Burnham on Crouch to North Fambridge
Up to press, we have been very fortunate with public transport on the days the group has been walking. Given the behaviour of the rail service today, it was time for payback! Suffice it to say that following three separate disruptions to the service, it took longer to get to and from the walk, than it did to complete the ten mile walk itself. Yet miraculously the group made it intact to Burnham on Crouch, where we set out along the northern bank of the river, following the Saltmarsh Coastal Path (SCP). Travelling westwards along the flood embankment, we did have to contend with a rather blustery headwind.
The Met Office claimed it was blowing at 25 knots, but it certainly didn’t feel like it. At least the wind kept the rain at bay as we walked through the boatyards and marinas, while enjoying fine views of Wallasea Island on the far side of the river. Next stop was Creeksea, where King Canute allegedly demonstrated a monarch’s inability to control the tides, before we reached ‘The Cliff’ – all 3 metres of it. Our route took us to Althorne passing Bridgemarsh Island on the way.
The island was once inhabited and contained a brickworks but is now barely visible at high tide. The SCP then passes Shortpole Reach and Longpole Reach with the Blue House Farm Nature Reserve on the inland side.Soon afterwards we reached North Fambridge Yacht Club and headed inland past the Ferry Boat Inn, originally on the water’s edge but now 200 yards away, it was closed for refurbishment. Pity that, a drink would have been welcome before braving the Greater Anglia rail service!
North Downs Way. 2: Westhumble to Guildford
Starting the second leg of the North Downs Way at Boxhill & Westhumble Station we followed the crest of the Downs west to Guildford. The route began by passing through Westhumble village but very quickly wound through woods up and onto a ridge overlooking extensive vineyards with Dorking in the distance. Our walk continued along this wooded ridge, providing extensive views over the Surrey countryside to the south.
After crossing Ranmore Common, we headed south-west past White Downs, Dunley Wood, and Hackhurst Downs before reaching Netley Heath where we stopped for our picnic lunch. Feeling well-rested, we continued on the well-marked North Downs Way route until we reached the visitor centre at Newlands Corner, for a welcome break. From here we followed the route of one of our 2018 walks, eventually climbing St Martha’s Hill to enjoy further glorious views to the south. The last leg saw us continue on the North Downs Way to meet the River Wey where we headed north to Guildford Station, stopping on the way for a richly deserved drink.
Greensand Way and Devil’s Punchbowl
For once the weather Gods were not smiling on the Longer Walks Group, as we 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, we got off lightly! At least everyone seemed to be very cheerful, with one walker even describing the weather as ‘a pleasant change’. Our walk today 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 we began to hear traffic noise, and this got louder and louder as we approached the busy A3 London to Portsmouth Road. Fortunately a convenient service tunnel allowed us to pass beneath the hurtling vehicles as we walked on into the village of Thursley.
With the rain temporarily halted, we stopped to eat lunch in Thursley churchyard, where we were able to admire 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 our route began to climb steadily along an ancient by-way, as we 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.
North Downs Way 1 (Farnham to Guildford)
A merry band of walkers headed off from Farnham station for the first section of the North Downs Way National Trail. The Thursday long walk luck held, as despite the gloomy weather forecast, the day was pleasantly warm, and, more importantly after heavy overnight rain- dry. The walk started on a busy road near the station, but soon we were heading down a grassy track and enjoying the peaceful sounds of birds calling. Somehow, in our enthusiasm for the walk, we missed the beautifully ornately carved North Downs Seat which marks the start of the path, but we did, however, find the “Fairy Tree” which someone once decided looked like it had a door in it and so went to the trouble of decorating it accordingly.
Upon reaching a lovely green valley, offering magnificent views of the Hog’s Back to the north, we decided it was the perfect spot to stop for our picnic lunches. (By the way, and in case you are wondering, the name “Hog’s Back” seems to have several explanations. The Hog’s Back pub believes it is because it simply looks like a hog’s back. The NDW guide believes it is because the A31 ‘hogs’ most of the North Downs ridge. Others say it is because in geology and geomorphology the term ‘hog’s back’ is used to denote a long, narrow ridge with a narrow crest and steep slopes of nearly equal inclination on both flanks. You choose!).
After lunch, we immediately entered Totford Wood, which with its glorious bluebells and vibrant greens, was a highlight of the walk for many. Next came the village of Puttenham, where dedicated walkers as we all are, we resisted the offer of a refreshment stop at the Good Intent. Instead, we continued on our route to reach two bridges adorned with large wooden crosses, marking the Pilgrim’s Way path. After passing the Watts Gallery and following a long sandy path, we reached the River Wey, where we turned north towards Guildford city centre. It was time for the train home, but not before a short stop to toast a wonderful walk and a successful start to our North Downs Way journey.
A lovely, scenic walk through the Kent countryside, which began and ended at Sevenoaks and took in two historic National Trust properties, Knole House and Ightham Mote. After a short walk through Sevenoaks town centre, our route crossed Knole Park before heading off through typical Kent countryside to the village of Godden Green. The walk continued past oast houses, through orchards and into more woodland before descending to Ightham Mote (a Tudor moated manor house), where we stopped for lunch. At Ightham Mote we joined the Greensand Way, which follows the crest of the Greensand Ridge and provided superb views south across the Weald as we headed back to Knole Park. Finally as we continued through the deer park, we got a closer look at Knole House before heading back into Sevenoaks and on to the station.
It felt like spring had finally arrived as we assembled outside Hemel Hempstead railway station. It was quite warm when standing directly in the sun, birds could be heard trilling away, the grass on the water meadows had been cut and one or two of our group were complaining about the onset of hay fever! Immediately after leaving Hemel Hempstead station we joined the Chiltern Way, and followed it to the south-west towards the village of Bovingdon. From here the route turned due south, and after a stretch along Holly Hedges Lane entered Woodman’s Wood. By now we were almost two hours in and thoughts were turning to lunch which thankfully was not too far away. We had gradually turned to face east and soon after entering Chipperfield Common, arrived at our planned lunch stop at The Windmill. Describing itself as ‘a traditional village pub’, it certainly lived up to that description, providing a warm welcome along with our food and drink. Fully refreshed we crossed the common and joined the Hertfordshire Way, which entered pasture land after leaving the woods.
It was here we met our first herd of cattle of 2019! A group of very curious young animals that insisted on standing in front of the gate and barring our exit from their field. Fortunately our resident ‘cattle whisperer’ was able to cajole them into moving, but not before one or two of the group demonstrated their personal unease. Having passed our bovine challenge,
we continued through fields to cross the A41 and descended through the outskirts of Kings Langley to join the Grand Union Canal. Here we turned north and followed the canal towpath back to Hemel Hempstead and the train to London.
The days leading up our Knebworth Circular walk had been unseasonably warm, but the day of the walk itself was overcast and showery. Surely this change in the weather was not due to the fact that we were missing our companions (currently enjoying an antipodean adventure) who always seem to have the ability to summon up brilliant sunshine on walk days? This was a relatively undemanding walk along the footpaths and bridleways of the Hertfordshire countryside, starting from Knebworth station, circling an area around Knebworth House and ending at Stevenage. The first of the day’s showers arrived just as we arrived at our lunch stop, The Lytton Arms, next to early 19th century almshouses in the picturesque village of Old Knebworth. The pub – highly recommended for its speed and efficient on the evidence of this visit – has adorned its gentleman’s toilets with framed posters promoting the famous Knebworth rock concerts and this evoked a few memories of Status Quo and Queen and other luminaries of the 1970s. Our post lunch walk took us into Knebworth Park where we passed the Grade II* listed Knebworth House and the nearby Knebworth parish church with its flèche or “Hertfordshire spike”; then on through Graffidge Wood and farmland (where we were greeted by a pair of friendly pigs) to the village of Langley. At this point it started to rain quite heavily so we hurried through the business parks and gloomy underpasses of Stevenage to the station for a welcome cup of tea before the journey home. Once again, an impeccably arranged walk!
Photographs © Alison Miller and Julian Osley
Our first walk of 2019 started in Windsor on a cold and crisp morning, perfect for a brisk stroll. After crossing the Thames from Windsor Riverside Station, we followed the Thames Path westwards to Dorney Lake. The private property of Eton College, the ‘lake’ was used to host canoeing and rowing events in London 2012, and became the fourth Olympic venue ‘longer walks’ have visited. (The others are: Box Hill – cycling road race, Hadleigh – mountain biking and Stratford’s Copper Box – handball/fencing). Our way continued along the Thames, past the settlement of Bray on the opposite bank and beneath the roar of the M4, before we cut across farmland to reach the Jubilee River. Although the Jubilee is in fact a flood alleviation channel, it provided an attractive waterway to walk alongside, despite being on the borders of Slough! As lunchtime approached, we took a short detour from the river bank into the village of Dorney, and refreshments at The Palmer Arms. Suitably fortified we crossed a spinach field to return to the Jubilee River.
Turning to face east, we headed towards Eton, meeting as we did so a pack of friendly beagles, which we were informed were the ‘Eton Hounds’ by a very polite young man with a hunting horn around his neck, who appeared to be in charge of them. Arriving at the town, our final stretch took us south through the Eton College quarter, before we met the High Street and headed back to the end of the walk on Eton Bridge.
Photographs © Alison Miller and Julian Osley