A picturesque countryside view on the North Downs Way

Matthew de Lange Trail Warden Walk Diary

4th November 2016

Walk Diary by Matthew de Lange

Matthew (right in pic.) lives in Blackheath in South East London and contacted us last year to see if he could get more involved in the trail. After some basic training Matthew has surveyed and reported on a section of trail around the Otford area. More recently Matthew decided he wanted to explore the entire trail with friends and family. Below are the early diary entries from Matthew. Aside from this Matthew has also provided me with a detailed report on the condition of each section of trail so we can put plans in place to make improvements along the way. 

At the time of publishing Matthew is on his final sections of the trail having reached Dover this week and hopes to complete the Canterbury loop in the coming weeks.

In this first installation Matthew describes the early stages of his walk from Farnham through Guildford to the foot of Box Hill. 

Day 1     Monday 19 September

How splendid to start this venture with Steve Davie, my walking mate from the Pennine Way and Machu Picchu. The weather was dry and mild and our biggest challenge of the day turned out to be how to pay at the Farnham station carpark. But once we'd mastered that, all went swimmingly. Near the start is the splendid orchid-backed North Downs Way bench but the highlight of this day was a vast field of ripe pumpkins waiting for Halloween. The end of this gentle start to the venture was the pretty village of Puttenham and a drink at the appropriately named Good Intent

Day 2

Heading east from Puttenham, now walking alone, I am confused by a Santa Claus Christmas decoration (early or late?),  but not by the profusion of finger posts pointing the way - so many that there is a point  where one finger point post is actually pointing directly at another.  This stretch is heavily wooded but not without charm and interest. So peaceful that I was actually quite startled by the two huge crosses which suddenly loom over the path - put there to mark the Pilgrims Way.

Dropping down to Watts Gallery I think I will take up the guidebook's (North Downs Way by Colin Saunders) recommendation of a visit as it is free. But Saunders is wrong on this one - it is £9.50 and I press on.  I enjoy passing Ye Olde Ship Inn with an unlikely sign saying that "The Valley is looking for reliable staff" - as a follower of Charlton FC I can but agree!  Hard by this are the remains of Saint Catherine's Chapel on a hill. Well worth a diversion not least for the reproduction of a lovely and unusual Turner painting of the site. The guidebook here points out that there is a steep path down from Saint Catherine's chapel which is not recommended and that you should instead return to the main path. Naturally I ignore the advice. Unlike the art gallery admission the guidebook is not wrong on this! It is an extremely steep descent on slippery sandy rock which for added amusement is plainly the nest of many thousands of wasps coming and going around your feet as you descend. But when I look up from my wasp threatened feet at the bottom, I am rewarded with a glorious sight of the Godalming navigation canal, a gorgeous tranquil spot.

Passing briefly through the southern reaches of Guildford I am soon huffing and puffing up Saint Martha’s Hill to reach St Martha's-on-the-hill. The name doesn't lie.  Simply awesome location with amazing views. According to the guidebook, in the Second World War the church, which is so prominent, was disguised as a clump of trees to avoid it being bombed. Did the Germans really target country churches?

Shortly after this came the more modern, if disconcerting, sight of a young woman on horseback ignoring the horse and all around her as she texted. Safer than while you're driving, I guess. The second half of today's walk has many wonderful views of the Downs not least where I end for the day at Newlands Corner,  the site 90 years ago of Agatha Christie's staged disappearance.

Having arrived at Newlands Corner I actually had to get back to Puttenham where I had left my car. This involved fairly complicated walking down to Chilworth station and then another walk from Wanborough station to Puttenham at the other end.  I think this is a good moment for praise and a plug for the AZ map of the North Downs Way; this is an ordinance survey map which follows the whole length of the North Downs Way and because it shows you a fair distance on either side of the way is extremely helpful for finding accommodation or transport connections. Definitely a must have.

On day three I set out with another walking pal from Newlands Corner. The last time we walked together was on the Pennine Way (me briefly; he the whole length) and this was certainly much easier going. The way follows a flat and well-kept path through lovely woodlands (along the Canadian way where the Canadian forces trained before the Normandy landings)   before eventually emerging from the trees for a long stretch of stunning views.  I must confess I was a bit sceptical when I first saw the sign "Surrey Hills - area of outstanding natural beauty", but no question, this is one of the most glorious spots in Southern England and not to be missed.  Almost too soon we found ourselves descending towards Westhumble through a vast vineyard where we were passed by a land train of wine tourists sipping their champagne and enjoying the autumn sunshine slanting across the hills.

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