level of demand!

Heading Back
All too soon I was back at Bigbury-on-Sea feeling satisfied in spite of the unusual way I had to tackle the section.  I even managed to stay mostly mud free - a minor miracle in itself!  The section is picturesque and the visit to Burgh Island fascinating.  Next time I might go the whole hog and stay in the hotel over there - not sure I would want to be hiking though...


Closing Causeway

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

South West Coast Path Section 40 Noss Mayo to Mothecombe

Noss Mayo
I am on a mission this year to try and complete this walk as the end is now in sight and when I started I promised myself that I would attempt completion in 12 years.  This is year 12 so I have to get a wriggle on!  Surprisingly given the proximity of this walk to Plymouth I never actually managed to complete this section during the two years that I lived there.  In fact I never even managed to visit this stretch of coast at all, largely because without a car it is nigh on impossible to reach.  There are a handful of buses from Plymouth, but only the one at 9.20am stops at Mothecombe in order to enable an end to end walk.  I am writing this one out of sequence to the order that I did the walks on the weekend trip I managed principally because it is a more logical order.  I was anxious to close this 20 mile gap; the only one between Falmouth and Lulworth.  I almost made it but not quite as I shall explain later.

Damp Start
The day didn't start very promisingly.  The fair weather and sunny spells promised seemed like a very distant prospect at around 8.30am when I parked the car at the old school house in Mothecombe.  This car park is pretty convenient for the coast path but be warned that it is nearly a mile back up the road to the bus stop so give yourself plenty of time if you want to do this arrangement.  As I trudged up the road the heavens opened and I got a good drenching. I re-checked the weather forecast and the Met Office insisted that the clouds would part and there would be some sunshine later.  Keep the faith time, although the lengthy wait for the bus kept me doubting.  I was thankful for the empty red telephone box close to the unmarked bus stop.  Apparently there has been no phone here since 2009 and although BT had kindly placed an invitation to take over the box for £1 seemingly no-one had taken up the offer.

Out of Season
I was pleased to see the bus arrive just as the rain stopped.  Not surprisingly I was the only passenger (I cannot imagine much demand for this little hamlet on a wet Saturday morning).  I was treated to a white knuckle ride through the lanes of this corner of Devon, culminating in a tight squeeze down the lane to the final stop on the route caused by a couple of builders' vans that condensed the already tight road space.  

Looking Down Into The Sound
Once free from the bus I walked the short distance down to the quay and then along Passage Road.  During the time I had been on the bus the clouds had cleared away and now the sun shone very brightly.  I was encouraged by the sudden change of weather and reasonably confident that it would last.  The whole air of the village was one of tranquillity - I'm not sure that a lot of people had yet stirred.  The water of Newton Creek was pretty still and the clusters of houses on all sides reflected in the mirror like conditions.

Yealm Pool
As I headed out of the village I realised that despite the promise of mud further along the walk coming at this time of year does have its compensations.  The lack of foliage on the trees allowed for great views of the creek and later the River Yealm.  I really enjoyed the tranquillity of this stretch and was really lucky that no-one else was around to shatter the peace.  The houses alongside the Yealm eventually ran out and for a short while I was alone in the woods with only birdsong for company.  For a brief moment where the angle was just right I caught sight of the breakwater in Plymouth Sound - it didn't really seem any further away than it had been on the last stretch of the walk, completed as long ago as 2010.

Yealm Pool
The walk through the woods climbed slowly to meet a track that led to the surprisingly big Battery Cottage.  I expected a small building given its name but it looked more like the original battery had long since been subsumed by quite a large house.  The path looped around it and views opened up across Plymouth Sound.  Clearly the person living in the house has done well with the view.

Battery Cottage
At the end of the loop around the house I went through a gate and it immediately became obvious that the path's character had changed.  I had begun a lengthy association with Revelstoke Drive, a nine-mile carriage route built in the 1880s by Edward Baring, boss of Baring's Bank and the first Lord Revelstoke.  He seemingly spared no expense on the route which allowed him to tour his estate easily.  Initially I welcomed the level track though the mud wasn't great through Brakehill Plantation.

Battery Cottage View
When I left the trees and swung round to get a better view of Plymouth Sound I was in my element.  The rainy start to the day seemed a long way away now and there was some warmth in the sun, helped immensely by the reflection off the sea.  There were more people about now and this is clearly a very popular route.  I sat down for a short while on a very welcome bench so that I could let a very large group of what looked like foreign students go by.  I also passed by a large family group with a number of very small walkers enjoying the sloppy muddy conditions in their wellington boots.  Some of the underfoot conditions were truly atrocious and although the air conditions were superb the walk was rather less enjoyable than it should have been because of the mud.

Revelstoke Drive
I eventually passed by Warren Cottage, the first house I had seen for some time.  It was originally built for the Warrener of the estate but soon became a summer house and Baring once entertained the future Edward VII here.  The path then looped around a headland before resuming a straighter course.  The foreign students headed off towards a nearby car park and I was left alone again.  I could immediately see why no-one appeared to be going in this direction as the path was quite a swamp for a while.

Blackstone Point
Ahead was the lookout of Gunrow Signal Station and I climbed up from the path to take a closer look at it.  For a structure that is more than 200 years old it is in pretty good shape.  Initially I thought it was a shepherd's cottage before learning of its true purpose, which of course made a lot more sense!  The path continued around the coast and was a pleasure to walk until I got to Stoke Down where I left the National Trust land and entered a wood.  This was probably the worst mud yet - progress was painfully slow and almost impossible in certain sections.  It took nearly half an hour to walk just half a mile and so when I reached the road down into the caravan site above Stoke Beach I decided to go and look at St Peter's Church just so that I could leave the mud behind for a bit.  I didn't even care that the climb down to the church would have to be retraced afterwards.
Warren Cottage

St Peter's Church is a rather sad sight although it would have been far worse if a group of volunteers hadn't stepped in to look after it in the late 1960s after almost a century of dereliction.  Now it is clean and tidy although most of the windows are gone or filled in and the roof has disappeared.  Ultimately its remote location was the death knell to the old place - parishioners really didn't want to come all the way here from Noss Mayo and a new church was built nearer to where the people lived.

Gunrow Signal Station
Having enjoyed my look around the old place I trudged back up the hill, luxuriating in the tarmac for a while.  I became aware of a small boy passing me half way up the hill and he very excitedly showed my a lizard that he had managed to catch.  The poor sleepy looking creature had probably thought that spring had arrived when the sun came out and the hapless creature was now in the sweaty mitts of a young boy eager to show his Dad his prize.
St Peter the Poor Fisherman

I was soon back on the Revelstoke Drive for the last section and thankfully the mud was a bit less severe now.  I got a good look back across the caravan park and although I don't much care for them I did have to admit that this one was more sympathetic to its surroundings than some others I have seen on this walk.  At Beacon Hill the Drive abruptly turned inland to complete its loop to Noss Mayo.  My route instead took a sharp descent as I continued to hug the coast.  The prospect of staying upright on the way down seemed fairly remote and I clung to the fence for dear life as I gingerly made my way down the hill.  A little way down and in a rare moment of being sociable I got chatting to a couple from Kent walking the SWCP in the opposite direction to me.  I wasn't sure whether going up the hill was easier than going down here - it certainly looked tougher in the opposite direction.
Saddle Rock

From Beacon Hill the path took a much more traditional rollercoaster type route.  I was thankful for getting down the slope in one piece and even more thankful for a short stretch of level path straight after.  As I climbed slowly through the newly flowering gorse I began to think that this stretch of path wasn't going to be as bad as the Revelstoke Drive as far as mud was concerned.  Sadly I was wrong as I soon came upon a mud bath at the bottom of the next downward slope.  I did my best here but I ended up having my inevitable accident as I slithered over and landed on my posterior.  I struggled to get up and cursed as I managed to use the fence to right myself.  I picked my way gingerly through the rest of the mud and down across a slushy valley.

Battisborough House
Ahead was the aptly named Saddle Rock, positively gleaming in the February sunshine.  It was this clear air and fantastic conditions that kept me sane in between mud baths.  What followed was a relatively easy stretch of path and the sight of the Erme Estuary came into view.  Just as I thought it would be a serene end to the walk one of those stings in the tail that the SWCP is so good at came upon me.  This was a sharp descent into Bugle Hole and then a sharp climb back up the other side.  As I cross this valley I wondered whether my progress was being checked by eyes from nearby Battisborough House.  This looked like a wonderful pile and certainly suited its surroundings.

Erme Estuary
Once at the top of this hill I did have easy progress once again until the final descent onto Meadowsfoot Beach.  I managed to get down without any mishaps in spite of the tricky conditions once again.  At the bottom I passed a family coming up that really didn't look like they were enjoying their day apart from the little boy with them who seemed to want dribble his football up the hill.

Owen's Hill
I descended to a surprisingly busy beach, full of dog walkers and families enjoying the sunshine and the sand.  It looked like the tide was coming in quite quickly and I thought better of going round the beach to the road up to Mothecombe House.  I instead climbed over Owen's Hill and then took the surprisingly steep road up to the old school house.  I hadn't realised what a popular spot this would be - it was heaving with people.  A very welcome cuppa at the end of the day's walking improved my mood considerably.  This was a testing section at this time of year although I reckon it would be a lot easier going after a period of dry weather.  I imagine the Revelstoke Drive in particular would be a joy to walk on a summer's evening.

Meadowsfoot Beach

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Reigate and Colley Hills

Colley Hill
Our first outing of 2018 and a rare Sunday with good weather.  We had to choose carefully as the wet weather has made many local places either unwalkable or at least unenjoyable because of the mud.  It was a nice short one to cut our teeth on post Christmas and with a modest climb at the end to get our pulses racing a little.  It is walk 2 in volume 65 of the Pathfinder Guide Surrey Walks (also appears as walk 4 in volume 24 Surrey and Sussex Walks).

Reigate Hill
We just about managed to park in the car park at the top of Reigate Hill - it seems as if a big chunk of Surrey had similar ideas to us.  A little patience was required and we got lucky when someone pulled out just as we were about to give up.  One of the big attractions of this car park is that the National Trust have set up a refreshment booth here - a most welcome facility at the beginning or end of any walk.

Reasonably Clean
The first part of this walk is along the North Downs Way although in an unfamiliar direction to me as we headed west (for some reason I always think that downland walks should be W-E).  It promised to be reasonably dry walking and largely delivered apart from a couple of mucky gateways.  The start didn't bode well as the bridge over the A217 was probably the muddiest part of all!  Luckily once we had negotiated that we had no further problems.

Reigate Fort
Not far past the road bridge we passed by Reigate Fort.  This is a surprisingly new installation, not being built for Napoleonic times as I first thought but in the last decade of the 1800s, during a lesser known period of mistrust between Britain and France.  It was one of a dozen similar forts built along the North Downs to act as a strategic defence of London.  This one has been restored in recent years and interpretive boards installed to tell the story of the place.  The girls were anxious to move on so we didn't look around on this occasion - maybe next time.

Crash Memorial
Our onward route took us through tracts of woodland with only occasional views south.  One of the clearings had quite a poignant reason as it was created by an aeroplane crash during World War 2.  All 9 crew on the Flying Fortress were killed on their return towards Northamptonshire from their mission in Germany.  The crash is now commemorated by two replica wingtips placed at the exact distance apart that the real aircraft would have had.

Pillbox
Further on through the woods and a further reminder of the war came into a view - a pretty substantial pillbox.  I remember from walking this stretch of the North Downs Way a few years ago that pillboxes are quite thick on the ground in this part of Surrey.  Not much further and we came to the most recognisable landmark on the route - the pavilion erected at the top of Colley Hill.  This was originally built asa drinking fountain and bears the inscription "Presented to the Corporation of the Borough of Reigate for the benefit of the Public by Lieutenant-Colonel Robert William Inglis in 1909". It certainly makes for a wonderful viewpoint both along the crest of the North Downs towards Boxhill and beyond but also across the Weald to Leith Hill and the Greensand ridge to the south.  We could also see the planes taking off and landing at Gatwick beyond Reigate.

Colley Hill Pavilion
At the end of this nice open stretch of the Downs we passed by a huge water tower.  I'm guessing by the design that it was built in the 1930s - sure nothing would be built that ornate any longer.  We also passed by an old coal tax marker - I remember this being wonky when I passed by about 12 years ago.  Nothing has changed on that front!  We then had to negotiate our way around the back of some houses before our stint on the top of the Downs came to an end for this walk.

Tree Skeleton
One of the things I have always found surprising about the North Downs versus its southern equivalent is the number of houses that are built on the crest of the hill.  There are a number along this stretch of the North Downs. I guess they take advantage of the sunny aspect and the fact that they are never likely to have anything else built in the way.  For a walker though it is a little dispiriting as for quite long stretches all you get to see is back fences and parts of buildings (most of them are quite protective of their privacy as well).  

Water Tower
Having negotiated this last house we took the path down the steep slope almost to the very bottom.  We had to watch our step as it was pretty slick.  At the bottom we took a sharp left an took the parallel path along the foot of the scarp slope.  For the most part this was through woods as well and views outwards were at a premium even with all the leaves gone from the trees.  We did get the odd view up the slope and this demonstrated what a steep climb it was likely to be at the other end of the walk.

Wonky Post
At the bottom of Colley Hill we passed by the remains of Hearthstone Mine.  Hearthstone was a form of greensand that was very popular as a cleaning product back in Victorian times.  The mine was unusual in that it also had a processing works on site as well although you would be very hard pressed to find much evidence of it now other than a few earthworks.  Some of the buildings were destroyed by a V1 Doodlebug bomb in World War II.  The mine limped on after the war for a time but succumbed to the inevitable closure in 1961.  The mine entrance was then filled in by explosion.

Hearthstone Mine
Our onward route was pretty mucky in places and a couple of times we had to take avoiding action to miss the worst of the mud.  Eventually we  reached the bottom of Reigate Hill on the A217.  Just as we thought we might have to walk alongside the road an almost hidden path on the left took us up the hill away from the road.  This was definitely a sting in the tail but all the way up I think the thought of the hot drink and bacon roll from the refreshment kiosk kept us going. 

Reigate Hill
At the very top of the hill we were reunited with the North Downs Way and retraced our steps the short distance past the old fort once again to cross the main road and find the car park.  We had an enjoyable snack and drink and savoured the view across Reigate and beyond satisfied with our first outing of the year.  This isn't a difficult walk but a perfect winter outing when energy levels are generally low.


Colley Hill