Talk of the Devil

For once the weather Gods were not smiling on members of the Longer Walks Group on their way to the Devil’s Punch Bowl along the Greensand Way. They set off from Witley station in light rain, which came and went throughout the day. However, as the previous day had been characterised by heavy rain, punctuated by torrential showers, they got off lightly! At least everyone seemed to be very cheerful, with one walker even describing the weather as ‘a pleasant change’. The walk followed the Greensand Way through the Surrey Hills to the small town of Haslemere, and to begin with the path undulated through woodland, with the tree canopy helping to keep the rain at bay. By noon they began to hear traffic noise, and this got louder and louder as they approached the busy A3 London to Portsmouth Road. Fortunately a convenient service tunnel allowed the Group to pass beneath the hurtling vehicles on their way into the village of Thursley.

The lunch stop was in Thursley churchyard, in the shadow of the small parish church, characterised by a small wooden shingled belfry and some surviving Anglo-Saxon features. Amongst the many headstones in this churchyard, is one remembering the ‘Unknown Sailor’, an anonymous seafarer murdered nearby in 1786. After lunch the route began to climb steadily along an ancient by-way, as the Grouo headed towards Hindhead Common and the summit of Gibbet Hill 150 metres above. ’Well, I wouldn’t want to be climbing this in full sun’, was one wise comment. We were now in the area where the ‘Unknown Sailor’ met his end. While walking back to his ship in Portsmouth and flush with cash, this unfortunate man was set upon and gruesomely murdered by three others, all of whom were swiftly apprehended and later executed on Gibbet Hill. This event clearly caught the imagination, as an account of it features in Dicken’s ‘Nicholas Nickleby’, written fifty years later. Our (thankfully) safer route across the Common, now took us around the rim of the Devil’s Punch Bowl, a large natural amphitheatre and beauty spot owned by the National Trust and now much more peaceful since the A3 was diverted through the Hindhead Tunnel in 2011. After a brief stop to avail ourselves of the facilities at the nearby NT tea-rooms, we began our descent towards Haslemere, skirting the delightfully named Polecat Valley, before entering the outskirts of the town and meeting up with the route of our July 2018 walk on the High Street.

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