Dorking. More or less the same time in the morning as the time I’d got to London Bridge. It had been a smooth ride down and I was on time for the longest day of the hike.
Trouble was, it was too early for the shops to be open for coffee and breakfast; and the only problem with the trip down had been trying out a coffee with a fancy name at Clapham Junction. My ignorance had led me into buying a uniquely favoured Italian cold coffee! Not what I wanted early in the morning. Never mind, there should be the right kind of place open on the southern edge of Dorking once I’d found my way through it.
Dorking was a hard town to get out of to the south on foot. Stane Street was absent in this area and there was no obvious alternative route but a plethora of places.
To begin with it was fun working through this with an OS map. Up a backstreet to another with a school on one side and high privet hedges on the other. Up past the school to a steep path past allotments up a hill to where another path meets the one I was on, on the edge of a wood. Head in a southerly direction through that pausing for a conversation with a lady out walking her dog at the back of some back gardens. Emerge from the wood with a morning view southwards into the Weald, down into a cul de sac past some firewood; odd to see that on this sunny soon to be hot morning. Lose the cul de sac by walking through another wood by a main road, come out at another cul de sac in a downmarket housing estate, go through that crossing a green and along a road until I can lose the housing estate by taking a subway under the main road to the edge of a playing field. Turn right along that and follow the path which eventually joins the main road then turn left at a roundabout into North Holmwood.
This was the southern edge of Dorking. It looked reasonably built up on the map and I hoped to find the right kind of place open there, but all I found was a sub post office where all I could buy were cold drinks for the day ahead and a Mars bar or 2. There was a seat for a break where the road veered to the right and a footpath kept on going across a green to a church. I headed into the woods beyond.
The woods of Holmwood went a long way to the south. If I walked through them down a track almost parallel but angled towards a main road I had to cross there was less chance of having to make my way along that road. Very nice walk too. I love the way sunlight highlights foliage throwing some of it into sharp shadow and other parts into glittering green detail. I felt privileged to be alive to see it. All was going according to plan.
Except that the noise of traffic to the right was growing louder and I felt that to be a bit early. Then I came out into a street with small houses, with the main road beyond. Better check the map.
I’d taken the wrong path across a clearing and this path angled into the main road at half the distance I was aiming for. Oh well, I had a long way to go and rather than lose time getting back on track I had to keep going.
I might as well cross this road – which was a dual carriageway – now rather than risk not being able to get across later, then hope the going isn’t difficult on the other side. There was a big yard there and then a house with a woman in the front garden. I had a conversation with her about the weather. The heat was building up. What with all the previous wet weather we seemed to be going from the ridiculous to the sublime.
The going was difficult after that though. There was no pavement after the house. Time to put my high visibility yellow school escort jacket on while draping it across my backpack to the rear. My driver had advised me to wear this on main roads with no pavements and I’d be doing this whenever I encountered these conditions. There was a verge but now and then trees would encroach to the roadside and I had to time it carefully getting past them. This landscaped fast road seemed to be populated by those drivers who’d had pretensions of making it to Le Mans and had failed, so they were working out their pretensions on this road by treating it as a racetrack. I really felt as though I didn’t belong here. As usual when one hopes the distance isn’t too far it seems to be and it was a pain working my way up this road’s car swept expanses hoping to spot the country lanes I wanted, instead of more main road with those who were driving to impress.
One break from this though was a small stone monument surrounding by iron railings set back from the road. In memory of ‘a gallant gentleman and fine sportsman who perished in the Lusitania.’ So this was erected in World War 1 ‘on his favourite road’ it seems, ‘by a few of his British coaching friends and admirers.’ Not short of money to erect this presumably. It indicated long standing money in this area. His favourite road must have been a lot different when he was around but it was still a main road. Probably with more of that delightful woodland I’d walked through. They were welcome to the present version of this road.
At last. I’d reached the village of Holmwood itself and I could see a rambling building that looked like a pub. I’d known some to be open early enough to serve that coffee I needed, and maybe breakfast too! Oh no, just as I got close I realised from the signs that it was some sort of antiques centre. Great. I could have done with life saving coffee and also a loo by now, instead of which I’d got Crap in the Attic.
At least I was off that road. I wandered through Holmwood and past another church into a labyrinth of country lanes, a great improvement. It was the muddled patchwork of small fields and woods seamed with lanes below Leith Hill in which the course of Stane Street reappears. There was a junction where I thought I’d risk taking a lane bearing left rather than check the map because I thought I’d just relax for awhile and let these lanes take me where they would. The one I’d chosen took me down to a farm while I thought I’d just take the next on the right; but the only way out of the farm was in the worst direction: back towards that thrum of failed Le Mans drivers. Shit I could see them flashing by at the end of this lane! I was back on that main road again.
Luckily I’d no sooner started along it than I found a lane veering off it again. One could see it was a remnant of the old main road that guy on the Lusitania had liked. It soon led to country lanes again.
This time I checked the map more and made easy progress down narrow lanes where any car was a rarity and where woodland trees and field furrows cast patterns of shadow and texture on golden masses of wheat motionless in the summer heat. This was more like what I wanted to ramble through.
There was a junction of 5 lanes in a wood with a house there. The name ‘Gingerbread House’ came to mind; maybe because the walls were the same colour as the wheat in every field here. The map showed me that the lane past it on the left was what I wanted.
Then I noticed a sign, small but unmistakeable and not so old as to be unreadable. That lane was barred by the same message as those guarding the Surrey stockbrokers at Epsom.
The house took on a sinister air. What was it guarding? A neo Nazi organisation, secret germ warfare establishment, or merely some dubious character with loads of money? Hadn’t Pinochet found refuge in Surrey or somewhere near this part of the world? I could take a chance and pretend I hadn’t seen the notice but CCTV was probably trained on me as I was thinking about it. Also I remembered a TV documentary about an old rambling route. The presenter and camera crew had persisted in these circumstances only to encounter landowners about as intelligent as those small vicious dogs I used to enrage by existing when I was doing home shopping. The frumpy woman in particular just kept barking “GET OFF OUR LAND!” and should have been entered for Crufts.
The thought of that on its own was enough to put me off and I resigned myself to a broken dog leg south to another main road I’d been trying to avoid.
As for it being a longer route to a loo;- when the going gets tough the tough get going.
I held off joining the next main road by taking a footpath just short of it, which led past what looked like a huge wooded back garden, landscaped under the trees. Beyond that was a wheat field I made my way through; through those field patterns of green furrows and blocks of shadow thrown by a neighbouring wood.
At the top of a slope was nothing further, but a track leading down a hill to the main road, with a view of the country I had to cross to the south fading into the summer heat.
The other way was Leith Hill. More a forested ridge from this point than a hill, though it was actually the highest point in south east England, just under 1,000 feet. A local 18th century eccentric erected a gothic tower on top – which I could make out – in an attempt to make it over 1,000 feet.
Leith Hill was actually part of a zigzag broken escarpment within the escarpment of chalk downs, running from here down past Hindhead and Haslemere. It was within or south of the North downs because there was older rock here being exposed and worn away on the Wealden anticline, like a lower layer of skin exposed on a blister after the outer skin has gone. All this is Lower Greensand geology eroded down to Wealden Clay. In terms of time that meant Mid to Lower Cretaceous: 90 to about 130 million years ago. The further south I was walking the less marine the strata became because there was more land here in the Lower Cretaceous. It meant that I was entering Dinosaur country, in a manner of speaking. From here to the South Downs I would be walking where double decker bus sized Iguanodons had strode and the odd saloon car sized armoured Polacanthus. If I’d had a similar view south then I might spot the long upright neck of a Brachiosaurus from afar, while being more concerned about gangs of ‘Raptors’ or the occasional Neovenator or Baryonyx: Giant two legged nightmares with teeth.
I knew they were here then because Wealden Clay outcrops on the Isle of Wight coast where it’s washed away by storms coming up the Channel exposing these Dinosaurs. Nearly all the ones I’ve just mentioned have been found there, though the Velociraptors were represented by Eotyrannus which was a similar animal, although it was the ancestor of Tyrannosaurus. Baryonyx was found in a Surrey clay pit. I’ve found fossil scales of a man sized fish on the Isle of Wight though and apparently the same scales were found in a Baryonyx stomach. So back then I might have been competing with this 30 foot long carnivorous Dinosaur for it! It seems that Baryonyx could have flipped that type of fish out of primeval rivers Grizzly style with its foot long claws.
I’ve worked out that proportionately the height of an average adult to an average infant is comparable to that of the height of a Dinosaur slightly smaller than Iguanodon is to us adults. Maybe that’s an unflattering comparison but when I was an infant I did wonder what the world looked like from the height of those giant ‘grownups?’ I bear this in mind sometimes when I’m working with children.
Enough contemplation. Back to the unloved hum of traffic and the tension of minding it on a main road. I came across another irritating sign: ‘no turning.’ A prominent travel writer found the same sign at driveway entrances near Oxford and marvelled at the petty nature of landowners there; going to the trouble of erecting that in order to forbid some lost soul in their car trying to improve their situation. Maybe in a thousand years cars turning on driveway entrances are a worse erosive force than that which carved out the Weald, but in the time one owns a property? The odd scrape with a rake for exercise every few years surely?
Luckily the stretch of main road I’d resigned myself to – and it felt narrow enough to be a ‘B’ road – didn’t last too long before it joined Stane Street. With some regret I looked up the lane I should have come out on, but at least I was now on my Roman road which meant fewer bends. Vision could still be restricted a bit by the terrain which while not exactly hilly was steadily undulating and would continue to be so across the Weald. Now I had to cover a similar distance to the main road I’d just walked down, to the village of Ockley.
Roll on the pub! I’d found on Google Earth that there was one at Ockley’s northern edge. By now I was in sore need of everything it could offer.
My first sighting of this public house was its silhouette for the building was at the top of a rise with the sun behind it. Two Victorian street lights by the car park before the pub looked surreal in the glare. At the entrance there was another forbidding notice about being correctly dressed but I hoped that was a thing of the past. Adjusting my eyes to the gloom within I could make out the barman and about one customer. “First thing I need is a pint of lager” I declared “but the first thing I need before that is the loo.” No problem. The barman directed me in a friendly manner to the back of the pub.
What a relief.
When I came back the man had gone and the lady of the house was there. Before long she was conferring with another woman over some paperwork but not before she’d gleaned what I was about with some interest, plied me with beer, brunch and coffee. I learned that nobody took any notice of the correct clothing notice at the entrance. It was just a relic of days gone by.
‘The Kings Arms’ (the pub) had had a bad review in Google but I also learned in Google that it was under new management. It looked as though I’d encountered the new management improving things, for I got all I wanted there and things became easier for some distance after this place.
Ockley didn’t seem to have a village centre but was strung out down Stane Street. This worked in my favour because there was a pavement for a long way. The pub and beer garden near the other end looked absolutely beautiful and it would have become a pub crawl had the distance on that day been shorter but no, I still had a long way to go and I’d not long been out of a pub. I reached the end of Ockley and pavement and the hot open road stretched before me again.
After about the same distance from joining Stane Street near Leith Hill to Ockley the main road bent left into a detour to the east around a hillier area. Stane Street became lanes, straightened out again through what might be private property, then lost itself in footpaths and fields until it became a main road again. Then it was a final long trek down that road.
After Stane Street became a more relaxed lane it wound up a hill through a tree tunnel. If I turned left at the top I could rejoin it where it became straight again. A short way uphill to the right though was the next pub I was making for. It wasn’t just for liquid refreshment. Finding my way across country to where Stane Street became a main road again was an interesting problem and I felt it always paid to ask the locals wherever one was in the world. Where better to do that in England than a pub?
Oakwoodhill was where I was at and the pub was nice. So was the barmaid. In chatting to her and a local or two I learned that they were sure I could walk down Stane Street where it straightened out again, but they didn’t know about what was south of there. It was so pleasant relaxing at that pub. The barmaid’s mother turned up and both women wore shorts which I confess I’m partial to. They were entertained by my adventure and we drank outside in front, where Union Jacks hung up on the pub for the Olympics overlooked tables on a lawn shaded from the sun by umbrellas. Children played around us. A guy came up and offered me a huge bottle of coke. To begin with I politely turned him down because of the weight of it; but later – being probably mellowed out with drink – I took it on board. I’d taken care to have more orange juices with lots of ice rather than lager; but they were adding up and it was getting late so I should move on.
© D Angus 12 12